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GTI Project Update: On the Road Again


It has been almost a month since the last update on our 1984 Volkswagen GTI project, so we thought we had better bring everyone up to speed. We have been very busy cleaning, polishing, and wrenching on our little Rabbit and we are glad to say that it is now safe to take around the block. Well, at least we feel a little safer than we did on that first voyage. Here is a list of summary of the areas we have addressed so far…


While replacing the right side half-shaft, we noticed that one of the holes in the hub was stripped out so we decided we had better replace it. Well, it wasn’t that simple. When you remove the hub, you also pull the side of the bearing out, so that needed replacing too. A local machine shop was used to press everything out and back together again. We also replaced the lugs on all four wheels while we were at it just to make sure nothing else was stripped out.

While we were under there we also replaced the ball-joint and both strut cartridges. The struts were so bad that when you pushed down on the car and released it, the suspension wouldn’t even rebound at all. You can order two types of strut cartridges depending on the style of strut you have. The collar that holds the cartridge is either threaded internally or externally depending on location of manufacture. Since we were working on the right side, we only checked that side before ordering so we were surprised when we disassembled the left side and found the other style. They were the same length though so we went ahead and ordered another strut with the internal threaded collar. It can be frustrating when you find little surprises like this when working on a car that someone else has done makeshift repairs.

Since the front suspension was now put back together, we focused our attention on that sloppy steering and faulty ignition switch. As suspected by one of our commenters, the plastic ring that holds the bottom bearing in the steering column had disintegrated and the bearing had worked its way loose making the whole thing flop around and causing the joints below it to bind up when turning the wheel. Driving a car with this problem can be a frightening experience to say the least. We pulled the whole column out and found that the strap that holds the two parts of the collapsible column together had cracked too, so some JB weld fixed that right up. Then we paid a visit to our local Ace Hardware and found a metal collar to keep that lower bearing in place. Everything went together smoothly and now the steering is nice and tight.


As you can see, the old ignition switch on the left had cracked and was most likely the reason behind the previous owners push button starter. Replacing it should have been as easy job, but the little tab on the back of the tumbler had also worn and was not cooperating. A temporary shim was used to make things work until we can find a better solution. While we were under the dash we also removed all the extra wires the previous owner had added for the stereo and driving lights. Not surprising, the battery now keeps a charge overnight.


Even though we are focusing on the mechanical areas of our GTI first, we couldn’t resist doing a little work on the cosmetics too. After removing the seats, a quick vacuuming made the interior a more pleasant place to be while working inside. Josh also spent a few hours buffing the oxidized paint and although it is far from perfect, you can actually see your reflection in it now. Funny how a little elbow grease can make such a big difference.

We took the GTI out for a drive around the block today. It doesn’t run perfectly and the shift linkage is still sloppy, but the steering is nice and tight now. We haven’t been brave enough to chuck it into a fast corner yet, but we are slowly starting to see why the automotive journalists raved when these were first released. We still have a long way to go before this one will be ready for any back-road antics, but we have addressed some of the biggest issues. As always, once you dig into a problem, you are bound to find a few more. We are still excited about this one though and it has been a fun journey so far.

Here’s our expenses up to this point:

Part Price 
Car $400
Battery $60
Half-shaft $60
Half-shaft Bolts $30
Oil Filter $8
Air Filter $6
Dip Stick Funnel $4
Hood Release $23
Wheel Hub $30
Ball Joints $17
Lug Bolts $40
Wheel Bearing $35
Strut Cartridges $57
Strut Bump Stops $6
Metal Collar (Ace) $2
Ignition Switch $12
Total $790



  1. guggie

    I had one of these years ago ,worth all u put into it great car lots of fun , be sure to do timing belt , enjoy . often wish I still had mine !

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  2. John Allison

    …and when all is said and done you might get your $700 back!

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    • Jim-Bob

      Or…more likely…be able to sell it for 5-10x that. VWs have a rabid following, and these old GTIs are sought after collectables now.

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  3. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    With cold beer & food you’re approaching $1k ?

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    • Horse Radish

      that’s funny !
      But…..I don’t drink beer…
      I figure with all the beer I saved plus the occasional DUI citation and/or fines I probably saved myself enough money to finance at least a couple more nice. project cars over the past 30 years…….

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  4. JKC

    Sounds like great fun.
    I need to find something like this to kill all my extra time!!!

    Keep up the good work.
    Screw the naysayers.

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  5. Jamie Wallhauser

    Thanks for the update Jesse, bon chance!!

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  6. William Robinson

    Thanks for the update. . There is a clean rabbit for sale locally that I want, also in our lot we have a 04 jetta tdi that is rotten but has a nearly new engine and five speed. I was thinking of a mash up of newish engine and oldish car.

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    • jim s

      that would make a very interesting swap. if you do go ahead with the project please keep us updated.

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    • Jim-Bob

      If you look for it, Dave Coleman (formerly of Sport Compact Car magazine fame) built just such a beast a few years ago. He is now at (and Mazda) and I believe the articles are reproduced there. I believe the Rabbit they used was a factory diesel car and the drivetrain was MK IV Jetta or Rabbit, but I’m not certain. I tried searching the site, but was unsuccessful, so perhaps it no longer exists.

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  7. jim s

    based on what GTI’s have been selling for on ebay you should be able to make a profit if you sold this one. but it sounds like your having to way much fun to even think about that. i think the fact that you can do the work inhouse makes the difference. i am surprised that that there are no parts cars setting around, i guess it is to soon for that. do get a locking gas cap. thanks

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  8. Kman

    I’m going to second Guggie’s omment. I bought a Passat in England as a 3 week rental car would have cost much more. Cleaned it up and toured around. Took it over to France and toured Normandy then back to England. Got to My sister’s little town and right at the bottom of the hill to her place – 1 block away – the timing belt went and so did all the valves – end of Passat but a fun ride and worked out just fine dollar wise. Keep up the good work, Jesse.

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  9. Robert J

    Jeremy Clarkson drives a GTI…here:

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  10. Doug M Member

    Great work, Jesse, Being a CPA, I always track all my expenses on my projects, too. It helps me keep things in perspective. When I drive a project, I enjoy it all the more if I know that I was able to put it all together and stay within “budget.” Just part of the fun of doing these older cars. Thanks for the update, and sharing the list.

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  11. rjc

    Thanks for the update. Looks like your making good progress.

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  12. Jay

    I wish I would have not sold mine……..

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  13. Chris H.

    Probably the wrong time of year to suggest this, but it might be a good idea to put her up on jack stands and powerwash the underside.
    Shift linkage was always dodgy on these, though neuspeed makes this:
    when combined with new plastic bushings, the shifter no longer feels like a wooden stick in a bowl of congealed oatmeal.
    Just some basic fixes will keep this lil bugger going for years, and with the right mods, you might actually turn a profit.

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  14. Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff
  15. Wiley Robinson

    I have an 81 Scirocco and there are some plastic washers/bushings that once replaced will tighten up the linkage. Also, these cars have a weird design flaw. There is a ball & socket joint that connects the linkage arm to the tranmission. The socket is plastic and you will find that if it’s worn out and you hit just the right sized bump just the perfect way it will pop off. You will eventually learn exactly what sort of bump does this as it will happen every time you hit one. This defect was copied into the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon when Chrysler cloned the Rabbit in 78. You can fix it correctly or take strands of telephone wire and wrap up the joint like I did on my Horizon in college (I fixed the Scirocco the right way).

    Like 0

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