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Hot Hatch Survivor: 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI

The original Mini Cooper S proved that a small front-wheel-drive car could possess competent handling and astonishing performance levels. Volkswagen chose to take this concept a step further when they introduced the Golf/Rabbit GTI. This was a car that combined the Mini’s performance credentials with the practicality of a hatchback body. Today, the Rabbit GTI is considered the father of the hot hatch category, and early examples can be highly sought. This 1983 GTI looks like it is a real beauty, and it is a classic in search of a new home. Located in Perris, California, you will find the VW listed for sale here on eBay. The BIN has been set at $13,000, and there are currently 133 people who are watching the listing.

The GTI is finished in Diamond Silver, and it presents well. It isn’t clear whether the paint is original or whether there has been any form of restoration or repaint work performed during the car’s 37-year lifespan. The Silver on some of the horizontal surfaces looks like it might be developing a slightly patchy appearance, although it does still shine exceptionally well. There is no evidence of any rust problems, and none are mentioned in the listing. The panels are straight, and the gaps are as tight as we have come to expect on any vehicle that comes from Volkswagen. The Rabbit rolls on its original 14″x6″ alloy wheels, which appear to be free from damage and stains. Some of the decals are starting to look tired, but replacements for these are both easy to find and relatively cheap.

The interior of the Rabbit is finished in a combination of cloth and vinyl that is predominantly blue. Interior trim was an area of the Rabbit that could be prone to problems. The fabric could fade and sun-rot, while plastic items could crumble or simply fall off. That fate hasn’t befallen this little classic. The cloth still looks vibrant, with no signs of any edge wear on the heavily-contoured seats. The vinyl and plastic all look good, and there is no evidence of sun-fading or deterioration. The carpet is in good order, while the dash is in excellent condition.

There are no engine photos, but we know that under the hood is a 1,781cc 4-cylinder engine. This sends its power to the front wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission. Speaking of power, the American GTI did lose out when compared to its European equivalents. While they were blessed with 110hp, the US cars had to make do with 90hp. However, this was claimed to be by design and is actually a positive attribute if the GTI is to be used in an urban environment. The camshaft grind on the US cars is significantly milder than the European counterparts. This dropped the power levels but added a pile of mid-range torque. German GTIs were notoriously unhappy in heavy traffic, but this wasn’t a problem in the US. It’s also worth noting that the GTI barely tips the scales at 2,100lbs. This means that the 90hp four can propel the car from 0-60mph in around 9.5 seconds. That isn’t sluggish for a practical vehicle of this size. Interestingly, the owner doesn’t provide any insight into how well the Rabbit runs and drives. He does say that it has 153,000 miles showing on the odometer. If it has been treated with respect, then there should be plenty of life left in this little gem.

I have had the good fortune to drive a standard Rabbit from this era, along with a GTI. The difference between the two was as profound as the difference between night and day. The standard car was good, but the GTI was an engaging and rewarding vehicle that provided performance well beyond what you might expect. On a twisting ribbon of road, they are enormous fun, and they encourage you to become fully involved in the driving experience. Up until that point, I had treated hot hatches with a level of contempt and scorn because I couldn’t see what all of the fuss was about. One drive was enough to wipe away those feelings, and I have longed to own one ever since. Circumstances have prevented me from doing so, but are they going to stop you?


  1. Jimbo

    These cars were great. I had an 86. The only problem was idiots breaking into it looking for the kenwood pullout stereo. Which wasnt in the car.

    Like 3
  2. Steve R

    Someone will likely come out if this with a really nice car. It seems to have survived well. Too bad the seller didn’t put more effort into writing the ad. Based on its location it may soon be on a ship heading back to Europe.

    Steve R

    Like 2
    • Jonathan

      I thought the same thing before I read your post. Could it get appreciably more if shipped to a western Europe country?

      Like 1
  3. MarveH

    I have wanted one of these since 1983 and never pulled the trigger. First, for practical reasons. When they were cheap so was I and didn’t want to have one destroyed as my daily driver through salt, snow, and rain.
    Then later, as I had some play money they always seemed to climb higher than whatever impulse cash I had on hand.
    A few years ago I had a very nice 2000 Mazda Miata and saw a 84 GTi advertised “with open to trades”. I called the guy and he said the GTi was in very good condition with a few minor cosmetic blemishes and he’d be willing to look at my MX-5.
    I figured with my Mazda being in pampered condition I’d still have to put some cash on the table to get the VW.
    What the guy showed up with was a banger that barely ran, needed paint, and had no undamaged interior panel. He wanted my MX-5 plus $3000.
    I drove home with the top down and to the musical rasp of my Miata drowning out my disappointment.

    Like 3
  4. Matt Fish

    I just sold two 1983 GTIs both complete, one ran and drove for (shipped) for $8300. I also sold two other parts ones for only $1100. Both needed work, but they are dropping from their peak.

    Like 1
  5. GReyn

    I had a black 1984 Rabbit GTI. Bought it brand new for $12,600.00 CAD. This was, by far, the best car I have ever had. Fun to drive and quick. Had it for 3 years, sold it and bought and 86 Golf GTI……no comparison, the 84 beats it hands down

    Like 0
  6. yellowtr6

    A one sentence ebay description? Gotta wonder if this is for real.

    Like 2

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