Light Duty Survivor: 1981 VW Rabbit Pickup

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This 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup, affectionately known by enthusiasts as a “Caddy,” wears some period modifications that make it slightly slicker than the old farm hands we typically see for sale. The seller says this one is a diesel, but I have my doubts upon seeing the 16 valve intake manifold under the hood. Regardless, it sports some cool mods and looks like a lot of fun for $5,600. Find it here on craigslist in the San Francisco Valley.

The Rabbit has some attractive mesh-style wheels, a design I’d peg as being from MSW or Enkei in origin. The paint looks sharp, but the yellow lettering on the tailgate is questionable. Other upgrades include the roll bar in the bed, and perhaps a lowered suspension given how close the top of the tires come to rubbing the fender arches. No odometer reading is mentioned, along with whether it passes California’s strict smog requirements.

The seller says the word “diesel” three times in the listing, which almost makes me doubt my own assertions. A 16 valve engine swap is far from uncommon in GTIs and lesser Golfs, but we don’t see them too often in the pickups. This one appears cleanly done, but I’m not sure if the seller knows what he has under the hood. The mismatched paint underneath would suggest the pickup has some mixed and matched body panels.

The interior has been upgraded with some OEM sport seats that have been reupholstered in non-matching colors. The dash features wood inlays, which I believe are quite rare on the pickups. I’m not sure why you need a cage in a rig this small unless this Rabbit did some drifting back in the day before it became someone’s restoration project – a much better fate indeed. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Justin for the find.

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  1. jageaterMember

    Definitely a gas engine. It has a distributor and spark plugs, and Bosh Jetronic Fuel Injection. Might have been diesel before the swap as side trim says diesel?

    Like 5
  2. Nick

    Yeah that’s not a Diesel. Unless he means he filled it up at the wrong pump . . .

    Like 3
  3. Paul Whaler

    It says diesel registration.? Not familiar with laws out there but maybe something to do with lax/different emission laws for diesels?

    Like 2
  4. Miguel

    Why would a diesel truck need a roll bar?

    Oh, and by the way, the truck is located in the San Fernando Valley, not the San Francisco Valley.

    Like 3
    • headbone

      Roll Bar in case of a tornado or hurricane?

      Like 0
  5. angliagt angliagtMember

    What’s up with the tape on the headlights,&,once again,
    they MUST cover the license plates – WHY?

    Like 2
  6. Moparman MoparmanMember

    Rear view mirror is laying on the floor, and (pet peeve, here) why oh why can’t people clean up interiors before photos, and remove dangling phone cords, etc! :-)

    Like 4
  7. Marc

    Here in California we are saddled with smoging are cars from 1976 on, but, any diesel powered car from 76 till the 2000’s? do not need to be smogged or checked, so the VW Rabbit diesel converted to a gas engine is smog exempted, unless you tell DMV it is no longer a diesel…. So, this Caddy was a diesel and was converted to gas and this was an extensive conversion, all F.I. parts, fuel lines and harness were installed instead of a easy carburetor swap.

    Like 5
  8. Duff

    Let’s just “hope” he doesn’t fill the tank with diesel!

    Like 2
  9. KevinR

    I once owned an ’81 pickup that had been converted from diesel to 1.8L 16V power. The original diesel status allowed me to avoid Emissions testing. Great fun, but not much of a truck. Best suited to weekend home project runs to and from Home Depot…

    Like 1
  10. Rex FoxMember

    Perhaps the pistons are so loose that the engine chatters and sends out clouds of black diesel, making the seller think (of hopes the buyer thinks) he as a diesel.

    Like 1
  11. Rex FoxMember

    Smoke, not diesel

    Like 0
  12. chad

    uata have an engine to fit the roll bars that blew up?

    Like 0
  13. daCabbie

    What a shame…

    My two most favorite phrases are ‘factory original’ and ‘matching numbers’…

    Thousands of hours of design and engineering go into a vehicle… what makes people think they can improve on perfection? LEAVE IT ALONE!!!

    … and someone should call the Fed’s on this owner… subverting emissions standards is a crime… ask Volkwagen how expensive a mistake it is…

    Like 0
  14. connbackroads

    I owned an 81 gas Caddy . . . very reliable, until it was rear-ended by a Subaru wagon, and the bed folded.

    If I recall correctly, those “rare wood inlays” are really plastic that didn’t do a very good job of looking like wood.

    Like 1
  15. Johns Car Corner

    Back in the late 80s I drove an 81 pick-up which had a 16 valve coupled with a GTI 5 speed….. it could gobble up V8s with ease. =JAH JCC

    Like 0
  16. Mark

    They can with diesels when new. Looks like a engine swap with a newer gas engine. The original diesels got good fuel mileage and were able to go a lot of miles.

    Like 0
  17. Alan Robbins

    I never saw one without the “rare wooden dash”.

    The diesel rabbits and pickups were amazing vehicles, 50+ MPG porky around town but not bad at all on the highway. Pulled a trailer with the pickup more than once…

    Like 0

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