Preserved Patina? 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit

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Claimed to be an “early import” version of a VW Rabbit, a 1978 model in particular, the seller tells us that, “Round headlight early import models are getting harder to find“. The 1978 model year marked the first year that the Rabbit, also known as the Golf MK I, was produced domestically in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania but this, as stated, is an import version and was not a domestically produced example. This boxy compact certainly makes a visual statement and it was discovered, residing in Sante Fe, New Mexico, by Gunter K. Interested? It’s available, here on craigslist for $4,800.

The seller tells us, “This one needs work but I fell in love with the patina and look that the green has against the surface rust. I actually sealed the patina with a 2 part catalyzed wipe on clear“. It looks like Kermit contracts leprosy – you have to wonder how this car ended up looking like this. It appears to be mostly complete though the rear bumper is MIA. We’re told that there are a couple of small fender rust spots but I imagine, based on the images, that there are more than just a couple. Interestingly, the steel wheels have been painted, or powder-coated, white.

Power is provided by a 1600 CC, in-line, four-cylinder engine and the seller states, “It is a CIS fuel injection car but that needs rebuilding so I got it running on a carb, warmed up and idled fine“. How peculiar! I am assuming that the entire fuel injection system and fuel delivery system have been replaced but I’d really like some more details on this mash-up. It would also be helpful to know if the F.I. components are included in the sale. This front-wheel-driver utilizes a four-speed manual transaxle that is said, “goes into every gear“. Due to leakage, it is suggested that the master brake cylinder should be replaced.

There are no included images of the interior but the seller states, “Really it needs a good going through but it is not dirty and mouse ridden or completely trashed…” But that lack of an inside look is a cause for concern – certainly based on this car’s exterior presentation. And that leads to the next question, who, or what would be the target market for this VW? It’s one thing to end up somehow looking like this, and another to try to preserve the disheveled presentation.  To each their own of course, but I have to imagine that this Rabbit is going to be a tough sell – what’s your thought?

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  1. alphasudMember

    Oh my was my first reaction to seeing a Weber side draft carb grafted onto a EFI manifold. My dad purchased a 78 Rabbit C from new when we lived in San Antonio. I think 78 was the first year factory A/C was offered. That was a good little car. The first shop I worked as a technician the shop “runner” was a pumpkin colored 77 Rabbit. 77 was the first year for Bosch CIS and the 77 rabbit and Scirocco had the 1600 engine. I think for emissions reasons they were downsized to 1500 in 78 to avoid the catalyst. So the 77 was a runner and I had the fun using that shop car while I was putting together a custom GTI 16V. Used to drift it through the curves with the silly 155/80 13 tires on back country roads. This is where I learned how much fun it was to drive a slow car fast.

    Like 8
  2. HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

    I’ll bet this car stirs up a ton of memories for many. Considering how many were sold, not many show up today. The Rabbit, oh, we laughed our HD, AMC, B&S AXXs off, and “Golf”, stupider(?) yet, Golf,,that was a game my old man played. We had barely accepted the Bug, then this box comes along. To be clear, the Rabbit had some mighty big shoes to fill. It said “VW”, but was different in every way. It wasn’t any different than any other “econo-box”, but had the VW name, and that’s all it took. A new generation embraced the Rabbit, and for good reason, VW did their homework. It was a really good car, a German Omni, as it were, and for VW fans that knew the Bug was history, took an awful shine to these. At least it doesn’t have that boat anchor diesel. Fun to see one again.

    Like 4
    • Terrry

      FYI the first Omni had the Rabbit 1600 motor. Chrysler’s own engine wasn’t available yet.

      Like 1
      • alphasudMember

        Yes, Chrysler bought VW’s engine for the Omni/Horizon but they used a 1.7L stroke crank making the engine a 1.7 with a carburetor. VW went to a 1.7 in 1981 with Bosch CIS with a O2 sensor and cat. The 1.8 came along for the GTI in 83 and Scirocco on special edition Wolfsburg.

        Like 3
      • Michael Yount

        Ditto on the stroker/1.7L VW motor. Simca also supplied Chrysler with some 1.6L motors for the cars in the early years.

        Like 1
    • JustPassinThru

      It said “VW” and it was made in Wolfsburg; but no, it was not a VW. Not as we knew them, anyway.

      VW was undergoing a transformation – basically being taken over from within, after their absorption of NSU – makers of short-lived Wankel engines, and fragile, throwaway car-bodies to put those Wankels in.

      How it happened, I don’t know; but VW by 1970 was out of inspirations. For decades, Heinz Nordhoff drove the company – he was totally committed to the Beetle, to lack of styling changes, to simplicity and durability. Unfortunately his own time ended in 1968. The Type III variants were a mixed success; and the Type IV a complete failure…and then the German Ministry of Trade, or whoever had control over such matters, approached VW with a proposal that they take over the near-insolvent NSU.

      Which had several cars planned; including one that would eventually become the Golf/Rabbit.

      It was so arranged, and VW looked at the water-cooled engine plans – something they had no experience with – and the FWD cars they were intended for – and breathed a sigh of relief. I expect the way was cleared for NSU management to make most of the key decisions in development – and marketing, and eventually, most corporate decisions.

      VW DID try to keep the no-styling-changes going; but that ended with the Golf’s free-falling sales eight years later. At that point the Golf offered neither trendy style nor cutting-edge technology, nor durability that was seen in the Beetle. And VW by that time, was not going back. COULD not go back.

      The People’s Car Works became the RICH People’s Car Works, as they sought to move upmarket – their only choice, due to the strength of the deuchemark.

      And so now it’s a brand you can expect to lose a great deal of money on, as you buy one, complex proprietary electronics fail, cost more to repair than the value of the car…and off to the crusher inside of eight years.

      Like 2
      • Bufguy

        A bit harsh and inaccurate on a company that competes with Toyota every year to sell more cars than anyone on the planet. If it were as bad as you say they would not be selling as many cars as they do

        Like 0
    • luckless pedestrian

      A bunch of years ago I worked with a guy who had grown up in Germany… where “Golfs” were always called “Golfs”… he said in the ’70s and ’80s what the cool kids did was source North American Rabbit labels and logos and put them on their cars…

      Like 2
  3. BimmerDudeMember

    When I met my now-wife in 1980 she had a 1978 Rabbit, the first new car she had bought. I managed to impress her, fixing a malfunctioning rear door that would not open from inside: child-proofed. We kept that car for several years, added Hella air horns, H4 headlights and more, and then handed it off to a newly-licensed nephew who managed to drive it into the ground.

    We drove it from San Diego to Albuquerque for Thanksgiving through a major snowstorm and electrical problems: had to hop out and bang on the alternator periodically to keep it charging. Maybe it had a Lucas voltage regulator…

    Like 3
    • luckless pedestrian

      Ha, ha… when I met my “now-wife” she had a Rabbit… an ’80 or ’81… I was 20 something… driving a GTI at the time… with all the go fast window stickers. We worked at the same place and kinda-sorta knew each other… pass in the hallways kind of thing… one day she stopped at my office, described a few problems she was having with her car and asked if I’d take a look. I wound up taking it home one day and fixed a few things… included replacing a leaky heater core… Ugh… To thank me she invited me to her place for dinner… and the rest, as they say, is history… We’re now 60 something and she drives a Passat…

      Like 3
  4. JCAMember

    Light and fun cars. My 1st Rabbit was a ’77 L 4 door Champagne edition with the 1.6. The fancy Rabbit. Then an ’81 Black Tie edition with the 1.7. Two ’84 GTI’s & 2 ’84 GLI’s with the 1.8. Great cars

    Like 4
    • alphasudMember

      That was the fancy Rabbit. Like a metallic bronze with crushed burgundy velour interior. I worked on a couple as a young tech. They were nice.

      Like 3
      • JCAMember


        Like 2
  5. angliagt angliagtMember

    A guy I worked with bought one new in this same
    Green color when they first came out.He told me that
    he had nothing but problems with it,& didn’t keep it long.

    Like 1
  6. Maggy

    Some of our customers at our shop had these back in the 80’s along with sciroccos golf’s and Jettas. Never saw any major problems with them.Just the usual maint.Good little beat around town cars. One had a diesel and he loved it for the fuel mileage.

    Like 5
  7. Troy

    I used to have the hot wheel version of that in frog green with a black surf boards on top air playing with it for some time 4th of July rolled around and I fastened it to a couple of M80s and lit the fuse, I had no idea it survived and grew up into this thing. I’m staying away because its probably seeking revenge.

    Like 7
  8. mike

    OK then…1978 was the last German Rabbit/Golf.1979 made till 1984 in PA.The 1978 was a 1457 mtr.Like to see adapter to mount DCOE Weber to stock maniflod.And only using 1/2 of Weber.And all FI lines still hooked up.They usually just need new O-rings on injectors.And that is a lot of surface rust.Need to look under car…they are prone to rust.I had a 1978 for 14yrs.And not stock…loved it.No interior picts?? Asking price to much for what is shown.

    Like 1
  9. CarNutDan

    A car like this has rat rod potential that or could be made into an ice race car. I remember seeing many of these as the latter race on lake george when i was a kid.

    Like 1
  10. Jasper

    Yeah, the Weber/intake mash up is pretty weird. Every CIS car I ever owned worked great. Always started and never gave me problems except bad fuel pumps.

    The under hood and strut towers are really clean. Would be really cool put back stock, original and correct.

    Like 1
  11. Dennis

    1979 was the last year you could get a German made Rabbit. (diesel only) Canada got German Rabbits in 1980. (Diesel and GTI) And possibly F.I. cars.

    Like 1
  12. Michael Y

    Several above corrected the write up on this car. All ‘78’s brought into the US were built in Germany – the ‘79 model years were built in PA and quality suffered. 78’s had 1457cc engines, a step down from the 1588’s in 76/77. What I find interesting is the color – I don’t recall that green being offered in ‘78 in the States – I do remember that color on 75’s and 76’s. The color combined with a reference to “1600” cc engine makes me wonder if this is actually a1978 model. We had a “Bahama Blue Metallic” 78 – what a delightful car back in the day!

    Like 1
  13. Michael Yount

    Others have mentioned – ’78 US imports were all from Germany. ’79 was our first year with rectangular headlights and everything came from PA – quality suffered. ’78’s had CIS and 1457cc; 75’s were 1471cc with a carb; 76’s were 1588cc with carb; 77’s were 1588cc with CIS. I don’t recall that green being offered on the US cars in ’78; I do recall seeing it on 75’s and 76’s. That along with the mention of a 1.6L engine makes me wonder if this isn’t actually a 1978. First new car I ever bought was a ’78 Bahama Blue Metallic Rabbit “C”. Added Koni dampers, bigger sway bar up front, bar in the back, ATS wheels, ANSA exhaust, Cibie Z-beam 7″ headlights and all the “Golf/GTI” badging from Germany. Loved that car…..

    Like 1
  14. Bo

    I had a 1979 Diesel four door. I loved it. It was rattly and mechanical to drive. And so cheap to drive. It’s actually a car I’d spend some money buying if I saw a really good one.
    But this is not a car that looks good with “patina”. For sure no one would pay extra for “patina” on a rabbit. This one looks like a mess of trouble. I’d expect it to be in good shape for almost $5000.

    Like 3
  15. James PickardMember

    I have owned 4 versions of the VW Golf. I would probably make an offer of $3,500 or so if it was geographically closer to me. It would be a great project to fit a more modern engine and suspension.

    Like 1
  16. Rw

    If you disagree with Howard A they don’t post your comments,at least that’s been my experience.

    Like 3
    • Jim ODonnellAuthor

      You couldn’t be more wrong! Use profanity, make personal attacks, or politicize an issue, your comment will go to spam for editing or deletion. That’s it.


      Like 2
      • $ where mouth is

        .. but lets be clear :

        We all welcome you Rw to disagree with HA ;
        just keep it PG

        mmk ;)

        Like 1
  17. Kevin

    I’d leave it just as it is. Lower it and put BBS rims on it. Fix the mechanicals and start hitting the show circuit!!!

    Like 0
  18. Rw

    The diesel was awesome dependable , I know of several that had 300 k plus.

    Like 1
  19. BobinBexley Bob in BexleyMember

    Kermit the Frog green ! With some brown leatherette interior you are German boutique stylin’ ! You could throw these things into turns/curves floored & scare yourself silly.

    Like 0
  20. Ryan M

    I’m the seller actually and randomly got a Google headline about my own car! Imagine that. If anyone has any questions or needs more pictures please feel free to contact me through the CL ad. I think the car may be gone by Monday, many folks have shown interest. To address some questions in the article yes all CIS parts are intact, I just wanted to see if it ran well enough on a carb. Paint color does appear to be original. Unsure of actual engine displacement. Original AC car which I found odd. I can grab vin # upon request.

    Like 0
    • Jim ODonnellAuthor


      More interest and discussion than I thought!

      Good luck with the sale.


      Like 0
  21. Jim in FL

    A high school girlfriend of mine had a 78 in this color green. It was just like her: sporty, good looking, dependable and fun. Weekend drives to the Jersey shore with the windows down, you didn’t miss air conditioning, they seemed so open and airy inside for a small car. They used to be everywhere, but I guess like most inexpensive cars, they got handed down, used up, and discarded. Wish there were more still on the road.

    I remember walking to the rabbit with her after Live Aid ended at JFK stadium, thinking, man, life is great.

    Like 1
  22. Michael Yount

    Thx to the posters for educating me — appears that color was indeed available in 78. Probably some latent deep seated reaction to hearing my wife say 45 years ago “don’t even think about bringing one home in that green.”

    Like 0
    • BobinBexley Bob in BexleyMember

      There were great colors available ! Yellow, red, green. I had a 77 bright pumpkin orange with dark brown leatherette. I was asked why I drug that one home. Scirocco came, early 77 ?? In chocolate brown with white leatherette. Scirocco lettering on doors bottoms. So boutique !

      Like 0
  23. Dennis

    Bali Green is the color of this Rabbit. Very cool color too!!

    Like 0
  24. Ryan M

    Thanks! Update: Sold locally to a guy who wants to mechanically fix it and leave the weathered look. Next on my list to get running is the diesel pickup version I just snagged.

    Like 3
  25. Allen

    $4800??? LOL!!! Did you mean; $4.80 — VW Rabbits may have been a “good idea”, but their build and quality were the absolute PITS! Thinks like running the brakes lines on the interior passenger floorboard where they got torn up by passengers shoes and then leaked all over the floorboard – instantly corroding the steel to nothing. The fuel lines and fuel filter constantly clogged from rust from the tank, because they used a cheap steel instead of tin for the tank. WHO WOULD DO THAT??? — I could go on and on about this car being the almost worst built car ever – the Yugo ran away with that spot. – Do yourself a favor and run – as far as you can from anyone selling a VW Rabbit…

    Like 0

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