The Rabbit Has Landed


We have had a very busy day today! After picking up a car dolly from U-Haul this morning, we headed out to pick up project GTI. After a short trip we arrived and were disheartened to find that the spare we had swapped out for a flat had leaked during the night. Undeterred, we played some musical tires and continued our mission of finally dragging this car home. That was just the beginning of our problems though.


In our excitement to retrieve our prize, we had left our compressor and most of our tools at home. At that point, we knew it was not going to be a quick outing. Even though the Rabbit is light, that flat tire made it extremely difficult to navigate the tow ramps. After trying to push the car up unsuccessfully, we tried to winch it up with one of those nylon ratchet straps. After Josh pinched his hand, we decided that our method was flawed… and dangerous!


Just then Josh remembered a technique our father had used in the past to move an inoperable car. After placing some large rocks behind the rear wheels of the VW, we put the truck in reverse and very carefully pushed the ramps under the front wheels of the GTI. Amazingly it worked! So, after chaining everything down, we were on our way.


After unloading it and returning the trailer, we gave the car a quick wash and started to clean out the inside. We figured that after a good cleaning, we will be able to better assess the damage. We have already found a few issues that we will discuss in a post tomorrow, but the Rabbit is now safely locked in its hutch for the night and we are off to bed.

Find the next segment of the story here!


  1. John

    Sorry to see that you have choosen a common as muck boring 80s Rabbit to star as your Barn Find to do up.
    There have been some excellent candidates over the past few months.
    I would have loved to see a some real american steel from the 50s or 60s, even 70s to be rescued instead of this Euro blandness.
    I for sure will not be following this “rescue”. Also have to say that if you think a flat tire is a problem, then there will be a world of problems waiting for you! A flat tire, or worse stuck brakes are the minimum when finding a Barn fresh car.

    • Don Andreina

      Phew, I thought flat tires and stuck brakes were unique to this model.

      Like 1
    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      When the GTI was first released the journalists said, it’s not how it looks, it’s what it does!” and we think that sentiment still applies here. A Rabbit may not have been our first choice either, but the methods used to rescue a car are the same no matter its origins. It was nearby and price was right, so here it is. This may be the first Barn Finds project car, but it will not the last so we are sure something will show up more to your liking. We hope you can overlook the car itself though and enjoy the process.

      Josh and I have been dragging home cars for over 15 years, so no, a flat is not a problem. The problem was the situation (no compressor and no services nearby). We hope this can be a learning experience for everyone involved. We do not claim to know everything about the old car hobby, so everyone’s feedback is welcomed and appreciated. Just please try to keep it “constructive”. We need all the support we can get on this one!

      Like 1
      • Gary Fogg

        Jesse you handled that post from John very professionally, after all it is YOUR site and YOUR $. Now I might not buy a GTI myself but I can dam sure appreciate your hard work, accomplishment and enthusiasm. Follow your vision and ignore the “haters”. Some of the cars I have dragged home in the last 31 years have raised some eyebrows but I do my own thing.

      • Horse Radish

        That is why I love this site.
        You handled that beautifully.
        As for that comment, I am glad you’re leaving it standing and the 21 thumbs down, make that 22, with it, reflecting the consensus here
        God speed with the GTI.
        I hope Josh can still type new ‘barn find ‘ stories

      • splodinec

        Classy as always Jesse. I had one of these years ago, loved it. I am very interested in how this one turns out. Give a little tuning and lower it just ever so slightly, it will be a blast to drive.

        Like 1
      • Dalton

        Jesse, in the early 90’s I had an ’82 Rabbit. I took that thing up snowy mountain roads, down dirt paths, and even tried to blow up the engine by running 90 mph in only 3rd gear. lol. It had over a quarter million miles on it and still ran great when I sold it. If I found another for the right price, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

        Like 1
    • jim s

      Rabbits were made in Pennsylvania in the 1980’s. not sure where this GTI was made but I am sure we can find out.

      Like 1
      • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

        Yep, so technically it is American!

        Like 1
    • Larry

      Chill out John, enjoy life and take it easy. Seems like most of us will enjoy all the updates on the car, no matter what kind of car it is. It’s the enjoyment of the person or people doing the work.
      Keep up the great work Jesse, you have a great thing going on here and a lot of people enjoy it, but I guess not everyone. :-)

    • Joe Howell

      Lighten up Francis.

    • Jim-Bob

      Personally I would have looked for a Suzuki Swift GTI from 1989, but then again so what? Unlike “John” here, I am not so narrow minded to think I have the right to dictate what others should buy. For me it’s fun to see any old car brought back to life. I look forward to following this Rabbit as it is one of those cars I have often looked upon with fondness but was never able to afford (just like the original 91-94 Sentra SE-R). Sorry you can’t see beyond your own taste, but there are those of us who like small, fun to drive cars with decent fuel economy as our classics. If that’s not you then fine. There is a whole internet full of projects to read about that will be more to your liking.

  2. Steve

    Have at it! I’ll be following it all.

    Like 1
  3. Fred

    I had one, Black with red interior. I loved that little car. We took a road trip from Philly to Dallad then Waco and it was perfect for the trip. Tons of cargo space and a mile eater.

  4. Gary Fogg

    One thing I want to point out, if you read up on tow dollies you will see you are not suppose to back up with them ever. Having worked where they were rented and owning one myself I have seen how easily they can be bent or damaged. Glad your careful loading method worked, but you really need to invest in a cheap come-along. Even the cheesiest Chinese ones make loading a car on a dolly or trailer very easy. Whenever I loan my tow dolly to anyone I say ” don’t back up with it, don’t back up with it, don’t back up with it. Now repeat back to me what I just said.” I even went with two friends once to tow a truck and had said that, and when we got to our destination the fool driving puts the truck in reverse and goes to back up. And he was surprised when I sacked him in the back of his head ! The other guy with us said “well he DID say don’t back up with the dolly.” :)

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Well, we never said that we recommend this method! The Rabbit is a very light car though so the risk of damaging anything was minimal. If we could redo the whole thing, an air compressor and a winch would have been involved.

  5. Mike

    I have always been a huge VW fan. Especially these cars which I lusted over in middle and high school. I cannot wait to follow your progress! Best of luck!

  6. jim s
    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Parts car? That one looks better than ours!

  7. Mark E

    Got it in the garage? Good. NOW you can get it started! Good luck & more importantly, HAVE FUN!! ;-)

  8. paul

    Nice find , as I said a lot of car for the $’s, count me in, I will follow your progress.

  9. Doug M. Member

    Jesse, This will be a really fun trip! Too bad for those who think you should pull something rare into your garage. It is the PROCESS that is so enjoyable…and the sense of satisfaction when you are done. I have been doing this for YEARS as a hobby, and consistently have a really good time… and make a bunch of money doing it. (actually, with all the tax advantages, I rotate between taking a nice deductible loss and making a profit…anyway, its lots of fun, and I’ll be watching to see it through your eyes. I now own a 2 wheel dolly like you rented…it was the best $300 I ever spent (great deal at an auction). And, yes, a quick backup will get you loaded -even if it is not the recommended method! Have fun, and take lots of pictures.

  10. Doug M. Member

    Oh, one more comment, over the years, it seems that I have consistently made more money doing projects that cost LESS than $1,000 than I make on cars costing more than $1,000. I think its easier to get into a deal in the lower price range, and then always easier to sell a not-so-spendy classic… just my experience.

  11. Dave Wright

    I lived in Germany in the late 70’s and early 80’s and have always had automotive fever. I drove a Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3 and a Maserati Mistral ( I brought both back to the states) I would cruz the autobahn in the left lane at close to 300 Km per hr a lot, it was unnerving for a big BMW motorcycle in the mirror lights flashing and just blow me off but then there were the GTI’s. Granted the Germans drive everything as fast as it will go…….but a Rabbit that would run with my super car’s was incredible……..You will love the car when it gets driving. Good luck

    • Don Andreina

      Which one of your exotics was better at speed, Dave?

  12. twwokc

    Think its a great choice and look forward to your progress with the little GTI-)

  13. Newport pagnell

    Two words: Quad rounds. Always liked this look:

    • Robert J

      Nice. I may put that on our Cabriolet.

      Great choice Jesse. You are going to love it once you can take it for a spin.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      I like the looks of the round headlights too, but it would take some bodywork to mount them in a MKI. Besides, modifications are not in the plans. There are enough customized GTIs out there already. This one is staying stock!

  14. Renee Sutherland

    I think its awesome that you found a Rabbit….. it has always been my dream car…… best of luck……

  15. Derek F

    This is a Westmoreland GTi. VW stopped shipping hard top Golf here in 1979 ( there are both round-eye German and square light U.S. cars in 1979 during the transition ) but Cabriolets continued European ( Karmann ) production. Due lots of electrical inspection and testing prior to running your field-stored car- I lost a great Capri Ghia to a dash fire from rodents nesting.

  16. Dolphin Member

    You got the GTI home safely and in one piece and that’s what counts. Good job.

    Whenever I pick up a car I always bring a ratcheting come-along, the kind with a long steel cable built in and large steel hooks at each end, plus lots of rope. It’s cheap insurance against travelling miles and finding that you need to pull the car onto the hauler because it won’t run or you have to pull it out of the ground, or…….

    Best wishes for your project.

  17. Joe Kruskamp

    Congratulations, As a one owner “investor” of my 84 Westmoreland GTI , I can tell you that you will spend $$$ to find unavailable VW hard parts. Mine is now approaching the “You have Spent how Much in parts over 28 years?” But I persist, and open my wallet for things like Bosch Thermo time switches from Istanbul Turkey (NOS) and I haven’t even tried to start interior restoration. At 180K the engine ,trans are holding up but my wife is ready to string me up. Make Lots of friends, join a club , even get a passport for travel to Europe, and burn up the internet looking. My straight jacket is waiting in the closet, until auction day. then I’ll have some peace….

    • Joe Howell

      How much have you spent plus purchase price to get to 180,000 miles? Still pretty cheap per mile I’ll bet. I put 2 timing belts and water pumps in 132,000 miles over 17 years on my 87 16v Scirocco (sticker was $15,300 if I recall). I also put new brake pads and had the rotors turned at 128,000. Three or 4 sets of plugs, distributor caps and rotors and that was it. Garage kept and maintained it still looked as good as new when I sold it in 2004. Car was nothing but a joy to own. Should have kept it:( Oh well, If you could keep them all where would you keep em all ?

      • Joe Kruskamp

        Joe H. ,
        I have not ran exact totals, but it comes close to the Purchase price of $10K . Heck, in timing belts/ tensioner, water pumps, hoses , Rads, Spring /strut kits, brakes all around twice , fronts 3 times ,Special tools, and not to include the first 2 years of dealer maintenance. ( I stopped paying them $300 hits for PM after the 2 yr mark. I’ve got a file of receipts that has me wondering, will it be worth 10K in another 15 yrs? Loved driving it , changed my whole perception of owning Vw watercooled, Dealership network for parts left me swinging in aftermarket limbo. Still love the simplicity,would never buy another New Vw though. BTW, this doesn’t count the CA DMV screwing for these 28 years, or the bank loan interest.

      • Joe Howell

        Hey Joe K. My future wife’s Scirrocco changed my mind about VW’s. I worked in VW dealership while in school and moved on when the first water cooled models were coming out. I never cared for the air cooled models, by then (1974) the poor old beetle’s engine had been stretched to the limits and smogged up with all the attendant problems. We’ve had 3 Sciroccos, 1 Golf, 1 Jetta, 1 Passat, 1 Caddy pickup and currently have an 88 Cabriolet. Cabby weather stripping parts are near or totally impossible to obtain and co$tly even by Por$che standards. Moral of story: always buy a convertible when it’s raining.

  18. Brian Goldman

    I bought a new Rabbit in 75. After it was smeared in a road accident I bought a 76. Both were nearly impossible to beat in local auto crosses and solo events. I recently pulled an 85 Golf Playboy Cup car home. It has run in 106 race weekends since new. The Rabbits/Golfs were the gist of the hot hatches. Plus reliable and affordable cars that could be driven during the week and compete on weekends. I’m looking forward to your revival. Be interesting to see what common issues we find.

  19. J. Miller

    Not that I agree with the first post but, he makes a couple valid points and what the heck it is “his” opinion so he is entitled to it. As an owner of several mid-70’s Fiats I understand the VW. All older cars deserve some “love”. Remember somebody liked this enough to drive it off the showroom floor. And a lot of the smaller European cars, even Japanese cars are a true thrill to drive. And once the major stuff is done relatively inexpensive to maintain. Enjoy it and looks like a good project.

  20. Jeff

    Great project Jesse, on another subject here is a great link from Hagerty on the Lambrecht auction which I know plenty of your followers might be interested:

  21. davew833

    Now that you’ve got it safely tucked in your garage, I’ll brag on myself a little for determining exactly where it was based on the picture in your very first post– the pics you posted today of towing it away confirm it. Please note that I’ve never been to that area of Wyoming nor was I interested in scooping you on the car, it was just an interesting mystery to try and solve on a slow night at work. Good luck with your new project!

  22. Guam135i

    I remember doing things just like this when I was a little younger. It is not the usually the result sometime the journey is worth a lot more. Keep us posted

  23. datsoon

    The GTI snowflake rims will cause rim leaks. The colder it gets the more they leak. You can now buy tire stem caps that have little numbers on them. When you inflate the tires the gauge shows the pressure eg. 34psi if it drops below that the cap window shows orange or white to get your attention. Caps can be purchased at different pressure levels…32, 34, 36…psi. Inner-tubes saved the day. After four winters and several different tire brands. Went on 13 years after that without a single tire problem.

    They really are durable cars despite this quirk.

  24. GseMech

    Good on you for taking on a project that the average punter can relate to. Regardless of year,make, model or country of origin it is the process of bringing a car back to near former glory and all the trial and tribulation along the way that is the story. Good luck and look forward to the progress!

  25. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    John, either you start your own website or you get in bleachers & cheer !

  26. danger dan

    great score! i would buy that 100 outta 100 times!

  27. ninja3000

    I’m really looking forward to this resto!

  28. the E has landed

    Hey Jesse,

    There’s still a few Mk1 Golf Gti’s in the UK, and most parts are not too rare just yet, if you need something specifically, happily to help you search for it :)

  29. Dave Wright

    The key to any of these projects is slow and easy, anyone that runs out with alan open checkbook is going to get it drained, and doing as much work yourself is the other these days of 130.00 an hour labor rates, a set of tools looks pretty cheep. You have to ascertain your parts requirements and watch for them at a reasonable cost, be patient parts will show up at a reasonable cost. This isn’t a 36 Duesenburg………the Germans have the best parts support of anyone in the world. I just got an orignal ignition key (cut to the orignal code) for my 1958 Mercedes 220S directly from Mercedes and most parts are still available from them…….I had a girlfriend that couldn’t get an air conditioning tube for a 3 year old Acura, they didn’t ‘t even care. Make a list, study, be diligent about your parts search and do as much work you can yourself. Those are the keys to a great project.

    • Joe Kruskamp

      We are all entitled to our personal experiences and the related costs. If this car had the factory parts support from VW that BMW has done for the 2002 owners, restoration would be a breeze from a parts standpoint. The fact is, the U.S. built GTI’s were only made for 2 model years, and a substantial amount of changes in power train fuel management were made by late ’84 as the Golf Mk2 was readied for Production. Cap this challenge with the erosion of all the Fuel hoses and OEM parts from exposure to Reformulated Ethanol gasoline, and you get the idea that this can be a very costly project. The Guys at BSI Racing threw away a dumpster full of Interior GTI bits making GTI ITB and GTI Cup cars, so now you get a relative idea to the supply of USA used parts. This of course will all change when the First restored concours GTI goes across the auction block at Scottsdale, and the repro industry responds in kind.

  30. Robert J

    No discussion of a GTI would be complete without this;

    • Larry

      Robert J. That’s a great oldie, Thanks

  31. Colin

    It is a nice little car. Looks like it was lady driven, lol

  32. Daymo

    Here in the UK and Europe they were badged as ‘Golf’ with round headlights and smaller rear lights. Good Mk I’s are increasing in value fast so save one now if you can!

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