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Rabbit Rescue: First Drive Attempt


Before buying any car, you should always inspect it first. By doing a thorough inspection you will know what you are getting into and it will help with the negotiations later on. We inspected the GTI before handing over the cash, but we knew we would find more unseen issues. Since then we have been able to tear into the car and have done an assessment of what it is going to take to get this little Rabbit back on the road.

The seller claimed that a bad CV joint had grounded the GTI, but that it ran fine before being parked less than a year ago. We weren’t so sure, but after checking the oil, adding a new battery, and pouring some new fuel in, we crawled inside and gave the key a turn… Nothing, no spark. After a little investigation, we found that some wires had been spliced into under the dash and attached to a switch. Either the previous owner had wanted a push button starter like they had seen on the shiny new sports cars or this thing had a faulty ignition switch. We confirmed that it was the switch so we went ahead and bypassed it to see if it would run.

Sure enough, that tough little 1.8 four-cylinder fired right up, but it wasn’t going anywhere. Guess the seller was right about that CV joint. Their grandson had obviously driven the car until the joint broke before dragging it into this field and leaving it for dead.


After picking up a new half-shaft and a 8mm triple square bit from Napa, we figured it would be an easy swap. We had to remove the nut from the end of the old axle though and that took some muscle. We ended up buying a long piece of steel tube from the hardware store to use as a breaker bar. After that it loosen right up. Then we just removed the bolts that attach it to the transmission and the new shaft went right in with a little maneuvering.

We were excited to get the car off the jack stands and see if the transmission was any good. So, we attempted to take her for a spin around the parking lot. The shift pattern was vague, but the transmission went into all gears and the clutch seemed to be fine. The steering column is loose and there is a big hole in the muffler. We still have a long way to go before our GTI will be safe to take on long distance jaunts, but we are getting closer!

Below you will find a running total of what we have spent so far. Not bad considering we were able to get the car running and driving within one week after dragging it home.

Car                 $400
Battery          $60
Half-shaft     $60
Total              $520


  1. Grizz

    So my restored flawless paint and custom upholstery Mars Red early ’83 non-a/c 5spd should be worth a bunch?

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  2. Jim-Bob

    Good to see it moving under it’s own power! As far as the shifter goes, I remember when they did one of these cars on Wheeler Dealers (a white one) that the shift linkage was noted as being a common problem. They got a kit to rebuild it and after that it worked just fine. If you want to try and track it down, the episode was in the first series, episodes 5 and 6. I did a quick Google search ( Search term: wheeler dealers golf mk1 ) and it came up at the top of the search results.

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Yep, we already watched it. Maybe we should do an American version of the show. Ours has ALL of the common problems!

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      • Jim

        I really wish someone WOULD do a Wheeler-Dealers America show! LOVE the original. My wife can’t stand to listen to Mike but I get a kick out of his shenanigans.

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  3. Victor Matthew-Brown

    Jesse, you should be some kind of motoring ambassador for America! Your site and your contributors are doing a great job of making US classic car nuts look a lot more normal!

    In the uk we normally just see Americans charging obscene prices for old cars, (65 dodge chargers going for $900k etc)

    You being aware of British classics (triumphs MGs etc) and my favorite tv show, wheeler dealers, is key to me looking forward to all your updates.

    2 points though,
    You should definitely try to get a subscription to the magazine I read, Practical Classics, I am sure this is right up your street.

    It isn’t a rabbit, it’s a golf! That’s why it has a golf ball gear knob!!

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Thanks for the kind words Victor! I never looked at myself as an ambassador, just a car guy. You guys have all the good magazines and shows over there. Octane, Top Gear, Wheeler Dealers, the list just goes on and on. I have read Practical Classics and really enjoyed it, so I will have to look into subscribing. Also, the MKI Golf was actually sold as the Rabbit over here. Take a look at the badge on the back of this one.

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  4. Gary Fogg

    Nothing like hearing a new dragged in purchase go vroom the first time ! Ah what a feeling of vindication. Keep your creative energy going guys !

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  5. Victor Matthew-Brown

    Rabbit/golf comment meant to be a bit of a dig, I have seen golfs labelled Rabbit, always seemed an odd choice of animal in a world of (Ford) mustangs (sunbeam) tigers etc..
    But while typing this I was passed by a Fiat Panda, which kinda makes Rabbit ok!!

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  6. Jeff

    ALL car guys gotta watch this, keep up the great work Jesse!


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  7. Mark E

    Frightening lot of work yet to go but hey it’s running and moving! Keep plugging away at it and good luck!

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  8. dave

    i remember my first feild car not barn find but same thing was a 1974 chyrsler new port ,360 v8,wonder bar radio tuner,four door had been sitting for about 20 years,towed to my buddies shop,drained oil,anti freeze changed trans fuild, then replaced all fluids ,new battery two pumps of the pedal,and vrooom it started made few lifter noises and then they pumped up ran very smooth,it was so cool to see it going under its own power ,drove that car for three years ,it was during this time i was at the lowest divorce bankruptcy ,and this was just what i needed a positive thing anyways just thought i would share ,i then sold the car to a good friend he drove it for another three years ,good find

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  9. Jeff C

    Jesse — Sorry I didn’t respond sooner but it looks like you got the CV joint you needed. I had a busy week last week and just couldn’t get the time to go hunting through the boxes for parts (my garage is a bit of a mess right now).

    The linkage for all those front drive VWs can get sloppy, but thankfully it’s easy to rectify. There are plastic joints that tend to wear out but can be replaced.

    It’s too bad your 5 speed works because I have the GTI transaxle. For fast romps on curvy back roads it is great because it keeps the motor singing. For long jaunts down a highway it’s horrible because 65mph is 4000rpm. We went with a 5spd with a taller final drive.

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  10. jim s

    it is moving under it’s own power, that was fast and not much money spent. still a lot of work to be done but a lot closer to a being a driver. i wonder if the cv joint made any noise brfore it failed! seeing this car come back to life makes me want to get back into the hobby with an old car to fix up, instead of just watching and reading.

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  11. Andrew Minney

    glad to see you’ve got it running.
    But, being English and having seen these cars endlessly, they have little or no attraction to me. Euro-boxes I now find uninteresting these days as I have lived among the for 60 years.
    I want something different which is why I always read about American cars. You have had some real beauts (as well as some dogs!) which I love reading about.
    Ah well, each to his own!
    Good luck,

    Twickenham, England

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    • Robert J

      Andrew; It is funny but we often like British cars here in America for the same reason. I’ve reached the point where I am looking for a one off Special to fill the need, otherwise I would just keep buying and selling cars forever…

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  12. Joe Howell

    Jesse, sounds like the lower bearing on the steering shaft has lost it’s plastic retainer, they crumble with age. You might see pieces on the floor. The tapered bearing drops out of it’s race and the steering wheel wobbles. Push bearing back into place and install a short piece of heater hose slit length wise over the shaft and up tight against the race and secure with hose clamp. Quick fix with no need to disassemble anything.

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Yep, that was the culprit. We actually removed the whole column to replace the ignition switch and tighten everything up top too. In place of the hose clamp, we found a metal collar that fits the shaft. Thanks for the tip.

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  13. Toolbox

    Check the frame where the lower control arms mount. They like to crack where it meets the floorpan.

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Thanks, everything looks solid underneath.

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  14. John Shields Jr.

    My Dad had a shop back in the late 70’s – early 80’s and worked on nothing but VW’s when there were lots of them on the road. Bugs, squarebacks, buses and things. Saw a few rabbits come to the shop but by around 85 or so, not very many people were driving classic bugs around any more. He closed the shop in 86 or 87. I learned a lot about cars working at his shop and still use those skills with my own fleet of classic pontiacs. ( 7 at this point) Good luck with your project and thanks for helping our hobby grow stronger with every barn found classic….whatever the model.

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  15. Charles

    Glad to hear you have it running, and there is nothing major wrong with it.

    In the 80’s/90’s I worked as the used car manager for a large Ford dealership. It was a college town, and we got Rabbits and GTI’s in on trade on a regular basis. It always amazed me the number of items that fall off of those cars, and they would still go rattling down the road. The door handles and latches would break and the cars would arrive with a rope tied to hold them shut. Window regulators fell apart and the glass would drop into the door. The steering colums were always loose, and the shifters would rotate in all directions. All of the switches would break and owners would rig up a toggle switch or just twist the wires together. We always wholesaled the cars in such condition.

    I do remember one very well maintained GTI that came in as a trade. It was black also. It was detailed, and a few minor repairs made. It sold the same day it was available for retail sale. They are fun to drive and a spritted little ride when everything is working correctly.

    Those cars must be like anything else, a labor of love?

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  16. AMCFAN

    A FANTASTIC source of VW Rabbit/Golf parts and information can be obtained at http://www.partsplaceinc.com 248-373-2300 They are located in Auburn Hills Michigan. These are people who drive Volkswagons. Their parts catalogs are illistrated and fun to read. A must for anyone thinking or owning a VW. As a former Rabbit diesel myself I recomend everyone to check them out. Ask for recycled Jack!

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    • toolbox

      Crooked Jack is more like it….

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