Red Hot Rabbit: 1984 Volkswagen GTI

Here’s a little ruby gem: a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI, the vaunted Mark I version of VW’s iconic hot hatch—well, sort of. This U.S.-built car is a pretty different animal from the Golf GTI introduced in Europe in 1976, but it still has a special place in American enthusiasts’ hearts. This extra-nice, 113K-mile example has just been reconditioned and brought back to roadworthy status after 20 years in garaged storage. It’s listed on eBay out of Hudsonville, Michigan, and bidding as of this writing is in a very reasonable $5,000 range with no reserve in sight.

Underhood, the GTI rocks a 90-horse 1.8-liter four with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. That’s about 20 horsepower down from the Euro version—insult on top of the injury of the seven-year wait Americans had to endure—but still up 16 ponies over any other U.S.-spec Rabbit. It’s mated to a close-ratio five speed, stirred via VW’s iconic dimpled, golf ball shifter. This is a robust engine, and with new fuel lines and a new exhaust it’s said to run fine, although the seller recommends a timing adjustment. Serviceability under the hood is improved by the lack of air conditioning, although I know some of you won’t want to be without it!

Even without A/C, the velour upholstery will stay more comfortable in hot or cold weather than the leatherette found in many other Rabbits, plus it’s got that gradient stripe to keep things extra cool. Opening vent windows, already an anachronism in the ’80s, will help with ventilation, too. This interior is in really great shape, with no cracks in the dash, no tears in the upholstery front or rear, and a perfect, sag-free headliner. This is also a non-sunroof car, which the seller touts as a structural advantage and weight savings, not to mention avoiding leaks or rust.

So far, so hunky-dory, but don’t let that California plate fool you into thinking that this Michigan car is rust-free; it’s not, and it’s frustrating in an ad with generally very detailed text and lots of nice photos not to be given any close-ups of the trouble spots. We’re told, for example, that there’s a small spot of rust-through on the hatch, but this is as close to it as we get. Ditto the driver’s door, which is said to have some cancer as well. The original paint is similarly described as having a few cosmetic issues, but none of them are shown. I appreciate that the seller doesn’t let the pictures of the car looking generally flawless and shiny have the last word, but that extra degree of transparency makes a huge difference. Still, this is a rare and desirably unmolested first-gen GTI—well, our version of one, anyway—and at the current bidding, the price seems extremely reasonable. Any of you got some cash burning a hole in your pocket for this hot hatch?

Fast Finds


  1. Dave Wright

    One of the most fun and frustrating things about driving my Mercedes 6.3 or Maserati on the autobahn was cruising the left lane at over 120 MPH, looking up and seeing one of these flashing his lights trying to get by……the German spec cars were truly incredible. The other thing that brings to mind was the BMW motorcycles that would come up with a 20MPH closing speed. You just had to get over and hope they didn’t blow a tire or find a rock in the road.

    • Rev Rory

      I do a lot of that in Montana with various Bmw motorbikes. Used to be great sport….Only ever blown one tire in 45 years (on a Harley) but, man, there is so much debris on those two-lanes not to mention freakin phone talkers and texters that the risk calculation is steadily swinging toward “against”…

      • Dave Wright

        How have you been? Do you have smoke from the fires?

  2. Reid Hall

    This is a Rabbit and l mean Rabbit not cool.Although a friend of mine had a triple black gti ,and or golf.My friends car did not Rabbit at all .lt seems to gti. ,and or golf were sporty.

  3. geomechs geomechs Member

    My brother had a Rabbit this vintage but not this model. I remember when he got transferred to Littleton, CO, he had to get the car inspected and smog-checked. It passed with no problem but they wouldn’t validate his license because the car didn’t have the necessary emission control equipment. It was just fine in Montana, where he bought the car. He had to do a lot of pushing and pulling which included some intervention from his state rep. before they allowed the car to be licensed in Colorado.

  4. Miguel

    What I remember from high school was the saying

    “You too can die in a GTI”

  5. angliagt

    My Friend Brian Forester (he played Chris on the Partridge Family),
    bought one of these new in ’84.It seems that every part he broke was
    “Hecho in Mexico” (Made in Mexico).

    • Miguel

      Hecho En Mexico is synonomus for bad quality.

      Everybody knows that.

      The odd thing is that we had Caribe Gt’s and not the GTI.

      In case you don’t know, the Rabbits here in Mexico were called Caribe and the first generation Jetta’s were called Atlantic.

  6. Paul

    So different to the ones we had here in the UK/Europe. The interior in particular, which actually looks a nicer place to be. Is the dash soft?

    • Mark-A

      Absolutely no chance that I’d prefer to be in this interior over the EU version, sorry but I’ll have to agree to disagree especially as its meant to be a Sporty Car (Even with 90 bhp compared to the EU version having 110bhp in the 1.6ltr & 112bhp in the 1.8ltr, I’m kinda glad that I’m in the EU even though the same car would probably sell for at £6000-20000 depending on the spec & history! Saw on for sale recently @ £19995 but it was a late Campaign Model with the Pirelli wheels & all the exclusive items that it came with (including a FSH with under 75K miles)

      • UK Paul

        The material on the seats is course (gave me rug burns) and the dash really hard and basic I guess is my point.
        Many a happy time spent in them back in the day though. Was a big GTI fan. Mark 1 and 2.

  7. Rev Rory

    Dave Wright-
    Doing fine here. The smoke was zero-zero here for a few days, nobody on the lake or flying (well, except the synthetic vision guys) eerie sky, like dusk at noon. About 90% of it blew out last night so a nice break, clean breeze and blue sky – we’re off to the boat.
    How are you guys doing?

  8. Superdessucke

    Just out of morbid curiosity, could you get a red one with the blue interior?

    • Rick Smith


    • Steve

      Yes. More than you’d like to think. Crazy combo for sure.

  9. Pappy

    Bought two new ones in 1984… a black and red. I only remember the red interior in the black or red cars… the white ones (one of three colors they came in) had the blue interior. I may be wrong about that, but that is my recollection.

  10. Greg Member

    I think my favorite was one a buddy of mine had in high school. He took a Rabbit pickup, purchased all the interior and exterior equipment/trim from a couple wrecked GTI’s, and built himself a Rabbit GTI pickup! I always thought that was a cool car. We’d switch up every now and then for a weekend, and he’d drive my 78 Volvo 242GT. Still liked my Volvo better. I later owned a VW Cabriolet (not Cabrio!) and that was tons of fun to drive. Ahh, the 80’s!

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