A short history of the VW Mark 1 Rabbit/Golf (2021)
I bought an early 80s one as a winter beater in the 1990s. The reliability wasn't great. You could fix quite a bit on that car with just a 10mm Allen wrench, which was just as well because you often had to. Only car I've ever had where once you turned the windshield wipers on, it was 50/50 that you could turn them off again (water leakage at the bottom left windshield corner dripped water directly onto the fuse box, which contained, among other things, the interval wiper module). I always carried a can of WD40 for its original purpose (look it up) to be sure to get the car started on damp days. The worn gearshift linkage had to be adjusted just so to be sure to be able to get into reverse and 5th. It drove great though, much peppier than a 70hp engine had any right to be. And my sisters had a first-gen GTI for a while and that thing was hot. Even the turbodiesel version was fun, sort of like the bottom half of the RPM range of the GTI. Lots of grunt, but halfway around the tach it was over.
A later version of the Golf had its ECU mounted in... the rain gutter! What a logical place for that. Cars have come a long, long way since those days. Certainly my mom's somewhat recent Jetta seems as reliable as other modern cars.
> Cars have come a long, long way since those days.
Even in "those days" that kind of stuff you're describing is well below par.
No kidding. I used to drive Toyota Tercels of the same vintage. Like a lot of Japanese cars then (and even now) they were totally reliable except for one detail. Only car I've ever had to change the igniter (the electronic part of the ignition system) by the roadside! I had a spare along, just in case, and needed it.
Even so, modern cars are really a different show. Current one is 11 years old, driven in a road salt environment, and has 207,000km on it and basically drives almost like new and has no noticeable rust. And has never even had the spark plugs out or the valves touched.
Growing up, the next door neighbor had a diesel Rabbit, which was great on mileage but it wouldn't work on really cold days.
U.S. manufacturers attempted to copy the success of the Rabbit with several models of hatchbacks. My father had a ~1981 Plymouth Horizon (aka Dodge Omni) which apparently was based on Chrysler engineers purchasing 100 Rabbits to reverse-engineer the concept in the mid 1970s. Because Chrysler at the time had no capacity to manufacture 4 cylinder engines, they purchased them from VW, a fact which my father liked to mention (American cars had a bad reputation for quality and gas efficiency around this time).
Regarding the hatchback concept, my mother owned a car called the AMC Pacer which predated the Rabbit but the model seemed to have petered out by the mid 1970s. She also owned a Dodge Colt hatchback, an even smaller car than the Rabbit which was manufactured under contract by Mitsubishi. https://www.autoweek.com/car-life/classic-cars/a38884277/197...
Diesels had issues in the cold. Growing up in Massachusetts our family friends had a diesel rabbit. I remember them pulling a lever to warm up engine before starting ( glo plugs), but they ended up with an engine block heater you plugged into an outlet. Plus you needed winterized diesel fuel.
The first car I bought was a gti (mk3). It was fast and fun for the time..
When this car launched in the 1970s all the global car manufacturers took note. It was by far the best car of its class.
I had the Sirocco coupe version; a ‘75. So much fun. Not really fast but quick. Small but I could pack a surprising about into that big hatch.
Of course it was not reliable. Main problem was heat induced vapor lock of the fuel pump. A third-party electric fuel pump eventually solved that problem. It was dramatic the day the bolts for the A/C unit sheared off while I was driving through west Texas in the summer.
Still it was the seventies and most vehicles were unreliable. My previous call was a ‘72 Corolla Coupé and that one was not really any more reliable. The Sirocco was just so much more fun to drive that I was willing to put up with it. When the rust ate the door sills, it was eventually replaced by an ‘85 GTI that actually was reliable and much much more refined.
"The simple two box, hatchback body style, combined with front wheel drive, and a transverse mounted water cooled four cylinder would be copied by every other car maker all over the world."
... the FIAT 127, released three years earlier, would like to have a word about who copied who.
- Transverse mounted FF
- water cooled four cylinder
- released in 1971
- license built by: SEAT Yugo Polski VAZ
I could say that the Austin Maxi did those in 1969, although for some reason no one wanted to build it under licence. But the Autobianchi Primula also had hatchback variants and was before that, and unlike the Maxi had the gearbox in a sensible place.
Everyone ultimately nicks the bits that work for everyone else of course. I guess the Golf gets a bit more focus because of the names longevity (and that the Mk I Golf was executed excellently), and perhaps because the article is US focussed so misses some of the cars being mostly sold in Europe only.
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Someone I knew has a Rabbit Diesel. That was at the time diesel fuel was cheaper than Gas, plus he lived in a Cold Region of the US. He went every were with it, even a few cross country (US) trips. IIRC it lasted far longer then the Gas Fueled Autos of the period.
Mom had one while I was growing up, and even then, I was horrified at the noise, vibration, and harshness compared to the gas equivalent model. The Rabbit Diesel is very loud, and in an unpleasant, clattering way.
It's amazing how far diesels have come. I have a Range Rover diesel, and even most car fans don't realize it's a diesel until I mention it.
I have a modern Golf diesel (2014) and love it. I think they pipe artificial or modified engine noise into the car when you give it the beans.
Sounds awesome ...as long as you don't open the windows. If I do it still sounds OK but you can tell it's a diesel.
I've had it from new and it's still so good on fuel I guess I'll keep it till it dies. My record is 82mpg (UK gallons) on a motorway run. Nothing's ever gone wrong on it and it's cheap to service. It has all the features I need like Adaptive Cruise.
Not sure I'd replace it with an ID or whatever the new VW replacement is but there's something just right about the Golf design.
1. Luckily it's from just after the Diesel Gate affair.
I thought the dieselgate models were up to 2015?
While the behaviour was terrible, my understanding is that the vehicles were better to drive during that era.
A well maintained diesel gets absolutely massive miles over its life, and it sounds like you’re on that path.
> My record is 82mph (UK gallons)
Do you mean ‘miles per gallon’? Either way, it’s impressive.
> I thought the dieselgate models were up to 2015?
Not sure when effected sales ended but I know my car didn't require a software upgrade as it was the next generation engine.
> Do you mean ‘miles per gallon’? Either way, it’s impressive.
Nice! Yes I did, now fixed thanks. Yep I was pleased with that. I did have to follow a lorry for about 100 miles to get that figure but I wasn't in a hurry. Going a bit steadier and slower makes so much difference.
My normal MPG in summer would be around 65MPGish.
(UK gallons are bigger than US gallons so it's not quite as impressive as you might think. I must switch over to metric for everything.)
I own a US Jetta 2011 TDI post-fix. I believe in the United States that ALL 2.0L Common Rail VW diesels sold in the US were affected and (depending on owner’s discretion) either fixed at VWs expense, or bought-back and resold after the fix was applied. There are likely no pre-fix VW CR TDIs driving the roads in the United States today. The extended warranty was enough to incentivize even the most sovereign of citizens to take their vehicle in. Then in 2015 they stopped selling them altogether in the US. Jealous of the Euros…
Mine gets about 42 US MPG if I keep a light foot, which can be hard given how fun it is to drive. Usually works out to around 450mi a tank give or take (14 US Gallons) depending on how I feel on fill-up day about fiddling my thumbs to wait for the foam in the tank to go down to top it up to get it to “all the way filled.” I love it to death and will drive it until the DPF gets clogged, then delete and keep driving. Just bought a MK4 Jetta TDI as a beater to see if I can drive it to the moon once or twice. :) Cheers!
> 82mpg (UK gallons)
That's 3.44 L/100 km for any confused Europeans :D
Thanks. Something I've noticed is that cars much improve after about 30,000 miles (48280km). I guess things like the cylinders get lapped by the pistons.
I want to own a more environmentally friendly car. Right now I think I'm best served by keeping my existing Golf for as long as possible and just trying to keep the mileage down (I live in the country not a town/city).
Yeah certainly agree with you as well in regards to the advances in tech. I get really excited seeing (hearing) new BMW (and other) diesels just because they’re so rare, wasn’t aware Range Rover used any diesels! Some of the big changes it seems happened relatively recently in the 80/90s when turbos and direct injection became common place?
There was a window in late 90s/early 2000s in Europe where certain countries company car tax rules made it often more economical to run the diesel model of a lot of German cars and as a result Diesel sales took off for a while. This is why you saw the innovations like Common Rail Injection etc and large increases in refinement that became prevalent in a lot of diesel cars of this era. There was so much improvements in diesel tech in this decade because of this. There are some legendary diesel engines like BMWs 3.0 straight six M57 etc from this time - the great low down torque made this one of the best engines in BMW's range, period.
With the more recent European emission rules, and the massive "dieselgate" scandal of course, there is simply far less appetite for further diesel innovation nowadays and in the future. Pump availability at the gas station of Diesel itself is also now pretty poor in North America vs Europe too. VW/Audi also had a great reputation for refined Common Rail diesel engines in this period as well, ironic given dieselgate.
The common rail stuff got so refined Audi even offered convertible A4s with diesel for the first time, diesel cabrios were largely unthinkable before due to lack of engine refinement. Generally these engines were still noticeably diesel sounding at cold idle, but once up to temp after 5 minutes it got a lot harder to tell unless in the cabin looking at the low rev limit on the dials.
Is that what gives diesels their trademark rattley sound, the injectors?
While there is some noise from the injectors (in some gas-direct injection engines you can hear them as well, if you listen carefully) the sound you are hearing in an old diesel, that handful-of-marbles-in-blender-clatter, is due to the more abrupt combustion in a diesel engine in general (only air is compressed, and the fuel burns almost instantly on injection) and imprecise/poor timing of the old mechanical injection systems. Modern common-rail electronic-injected diesels are almost as quiet as gas engines.
Not an expert or a mechanic but in general find engines to be "more clicky" when low/lower on oil - had generally thought this to be the sound of the valves actuating. With less oil the sound is more pronounced. Maybe the "lower pitch" and the rest of the sound has to do with the high compression ratio (and exhaust or lack thereof). TDI engines can sound super clicky compared to larger truck engines
Pretty good discussion here as well (cool didn't even know there _was_ mechanics stackexchange): https://mechanics.stackexchange.com/questions/26513/whats-th...
Edit: would assume 4-cyl pistons need to actuate/fire ~twice as much as an 8-cyl engine at equivalent rpms? maybe that would explain smaller engines being more clicky idk
I drove a Rabbit Diesel back in the early '80s. It was not a luxury driving experience, but 48MPG highway! I didn't have much money and squeezing in a 700 mile round trip would let me visit my girlfriend over a weekend. Lots of miles in that car (mostly in the dark hours of the night, middle of nowhere, with Tangerine Dream blasting).
I doubt it would come close to passing modern safety standards, and I guess we saw how likely it would be for VW to make it clean enough for modern emissions… but it was an economical car to buy and operate. Here we are 40 engineering years later and all of the "New Small Cars With the Best Gas Mileage for 2022" have worse highway mileage than that 1980 Rabbit.
I drive the current BMW 3 series with a 150 PS Diesel engine and in summer I manage to get between 47 and 51 mpg at about 130 km/h (about 80 mph) on the highway. And I'm not even trying too hard to save gas. VWs current Diesel engines have the same mileage.
But you have 40+ engineering improvement on his VW. And the last 40 years have been revolutionary for engine performance.
In the end cars got heavier and their cross sections bigger. Killed all the would be fuel improvements
My dad had a mk2 diesel. He used less than 5l/100km and drove for 200000 km until he sold it with 350000km. As far as i remember he never had a serious issue. It wasn't a comfortable ride but very reliable.
My neighbor happens to have the rabbit convertible from the first production year (1980).
it only has something like 30,000 miles on it and is still all original on both the Interior and exterior.
So cool to see as a GTI owner.
I owned one, a great car. Spacious and great visibility. Classic clean Ital design. Had Bosch fuel injection so it met air pollution rules and ran beautifully.
Back in the day engines were simpler and accessible; Haynes manuals were fantastic! Are they still popular today?
> Haynes manuals were fantastic! Are they still popular today?
Yes, they are still popular in the hobbyist community for many cars made before a certain date. The manuals are highly accessible in the US because the public library system generally hosts the digital copies, so if you have a library card in most states, you can access the manuals online. Help support your public library!
The paper 3rd party manuals went down the shitter over the course of the 00s but realistically for any model that new or newer you can use Youtube for the procedures and the manual (haynes or otherwise) as a desk reference for torque specs and whatnot.
Nowadays you can get the same factory service manual that your dealership/repair shop uses--it's all just a bunch of digital PDFs. In my experience factory service manuals, at least for GM cars, are orders of magnitude better than a Haynes manual.
It has always been my understanding that a Haynes manual is a third party disassembling the car to show you how to disassemble the car.
It makes sense that the people who built the car would have more details.
With that said, as somebody who occasionally does some work on his own cars, I’ve found them very useful for every car I’ve ever owned.
Any idea where to get them for a GMC Sierra?
For VWs and BMWs, at least, the (Robert) Bentley manuals are considered a lot better.
Do they still end in "Reassembly is the reverse procedure thereof."?
I'm not sure about today's 2023 models but I keep a Haynes Manual in my 2011 Mazda and it is very useful.
Just sold a MK7 R. I’d rate it average for reliability.
Had some water pump issues solved by a recall and it loves gobbling oil.
But damn was it a blast to drive. No tuning just an ECU tweak to all but eliminate turbo lag.
Drove like a go kart on rails.
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I have a MK4 and it’s great but still no circular headlights like the originals
Tech Connections has, as so often the case, a great video about why old car headlights were the shapes they were - and why in later models they often changed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=c2J91UG6Fn8
MK4 R owner checking in.
Circular headlights are the best looking ones imo. Same for the mk2s.
I agree. I really liked the bug eyed Imprezas too, although I think they were short lived.
Informative article. But how the heck do they manage to publish all this without even clearly stating when this important vehicle was first launched into the world?
I think it was probably 1974. The article never says that
That sounds about right. We bought a '75 which was the first year they came into the US. It was a fun and versatile car. We drove it until it was literally falling apart. The portions of the floor pan where the front suspension wishbones (under the driver's and passenger's feet) had rusted away. I tied the two sides together to keep it on the road a little longer but it suffered from excessive toe in on acceleration. ;)
IIRC it was about $2700 US for a four door mid level trim. No power windows. No A/C. No power steering or brakes. None needed in a car that light.
And decent fuel mileage at a time when US cars all suffered from horrendous fuel mileage due to pollution controls. I had the feeling at the time that the big three US manufacturers were punishing us for demanding cleaner cars and VW came along to show us how it was done. And that was before they adopted fuel injection.
I think it's implied because mk1 golf is the rabbit in the US, but they could have made it clearer.
>The Rabbit stayed on the US market from 1974 to 1983, when it was finally replaced by the MK2 Golf
Model year 1984 was still the A1 Rabbit in the US. MY1985 was the A2 Golf.
Source: my second car was a model year 1984 Rabbit GTI.
Yeah. It looks like they mixed up production from the mk1 wiki article with model year sales.
Grandpa had a white maxed-out GTI that he bought from his high-salary Fortran/early Fintech job. Great ride to pick up the ladies, too. Different times, same values.
Had an '84 GTI and loved it! The mechanical fuel injection was a pain to work on though..
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