By on September 29, 2011

When Volkswagen finally decided to try this newfangled water-cooled engine idea, their first effort was the Audi 80-derived Passat. In North America, this car was badged as a Dasher, and it didn’t exactly break any sales records. Prior to finding this example in a Denver junkyard earlier in the week, I hadn’t seen a Dasher for at least a decade.
The ’77 Dasher two-door hatch listed for $4,510, which was about $450 more than the Datsun 710 hardtop, $850 more than a six-cylinder Chevy Nova hatchback, and $700 more than a Plymouth Volare six-cylinder sedan. With front-wheel-drive and generally more modern design, the Dasher was somewhat more sophisticated than much of the competition, but on the expensive side for car shoppers accustomed to paying under three grand for a Beetle.
DPD air conditioning! That must have presented a challenge for the Dasher’s 78-horsepower engine. I’m going to see if my friend with a ’76 Audi Fox has any use for parts off this thing.

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27 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1977 Volkswagen Dasher...”


  • avatar
    Sammy B

    I like the EGR indicator light….but curious how they chose a giant clock over a tachometer!

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Back in the day most tachometers were mechanical (just like a speedometer) and required the extra expense of a cable and drive gear. Therefore they were found mostly on sports cars. VW had speedometers with markings that substituted for the tach. The two dots at 51mph and three dots at 74mph indicate the maximum speed in second and third gears respectively.

      • 0 avatar
        Sammy B

        I knew about tach cable….every one of my B13 SE-Rs (3 in total) had a problem with the tach due to the cable going bad.

        The dots on the speedometer….outstanding info. I noticed them but could figure out the meaning.

        Regardless of what I do with the rest of my day at work, it’s now been a productive day!

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        I had an ’85 Jetta diesel with the “Quartz-zeit” clock. It even had an upshift light that worked randomly. The red marks on the speedometer were helpful for me when I went out and taught myself to drive a manual in that car at 3 or 4 in the morning.

      • 0 avatar
        pb35

        Speaking of Dashers and cables, my Dad took a break from selling Chryslers in 1975 to sell VWs. I was about 9 and I remember a shiny, new beige Dasher that he had as a demo. After a few weeks, the throttle cable broke on a weekend, so my brother tied a string to the throttle and drove it like a go kart.

        A simpler time, indeed.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Que? B13 SE-Rs only have one cable for the speedometer. The tach is electrically driven.

      • 0 avatar
        roger628

        I would think that almost all cars would have electric tachs by the 70s.
        Re the VW Upshift Light-The one in my 82 Rabbit worked for about 3 months after I took delivery, the one in my ’85 Jetta worked once the whole time I had it.

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        I thought the last car to come from the factory with a mechanical tachometer would have been the 1973 Corvette. It’s hard to fathom that Nissan put a mechanical tach in the SE-R all the way up to 1994. Regardless, electric tachs were commonplace even in the sixties. While the mechanical versions may have been more accurate, most found that the required maintenance wasn’t worth it for a car driven on the street.

        The omission of a tach in the Dasher is simply VW being cheap. Back in the day, factory tachometers weren’t as omnipresent as they are now. In today’s world, even the lowliest, cheapest econobox at least gets a factory tach. An example would be the El Cheapo Nissan Versa. The $9,990 version didn’t even come with a radio or A/C, but it had a tach.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Amazing that it made it to 191,000 miles, I don’t remember these as being very reliable back in the day.

    Nice sneeze flem glob on the instrument cluster BTW…

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I saw an absolutely mint one of these for sale in town. I think only an intact, unrusted Aspen/Volare would surprise me more.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    One thing I’ll say for VW/Audi, the clear majority of their exterior designs have been fairly clean not fussy. Sometimes to the point of blandness but it would be hard to call any of their designs truly baroque.

  • avatar
    ArBee

    An absolutely horrid car. I owned a ’75 Dasher for two expensive years, and it put me off Volkswagens forever. Dynamically, it wasn’t bad, given the standards of the time, but I couldn’t keep it running, and VW parts even then were expensive. The ’58 Citroen ID19 I co-owned at the time was stone reliable in comparison. I’m sure I made several boat payments for my local VW dealer. On the bright side, my Dasher was air conditioned, and it didn’t sap nearly as much power as one might think.

  • avatar
    LeadHead

    I do find it somewhat funny that the dash (or at least the gauge faces)looks more modern than most late 80s American dash clusters

  • avatar
    tanooki2003

    That looks more like a Volkswagen branded Citation

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Donno about the foreign stuff, but all american cars with factory tachs used electric units in the 70’s. Even the muscle cars from the 60’s used electric tachs, except the vette.

  • avatar
    Garak

    That dash looks more modern than the one in my godawful ’00 Lada.

    Anyway, I like that 1970s wedge bodystyle with the huge hatch: it’s a pretty much ageless design, very practical, not too bad aerodynamically and also pleasing to the eye – my eye at least.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I believe the early shelby mustangs also used a mechanical tach.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    What I liked best about these cars were their designs. What I liked least were their value. They were too expensive when considering the poor reliability and repair costs. While other vehicles of this era were not as modern, they were better daily drivers with lower costs of ownership. You could have bought a lot of car for the price of this one from Volkswagen’s competitors.

    Dashers/Passats for this year no longer carried the crisp lines originally penned. Front and rear annual updates rounded the grille and tail assembly, leaving them less congruous with the rest of the car. The first year of this design was far more attractive.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    My first car was a 1974 Dasher.
    It was a 4-door sedan that looked like a hatchback, but wasn’t.
    It was a garish orange-red color called Rallye Red with a black pleather interior.

    I can’t recall a single item on that car that didn’t break. A colossal POS from day one.

    I swore off Volkswagens and Audis until I bought a 2001.5 Passat which turned out to be an awesome car that gave me very little trouble in the 6.5 years that I had it.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I’ve always like these first gen Dashers, as I do the first gen Rabbits, something about their crisp, tailored lines that are quite pleasing to the eye.

    I DO remember these well back in the day and every so often I see one but they are getting rare even up here in Seattle where things generally don’t rust and can live a long, often fruitful life with a little maintenance along the way.

    One of the last ones I saw was a couple of years ago I think it was, I forget whether it was a 5 door or the 3 door hatch, but I DO recall it being that garish green and can’t recall if it was an earlier variant of the later variant of this very body style.

    I still see the first gen Rabbits, even the later Wstmorland units from time to time and they still show up more than these old Dashers and it’s Audi cousins of the same period.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    My father sent my sister, brother and me down the road of life in Volkswagons. You would have needed to know my father to appreciate how strange this was. My VW was a ’74 Dasher and I don’t remember one damned thing about it, to be honest. In 1975, I moved to Boulder, CO, and attended CU. I remember the Audi dealer was pretty close to campus and the VW dealer was quite a distance away. I needed some minor service work done and called the Audi dealer. A snooty guy with a German accent informed me that they did not work on Volkswagons. When I told him my Dasher was basically an Audi Fox with a VW badge, he hung up on me. This encounter pretty much ruined me for German cars – I know that is stupid but, I never claimed to be smart.

    I graduated and got a job as an Area Supervisor with Ben Franklin stores, covering the West Coast. (Google it – nearly every town had one) and my company car was an Oldsmobile Cutlass. Am I getting old? At any rate, I kept the VW until I bought my first real car, a new 1980 Buick Park Avenue. I was a strange young man and that Buick is still my favorite car of any I’ve owned.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Amazing that this one made it to 191k. Back in the early 80’s my dad bought a low mileage 74 Dasher 2dr 4 spd w/factory A/C as a commuter car. It ran great for a couple of years till the reliability issues kicked in. Electrical problem w/the main fuse block under the hood would cause every light in the car to go out-fixed with electrical tape. Assorted relays replaced as well. Then the syncros started to go and this is a car with under 80k something unheard of today. Went to the junkyard for a replacement transmission. The yard gave us a early 70’s Audi 100 one as a replacement so we had to return it for one out of a Fox/Dasher. That lasted a few months till the syncros started going then he sold the car for a couple of hundred to a handy buyer who needed cheap wheels. He has sworn off VW’s till this day. I’ve been leary ever since given their recent repair history.

    There is an older gent in my neighborhood has a 77 just like this one in decent shape as well as a late 80’s VW Fox 2 dr wagon which TTAC ought to do a piece on. I’m sure there are plenty of those in junkyards.

  • avatar
    dingram01

    Ah memories. We had the uppity Audi Fox in my family all throughout my childhood. A string of them actually, the first two lasting a year or so before being squished in accidents. The third one was the charm: a brown Fox wagon.

    Lasted for us for nine years, ultimately with sheet metal riveted to the rusted-out driver’s door bottom. No memory of how many miles it accumulated or whether it was particularly unreliable. I think it was mechanically sound for us??? It certainly had a great personality and was considered the “fun” car in the family. I remember it had no power steering!

    I think of it often as I drive around in my 09 TDI Sportwagen. I wish the TDI had much to remind me of the old Audi, but it doesn’t really. The A2 Jettas I had sure did though.

  • avatar

    The first VW water-cooled car was a rebadged NSU K70. I don’t own an NSU K70, I have an earlier 2 cylinder Sport Prinz, but this conversation pops up now and again on the NSU mailing list. The rebadged NSU was sold as a VW from 1970-1975. The Passat came out later.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      And the Passat (Dasher) was built on the Audi 80 platform — the 80 debuted in 1972, and the Passat a year later.

      Back then VW didn’t have much front-engine, water-cooled technology of its own, and Audi and NSU helped get things started.


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