By on March 13, 2012

Americans have never had many choices for front-wheel-drive pickup trucks; you could make your own by dropping a random pickup bed on a Sawzall-ized Sentra, or you could go with an Omnirizon-based Dodge Rampage or a Golf-based VW Caddy. Not many Rampages or Rabbit pickups left, though I did find this ’80 VW in a Denver junkyard last year. Now here’s another one, apparently quite unrusted, getting ready to be eaten by The Crusher.
Small pickups have no place in 21st-century America, because small pickups are glass-half-empty reminders of life’s limitations. Still, these things sipped gas (or, if you were very patient on freeway onramps, diesel) and could haul a surprising amount of cargo.
One can only imagine what happened to this truck’s 62 horses when the AC compressor went into action. Perhaps it was best to limit use of the air conditioning to roads with steep downhill grades.
These trucks have a small but fanatically devoted following, so it’s safe to assume that most of the good parts on this truck will get rescued by members of the Denver chapter of the Caddy Jihad.

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63 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup...”


  • avatar
    MarkP

    I have a friend right there in Denver who has been nursing his Rabbit pickup in and out of health for decades. He brought it all the way from Atlanta several years ago. It’s not currently running, but he has plans … he has plans.

  • avatar
    retrogrouch

    “the Denver chapter of the Caddy Jihad.”

    I want their t-shirt.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    It was not unheard of for vehicles from this era, equipped with petite engines to have a cut-out circuit for the a/c compressor, which activated under conditions due to heavy pedal application.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Folks inside ford gave consideration to fwd pickups more than once. This idea always died when someone asked how the front wheels of a fully loaded f-series were going to deliver their motive power, in any useful amount and without spinning, when on a boat ramp or slippery surface.

    So, each generation convinces itself that fwd is only suitable for a light duty p/u.

    • 0 avatar
      dvdlgh

      I often thought of a pickup with selectable fwd, rwd or 4wd. Crazier things have been with our four wheeled friends.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        Considering how many SUV/CUV/Crossovers there are out there with selectable FWD/AWD, it wouldn’t be difficult to accomplish.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        A friend has a story about hooning in his Dad’s 4WD pickup. 3AM, and they managed to break the rear drive shaft. Called up Dad:

        “Help, we’re stuck”

        “is the front shaft still there?”

        “yes”

        “put it in 4WD and drive it home. Click.”

      • 0 avatar
        CRConrad

        Easiest way to do that would of course be with independent electric motors for each wheel. Than you could have Diagonal Drive if you wanted to! :-) (Which would of course spawn never-ending controversies between proponents of NW/SE-drive on the one hand and NE/SW fans on the other.)

  • avatar
    dvdlgh

    A guy that ran a tire/repair shop had one(or maybe two) of these VW pickups. They were diesels. I often saw him hauling a huge tractor tire, in the bed of course. It probably took him an hour or two to get up to speed!

  • avatar
    threeer

    Decent, running variants of the Caddy still sell for good money…if you can find one. Given my vehicle needs (short commute, hauling the occasional mulch bag or three, transporting a few rescue dogs and the monthly Scout campout this would have been ideal for me. I guess the closest thing is still a basic Ranger…which also is now out of production…sigh. I always liked when folks took the Caddy and added some GTi swag to it…the rims and the seats especially out of the MkI GTi…

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I know what you mean. My solution has been a little European trailer with a top. Whole thing weighs 400lbs and is big enough to carry engines, bags and bags of mulch, camping gear for our whole BSA troop, four bikes with space between them to prevent damages, etc. I carried the whole front end of a Model T when engine and transmission.

      The trailer is rated for about 1200 lbs. I’d say 1000 lbs is closer to right.

      I’ve heard so many people talk about how a small truck or something like a Baja or Toyota HiLux four door would be useless but I don’t see it that way at all. SOME folks need a big truck bed or ability to carry 3 tons of gravel. I find that I need to carry something less generally than 800 lbs that’s dirty.

      Anyone know if that a/c compressor was stock. I can’t remember what kind of a/c compressor my ’84 Rabbit had. Didn’t think it was a piston compressor. My Mustang had one just like that it ate alot of HP and the big six cylinder still didn’t have much to spare.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    I had an ’82 Caddy Diesel in similar “rust free” condition, at least in the obvious areas of the outer body panels and the front strut towers. The thing was, I could never get the seat to side smoothly in its tracks. Turns out the floor and inner rockers (the parts you can’t see unless you really get up underneath it) were gone and the P.O. glued the carpet in with some sort of industrial adhesive to keep the thing together. It was otherwise in good running condition and had some potential, but I was looking for a weekend Home Depot/recycling center type truck and not a project.

    I sold it soon after that discovery.

  • avatar
    patman

    I would love to have a diesel VW pickup for Home Depot runs and the occasional trip to the pick-n-pull but I’m not sure they can get up to highway speeds anymore. Our Dasher had trouble breaking 60 which was fine in the double nickle dark ages but would get you run over now.

    • 0 avatar
      I've got a Jaaaaag

      A while back I ran across an electric 1996 Chevy S-10 Pickup, GM factory built using EV1 components, I almost bought it for that purpose, but it had no batteries, so I bought a used 4 cylinder Ranger/Mazda mash up with a salvage title instead, probably the better choice in the long run.

      • 0 avatar
        patman

        Realistically, a cheap Ranger or beat up old F150 would make more sense since I wouldn’t use it enough to really benefit from the VW’s stellar MPG and it would be miserable as a daily driver if pressed into service for any length of time.

        More realistically, it makes more sense to borrow or rent a truck when I really just have to have one and carpool with my wife if one of our cars is temporary out of commission.

  • avatar
    fintail jim

    Out of curiosity I just opened the Houston Craigslist site and saw that someone posted for sale only yesterday a 1981 Rabbit diesel pickup. It’s not running but looks complete. It even has those strange looking alloy wheels. Asking price: $850. How could one go wrong?

    Unfortunately (or not), I already have a very decent 1991 Jeep Comanche 2WD, long wheelbase with the 4.0 liter six and Asin-Warner 4-speed automatic. So the Jeep doesn’t get the milage of a rabbit diesel but I don’t have to fear freeway on-ramps. In Houston that is important. :-)

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    “Small pickups have no place in 21st-century America, because small pickups are glass-half-empty reminders of life’s limitations.”

    I disagree. I see a need for a small, fwd/rwd, light, simple, 4 cylinder, fuel efficient, rubber interior pick-up truck like the Toyotas and Nissans of yore. Price it around $15,000 to $18,000 and I believe it would sell VERY well.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Define very well. 10K of units would sound like a break-even point on a modified mid-size or compact platform. That’s about all it would sell too. If you want something newer in this style try a Subaru BRAT.

    • 0 avatar
      azmtbkr81

      I don’t understand this logic either, if this is the case why would Ford bother to manufacture the Fiesta or Honda the Fit?

      There is certainly a market for a modern small pickup. Families would snap them up as a second car and Home Depot hauler. Businesses that need a pickup but don’t necessarily need to haul a full sheet of plywood would buy them too.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        This has been the case with commercial delivery/work vans. Ford found a niche for the fwd Transit Connect because not everyone needs an E-Series.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        My employer’s elevator service man was issued on of the Transits to replace his fullsized whatever brand van. The first week – he hated it. Ever since – he loves it. Think he realized he likes the car handling and it is plenty big for his service route.

        I drove dozens of these little trucks and Transit like utility vehicles when I lived in Italy. They were basic and none too fast but perfectly capable of getting alot of work done and carrying loads. Id’ rather have one of these (updated to a TDI) or a Fiorino than a Ranger or S-10 to be honest. AWD would be nice for wet roads and slippery pavement.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      MSRP on a base Tacoma now is $16,875.

      And it does sell very well.

  • avatar

    I saw two of these yesterday. They were both in a yard in the industrial area and probably belong to the same person but still existing.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I’ve always wanted one of these things. But I doubt I’ll ever own one due to their advanced age. Plus the wife probably wouldn’t be happy if a project Caddy occupied our garage year-round. There’s currently a diesel one on Ebay in Oklahoma for $3000 (reserve not met). The diesel would be horribly underpowered for highway driving (as my ’85 Jetta was), but a 1.6 TD conversion would be great. And an ALH TDI conversion would be even better.

    I’ll just do the next best thing and get a trailer for my Golf TDI since no manufacturers have the balls to sell something like this in 2012.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Actually all the European manufacturers still have vehicles car based utility vehicles – - in Europe. Even GM has one based on the Corsa and Astra. A quick look shows that they are all boxed in like the Transit we have in the USA. The open top pickup truck Fiorino is gone. So is the Caddy pickup.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Only 59k miles – how sad.

    I think even the most ardent VW haters had a warm spot in their heart for the Rabbit pickup; I know I do.

  • avatar
    srogers

    I worked in an auto glass shop in the early 90s and they had one of these with a diesel. It sure was slow, but did the job. Don’t remember having to fuel it up too often and windshields never exceeded its GVW.

  • avatar
    dundurrbay

    I wonder why it only made it to 59k. I still see a few of these booting around every now and then in Northwestern Ontario, where its super salty. I would imagine they are grossly underpowered, but it’d be cool to have one since theyre so rare now!

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Back in the day , DieselHeads didn’t ever change filters of manage fungus infections so they simply stopped running and were summarily scrapped .

      The new crop of die hard DieselHeads take better care than Dealer mechanics and so have vastly more power and 1,000 % reliability .

      -Nate

  • avatar
    potatobreath

    Has anyone else gotten these annoying pop-up ads in their photos? Makes TTAC look like YouTube. I’ve contemplated blocking them, but then the site would lose out on ad revenue. Are there less intrusive ads to use? The Asian dating/mail-order-bride ads weren’t as bad.

    • 0 avatar
      dvdlgh

      I used to even tho I supposedly had a popup blocker. Somebody told me about Adblock Plus. It works very good for me. It’s easily disabled completely or just on any site you want.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I never understood the point of these, great little farm trucks but not much else.

    Odd that behind the square headlight you can see the circular hole that went with the original lights, why did VW give us a square light face-lift?

  • avatar
    Vega

    Sealed beam regulations, I presume…

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      The square headlights ad corner mounted marker lights were a couple of the changes made to “Americanize” the Rabbit when they started production in Westmoreland, Penn.

  • avatar

    The problem with small, underpowered trucks is used or low spec full size trucks. They’re out there, but very few people value smallness enough to buy a new small truck at 17k over a two year old fullsize, given how much more you can do with it.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    My problem with these trucklets is that VW’s engineers were too – I guess utilitarian would be the word – and designed it to maximize the length of the cargo bed. This led to their use of the doors from the 4-door sedan, which in turn insured that the cab would be too short for 6′ 2″ people like me. If they’d used the 2-door doors and made the cab 6 or 8 inches longer, I’ll bet they’d have sold a lot more of them, at least in the US.

  • avatar
    Bancho

    I’ve always loved these little trucklets. I’ve got a soft spot for the Dodge Rampage too.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Dear Ford:

    Lop the back off a Transit Connect and make a truck like this. Offer it with a stickshift and it will sell like hotcakes.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      They’d have to figure out a way to avoid the chicken tax (well, I guess they could put Subaru BRAT-style jump seats in the bed). Or they could build it in the US. Since Twin Cities just stopped making Rangers, maybe they could make it there. Oh wait, Ford killed the whole plant. (facepalm)

      • 0 avatar
        eggsalad

        I think Ford still has a back-pocket plan to build the TC in the States, if sales volume warrants it. If they add a pickup to the line, I think sales volume will warrant it.

  • avatar
    hurricanehole

    Beside being just a bit too small to be called small this truck worked hard. Towed a couple of thousand pounds from Miami to Md and back with a diesel powered one. Wish there was something like this available now, with a diesel for towing ability when you have to bring along a big load to the job and great mileage for the other 80% of the time. Maybe now is the time, the image requirement of a big truck is almost but not quite gone around NC.

  • avatar

    The bumper/tailgate/spare tire carrier/fueltank parts alone would fetch you about $1000 out of the pocket of the Jihadists

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    The front window glass is a reminder of why VW’s small truck fell off my father’s purchasing radar in the first round. What we initially thought was a vent window turned out to be a fixed triangle of glass, the better to – well, we never figured out what it was for as the glut of construction cone orange Datsuns were far less expensive, especially when you pointed out you wanted any color but orange to the salesman.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    When these first came out I remember they had their 15 minutes of popularity- at least the diesel version- because of their mileage.I remember somebody’s dad buying one that a local dealer in Houston customized with a turbocharger and added an extra gas tank by removing the spare tire well and if I’m not mistaken , bolting the spare on the side of the bed. I drove one once for a day when I took my new Rabbit in for some warranty work which hadn’t been completed on time and after some prolonged whining on my part my salesman gave me a pickup in that bland ugly baby blue with matching rubberette interior but with a gas engine with an auto. Oddest loaner car I remember driving . Remember that I felt cramped , even though I’m a little guy (5’5″), which I never felt in my Rabbit sedan. Always thought these would have looked better if they’d used the doors from the 2-door like Dodge did with the Rampage.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    My uncle bought one of these back around 81 or 82 with the powerhouse 52 Hp diesel. It was so horribly slow that he would need to pull over to the side of the road when going up any type of hill and that was with the bed empty. Needless to say he traded it in for a first year mid size Dodge Dakota with the 3.9 V6 and thought it was a race car that drove like a Cadillac in comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Remember VW also sold a VW camper that was diesel powered. That was likely even slower than this Caddy. My aircooled VW Westfalia was pretty slow on launch though it would cruise at 60-65 mph forever.

  • avatar
    cabandy

    All you need to do is plop a TDI in that little pickup and now your talkin…. I did it and even picked up a few extras over what the LX had available in 1981, like electric door locks, cruise control, tach etc. Oh yeah incredible starting abilities, I don’t even have to let the glow plugs activate and its running. I wish we could get a pickup from Germany that would have the TDI option today. This little pickup has some get up and go compared to the 1.6 turbo. Check out the TDIClub website fro more info on conversions.

  • avatar
    beegballoo

    I had an ’82 with a gasoline engine and loved it. Quick and nimble and fun to drive. Very dependable except in hot weather and with less than 1/2 of a tank of gas, it had a bad habit of vapor locking. But give it 1/2 an hour and it was back on the road. It wasn’t a REAL truck, one could feel the steel flexing under their feet when walking in the bed and once I carried a load of dirt that about folded the unibody pan in two. Never did that again! Had to sell it when the kids came along and I still miss it.


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