By on January 6, 2010

black on black

We have so many facets of VW history to cover, and in the inimitable randomness that defines CC, we’ll do it non-linearly (except for Honda). But the Passat (and that’s what I’m going to mostly call it) plays a very pivotal one. It marks the beginning of VW’s successful entry into the modern world of light, roomy FWD cars, and it presaged the Golf, the mother of its category. But before we give VW too much (any) credit for this brilliant car, let’s not forget that the Passat was nothing but an Audi 80 (US: Fox) with a sloping hatchback rear end.

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Now that’s the car I would really like to be writing about, because in the early seventies, the Audi Fox/80 was perhaps the most influential and desirable compact car available in these parts. Its perfectly clean and uncluttered design was a profound contrast to the heavy baroque styling theme that hung over the seventies like an old wet shag carpet. But I have been unable to find a B1 Fox/80, although I know inevitably I will. In the meantime, let’s throw some of our Foxy adulation the Passat’s way.

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Before any VW/Audi historians in the cyber-house yell K 70!, we do need to acknowledge that VW began building and selling NSU’s FWD sedan in 1970, after VW’s takeover of NSU in 1969. We can’t do that interesting car full justice here, but let’s just say that it was typical of the very advanced yet compromised designs the smaller European companies. It was very roomy for its size, but it suffered from rather mediocre fuel consumption and performance, and it was expensive to build. It died after a few years, but gave VW the heart to jump into FWD with both feet.

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The Audi 80 was a natural evolution of Audi’s existing range, the larger 100 and the older 90, and it used their well-proven longitudinal FWD arrangement, with the engine canted  a bit for a low hood line (the K70’s high hood due to its different engine-over-differential arrangement was one of its detriments). Audi designed the superbly compact and efficient 827 series engine that has powered a gazillion VW-family cars, and was also successfully converted to diesel as in this Dasher.

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The B1 80/Passat was nothing like its current successors today: it was a delicate, compact and very light (2400-2500 lb) car, yet remarkably roomy. It was efficient, well built, and best of all, fun to drive. It opened a huge number of eyes to what advanced design and engineering could do, especially compared to Detroit. Just think Pinto and Vega, if you want to compare this with what Detroit’s B&B came up with in terms of a modern small car.

The more I write about this Passat, the more I realize this CC should really have a “Revolutionary Car” or some such grandiose title. We’ll save it for that Fox I will find. Back to the Dasher at hand: This is a ’78 or later car, because it sports the modified front end; the earlier ones looked like this. Also, this Dasher is a diesel, which first came out in ’78 too. With 48 hp on tap, the zero to sixty (un)dash took almost twenty seconds. My sister had a diesel dasher Wagon, and she loved that car; getting mid-forties mpg during the second energy crisis was the cat’s meow.

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Non-diesel US Dashers shared engines with the Golf; using a 1.5 L 70/75 hp four, which was supplanted by the much more desirable fuel-injected 78 hp 1.6 after 1976. The FI 1.6 was a willing partner in the pursuit of Fahrvergnügen, as was the excellent steering, handling and brakes. The 1.6 B1 could give a heavier 98 hp BMW 320i a hell of a run for its money.

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It’s a good thing I stick mainly to older cars, because I’m pretty clueless when it comes to current trends, like these Ronal teddy-bear wheels. I thought for sure they were cheap plastic wheel covers at first glance. Would someone please clue me in to their origin? Stephanie almost talked me into coming back late at night with a lug wrench and jack when she saw them… I find it a rather unlikely combination; the wheels must have cost more than what this venerable Dasher is worth today. Or did his wife talk him into a late night outing?

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31 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1978 VW Dasher/Passat Diesel (B1)...”

  • avatar

    Those wheels used to be sold at Tire Rack and the like about 10 years ago.  They became very popular about the same time the “New Beetle” was released along with the famous “daisy” aluminum wheels that could also be had in the Beetle’s bolt pattern.

    • 0 avatar

      Ugh, Ronal “Bear” wheels should be a crime.
      I had a car from this platform (76 Audi Fox), loved it at the time (I know, I’m in the monority), and it pains me to see such rediculous wheels on such a rare car.

    • 0 avatar

      The daisy wheels were Mille Miglias, and surprisingly expensive.
      The teddy bear wheels, at least, can be painted to be somewhat more demonic, if one is so inclined.

  • avatar

    My parents had an Audi Fox when I was about 10 years old (early 70s)… I’ve seen a few still on the road here in western Washington. It was indeed a great car.

    “getting mid-forties mpg during the second energy crisis was the cat’s meow.”

    Better yet, this was in the days when Diesel was relatively un-taxed. My first car was a 1980 VW Rabbit Diesel in the early 80s (it was my college car, ’82—’86) and I recall that gasoline sold for around $1.25 a gallon, whereas I was paying about .56¢ per gallon for Diesel. I could leave Lubbock, Texas with a full tank and drive to Boulder, Colorado with nothing but a $10 bill in my pocket and still buy dinner when I arrived with the change.

    50 MPG on .56¢ fuel is what sold me on Diesel, originally … and has kept me there ever since.


  • avatar

    I used to do yard work for a little old lady, and she had a Fox – I thought it was a VW and not an Audi though…..

    It was beige/cream color.  Cool little car.

    • 0 avatar

      IIRC VW sold a rebadged Brazilian Polo or Gol as a ‘Fox’ in the USA in the late 80s, early 90s. It was a sort of subcompact Psuedo-Jetta (but much smaller than a Jetta) stripper with small (1.3 or 1.8 liter I think) engine and stick-shift-only transmissions.
      The Audi Fox has no relation whatsoever to the VW car of the same name.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Chuck; the Brazilian Gol/Fox was very much based on the B1 platform. It had a slightly shorter wheelbase, but the same longitudinal FWD set up. It’s a slightly smaller, out-of-date B1 Audi 80/Passat, built to Brazilian standards.

      • 0 avatar

        At this time, here in Brazil we had only four Car Companies: FIAT, VW, GM and Ford. They take advantage on it and the cars produced by then was this types of wagons. Our President in 90’s said in an interview that our cars were wagons… Today, more than 20 years ago, we have global cars with higher level of quality.

        See our best site about the history of cars like these:

        And here a photo of a special Brazilian Passat:

    • 0 avatar

      I drove a VW Fox as a company vehicle when I was doing some regional marketing work for VWUSA back in the early ’90’s.  It was a two-door wagon(!), spunky as hell but tiny inside and yes, built to Brazilian standards…it seemed a little agricultural. 

      Those were interesting years for the Mexico-built Golfs and Jettas – I once saw a brand-new four door Golf with two different types of side molding on the front and rear doors.  Yikes.  The Corrado w/ the supercharged 1.8 was a howl though.

  • avatar

    Boy, it’s a while since that black sedan has moved from that spot, isn’t it? Are those 07 stickers on the plates?
    I looked at a new Audi Fox once, salesman drove it and wouldn’t let me drive. I’d have pushed, but didn’t care that much about it. It seemed noisy and not all that much of a handler, but the latter was hard to judge from the passenger seat.

  • avatar

    When I was a tow truck driver in Portland, OR, I towed a pristine mid-70s Audi Fox with a bad fuel pump. The owner fairly glowed in his praise for the car. I wish today’s Audis were as distinctive (and light) as that one.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    I vaguely remember as a kid reading one of Tom McCahill’s late columns in Mechanics Illustrated as a review of the Audi Fox, calling it a “36 mpg luxury car. ”  He certainly found things to like in that vehicle.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    A  buddy at work had a Fox and loved it.   I havent seen one in MA for a decade, VW had the  typical rust troubles of 70s cars.

  • avatar

    Oregonians must really like B1 cars because I do regularly see a 2 door Fox doing the daily commute in Hillsboro and a Dasher wagon in my neighborhood in Beaverton. There are also a decent number of Audi 4000s (the second generation 80) out and about, mostly Quattros, and the occasional VW Quantum Syncro.

  • avatar

    there is something wrong with this posting system, I could be typing a paragraph, unbeknownst to be should I touch some button the whole line can disappear.
    Perhaps is my intelligence lacking there of.
    Wonder anybody share the same grief.
    Next time I type it out in word pad then paste here.
    VW made a terrible 6 cyl diesel. The 4,5 were beyond reproach.

  • avatar

    Sorry, but it’s slow,smoky, stinky and designed with a straight edge. The drivers may have loved them but the people behind didn’t.

  • avatar

    i have fond memories of riding in the back of a 73 Dasher wagon as a kid. My mothers best friend had it and she loved that car.

  • avatar

    We had a ’80 Audi 5000 2.1 liter 5-cyl non-turbo diesel 5-spd for a while (that we got used for like $1900 with ~110k), and while fun (good brakes and suspension to conserve max inertia) and comfy enough, it always had an electrical problem of some kind (which is why I’ll probably always buy Toyota or Honda). But it always got over 35 MPG and sometimes close to 40 MPG in mostly highway driving. Waiting for my TSX diesel wagon stick.

  • avatar

    Every time I see a Dasher it reminds me of when I once test-drove one in the late 80s. I wasn’t that hot to buy it, but I was curious. It was showed to me by a 14-year-old kid who said his sick grandpa was selling it because he needed to raise cash for an operation. The car was a wreck and not worth the few hundred dollars asking price. When I turned the car down, the kid kept begging me to buy it and offering to deal and finally choked up and went away crying. I felt pretty awful. Thanks for the memory, TTAC.

  • avatar

    OMG. Talk about frigging memories.  My first car was a white 1980 gas-engined Dasher with a tan and brown velour interior so similar to the one pictured – the only foreign car I ever owned before I went over to the dark domestic side.  I bought it cheap in 1986.  I wasn’t even 20.  It only had 78 horses, but it handled like a dream, with the same tight steering as my cousin’s Audi had.  I loved driving that car.  The A/C never worked, but hell, I lived in California, so who really needed it LOL!!!

  • avatar

    “It’s a good thing I stick mainly to older cars, because I’m pretty clueless when it comes to current trends, like these Ronal teddy-bear wheels. I thought for sure they were cheap plastic wheel covers at first glance.”
    Glad I’m not the only one who thought that!
    Nice car, clean lines.

  • avatar

    Those Teddy Bear wheels made more aesthetic sense as a fashion accessory for the New Beetle. They round  out the ovoid shape of the car, so you just grin and bear it– especially if there’s a curvaceous female driver inside. But it’s doubly shocking to see these wheels on a car shaped like a log cabin, fashioned from the straightest sticks you gathered, out in the woods.
    I appreciation your appreciation of German cars of this vintage. When you come upon a Quantum Syncro, I’ll have something to nice to say about that. And if you should ever glimpse the elusive NSU TT, a near-forgotten myth here in these United States, I can tell you anything you want to know. Here’s a fleeting glimpse; hear its song:

  • avatar

    That clean design must have been a good one, because Chrysler cribbed it a decade later with the ’83-’87 FWD Charger and the 4-door Lancer of the same years.  I remember the 4-door Lancer seeming roomier than the base K-cars of the era, but that was in the ’90’s. The people who remember the Dasher/Passat/Fox as being tight may have been comparing them unconsciously to the monster domestics of the ’70’s.

  • avatar

    This generation of Euro cars seemed so roomy, IMO, because they had so much window area. This was a happy side effect of making visibility a primary design goal. Today that value seems forgotten. Look at a modern Jetta- those windows are like machine-gun slits compared to the early Dasher’s.  And the Passat CC is just one big blind spot on wheels. It’s difficult even to see ahead through the almost-horizontal windshield. It worries me that each new car shows up with worse visibility to the outside world, where you and I drive, but also with ever more interior distractions, such as the Prius’ power monitor screen and everyone’s obligatory chrome trim on the dash. Let’s just all remember to keep our heads up, people, as we’re hurting through a crowded space at dozens of feet per second.

    • 0 avatar

      Bravo. I can’t get behind the current styling trend for cars with the visibility of armored personnel carriers, vid. the new Malibu.

    • 0 avatar

      The trend is for cars to become more crash worthy, so it’s easy to understand bare glass getting replaced by steel. But not to worry: In ten years, the guvmt will mandate cameras and video screens and blind spot buzzers and curb feelers…

  • avatar

    Maybe it’s the post-apocalyptic, fear-based marketing that sold so many SUVs, now being adapted to cars.

  • avatar

    I’ve got a ’78 VW Westfalia. The cars from this era are really nice to work on. Simple. Easy to reach most everything. Mine has nearly 200K miles on it and we’re going through with upholstery, paint and a driveline upgrade. Maybe we’ll go another 200K miles.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine still has a mint set of Ronal Bears i believe! Likely just sitting in her garage…

  • avatar

    Postscript; I junked my Dasher because it got smashed up in a pile up in Imperial Beach, California, ruining the axle.  I didn’t have the time or cash to get it replaced – by then it would have cost more than the car was worth and I had already replaced the water pump, wiper mother, tranny and starter and simply wanted to be free of the drama before I left on a deployment to the Western Pacific.  When I came back, I went and got a 1989 Plymouth Sundance 3-door.  One of the reasons (the second being a Neon) my TTAC name is NoChryslers…I wish I could change it to Dasher now…

  • avatar

    Back in the mid 90’s, I bought a pristine ’75 Fox 2 door with a dying engine for $100. Found an ’83 GTI 1.8L engine at wrecking yard for $150, and dropped it in, using most of the ’75 fuel injection components. That car hauled [email protected]@!  Had it 2 years, only left me walking about every 6 months when a CV joint would explode (I think todays ATV’s have bigger ones) cuz I drove the pizz out of it. LOVED THAT CAR, and never spent over $500 total on it, including purchase price. The fun factor? PRICELESS! Still miss her. How to tell a ’75? The only year the battery was mounted in the trunk!

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