Junkyard Find: 1979 Volkswagen Dasher Diesel

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1979 volkswagen dasher diesel

Having taken my driver-training classes, circa 1982, in a VW Rabbit Diesel, I thought I’d experienced the slowest car available in the United States during the second half of the 20th century. I was wrong! The oil-burning Dasher (which is what the V.A.G. called the first-gen Audi 80 aka VW Passat in North America) had the same 49 (!) horsepower diesel as the Rabbit, and it weighed between 100 and 400 pounds more. I hadn’t seen a Dasher of any sort for at least a decade, and I don’t recall ever having seen a Dasher Diesel, so this find in a San Jose-area self-service wrecking yard was startling.

The entire spectrum of Malaise Era signifiers may be seen here, from the brown-and-orange tape stripes over tan paint to the rear-window louvers to the gigantic 5 MPH crash bumpers.

Since the Rabbit Diesel could be purchased with an automatic, I must assume that the same power-robbing option was available on the Dasher. This one has a 4-speed, which meant that its 0-60 times were probably around 150 seconds instead of 180.

Someone bought the diesel engine, for reasons that probably made sense at the time.

Just 119,341 miles on the clock, which is only about 3,500 miles per year… or 20,000 very economical miles per year followed by 28 years of sitting in a driveway.

Such luxury!

Wait, the engine— or at least the long block— is still there!

We laugh at this car now, but the owner of this Dasher almost certainly did a lot of gloating as his ride cruised right past the gas lines caused by the Iranian Revolution-triggered energy crisis.

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  • Bill mcgee Bill mcgee on Jun 09, 2013

    I used to be able to routinely get 45 m.p.g. with my 1980 Rabbit with the gas 1.6 engine and a 5-speed . Of course this was back in the late , unlamented 55 m.p.h. era, and I was doing a lot of long -distance driving living in San Antonio and driving to Houston and Dallas frequently . The D.P.S. were extremely aggressive at writing tickets so I'd try to keep it at about 63 m.p.h., and follow in the airstream of semis whenever possible which undoubtedly helped gas mileage . Today if a state trooper or any Texas cop tried to write me up on any highway for driving 65 m.p.h. , I'd think he was crazy , and I'd also be run off the road by everybody . A malaise era diesel VW like many of its competitors would be too underpowered for the defacto 80 m.p.h. speed limits of today's interstates , but have to be considered in the context of their time .


    I bought my newlywed wife a lightly used '79 Dasher as our first car in '83. Petrol/auto not a barn burner but the hatch was very convenient, yet apparently interesting to the neighbors in BKLYN who popped the lock 3x in a year. A real head turner in burnt orange metallic with medi-brown skins.