By on March 27, 2018

After our last few Rare Rides were utterly luxurious and brougham in nature, it’s time to get back to the basics of motoring. A practical box where the windows are manually operated (quaint!) and number of buttons on the dash can be counted on two hands.

It’s a Volkswagen Quantum wagon from 1986.

The Quantum arrived at an interesting juncture for Volkswagen, as the automaker’s first real midsize offering in the North American market. For 1986, Volkswagen’s American division offered a total of five models: Golf (regular and Cabriolet), Jetta, Quantum, Scirocco, and the Vanagon. Quite a contrast to VW in 2018, which spoils North America with twice that number (or more, if you’re generous with what separate model means).

Though the Quantum was a brand new entry for North America in 1982, it was in fact the second-generation Passat in most other places around the globe. Based on the same platform as the Audi 80, the Quantum was available with three doors in weirdly-shaped hatchback form, or as a four-door sedan or wagon. Various displacement inline engines of four or five cylinders were offered, with either front-drive or four-wheel drive Syncro. Syncro versions came with the top-spec Audi 2.0-liter inline-five, which is the one powering today’s Quantum.

In addition to the Audi platform underneath, the Syncro components were straight from an Audi 80 Quattro. Quantum Syncro sedan owners paid the price for their skinflint nature in purchasing the cheaper Volkswagen offering; they had no spare tire well because of the four-wheel drive’s axle layout. On the Quantum wagon, Volkswagen tried a little harder and swapped the axle with one from a Vanagon in order to offer a flat rear floor. This was a worthwhile endeavor, as there was no competing Audi 80 wagon.

The Quantum would live on through the 1989 model year, when it was replaced by the third-generation Passat for 1990. Volkswagen was fond of renaming the Passat throughout the world. In addition to Quantum, it was known as Carat and Corsar. In the Japanese market, it wore a Nissan badge and carried the Santana name. Finding huge success in the Chinese market, that very same traditionally boxy Santana would remain in production there between 1985 and 2012.

The grey box we’ve been admiring today is located on Craigslist, in Idaho. With a single owner and 86,000 miles on the odometer, it’s in just about museum-quality condition. The seller is asking just $4,000 for the 32-year-old family hauler. Feel like taking a Quantum Leap?

[Images via seller]

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44 Comments on “Rare Rides: 1986 Volkswagen Quantum, From Volkswagen of Yore...”

  • avatar

    Hubcaps, crank windows, and no DLO fail. Yeah.

  • avatar

    It’s even got those cheesy wheelcovers they put on them back then. I owned a ’78 Audi Fox, and the trigger door handles, window cranks, shifter, and cardboard (yes, cardboard) fan shroud practically induce PTSD.

    I’m envisioning driving this thing on the highway and looking in the rearview mirror and seeing clouds of black smoke coming out the tailpipe on deceleration, from the plunger in the fuel distributor hanging up in the wide open throttle position. :shudder:

    • 0 avatar

      The wheel covers on this Quantum are actually from the early 80s Rabbits that were built in PA, if I’m not mistaken. The Quantum had a different set of wheels and/or hubcaps.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, I believe you’re right. Not having any luck finding pictures, since the brochures and ads usually show them with those alloy wheels that VW and Audi had for a while (like on the early Sciroccos), or the early GTI alloys.

  • avatar

    2/10. Not a Celebrity Eurosport wagon.

  • avatar

    Might have been rare in Ohio, definitely was not rare in Maine. Nor were their Dasher predecessors. Definitely rare now, but what isn’t from 30+ years ago in the land of rust?

    Love that mid-80s VW cloth! Why can’t we have that in cars now, or the tweed they also used??

  • avatar

    My FIL had one of these in diesel form until 4-5 years ago (I think the TUV made him retire it). Sometime, probably during the GHWB Administration, somebody spilled diesel in the back and the fumes never left. Another time, one of my BILs opened the backdoor and a passing motorist took it off (not hard to do in “quaint” villages with narrow, windy streets). Oh, my SIL also gently rolled it on a hairpin curve made slick by rainwater and dead frogs. Hard to gripe on my end though…never needed a rental car when visiting.

  • avatar

    Always dug those late ’80s VW steering wheels.

  • avatar

    My dad had his heart set on buying a 1982 Accord sedan (which he did) when it first came out. My pre-pubescent self tried to get him to buy a VW Quantum sedan because it was the closest thing to an Audi that one could get for less money. (Thankfully he bought the Accord.)

    Anyhow, I don’t believe the US market got the Syncro sedan; we only got the wagon. The sedan was an Audi, whereas the wagon was a VW. This particular wagon looks to be FWD since it has an automatic. Not sure if VW/Audi had the Syncro paired with an automatic transmission back then. In the US at least, the Quattro drivetrain wasn’t paired with an automatic transmission until 1989, when the 100/200 nameplate was introduced here, although I may be wrong.

  • avatar

    “the Quantum was available with three doors in weirdly-shaped hatchback form, or as a four-door sedan or wagon” — so you didn’t get the five-door hatch? Weird — that was the most common Passat bodystyle here. Also interesting: you got the Santana front end, which in Europe was reserved for the sedan (called Santana), whereas Passats looked differently and were hatches and wagons only. (Until 85 or so, then the sedan received the Passat front end and name.)

    Of course, they were all over the place in Germany thoughout the ’80s and ’90s, even as police cruisers (both marked and unmarked) as well as taxicabs.

    • 0 avatar

      No, we got the Dasher four-door as a hatchback, but the Quantums as notchbacks.

      • 0 avatar

        This is correct. We got the first-gen Passat as the Dasher in the US, which was sold in 5-door and wagon body styles. Not sure if we ever got a 3-door Dasher here in the States, so maybe someone can clarify one way or the other. The second-gen Passat was sold here as the Quantum, in 3-door, 4-door, and wagon body styles.

        • 0 avatar

          You did get three-door Dashers, both pre-facelift and post. has pictures of either. But apparently you didn’t get the fastbacks with the small boot lid, only the hatchbacks — at least I couldn’t find a hatch-less Dasher on Google.

          Edited to add: Yes I could, thankfully within five minutes of posting.

  • avatar

    My parents had an ’83 Quantum turbo diesel wagon in the fleet during the late-’80s. Given the era, that car was fun to drive once the turbo came on boost…which was helped by its lack of cogs in the auto. The wagon body kept the weight distribution closer to even and handling more neutral than other front-drivers. The seats in that car were very supportive and probably came from the Audi parts bin. The wagon was a real cavern for its relative small size.
    As crazy as it sounds, our family Quantum and the ’80 Rabbit convertible that soon joined it likely paved the way for my future German car purchases. Compared to the Big-3 and Nippon cars of that era that I piloted, German cars were so much more engaging and rewarding to drive.

  • avatar

    I had a 1985 sedan with the “Wolfsburg Edition” trim.

    That 5 cylinder engine had such differential temperature across the block that the intake manifold would warp. I had that replaced or ground down at least a dozen times in the decade I had that car.

    Although mine was a 5-speed, the idle stabilizer failed. You know, the one that caused the Audi automatic models to runaway accelerate and kill people.

    I’m surprised this example is in such good shape. Things like the headliner adhesive failed on mine within the first decade.

  • avatar

    I can’t resist any longer…

    Uno, dos, tres, Quantum, Synchro…

  • avatar

    Needs a Euro market “GL 5” badge, Mk1 GTI wheels, and a different transmission.

  • avatar

    I remember these well. The car was popular among university physics professors because they knew Quantum mechanics.

  • avatar

    I wonder if its rare enough to be a Quantum Singularity? If so, $4k is a steal for something strong enough to power a Romulan Warbird.

  • avatar

    My Quantum Syncro is only a fond memory now. Twenty years ago, and it was old even then. I was warned that the model’s front fenders and headlights were impossible to replace. This was before the internet, of course, where I could have found it all, I suppose. But heat was their enemy, plus rust. That 5-cylinder engine was too long to fit behind a radiator, so just a little half-sized radiator was squeezed in opposite the slant block. And it was thirsty. I remember tense drives where the temp gauge was rising, the fuel gauge dropping…

    For me, the driver’s seat of a QSync was a wonderful place to be. The relationship between the seat — virtually a GTI seat — the upright steering wheel, and the broad, tall windshield was just perfect. My current car has umpteen more adjustments, but no position so just-so. On the road, It felt just like an Audi 4000Q, which it essentially was. Lock the center diff together on the highway and it became stable and imperturbable, like a thrown hammer.

    Somewhere, I hope, folks are fixing these up and honoring them as the practical classics they were.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      About a decade ago there was a Quantum Syncro wagon for sale in my neighborhood for $1000. It was charcoal gray and of course a manual since Syncro’s only came as sticks.
      It seemed kind of tempting as a winter or utility vehicle for trips to the lumber and home stores however back in the early 80’s my father had a bad experience with a Dasher which was the predecessor to the Quantum. You kind of remember these things.

  • avatar

    I had a nearly identical non-syncro 1985 Quantum wagon in maroon with tan interior about 20 years ago. Got it cheap at an auction, but it was really quite nice. I can’t remember what wheels it had on it when I bought it, but I replaced them with 1990 Honda Prelude Si directional alloys just for fun. One day I used it to pick up an engine for an Acura Legend I was fixing up. The junkyard set it in the back, and as I pulled away the engine shifted and hit the back glass, shattering it. I’m probably lucky the hatch didn’t open and dump it out on the street. The other thing I remember was that the A/C condensate drain didn’t work so the little shelf under the glove box would fill up with water. Often, whomever was sitting in the passenger seat would get a shoe filled with water as I went around a corner.

  • avatar

    Didn’t these have rear seat headrests? The sedan I rode in did.

  • avatar

    I drove one of these while I was working for the Red Cross – it had the 1.6 litre non-turbo diesel that brought a whopping 54 horsepower to the party. Yes, you read that correctly: 54 horses in a Quantum/Passat, and while cars were generally a lot lighter back then, this was still THE most underpowered car ever sold anywhere.

    Its official 0-60 time was in the lower twenties, and the accelerator was kind of a practical joke – a switch would have sufficed, because there were only three ways of driving the car: coasting, braking, or flooring it.

    This pinncale of motoring excitement came in a shell with… ahem, rather unique looks: a fifteen-foot car with a three-foot wheelbase and the sort of proportions that always made it look like an elephant perched on top of a shopping trolley. Absolutely tragic.

    Funnily enough (and to this day I can’t really tell why), I rather liked my Passat at the time.

  • avatar

    Some crazy girl in college – and I mean cray-cray but kinda hot – had one of these. I’ll always associate the Quantum with her.

  • avatar

    I lived in China 2002-2003. The VW Santana at the time (this car in sedan form) was the most popular car, and the taxi of choice in Shenzhen–at least the more expensive nicer and legitimate taxis. They also had “Tianjin Xiali” which were re-branded Daihatsu Charades, and of course motorcycle taxis. VW sold millions of these Santanas. The taxi drivers in Shenzhen, at the time all new to driving, drove these things like their arses were on fire. Full throttle all the time, slam on brakes, full speed right into intersections (cars going straight yield at last second), tailgating and lane splitting the norm. It was basically a time when everyone on the road had the driving experience of 16 year olds in America, and no road safety laws were existent or enforced at all. It was the wild east!

    It was insanely dangerous but I developed some serious respect for the way these old VW’s handled at those limits with those insane drivers.

    I go to China these days for work and the road conditions have calmed down incredibly to where it doesn’t seem that much more dangerous than here. Shenzhen has old Hyundai Sonata taxis. I wonder if there is a correlation!

  • avatar

    I remember the Quantum. Did not see very many in the shop, but more of the Audi version.
    The turbo models had some add-ons to fix some troubles noted earlier.
    All the VW/Audi 5 cyl models I saw had the radiator off towards the left headlight with an electric fan. This arrangement worked fine unless the system was contaminated, low on coolant, or the water pump failed.
    Gasoline turbos had an oil cooler (sourced from an air-cooled VW)with more of that “cardboard” duct work. Also an electric fan and plastic ducts to put air over the intake manifold and injectors. The injector O-rings would get hard from the heat and crack. The intake leak would make the engine run badly or even lead to burned valves and failed headgaskets. Later 1980s engines had an extra electric water pump. That would keep the coolant circulating through the engine and the turbo bearing housing when the engine was shut off.
    Keeping these systems working would be troublesome and costly as the cars got older. If they did not work the car would soon be non-functional.
    With all those add-ons the engine compartment was a real shoe-horn situation.

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