Junkyard Find: 1987 Volkswagen Fox

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
If you’re a European car manufacturer in the middle 1980s, what do you do when Tercels and Excels and Justys make your value-priced econobox seem too expensive in North America? If you’re Volkswagen, you call up your Brazilian operation and start building Americanized versions of the VW Gol, successor to the Type 1 Beetle in the South American market.Here’s a very early example of the first-year Fox, found in a Denver-area self-service wrecking yard.
The Fox (not to be confused with the Audi-badged version of the early-1970s VW Dasher aka Audi 80 aka Passat, also called the Fox in North America) was sold here for the 1987 through 1993 model years. This one was built in September of 1986 and its production-sequence number (blanked out in this photo) is in the low three digits, so we’re looking at one of the very first Foxes sold.
The odometer reading is low and the interior isn’t too fried by the Colorado sun, so I think this car spent most of its life in a garage. Perhaps it broke a decade or two ago, or maybe its owner had a very short and/or occasional commute. The big analog clock is the kind of luxury feature you’d have never seen on a Toyota Tercel, and it still keeps good time at age 32; naturally, I have added it to my car clock collection.
Power came from the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that went into the base versions of the Golf, Jetta, and Scirocco; the Fox version made 81 horsepower in 1987. Note the fuel distributor for the dreaded CIS fuel-injection system, next to the intake manifold.
Despite the nice clock, this car was one of the cheapest versions of the Fox: a two-door sedan with four-speed manual transmission, scratchy industro-cloth upholstery, and no air conditioning. The MSRP came to just $5,690 in 1987, a steal compared to the $8,190 Golf that year. Meanwhile, the wretched 1987 Hyundai Excel sold for $5,995 and the well-built-but-boring 1987 Toyota Tercel had a $6,548 price tag. The tinny and underpowered Subaru Justy cost $5,725. You could get the early-1970s-technology Chevette for a mere $4,995 that year (yes, GM was still selling Chevettes in 1987), and the best Yugoslavian car in North America could be had for just $4,185 that year.The Fox was more reliable than the Excel and Yugo, more comfortable than the Chevette, slightly less rust-prone than the Justy, and a lot more fun to drive than the Tercel, so it wasn’t a bad deal for its time (though I’d still have bought the Tercel, or a five-year-old Civic).
An interesting bit of Volkswagen history, but even the most diehard North American VW fanatics seem indifferent to Foxes; even after a couple of months in this junkyard’s inventory, few of its parts have been sold.
German engineering everyone can afford… again.
The Brazilian-market ads were a lot more fun.
Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Furiouschads Furiouschads on Aug 24, 2019

    Bernie owned a VW Fox.

  • Brassnpockt Brassnpockt on Aug 15, 2023

    I had an '88, 2-dr base. It was a nice car. Coming from an Escort, it was like driving a Bentley. The 4-door GL had a/c and a velour interior which was nicer. Later I owned an '88 wagon which I also liked. They were good cars for me. In fact, I still drive a VW today.

  • RHD Questions? None, no, not really. Interested in some random Hyundai? No, not at all. Yawn.
  • Formula m Alfa-Romeo had the great idea to unveil my all time favourite car at the world expo in Montreal. Never built or Sold in North America. The called it the Alfa Romeo Montreal. Never even sold in North America.
  • RHD Nice little car. Give it comfortable seats, price it very competitively and leave the Alfa Romeo script on the grille. We need a smaller, cheaper electric car, and this could be just the thing to bring AR back. Heck, rebrand a variant as a Chrysler, so that potential buyers actually have something to look at in the showroom. Give it a nice long warranty. The wheels are great, hopefully the rest of it will follow through.
  • Jkross22 bwa ha ha ha ha!