Junkyard Find: 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit 4-Door

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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From the time of the first KdF-Wagens until distressingly deep into the 1970s, Volkswagens had air-cooled engines in back and rode on goofy 1930s chassis designs. Finally, the Audi 80-based Dasher showed up here as a 1974 model, but it wasn't until the following model year that the first true water-cooled VW went on sale in North America.

junkyard find 1975 volkswagen rabbit 4 door

This was the 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, known as the Golf back home (some claim the Golf-based Scirocco may have hit US showrooms a few days before the Rabbit; please discuss in comments). While new air-cooled Beetles remained available here through 1979, sales of those relics fell off a cliff while the revolutionary new hatchback became an instant sales hit on our continent.

Since I began documenting interesting discarded vehicles, 16 years ago, I'd been seeking a first-year Rabbit in car graveyards all over the country. The closest I'd come was a '77 two-door in Denver, but then I hit pay dirt in a Northern California yard last week. Behold the November 1974 date of manufacture on the build sticker!

This yard also has an early Peugeot 505 Turbodiesel, an Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo and even an example of the long-forgotten VW Jetta Hybrid. It was a productive stop on my NorCal Fall Junkyard Tour.

The main reason it's so tough to find a 1975 Rabbit in the boneyards these days is the eagerness with which these cars dissolved into heaps of red powder. Even in not-so-rusty California, they tended to rot in any location that winter rainwater could collect.

It wouldn't have been a challenge to find a '75 Rabbit in California wrecking yards during the 1980s and 1990s, of course. Plenty were sold in the Golden State.

This one has many years of leaf mulch built up in the usual spots, so it's likely that it stopped being driven decades ago and sat in a driveway or yard until everyone got tired of looking at it. That's when Pick-n-Pull got the call to drag it away.

This car came with a 1.5-liter carbureted engine rated at 70 horsepower and 81 foot-pounds.

Yes, that's a points distributor. Futuristic electronic fuel-delivery and ignition hardware came a bit later for the Rabbit. For 1976, the Rabbit got a 1.6-liter engine with one apiece additional horse and pound-foot. With a car weighing just 1,827 pounds, that power upgrade helped.

At least this one has front disc brakes; supposedly, some of the early base-model 1975 Rabbits came with four-wheel-drums.

The 1975 Rabbit was available with two or four doors, in base, Custom or Deluxe trim levels.

MSRP for the four-door started at $3,139, or about $18,498 in 2023 dollars. Meanwhile, your friendly American VW dealership would sell you a shiny new Beetle for $2,895 ($17,060 today) or a Super Beetle for $3,095 ($18,239 now).

The price went up 250 bucks ($1,473 after inflation) if you insisted on an automatic transmission in your 1975 Rabbit. This one has the four-speed manual.

The factory idiot lights must have been insufficient for one of this car's early owners, because these aftermarket gauges have been installed.

The vacuum gauge makes some sense for drivers who needed a reminder to keep a light foot on the throttle to save gas during the 1979 Oil Crisis, but why risk the danger of a fuel line in the passenger compartment in order to have a fuel-pressure gauge on a carbureted engine? The junkyard always offers such mysteries for its visitors.

Was it worth restoring? Absolutely not.

Still, local owners of early Mk1 Golfs will be happy about the parts bonanza offered by this car, and I was happy with the historical bonanza (especially so soon after discovering a nearly-as-rare first-year Nissan Altima).

Zero to 50 in a snappy 8.2 seconds. Happy days are here again!

It beat eight other "super economy cars" and not by a hair, according to Road & Track.

This '75 Scirocco commercial was a lot more fun than the ones for its Rabbit cousin, so let's watch it.

[Images: The author]

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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

More by Murilee Martin

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  • Sobhuza Trooper Sobhuza Trooper on Oct 06, 2023

    I got a used '77 Deluxe Rabbit with 9000 miles in 1978 and drove it in Colorado for 10 years. That car got over 168,000 miles on its first clutch and I used the cork from a bottle of champagne to keep the sunroof weather sealed tight. Yeah, had some electrical gremlins, some from pilot error. But I would commute through Clear Creek Canyon between Boulder and the mountains and I swear that car's secret identity was 'Son of Porsche'.

  • Glennbk Glennbk on Oct 09, 2023

    My mother owned a 1979 (Bought in Dec '78) VW Rabbit GL Tan on Tan vinyl, made in Pennsylvania. First of a new generation with fuel injection, electric cooling fans and a 3 speed Automatic. We traveled all over the place in it. We had electrical gremlins in it. It had a gift of snapping the accelerator cable multiple times. Fuel economy stunk for such a small car. We parted ways in July 1991. Super sad moment.

  • Analoggrotto While ATPs and Telluride sales continue to rise to defeat our unsophisticated competition and unsophisticated customers.
  • Tassos Usually all the 'news' at TTAC are reported two days old, but this one I swear it is more than a FULL WEEK from when I saw the first article on it.
  • Art_Vandelay I wish. Love the 70 series
  • Pco65752756 Why is this not on the High Mile Cars List?
  • SCE to AUX "But we can all go pound sand in North America, unfortunately"In reality, that would be about 1000 people who can go pound sand, which is why this isn't coming to North America.