In the late 70s, otherwise known as the dark ages by car buffs (I’m looking at you 165 horsepower Corvette) gas mileage became king. This was the time for the small cars that were already so pervasive in Europe to make their mark on the American market. To take advantage of this, Volkswagen brought over it’s Golf in 1975 to the United States and called it the Rabbit. The car became popular because of it’s European styling and handling, and in 1977 Volkswagen opened a plant in the United States to take advantage of the cost savings in producing the high volume, low cost cars directly in the states.
This plant was opened in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, not too far from Used Cars On-Line’s headquarters of Pittsburgh. Volkswagen initially put a former executive of Chevrolet as the head of this plant, and he felt the car needed an American feel, seemingly missing the fact that it’s European engineering was what made it more popular then American attempts at small cars. He instituted a softer suspension and cheaper interior, and these Rabbits are the worst examples of old Golfs you can buy. In 1983 the plant switched to the same materials used in the rest of the world, but the damage may have been done. By 1988 the Westmoreland plant was closed, and Volkswagen essentially abandoned making any more cars in the United States until its recent resurgence (with plans to open a plant in Tennessee).
As you may know, the Rabbit was also renamed the Golf to match the rest of the world around this time. Now Golfs are some of the most popular small cars in the United States (and especially the rest of the world), but there are still some of these Rabbit’s around, and VW has tried to capture the nostalgia of the old Rabbits by changing late model Golfs to bear a little Rabbit logo.
Unless you have a soft spot for the rare American engineered Rabbit’s of 77-83, we recommend you avoid these years, but a late 80s American built Rabbit should be decent and may be a rare example of early European car manufacturing in the US.
And of course if you don’t want to work on a classic car, you can always search for one of the newer Volkswagen Rabbits right here!