For American car shoppers in the early 1980s, the memory of the fuel shortages and gas lines during the 1979 Oil Shock was still fresh. Little did they know that oil prices would come crashing back down to earth in a few years.
Diesel cars became popular in the late 1970s because diesel fuel was cheaper than gasoline. Volkswagen offered a diesel version of the US-market Rabbit in 1977. The Dasher (Passat) and Jetta followed soon after.
This is one of those Jettas, found in a self-service yard in northeastern Colorado last month.
This car was originally built with a diesel engine, as indicated by the build tag. However, the decklid badge (or possibly the entire decklid) has been replaced with one from a gasoline-powered Jetta. Although the diesel engine had fuel injection, all diesel engines have fuel injection.
It might not seem like it would matter, but drivers 40 years ago appreciated knowing that they were behind a severely underpowered vehicle. The big DIESEL badges served as a reminder that it was best to pass as soon as possible.
The 1.8-liter oil-burner in the Rabbit Diesel was rated at a measly 52 horsepower when it was new. Back in 1982, I took my driver-training classes in one of these cars and its poky acceleration was hilariously slow and quite terrifying.
I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to drive a VW at 206 mph.
The Jetta made its North American debut for the 1980 model year. The second-generation Jetta arrived in 1985 and was available as a two-door or four-door. Gasoline and diesel versions were both offered.
Volkswagen of America switched to six-digit odometers in the late 1970s, so this car just barely made it to 200,000 miles.
This car was clearly well-cared for during its long life, as evidenced by the worn but not abused interior.
Malaise Era VW diesels are known for being slow, and this one with an automatic transmission is no different. The base five-speed manual makes it even slower.
The original buyer opted for air conditioning, adding $690 to the $9,240 list price. If you wanted an automatic transmission, that option would cost an extra $405.
The studded snow tires on the car show that the final owner was serious about winter safety.
For decades to come, Volkswagen continued to sell diesel cars in the US, but a combination of factors – including the Oldsmobile diesel V8 debacle and a decrease in gasoline prices in the 1980s – meant that sales never again reached the levels seen during the Malaise Era.
The Jetta was, at heart, a stretched Rabbit with a trunk. And what a trunk! The 8.8-second zero-to-fifty (yes, fifty!) time in this commercial was for the gasoline version, obviously.
The Toyota Starlet later stole the Best Mileage in America crown from the VW diesels. That was a long run!