Project Rabbit GTI: Did We Buy a Gem or a Lemon?

Story and Photography by Tim Suddard

Upon taking possession of our 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI–one turbocharged by Callaway–we towed it back home. Then, finally, we could put it on the lift and see what we had purchased. 

Our initial suspicions were confirmed: This was one nice, little GTI. Other than a body plug that obviously had not been painted, the chassis was rust-free.

Underneath we found Bilstein dampers, modified front and rear anti-roll bars, and lower strut braces both front and rear. We knew this had been an autocross car, and we saw steps taken to keep the chassis stiff.

The mechanicals mostly looked good, except for the rear wheel bearings and brake cylinders as well as the front brakes. The axle boots were ripped, so we will just have the axles rebuilt.

Under the hood, everything seemed intact–but oh so filthy. 

While looking a bit crusty, we found upgraded Bilstein dampers plus strut braces.  

As for the body itself, we found only two small rust spots: on the lower rear valance and in the sunroof channel.

The paint looks to be mostly original, with some repair work showing on both doors from break-ins. Supposedly, back in the day, a lot of Rabbits were breached as thieves could easily punch through the door skin and jimmy open the handle. 

The body itself looked straight, too, aside from a minor ding in the front-left rocker panel and a couple of dents in the floor, the latter likely due to careless jacking. 

The previous owner had added a trailer hitch, probably to carry some autocross tires and wheels. We would need to remove it, as well as any evidence that it had once been installed.

This unsightly trailer hitch would have to go. Thankfully it was just bolted-on and could easily be removed. 

Time for new tires. Tire Rack sent over some Dunlop Dirrezas in the original 14-inch size post haste.

The front end of this GTI, though, bore the brunt of the car’s troubles: rock chips, cracked headlights and broken add-on driving lamps. The original front bumper had also been replaced with an aftermarket, European-market Golf front piece.

While the Rabbit’s interior was dirty and dusty, it still looked pretty flawless: No rips, no tears, no issues. Other than wear from the clutch pedal–the stop was missing–the carpet looked great, too.

Inside, our interior looked shockingly good. Even the carpet was decent.

The door panels looked new but, sadly, someone had cut holes for aftermarket speakers. 

Overall, we’re pretty darned pleased with our purchase, so very soon we’ll clean it up and get it running again.

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mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
5/12/20 11:43 a.m.

1. Those seats are rad. 

2. For the love of god, clean the engine bay. 

Greg Smith (Forum Supporter)
Greg Smith (Forum Supporter) Dork
5/12/20 8:35 p.m.

Spot on. Those seats are pure vintage 1980's. And the door cards are sweet too!

I don't like the immediate "remove the hitch" response - it's a bolt on, keep it!! Maybe not installed, but please... keep it with the car. 

noddaz UltraDork
5/13/20 4:48 p.m.

That is a clean little car concidering the age.

Nice find.

Find a nice vintage=ish looking radio and put some speakers in the doors since the holes are there.



Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
5/13/20 4:56 p.m.

In reply to Greg Smith (Forum Supporter) :

I still have it, but it sure is ugly. And what could a Rabbit possibly tow?


Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
5/13/20 4:56 p.m.

In reply to mazdeuce - Seth :

The engine bay was so gross. It also had undercoating all over it, but we have it looking pretty good now, as you will see when the stories unfold.


Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
5/18/20 10:13 p.m.

In reply to Tim Suddard :

The dealer probably sold the PO a Ziebart treatment.  Remember those? How they used to coat the entire firewall and inner fenders too.  The material was tacky (the tactile tacky, not the taste-level tacky) so it picked up all the dust and dirt swirling through the engine bay under operation. The engine room stated looking like hell by Day 5 of ownership.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
5/19/20 9:08 a.m.

In reply to Jerry From LA :

LOL, when I was a teenager, working for my dad, my job was to rustproof the cars. Such a messy job.

Vettetoo New Reader
5/19/20 5:00 p.m.

I may have missed it, but are you attempting a frame off or frame on restoration? Just curious as I'm just diving into cleaning up a '84 GTI.

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