Project Rabbit GTI: Time to Retrieve a Car via Another Road Trip Adventure

We found a true ’80s classic, a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI–and not just any GTI, but one that had been turbocharged by Callaway. 

One small catch: The car sat more than 2500 miles away. And had been sitting for years. 

When we got the deal done, we asked the seller if he could give us 90 days to figure out how to retrieve our new jewel. As a long-time reader, he gladly agreed.

From there we put wheels in motion and decided to follow the folly of buying a low-buck car unseen with yet another folly.

You see, first we decided we would fly out and drive the car home. Then we realized that, maybe, driving cross-country in a car of unknown mechanical shape wasn’t the best idea. 

So we decided to turn this into a two-way road trip: eight days of driving with one day off in Montana and another off to look at the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. 

We planned our route through Richland, Missouri, home of BMW specialists Metric Mechanics. To save some shipping costs and also visit old friends, we would take the transmission from our recently completed BMW 318is project to Richland so the Metric Mechanic crew could rebuild it. Then, a week later, we’d fetch the transmission on the return trip.

The perfect plan was coming together. 

Now we needed a vehicle for the trip. How about we take our Honda Ridgeline shop truck and rent a tow dolly from U-Haul? This plan would require good tires on the rear end of the Rabbit, but think of the money we would save.

Our next call was to the Tire Rack, where we learned that the best tires available in the original 185/60R14 size were Dunlop Direzza Z3s.

We asked them to ship three of them to a local tire store–two for the car plus one spare. The other two were shipped to our home base. 

Between the tow dolly rental and the transmission deal, if we stopped and visited a few hard-to-reach advertisers, this whole deal would somehow start to make sense. Heck, now it’s like we are making money.

By Day 4, we made it to Ovando, Montana, where we visited some friends made on our Orange Blossom Tours.

We did rest for a day and a half, kayaking, fishing and taking in a local rodeo. See, we told you this was going to be a relaxing vacation.

With the resting done, it was off to U-Haul in Helena, Montana. When we arrived, they informed us they didn’t have any tow dollies, but would give us a car hauler trailer for the same price.

While we knew that it made more sense to tow with a trailer, but we also knew that a Ridgeline towing a trailer only gets about 11-12 mpg. At least they had something for us and were open on Labor Day Monday, so that was a plus.

Half an hour outside of town, we found our prize and its owners were happy to see we had made it safely. A bit of fumbling around, naturally right before it got dark, ensued. The car was located on quite a steep slope, which we negotiated with care.

Next we had to deal with the hood latch as we had forgotten that it was nonexistent. We tie wrapped and duct taped our way to safety. 

From there we spent four days on the road, with only one real stop along the way. We made it home with our new treasure intact.

Read more about this adventure in the July 2020 issue of Classic Motorsports.

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View comments on the CMS forums
mr2s2000elise SuperDork
5/8/20 12:56 p.m.

Beautiful GTI. love it. 

Montana is amazing. We have a summer home on Flathead Lake. 

Ridgeline-ewwwwww yuck

5/8/20 4:11 p.m.

I dont know why you are getting 12mpg towing with a Ridgeline. I tow a 2100 pound Datsun on an aluminum single axle trailer and get 20+ MPG with the Ridgeline. Towing in comfort with the air on.



Datsun310Guy UltimaDork
5/8/20 5:10 p.m.

I test drove a new one when they came out but as a struggling college student I couldn't swing it.  I stuck with my Datsun instead.  

bludroptop UltraDork
5/8/20 6:10 p.m.

I saw one just like it in Nebraska last Fall!


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Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
5/12/20 8:40 a.m.

In reply to BB510 :

I would assume it is because of two problems. 1. I drive too fast. 2. That U-haul trailer must be made of solid led. So, so over built.

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