The Last Volkswagen Pickup Truck was an Economy Car Marvel
There’s talk of a new Volkswagen pickup truck today. But you’ve probably forgotten that Volkswagen has already made several trucks and imported them to the U.S. The Rabbit Pickup is the one that most of us remember in the 1980s. They were always hauling lawn waste, car parts, and spare tires, and did it at nearly 40 miles-per-gallon.
It was just a Rabbit. With a bed.
The little Rabbit Pickup was a Rabbit. With a bed. That’s it. The Rabbit was the predecessor to today’s Golf, built as a fuel-efficient, front-wheel drive, hatch back. It was available in lime green and burnt orange, but most were brown. It was a great car that appealed to college kids or adults who wanted something slightly more classy than a Chevrolet Chevette.
So, yes, this was a front-wheel-drive Volkswagen pickup.
Then it became a Volkswagen Pickup
In 1979 VW started selling Rabbit Pickups in the U.S. And they sold well, in their first full year of production for 1980 VW sold 25,532 of the little trucks here. A total of 77,513 were sold according to carsalesbase.com. They were sold alongside the five-seat Rabbit, or Golf, at the time.
At the time Chevrolet was selling the LUV Truck, which was a rebadged Isuzu, Ford sold the Courier, which was a rebadged Mazda, and Subaru was selling the small BRAT. It made sense that VW needed a truck in its lineup. They were even made in America, at VW’s Westmoreland, Pa., factory.
The truck used the Rabbit’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas engine. With just 78 horsepower, it wasn’t known to be fast, but it was mated to a four-speed or five-speed manual. There was a three-speed automatic option. By 1982 the engine was beefed up to a 1.7-liter, and a 1.6-liter Diesel was an option. It was discontinued here for 1984.
Some people will refer to the Rabbit Pickup as a “Caddy,” and that’s not because it looks anything like a Cadillac. VW kept producing the trucks in Europe and sold them for several more years in Yugoslavia as the Caddy.
The Rabbit was a good car that made a good VW Pickup truck
VW did take the front end of a rabbit and then put a bed on the back. That was it. Inside it was still an economy-car. It had a radio. Some had air conditioning. The Wolfsburg edition had special features like a cassette deck, “coordinated interior colors,” and special wheel covers, according to the brochure. Today, we take it for granted that a truck’s interior is coordinated. And when was the last time you saw hubcaps on a truck?
Today, VW is looking at making a new all-electric pickup that could compete with a Rivian or something similar.
Before the Rabbit, you could get a Bus with a bed
The “Chicken Tax” made the Type 2 trucks extremely rare in the U.S. Now, they are coveted by VW fans because they’re funky, fun to drive, and certainly get attention. Essentially they were VW a Microbus with a bed. They were available in single and double cab versions and had a rear-mounted air-cooled four-cylinder. That engine was mounted in the back (like a Beatle) and it made for a very high load floor because the bed was above the motor. They, too, were slow. One common engine, the 1.6 liter, was rated at just 50 horsepower.
VW stopped exporting Type 2 trucks to the U.S. in the late 1960s.
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