Volkswagen Rabbit GTI: Winner then, still a winner today?

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Jan 1, 2024 | Volkswagen, rabbit, VW, GTI, Radwood | Posted in Features | From the May 2023 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

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We lived through the ’80s and ’90s and spent a lot of time with the era’s greatest hits–drove them, raced them, even knew them when they still had that new car smell. We fondly remember shopping for Kamei air dams, Hella lamps and 14-inch tires.

But were the cars of those times really that rad? 

We wondered that ourselves, so we ditched the rose-colored glasses for a few to take a look back. Were they all winners, or did a few duds get released? Let’s slip on some Vans, break out the vinyl and take a trip back in time.

First up? The Volkswagen Rabbit GTI.

Volkswagen Rabbit GTI

My first magazine project car was a 1984 VW Rabbit GTI. As a former A2 Golf owner, I kinda knew what I was getting into. 

The GTI got all the trick bits via OPM and BSI Racing: cam, limited-slip diff, full suspension with a big rear bar. A previous owner had changed the exterior color from black to white. I swapped out the red interior for a blue one grabbed from a car the Flis family was prepping for SCCA racing. They now build the MX-5 Cup cars.

On track, the GTI was easy to drive and had plenty of power. Remember, this was when you didn’t need a GT3 Porsche for a local track day. The limited-slip diff–I think it was one of the shimmed “mini-slips”–helped it claw out of corners. 

But I was an apartment dweller with limited mechanical means, so it wasn’t a match made in heaven. The GTI occasionally left us stranded–me in town, Tim on the highway. Then I discovered Hondas.

Verdict: We had a few good times together, but when approached to buy a really good one a few years later, I passed.

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Comments
Jesse Ransom
Jesse Ransom GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
4/5/23 2:49 p.m.

Remember, this was when you didn’t need a GT3 Porsche for a local track day.

Where have we gone wrong?

Anyhow, I've had three A1s, though only one proper GTI. I recall them all more fondly than my one Miata, though it's possible I should've given said Miata more of a chance (and some new shocks).

matthewmcl
matthewmcl Dork
4/5/23 3:10 p.m.

In reply to Jesse Ransom :

I have a 4k 020 with maybe 25k miles post Stu-Brumer rebuild, if you want to take one of the others closer to a GTI.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/5/23 3:53 p.m.
Jesse Ransom said:

Remember, this was when you didn’t need a GT3 Porsche for a local track day.

Where have we gone wrong?

I still think a track day with a 200-horsepower cap would be cool. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/5/23 4:24 p.m.

JG and I should tell the story behind the photo, too. 

84FSP
84FSP UberDork
4/5/23 4:31 p.m.

More rabbit action please!  I'm just getting the final bits done to mine for Autox season!  Call it motivation.  

parker
parker HalfDork
4/5/23 4:44 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:
Jesse Ransom said:

Remember, this was when you didn’t need a GT3 Porsche for a local track day.

Where have we gone wrong?

I still think a track day with a 200-horsepower cap would be cool. 

Yes!  The FR-S would be a track bully on that day.

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/5/23 5:00 p.m.

In reply to parker :

Yup. BRZ/FR-S, Integra Type R, Civic Si, Miata, non-M 3 Series, etc., etc. Air-cooled 911, anyone? 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/5/23 6:34 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:
Jesse Ransom said:

Remember, this was when you didn’t need a GT3 Porsche for a local track day.

Where have we gone wrong?

I still think a track day with a 200-horsepower cap would be cool. 

You have my steel by your side!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/5/23 8:51 p.m.

In reply to Pete. (l33t FS) :

Hmmmm, maybe there’s something here. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/5/23 8:52 p.m.

And maybe the most important thing here: Where did those SCCA Solo Events stickers go? I have (seriously) been looking for a pair. Looks like I had a set on magnetics at one time.

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