Login     

2015, Jan - Feb

Diesel Memories 

By Jack Pavie

"Fun with MPG" in the September/October issue of Autoist reminded me of the 1970s, when VW introduced the Rabbit. When the 1.5-liter diesel engine was made available as an option, it was pretty popular. Diesel fuel was less expensive than gasoline back then.

Late in 1975, my wife and I ordered a Rabbit 4-door diesel with a sunroof option from our local dealer. With all those orders for diesels, VW didn't get it to us until late spring 1976. I worked for a computer company as a repairman. The rear hatch and compartment made the Rabbit (pictured above) handy for storing and accessing parts. I drove at least 100 miles every day around the suburbs of Philadelphia.

During warm weather, I remember taking my shoes off so I could drive in my socks. I could feel the gas pedal better that way. I would sometimes drive behind tractor-trailers, at a safe distance, in their slipstream. When possible, I would do 45 mph, nice and steady. I was able to get it into the upper 40- and low 50-mpg range by doing any of that.

The glow plugs were used every time I started. In winter, I used a block heater that I would plug into an outlet for an hour or so to help it start. The heaters would burn out once in a while so I kept a spare and still have one in my basement!

I was careful to add some Siloo diesel additive to every tankful of fuel, give it a few minutes to warm up, change the oil on time, etc., so I don't remember having many issues with the car. One time, my company sent me to Atlanta for a few weeks during the winter. I was getting off the I-285 city loop one afternoon rush hour, and when I pressed on the brake pedal, it went to the floor. I was able to stop using the hand brake and nursed the Rabbit to a nearby repair shop OK.

The shop guys assumed the master cylinder was defective and replaced it. While refilling the reservoir, they became concerned that they had already added over 2 gallons of brake fluid, but it all just kept disappearing! To their surprise, they found a pool of fluid back behind the driver's seat. VW ran one of the brake lines inside under the rug, and apparently it had corroded and burst. The line was replaced, but I had to drive back to Pennsylvania with all the windows open because of the strong odor. The heater had to be set on full for me to keep even slightly warm. Remember, it was winter.

I eventually sold the car to a neighbor when it had around 250,000 miles on it. My neighbor drove it almost 30,000 more miles until the rear axle pulled loose due to rust.

My second Rabbit was a '79 diesel that I bought used from an elderly couple to replace the '76. It, too, was a four-door, and I installed a glass moonroof, an enlarged oil pan, chrome window vents and a neat Hella grille with driving lights. Again, I was careful to get great mileage on it. The only issue I remember was when I was driving home during a very heavy snowstorm. It was dark, the snow was up almost to the bottom of the car, when the V-belt let go with a bang. With no hope of getting a ride, I kept pressing on with several miles yet to go. The result was a warped head from overheating, and it was damaged enough that it had to be replaced. I got almost as many miles out of the '79 as the '76 but ended up scrapping it due to a lot of rust.

To replace the '79, I found a gently used 1980 Rabbit diesel Pickup with low miles. It had a nice truck cap on the back, and I was able to keep my stuff dry in the bed. In my job, I did plenty of driving on the interstates. Occasionally, the truck would suddenly accelerate and blow black clouds of smoke from the exhaust. The only way to stop it was to shift into neutral, turn the key off as quickly as possible, and coast over to the shoulder.

VW had a free breather kit fix for that problem, but the dealer told me it didn't apply to my 1980 model. Seriously? How could that be? I believed they should have given the parts to me so I refused to cough up the $70 VW wanted. I learned that if I kept my speed a little below or a little above 59 mph, the engine behaved. I don't know why, but 59 mph was the magic number to avoid.

That was the only problem I can remember having with the truck. But one day, a lost driver, coming the opposite way, saw the street he had been looking for, and made a left turn right in front of me. My little Rabbit truck wrapped itself around the front corner of that car and died. I was able to walk away but suffered some rather painful seat belt trauma.

My company issued a big Ford Econoline to me after that incident, so it spelled the end of my Rabbit experiences. Well, almost.

A customer I got to know pretty well owned a newer model Rabbit with a gas engine that had seized up. He was eager to get rid of it, and he just gave it to me. I towed it home and was later able to trade it to a repair shop that needed Rabbit parts for a '61 Single Cab Bus. The bus is minus an engine, suffers from some rusting, but everything else is there. I built a shed to store the Bus and a '67 Bug inside, with dreams of doing restorations some day when I've retired.

I have never been able to get anywhere near those MPGs since my early diesel Rabbits. I drive a Ford Escape these days, and as much as I try, the best I can do is around 24 mpg with it.

Regardless of what I drive, I always make sure my headlights are ON at all times since that accident. I hope my experience will encourage you to do the same. VWCA

Jack Pavie | jack.pavie@gmail.com

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

* WEBSITE UPDATE: The VWCA has added several new features to VWClub.org.
* COLD WEATHER TDI: Tips for starting your diesel driver in winter weather.
* AIR-COOLED HEAT: VW's early models are warmly remembered, except in winter.
* KOKOMO OKTOBERFEST: There was something for everyone at the fall event in Indiana.
* CONVENTION 2015: We're gearing up for the Club's 60th anniversary gathering.

PLUS OUR REGULAR COLUMNS AND FEATURES:

* Driver's Seat - VW news & views by Cliff Leppke
* Frontdriver - Richard G. Van Treuren
* Casual Collector - Steve Mierz
* Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
* Retro Autoist - From the archives
* Parting Shot - Photo feature
* VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski

 

 

Autoist Archive

Nov-Dec | 2017
FLAMING GOOD TIME

Hundreds of VWs of every stripe gathered at Foster Park in Kokomo, Ind. for the annual Oktoberfest.

 

Sep-Oct | 2017
62nd VWCA Convention Wrap-up

Members gathered at the throw-back Cascade Drive-in Theater for "Cars 3," part of the VWCA Convention

 

Jul-Aug | 2017
Back To The Future Car

Cliff Leppke's 1983 Scirocco has notched its share of more than 333,000 miles in trips to Road America in Wisconsin. The latest covered about 3,000 miles during a whirlwind vacation excursion.

 

May-Jun | 2017
Swingin' time is in store for members, guests at 62nd annual Club gathering

Augustino's will get members rocking while the NIVA Club will roll out another lineup of VWs at its annual BugFest, part of the VWCA Convention in St. Charles, Ill.

 

Mar-Apr | 2017
Will VW See The Light?

VW once again evokes the memory of the beloved Microbus with its new concept called I.D. Buzz, which created quite a stir at the annual auto show in Detroit. (Photos by Tom Janiszewski)

 

Jan-Feb | 2017
Costly Mistake?

Joe Mayer says he's not out to punish VW over its diesel scandal - he just wanted to make some extra money on a car he thought would be junked. (Photos by Joe Mayer via jalopnik.com.)

 

Nov-Dec | 2016
WATTS OF FUN . . . . . . Meet the new e-Golf

Here's the car that, when you give it a charge, you'll get one back. In VW's first important pivot from its diesel scandal, the e-Golf provides an opening salvo in the carmaker's goal to electrify its fleet.

 

Sep-Oct | 2016
61st Annual Convention

What's an anniversary without a cake? This one didn't go far or last long as Club members enjoyed a variety of activities, including a Sunday car show and picnic, part of the 61st Annual Convention.

 

Jul-Aug | 2016
It's Time To Show Off

A couple of Karmann Ghias are resplendent at the Michigan Vintage VW Club's Festival in Ypsilanti, Mich.  The club held its 29th event in May, while Mid America Motorworks in Effingham, Ill., saluted the air-cooled crowd with a big show in June.

 

May-Jun | 2016
Windfall for TDI owners?

The scam was on as early as 2008, when this Candy White Jetta TDI Clean Diesel model, embellished with green plant matter, was rolled out.  In case anyone had a doubt, VW added the wording "Not a concept car."

 

Mar-Apr | 2016
Lost In Translation

VW CEO Mattias Mueller was in the hot glare of media lights at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, providing the company's latest response to the diesel emissions scandal.

 

Jan-Feb | 2016
VW's Game Plan

VW remains embroiled in a high-stakes game involving government agencies  and hundreds of thousands of owners of diesel models. The company's car on the road of Life has taken a big detour.

 

Nov-Dec | 2015
Engine with a split personality puts VW on the hot seat

The news in September was beyond belief for many VW and TDI enthusiasts: Volkswagen executives admitted that the company intentionally produced cars that violated clean-air laws.

 

Sep-Oct | 2015
Big bites of fun at the 60th VWCA Convention

Doug Narczewshi from Spring Valley, IL, looks over an assortment of water-cooled VWs on display at NIVA's Bug Fest event, part of the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.

 

Jul-Aug | 2015
1969 Beetle gets a second chance to adorn the silver screen

Crew members working on the film "The Good Blonde" prepare for a shot on the California coast involving a 1969 Beetle owned by VWCA member and correspondent Lois Grace.

 

May-Jun | 2015
My Mom, the Daredevil

Around 1960, Cliff Leppke had no idea what was in store for him while being ferried about by his mother. Needless to say, his head was up and his eyes were open.

 

Mar-Apr | 2015
It's Show Time!

The Northeast Illinois Volkswagen Association has an activity-packed weekend planned for the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.

 

Jan-Feb | 2015
Diesel Memories

Jack Pavie of suburban Philadelphia had to wait several months to get his 1975 Rabbit diesel, one of three models he enjoyed in the '70s and '80s.

 

Nov-Dec | 2014
Golf Lessons: Three new models charge up hatchback lineup

The scene at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Va., where Cliff Leppke and other media members ran the 2015 Volkswagens through their paces.

 

Sep-Oct | 2014
Having fun with miles per gallon

A morning commute for a 2012 Golf TDI has become a test on how high the fuel mileage will end up. It hit a high mark in July.

 

Jul-Aug | 2014
2014 VWCA Convention: Wagons, wagens and more - where the buffalo roam

In the VWCA's 59 years of Conventions, the setting in Hudson, Mich. was unique. Just ask VWCA's Tom Janiszewski, the guy driving the orange 1974 Camper.

 

May-Jun | 2014
New Beetle milestone: Though this 1999 model has shown it's flaws over 15 years and 90,000 miles, it's been a blast to drive

May 25 marks the 15th anniversary of my family's New Beetle ownership experience. It was on that day in 1999 that we took delivery of a brand new red GLS model from Kempthorn Volkswagen in Canton, Ohio.

 

Mar-Apr | 2014
Dune buggy with a twist at the Detroit Auto Show

There's a saying that everything old is new again, and since the New Beetle's production debut in 1998, that has been the car's underlying theme.

 

Jan-Feb | 2014
Back At The Ranch

At northern California getaway, Vernon and his family found plenty of ways to enjoy life