Time Machine Test Drive: 1984 VW Rabbit GTI sowed seeds of hot hatch

Time Machine Take a look at Drive: 1984 VW Rabbit GTI sowed seeds of sizzling hatch

The Rabbit GTI boasted improved dealing with and a modest energy improve over the usual mannequin | Motor Authority photographs

I’m sitting sports-car low behind a low-set dashboard and an upright image window windshield that gives a view of the entrance corners of the hood. I fireplace up the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and the exhaust rattles like a hive of employee bees. It’s stuffed with sound and fury signifying…90 horsepower.

After I let off the throttle, the idle drops too low to maintain the
engine from shuddering and stalling. Just a few pumps of the throttle are wanted
till it warms up. I don’t miss these days.

I don’t miss the vehicles I owned again then, both. Like most children with Midwestern roots, my tastes ran towards what I may afford amongst American vehicles: a 1978 Ford Fairmont wagon, a 1974 Buick LeSabre Luxus, a 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra, and a pair of Pontiac Grand Prixes of 1978 and 1983 classic.


The Pontiacs have been the perfect, however they weren’t this small, didn’t
really feel this tight, and didn’t have the spunk of this 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI.
It jogs my memory of coming of age throughout a time of automotive malaise, and the
GTI’s promise of a brand new period: the recent hatch.

This Rabbit GTI marks the final
mannequin 12 months for the first-generation GTI. It debuted in 1976 overseas, however didn’t arrive in America till 1983, and it
was quickly redesigned for 1985. It might have been the unique sizzling hatch, however the
first-generation GTI wasn’t so sizzling. As a substitute, it was totally different: small, agile,
strong, and sporty at a time when America made passionless vehicles that have been both
massive and plodding or small and chintzy. 

I attain beneath my proper knee like a giant rig driver to shift into 1st gear and set off in a chunk of historical past.

This 61,000-mile Rabbit GTI – a part of Volkswagen’s classic fleet in Detroit – doesn’t have the traditional plaid seats that date again to the primary GTIs from the mid-’70s. As a substitute, I’m sitting on a well-bolstered bucket ensconced in crimson velvet that was all the craze within the 1970s and ’80s however is now as out of favor as shag carpeting and wooden wall paneling.


I grip a big, skinny, vinyl
steering wheel adorned solely with 4 spherical horn buttons and yank it to the
proper to show onto the highway. I’m in for a exercise as a result of the automotive lacks energy

It additionally lacks the recent we affiliate
with hatch in the present day. The luke-warm hatch radiated even much less warmth when it launched
within the U.S. Whereas the world obtained a 105-horsepower engine, the U.S. model
was defanged to 90 horses.

Nonetheless, the first-gen GTI weighed solely about 1,800 kilos so its power-to-weight ratio made it moderately spritely for the period, with a 0-60 mph time of about 9.Zero seconds. Gasoline injection added energy and a measure of reliability, regardless of in the present day’s tough begin.

The Rabbit GTI isn’t any burner by in the present day’s requirements. In a 3,500-pound automotive, 90 hp could be actually anemic, however lightness counts and the GTI retains up with metropolis site visitors simply nice. It may even get out forward of suburban commuters of their look-alike SUVs if I shift late sufficient to maintain the revs up nearer to the 6,200 rpm redline.


Nonetheless, the gears aren’t really easy to seek out with the golf-ball shifter, and it’s simple to begin in third as an alternative of 1st or shift from 2nd to fifth, both of which leaves me with no helpful energy. Fortunately, clutch takeup is predictable and the shifter slots simply into gear as soon as I discover the fitting one, although it balks at downshifts into 1st when the automotive is rolling.

A average sprint from a stoplight
hardly feels totally different than a full-throttle launch. Essentially the most notable distinction
is how offended the worker-bee exhaust observe sounds.  

The little 4-cylinder’s willpower even will get it to freeway velocity with relative ease, although passing isn’t actually an possibility. The gearing means the 1.8-liter spins at 4,000 rpm at 75 mph, which doesn’t depart a lot room to dart forward of a merging SUV. The Craig stereo can drown out the racket from the exhaust, however sadly, it masks it largely with a buzz of its personal within the type of distortion. Automotive stereos have come a great distance.

So have suspensions and dealing with
traits. I head to lake nation exterior of Ann Arbor to check the GTI’s
dealing with, which isn’t precisely sizzling, both. On the freeway or a again highway, the
automotive feels strong and planted, however its 185/60R14 Yokohama ES100 tires hand over
grip slightly simply. They’ve comparatively little contact patch in comparison with
in the present day’s wider and grippier tires.

In Highway & Monitor testing
again within the day, the GTI managed simply .797 G of grip on the skidpad. That was
good then, nevertheless it’s lower than Toyota Camry-level in the present day.

Nonetheless, the GTI is a blast to drive and I can virtually go full out. The GTI lets me pin the throttle, preserve the gears low, and assault corners with all of the automotive has and nonetheless stay at or close to the velocity restrict. I can use nearly all of this automotive’s functionality on the road. Try this in a contemporary supercar and even in the present day’s GTI and also you’ll go to jail.

The one actual technique to take a look at
at-the-limit traction is to construct up velocity and pitch the automotive right into a nook. The
engine merely can’t create sufficient velocity between activates a twisty highway to maintain
pushing the boundaries of grip. Nonetheless, this can be a classic automotive with out in the present day’s
security gear, so I’m not about to slip it sideways to check the boundaries of

The steering is gradual sufficient that I
have so as to add extra steering angle than anticipated in tight turns and
roundabouts. It has first rate really feel, although, and whereas it’s a bit unfastened, it errs
extra on the aspect of managed. It’s most annoying at parking-lot speeds the place
it gives an higher physique exercise.

The 60-series tires even have loads of sidewall in comparison with in the present day’s vehicles, so although the GTI had a firmer suspension tune than different Rabbits of the time, the experience isn’t harsh. The driving expertise is simply nice, spirited, and fascinating. This isn’t a sizzling hatch. The warmth would include extra horsepower and grip within the second and third-generation GTIs. Nevertheless it’s nonetheless enjoyable.

As my 146-mile drive concludes, I mirror on what I missed out on. My first handful of vehicles weren’t enjoyable. Dealing with wasn’t a consideration and the idea of lightness didn’t register with me. Had I regarded past our shores, I may have loved smaller, lighter overseas vehicles that delivered enjoyable with out energy.

The GTI was one among them, as have been
the Datsun Z vehicles, the Toyota Celica Supra, the Mazda
RX-7, and the VW’s Scirocco. None of these vehicles invented an automotive
class, although. The GTI did. 

The GTI has only gotten better, and the unique had the kernels of the trendy automotive. The sporty tackle the two-box form, with its red-framed black grille, is unmistakable.

The brand new automotive is bigger with a extra
helpful rear seat and voluminous hatch space. Add 40 years of engineering
developments in tires, energy, steering, and suspension, and it’s simple to see
how the GTI superior from a enjoyable, mild, tiny runabout to a sizzling hatchback that
Volkswagen invented at a time when vehicles elicited little ardour.

This text by Kirk Bell was initially revealed by Motor Authority, an editorial companion of ClassicCars.com.

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