The Volkswagen Rabbit: The little car that started it all for the next generation of Volkswagens. The year was 1975 and VW sales were dropping. The Japanese auto makers were swarming the U.S. market with little econoboxes far cheeper than a Beetle. The Beetle had met it's fate. The solution, A small front wheel drive car that was frugal in every way. Behold the VW Rabbit, a water-cooled 4 cylinder, with a transversely mounted engine driving the front wheels for around the same price as a Japanese econobox.
The VW Rabbit was the replacement for the Beetle in the US market. The Rabbit never really caught on until around 1979, when the oil crisis was at full force. The little Rabbit, combined with the optional 1.5l 4 cylinder Diesel delivered superb fuel economy (45 mpg city/up to 57 mpg highway) The Rabbit had waiting lists at the dealership during that time. Production for the U.S. market moved over here to New Stanton* Pennsylvania in 1978. The first Rabbit rolled of the assembly line on April 10th 1978 with NBC news present to unveil the first foreign car to be built in the USA. When production moved, the Rabbit got a make-over for the late 1979 model year. One of the most noticeable changes to define the american Rabbit were the new square headlights. 1979 was also the year the Rabbit convertible made it's debut. It featured the body of the Rabbit but with a soft vinyl top. It featured the round headlights that were on older-model rabbit's. In 1981, the Rabbit got another make-over, gone were the small taillights, the "new" square headlights got carried over from the previous year but got wrap around turn signals to replace the ones previously in the bumper. The Rabbit's interior got "Americanized" by color keying almost everything inside the car. The engine also grew for the 1981 model year, the gas engine grew from 1.6 to 1.7l , and the diesel now a 1.6 up from 1.5.
The Rabbit never received many changes over the time of production, but it did receive many improvements. In late 1979 for the 1980 model year the Rabbit pickup was introduced, lengthened by about 3 feet, the little truck could haul a lot of stuff. It came with a diesel or gas engine(but almost all of them that were sold were diesels) In 1982 the GTi was introduced, a sporty version of the Rabbit. The GTi came with a 1.8l engine, stiffer suspension, alloy wheels, front air dam, and special Recaro sport seats. Top speed, acceleration, and handling were improved on the GTi. Another edition was also released in 1982, this one was the "black tie" edition Rabbit. This Rabbit featured black bumpers and mouldings to dress it up. The interior had special seats, while the outside got a rear wiper. In 1984, the Wolfsburg Edition Rabbit came along. A luxurious Rabbit, that came with a special interior, A/C, an extra moulding on the bottom of the door, and little odds and ends.
In July of 1984 the Rabbit moved over to make way for the production of the new Golf.The Golf is still continuing to be produced today as the Golf mark 4 (MK4). The Rabbit convertible has also continued to be produced after being re-designed and renamed from Rabbit convertible to Cabriolet and renamed once again recently to Cabrio.
The Rabbit, although short lived, gave a new start for Volkswagen. The Rabbit is still sought after all over the U.S., it just goes to show you a good Volkswagen never dies.
The production of the volkswagen rabbit has still not completely died off. MK1's are still being produced by Volkswagen of South Africa as the CitiGolf model. The November '99 "Rabbit of the Month" was made there.
With sales of the Golf steadily dropping in the North American market, VW of America decided on a re-branding of the Golf name. On April 12 2006 at the Detroit Auto Show Volkswagen of America announced the return of the Rabbit. This new model Rabbit is the same model as the Golf V being sold in the rest of the world. VW was hoping the nostalgia-factor coupled with a lower price tag will help boost Rabbit sales. With rising manufacturing costs and a new MK VI chassis design on the way, production of the MK V Rabbit ceased in October 2008. The 2009 model would be the last vehicle available under the VW Rabbit branding. Existing Rabbits that were already been manufactured would continue to be sold until the 2010 MK VI Golf arrived from the manufacturing plants.
N.B. As many of you think the MKI Rabbit was made in Westmorland Pennsylvania, but that's not true. The plant was actually located a few miles away in New Stanton Pennsylvania. Production went from April of 1978 to July of 1988 when VW chastely closed that plant , they are sorry now for that decision. A total of 1,192,411 cars were built there.