The Funky Little Volkswagen Pickup Everyone Forgot About

You don’t usually find Volkswagen and pickup trucks in the same sentence (except in South Africa). But did you know that people were driving Volkswagen pickups in the 1980s?

Yes, really. Feast your eyes on this:

VW rabbit pickup

A Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup. Photo credit: Andrew Duthie

In 1979, Volkswagen took its Rabbit car model and created a compact pickup version of it. They wanted to compete with all the compact pickups hitting the market at the time, and the Rabbit Pickup fit the bill.

Built on a car frame (much like the El Camino), the Rabbit Pickup had a wheelbase that was nearly 9 inches longer than that of its sedan counterpart. It sported a six-foot bed and could haul up to 1,100 pounds.

Ve pickup rear

Seeing Volkswagen across the back of a pickup is an unusual sight, isn’t it? Photo credit: Greg Gjerdingen

The Rabbit Pickup attracted many consumers because its high mileage (45 MPG) allowed them to save money on fuel. Consumers also liked that they could choose between many different options and “mold” their Rabbit Pickups into vehicles that best suited their own needs. Some of the options included:

Engine

  • 1.6 liter gasoline engine – 78 horsepower and 84-lbs.ft. of torque
  • 1.6 liter diesel engine – 48 horsepower and 56.5-lbs.ft. of torque

Transmission

  • Four-speed manual transmission (front wheel drive)
  • Five-speed manual transmission (front wheel drive)
  • Three-speed automatic transmission (gasoline engines only)

Trim

  • Standard trim
  • LX with a cloth or premium vinyl interior, chrome bumpers, an AM/FM radio, a trip odometer, and vent windows

Packages

Volkswagen offered many different packages. Two of the most popular ones were:

  • The Sport Package, which included a center console, bucket seats, body side stripes, and a sport steering wheel
  • The Western Package, which included cargo bed tie-down rails, a skid plate, and Western-style mirrors

VW Pickup Sport

A Sport Rabbit Pickup. Photo credit: John Lloyd

If you’re wondering why you’ve never seen a Rabbit Pickup, it’s because Volkswagen sold only 75,947 units before it halted production of the truck in 1983.

What Killed the Rabbit Pickup?

In 1981, VW sold over 37,000 units. By 1983, they sold only 2,079 units. The disappointing numbers had Volkswagen unexpectedly nixing production halfway through 1983. That’s when Volkswagen gave the compact pickup its last rites.

They spent 1984 and 1985 emptying out their Rabbit Pickup inventory. They sold 392 units in ’84 and only 2 units in ’85.

So why did this happen?

Two reasons: falling gas prices and the attractiveness of full-sized pickups.

Compact pickups were a huge thing in the early 80s because consumers valued practicality over luxury due to the high gas prices at the time. When gas prices started dropping, consumers felt that it was safe to spoil themselves and splurge on nicer cars.

They forewent the high mileage offered by compact pickups in favor of comfort-oriented features offered by full-sized pickups. Such features included all-wheel drive, extended cabs, and high towing capacities.

VW Pickup interior

The Volkswagen Rabbit’s no-frills interior no longer appealed to consumers. Photo credit: Mr. Choppers

The Rabbit Pickup wasn’t entirely dead, though. It remained strong in South Africa. It was called the VW Caddy (a spin-off of the name VW Golf) and it still exists today. But it’s no longer a pickup. Volkswagen transformed it into a commercial van in the mid-90s.

Where to Buy One Today

You may be surprised to learn that people are constantly selling early 80s Volkswagen Rabbit Pickups on eBay. Depending on the condition, you can snag one for a price between $1,000 and $15,000.

You can actually fix one up with some parts from the Rabbit/Golf Series or the Jetta Series, and you can swap out the weak 80s engine motor for a much stronger modern one.

Do you own a Rabbit Pickup? Share it with us on Facebook!