Good morning Autopians! It’s August 1st, or, I suppose, July 32nd in our reckoning. Today, I hope you’ll indulge me in a little personal walk down memory lane as we take a look at two cars my family owned when I was growing up. But before we get there, let’s see which vessel won our naval battle on Friday:
Well, that’s pretty decisive. It’s also wrong; this is one rare instance in which the correct answer, “neither,” wasn’t a choice. Don’t get a boat. Get a friend with a boat.
This pairing brought up in the comments an interesting phenomenon that I think warrants a mention: When it comes to obscure old machinery, there will always be a small but vocal group who absolutely love it, sing its praises, and won’t hear a bad word against it. There will also be plenty who had a bad experience with it, which causes them to denounce any and all examples of such a machine as “junk.” It’s important to take both of those groups’ anecdotes with a grain of salt, because I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Our two cars today are definitely obscure, mechanically related, and both a part of my personal history. My family’s car choices were always offbeat, encompassing everything from an Opel Manta to a Fiat 128 sedan to a Dodge 600. My love of weird old slow cars, and my near-total brand agnosticism, come directly from that hodgepodge of vehicles. We had one of each of these, one of them nearly identical to the car shown here. I promise I will endeavor to refrain from too much wistful reminiscence as we check them out.
1980 Volkswagen Dasher Diesel – $850
Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter diesel inline 4, 4 speed manual, FWD
Location: Tualatin, OR
Odometer reading: 166,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yes, but “not well”
The first number you need to know when it comes to this car is forty-eight. That’s the horsepower rating. At sea-level. At 12,095 feet, the elevation of Independence Pass in Colorado, it’s… less than that. At the top of Pike’s Peak – 14,110 feet – it’s even less. But it can climb to both those elevations; it just takes a while. I know this because we took family vacations in one of these when I was in grade school, and my mom loved the Colorado mountains. [Editor’s Note: This is such an absurd car to have grown up in. So far from where the industry is now, and where it’s headed. It’s awesome. -DT]
This absurdly low-powered engine made for some slow Rabbits, but in the first-generation Passat (as this car was known everywhere else) it dragged the 0-60 time down to just over 19 seconds. That’s quicker than a contemporary Mercedes-Benz 240D by almost 3 seconds, but still languid. That’s the downside. The upside is that these Dashers flirted with 50 miles per gallon on the highway, and in a whole lot greater comfort than the tinny little Japanese boxes that could pull similar numbers.
This particular Dasher has seen better days. It was an Oregon coast car, and the salt air has not been kind. That crisp Giugiaro styling is riddled with rust and dents, and it’s been sitting for 20 years. Diesels can generally handle long storage pretty well, and it does run (and presumably drive), but there will still be a lot of work to do if you wanted to put it back on the road.
Is it worth it? Probably only to some weirdo like me who has a sentimental attachment to it. And this four-door doesn’t push the nostalgia buttons nearly as much as a two-door like our old one was. Don’t worry; I’m not crazy enough to drag this old rustbucket home. But I kinda hope someone is that crazy; I’d hate to see it go to the crusher.
1988 Audi 5000S – $1,400
Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter inline 5, 3 speed automatic, FWD
Location: Farmers Branch, TX
Odometer reading: 172,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yep, but needs some HVAC work
This car still looks like a spaceship to me. When this generation of Audi’s notorious 5000 model first appeared in magazines in 1983, it looked like the future: impossibly sleek and completely unlike anything else on the road. To younger eyes it probably looks a lot more stodgy and old-fashioned, but there are a lot of firsts or near-firsts here, especially in terms of aerodynamics: flush-mounted windows, a seal along the leading edge of the hood, and an undertray are all common now, but they were exotic and futuristic in 1983.
The big Audi shares some DNA with the Dasher above; both use the same canted-over longitudinal engine placement with a transaxle behind it driving the front wheels. In some of the Audis, of course, that transaxle had a driveshaft out the back end leading to the rear wheels (Audi’s legendary “Quattro” all-wheel-drive system), but here we have only front wheel drive.
This car is an automatic, the very subject of an infamous hatchet job by TV news program 60 Minutes. By 1988, when this car was built, the gearshift had an interlock that would not allow the shifter to move out of Park unless the driver’s foot was on the brake. Audi was later exonerated, but the damage was done, and it took years for their US sales to recover.
The whole fiasco was a shame, because the Audi 5000 was a really, really nice car: smooth, quiet, solid, good-handling, and a respectable performer for its time. We owned three of them in my family over the years, one virtually identical to this one, only a year older. (It’s the car I drove to my senior prom, in fact.) All were wonderful cars to drive, but fussy and high-maintenance. That much has not changed when it comes to Audi.
This 5000 runs and drives well, but a lot of the interior is taken apart. The HVAC controls need repair, and the driver’s side window won’t go down. It includes a whole trunkload of spare parts, three service manuals, and all the removed interior bits. This one is a whole lot more tempting to me than the Dasher. In fact, it’s probably a really good thing it’s all the way down in Texas.
So, that’s my little trip down memory lane, and thank you all for coming along. Your choices for today are a used-up slowpoke and a hot mess. Whether this lends any insight into my own oddball automotive tastes, I’ll leave up to you.
My initial impulse was the 5000 because it is the grandfather of aero styled cars but the torn up dash is more PCH than the rusty Dasher. Also coastal rust is more cosmetic than structural (reverse David Tracy)
Man, I simply do not understand everyone’s nostalgia for cars like these. I’ll take the Audi just because it’s not a literal shit-colored shitbox. In fact, other than the minor assembly required it doesn’t strike me as all that shitboxy anyway. But that Dasher, hoo boy, what a sad and ugly pile of despair. I’d trade it for a bus pass and a pair of used sneakers.
“By 1988, when this car was built, the gearshift had an interlock that would not allow the shifter to move out of Park unless the driver’s foot was on the brake.”
Wait, isn’t that supposed to be the way all autos work? My car won’t let me move the shifter out of Park if I don’t step on the brake pedal either. Am I missing something? European here, all my car’s have been manuals except for the last two.
As far ad I know, the interlock didn’t appear on most automatics until after the Audi kerfuffle. I know I’ve had quite a few ’70s and early ’80s American cars with no interlocks. Volvo probably had one before then, they were ahead of the curve on everything. But it wasn’t until after the Audi mess that the interlocks were mandated in the US. I don’t know about the rules in the rest of the world.
Aaaah I misread the article, I thought the interlock was the cause of the problem and I couldn’t get my head round that, as it is the kind of system that would prevent the so-called unintended acceleration. Thanks for the clarification!
Automatics prior this weren’t equipped with the “Shift Interlock” safety feature, I fondly recall every (auto) Bimmer predating midcyle E30s could be put into gear merely by reaching through the window.
both about 1,000 dollars too much, they are scrap at best, but the old VW diesels are making a comeback, especially in the Caddy’s, so I would take the dasher diesel for parts I suppose.
I kinda want the Dasher, but I votes Audi in honor of my uncle. He knew the unintended acceleration thing was BS, so he bought those things, seemingly by the dozen and for practically nothing , from people who were terrified to drive them.
In the late 80s, we needed a new car. For the same money as a new, base level, automatic Chevy Corsica, a meh car if there ever was one, we scored an Audi 5000CS Turbo Quattro five speed coming off a three year lease. It was the unintended acceleration discount at work, despite it being a manual. What an amazing car that was, especially for that era. Plenty of power with the 5 speed gearing and handled like it was riding on rails. First car in which I exceeded 100mph. Went through CV boots like water, but we got several good years out of it. Always loved that unique 5 cylinder sound and it was great for ski trips with the AWD and the built-in, through the rear seat ski bag.
@Mark, I drove VWs for over 20 years.
I’m curious, any idea why did it chew through CV boots for breakfast, lunch & dinner?
Looking at that Dasher I thought I was looking at a Tatra 613:
Just VW cribbing Tatra again.
Neither is the best vote here, but since that’s not part of the game, I voted Audi. Simply because it’s red. It’ll look good enough to sell once I get fed up with fixing things.
Learned to drive in an 89 Caprice Classic, 305 V8, posi, police handling package. It was a great car.
Plus the C2 alloys look pretty nifty with the red!
I once owned a light metallic blue 1988 Audi of that kind, known over here as the 100, 2.2 litre injection manual, without AC, but with the newer and more beautiful dashboard. It had 452.000 km (280K miles) on it and it drove wonderful and didn’t have any faults what so ever!
Took it to 200 km/h (124 mph) once without much effort, and I loved the large firm seats and the quality feel to everything. It was well isolated, so the cabin was still luke warm the next morning, if you had much heat on late the previous night.
Oh, and the trunk was absolutely huge. Really no need for an Avant or something.
So buy that one!
The only thing it has in common with a worn out VW is that it originated in West Germany.
– And I don’t even like Audis really, and have owned a lot of other VWs… It was just such a good, and only slightly boring, car 🙂
5 cylinder is the only answer here. Also the 5000 became the C3 is the same chassis as the RS2, and you could easily drop an RS2 engine into that if you wanted. Stretched a bit bigger it became the C4 chassis. Solid car.
When it comes to old German cars, the fewer electrical and/or electronic devices, the better. Heck, you can get an old VW IDI engine to run with just 2 wires – one to the starter and one to the fuel cutoff solenoid. For that reason alone, I pick the Dasher.
I’m also going with for the next list of doing “Cars I learned How To Drive In.” But for me, my grow up cars were
1985(?) Ford Escort Hatchback (for added accuracy, but on larger tires on just the front of the car; that’s how my dad drove in the winter months)
1989 Mercury Sable sedan
1991 and 1992 Ford Tempo sedans, in the same color
1996 Mercury Sable station wagon
1990 Pontiac Grand Am (my first car!)
2005 Kia Spectra sedan
No vote here. There is no way I’ll ever buy another VAG product. Although post-apocalypse, I might take the Dasher for free.
Haha, Dasher with an LS4
I’d have to go with the Audi. The VW is temping for the ease of working on it (I’ve owned and worked on a number VWs) and for its amusing rarity, but even if you spent all the time fixing the rust, you’d be so far in the hole you’d have to drive it until the sun burnt out to make it worth your while.
The Audi at least has all the parts needed with it, so with a lot of time and determination, you could give a kid a reliably safe first car that isn’t going to look so far out of date they get a hard time over it. Plus, they are a lot nicer to drive in modern traffic.
I had an ’85 5000, with Quattro and a five-speed. It was an absolute gem on the highway, and introduced me to the wonders of 5-bangers. It did have downsides, like a climate control system that wouldn’t do anything and some wonky electrics.
But in a downpour, I could not bust any tire loose no matter how hard I tried. It just stuck.
I member back in ’86, 87 my mom’s bf had an ;85 5000S and often lamented he didn’t get the Quattro. His wasn’t even a stick, but that car sure had long legs on the highway. Back then, most cars had a lot of air noise at speed, but the Germans sure set some examples 😀
My dad had an 85 Audi 5000S from 1985 to 1991. I don’t think it was ever out of the shop for more than six weeks for the entire six years he had it. It was a great car but the continuous stream of problems spoiled it. As far as sudden acceleration, it only had 110 hp so I would have appreciated some suddenness.
My aunt (Dad’s sister) had an early 80’s Rabbit diesel pickup. It suffered considerable indignities at the hands of my cousins, but took it and kept on going. My cousin got a ticket for doing 80 in a 55 zone and he said he was going to frame it just to prove it would go that fast. I learned to drive a stick in it.
So, if we’re doing nostalgia, I vote for the VW diesel.
And I have had a germanic “Ze OWdi Fif Zousand Ess” commercial stuck in my head since then.
The VW can be converted to run on waste vegetable oil and/or biodiesel. That would be my pick. Although, I’d be tempted to try to fit a 15-year old 1.9L TDI engine in one, tuned and chipped to about 180 horses, which would make it quite a performer(until something breaks, at least).
In addition to “Cars I Grew Up In”, “Cars I learned to Drive In” might be an interesting topic. Somehow…
I’ll start (iirc):
’68 Ford Falcon Wagon, 289, 3-on-the-tree
(Later turned into a stump-jumper; inoperative very soon after)
To keep “Cars I Grew Up In” going:
’72 Ford Fairlane, 302, slushbox (my 82 YO great-aunt drove this thing wide open in the city, until she couldn’t. NO one better hog her right-of-way!);
’72 Chevy Malibu, 305, slushbox (family ride);
’72 Ford Maverick, 240 inline 6, slushbox (swapped a 302 and better slushbox. Still…a slushbox);
’77 Chevy Vega Hatch, 350, 4Speed (Muncie iirc), 4.11 posi. Fun, but DAMN!;
60-something VW Dune Buggy (What an underpowered POS, and SO fun at the time)
I’ll never find the car I learned to drive in for our kind of money: a 1981 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler, 258 6 cylinder, 4 speed.
Roger that, Mark. Not a showdown, for sure. Thought it might make a good future article topic or comment thread if nothing else. Thanks for keeping SS going! It’s one of the best features on the site!
Thanks, glad you like it! A post where everyone here relates their “learning to drive” story and readers comment in with theirs would be a good Friday afternoon get-people-commenting idea. I’ll mention it.
Another one would be ‘Your road-trip from hell’. There are just over 500 of them over at the Cartalk website for anyone looking to disappear a crappy-weather weekend. Some are downright epic. I bet the folks here could provide some really good ones given our affinity for weird rides
I learned in a 1974 Renault 12 wagon with a 4-speed. Sloppiest shifter I have ever encountered, plus no power steering nor power brakes. Slow and weird, but everything I have driven after that has been a breeze, so probably an ideal learn-to-drive car for me.
Oh, another opportunity to gush on about the cars that were important to us, without requiring any coherence? I’m in! Lemme see what can I remember:
1) 1970’s Chevrolet Chevette, colour unknown – brought me home from the hospital (which is a generous term to use for the place where I was born). I have no idea how it looked like, it was a loan from an uncle, and possibly driven by him as well;
2) 1970 VW Beetle, yellow – Another car from another uncle, on a loan to my dad after I broke my arm one day. Got stolen in front of our house. Taught 5 y.o. me a lesson on human nature;
3) 1973 VW Beetle, white – First car my dad bought, had a floor full of holes. Found out the hard way once we hit a medium-sized puddle. I (kinda) learned how to drive on this thing, that is, how to shift, move forward and how to point the car towards where I want it to go, but I was still too young for my dad to let me drive it for real. He took his time to teach how to negotiate inclines on a manual, though – living on a hill like we did at the time, you need to know that!
4) 1983 VW Voyage, white – Second car my dad brought, had (and this is true) even more holes on the floor, but was more or less equally beat up overall. Still, had plenty more room, and I remember being fascinating with the concept of having a proper boot.
5) 1999 VW Gol, plum colour(?) – First car my dad got new. I still remember the sense of wonder, the deliciously poisonous new car smell… it is still ingrained in my mind as the standard of “we got a nice thing!”. Crapped on us within a week, engine failure, thankfully still under warranty. Took ages to fix, and went away within a year or two. A shame, but it wasn’t meant to be. Ruined 0 km carks for me.
6) 2001 Fiat Palio, wine red – My dad and I pooled money and got it second hand, two years of use. Despite that, took a 2,200km road trip like a champ (and I missed that out, was busy working and regret it to this day). This is also the car where I really learned how to drive – on account of my dad tapping out of this mortal coil in 2005 and I having to move it around so it won’t get damaged. I kept the thing for 13 years, and passed it on to my cousin when I left the country. Never EVER let me down, and even rescued me from the fire I was on the next entry on this list:
6a) 1997 Volkswagen T1.5, white – by far the rattiest car I’ve ever owned (even if indirectly, I got it for my company to haul parts and servicemen in a small scale shipyard). That car was weird, scary and unreliable (the fire I mentioned above was with me inside, in the middle of a long bridge, and with a big cylinder of gas inside, no less. We salvaged it, but still stank for the rest of its life). Regardless, when it was not trying to murder me, It could carry THE WORLD, and got me drunk on the sense of liberty of being able to carry my house away on it, if I so desired. I remember that we once had a flood on my city and I spent a night rescuing stranded people – with that VW engine and rear wheel drive it could practically ford a river! Thanks to it, my sense of “cool car” is not speed or looks, but simple, humble carrying capacity. I’ve left it behind when the company went under, and it probably got back to the Earth, the poor beast. Rest in Piece.
7) 2016 Opel Zafira Tourer, white – the first car that I bought all by myself, in a new country, in a language that I don’t speak (at least not anywhere close enough to sign stuff). I miss having a manual transmission, but it is the perfect mix between #6 (reliable, lightly used, technically from a Stellantis company, and small on the outside) and 6a (white and round like Stay Puft, can carry a lot more than it looks, and is perfect for hauling friends around). It is also my first car with air conditioning and four doors, after all these years. I like it!
There were a few other cars here and there, because we spent a few years between each of those cars, but they are the ones that built my gearhead DNA. Keep in mind the first six (and 6a) are Brazilian cars, so slightly different than what you might expect. And, as you can probably notice if you got this far, my family and I tend to keep the same car for a long time, and I hope to be able to do the same with my current one.
Sorry for the long post, I got nostalgic 🙂
That is an excellent story about your VW bus. I’d love to read a longer-form version of it someday.
in approximent order that they came
’60 Chevy Corvair (barely remember this one, sold after gas heater exploded)
’54 MG TF
’62 Karmann Ghia (later turned into dune buggy)
’65 Alfa Giulia Sprint GT
’66 VW Type II Bus (there was an eariler bus, don’t know what year, was rolled)
’67 Karman Ghia
’68? Nissan Patrol
’68 Olds Vista Cruiser
’71 VW Bus
’74 VW Rabbit (car I learned to drive in)
’75 VW Scirocco (still have this one)
geese, I wish there was an edit button. “Approximate.” UGH. (Also KarmanN)
Speaking of, had about a dozen of those noisy fuckers in my driveway when I got home yesterday. Thought I was gonna make Pate’ for a minute.
Both of these cars are based on my weekend.
Unending migraines that will make you wish for sweet release.
I guess you could at least drive the Audi off a cliff. The VW, stick to a pond, you’ll never get up the hill.
Audi, but: Got Mechanic?
Since we’re riding the nostalgia train, I’m hopping on the Audi.
My mother was so against me getting my license (reverse empty next syndrome?) she wouldn’t lend me her car to take my driver’s test in and my father was long gone. So my neighbors, long time family friends, kindly lent me the use of their Audi 200 for the test. Wisely, we took it for a test drive beforehand so I could get acclimated to the vehicle. I had really only spent the required number of hours behind the wheel up until this point; I was an automotive late-bloomer. It was during that initial test drive that I learned on European cars like that one, the km/h was the primary markings on the speedometer and I had to watch the fine-print MPH. Whoops.
Yikes! This definitely a “neither” kind of choice. But, push comes to shove, I’ll take the not-so-dashing Dasher for less than a kilobuck and take a page out of Mercedes book and take it on a Gambler 500 adventure.
For the boats, I didn’t chose neither because that is usually met with responses for “Stick to the poll, chose one”. I agree a friend’s boat is the best answer.
For today’s poll. The Audi won by a slight margin, though the hole and wires near the shifter raise red flags. As a drive it until it fails and off to the junkward choice it could work.
There’s a whole center console that covers the tunnel and shifter that’s removed. The HVAC controls are on the fritz and the seller took it apart to fix. Everything is there, it just needs to be put back in after the repair. I think the wire by the shifter is for the back-light for the PRNDL.
If it helps family-wise, I do believe a red 5000 was also the choice of Ferris Bueller’s dad…
Until we get the ability to post pics, just imagine him gesturing to the old lady wallowing from side to side on the street as March of the Swivelheads plays.
I’ll take the hot mess. You can’t un-use-up a used-up old crapcan without a shitton of money.
I’ve always liked Audi. I’ve only owned one, and this car is just like it. From what I’ve seen in the used market, the front wheel drives have always sold at a pretty big discount over the quattro, and you get better mileage and lower maintenance. I would have liked the more sporty version, but the price premium was too high for me.
I really don’t want either of them, but forced to pick I’ll take the one that isn’t half taken apart already.