Home » This Tiny Detail About The VW Golf Has A Name And Is Crazy Collectible: Cold Start

This Tiny Detail About The VW Golf Has A Name And Is Crazy Collectible: Cold Start

Cs Swallow Top

One of the things I appreciate most about the hardcore gearhead community is just how wonderfully and absurdly detail-focused people are. The focus on and appreciation for details that would make most well-adjusted humans shrug their shoulders and forget about almost immediately is a hallmark of our strange, strange tribe. One of my favorite examples of this are the “swallowtail” Volkswagen Golfs/Rabbits. Have you heard of this? I suspect a lot of our readers have, but if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat, as you thrill to one of the smallest design details ever to titillate and elicit illicit desires in a group of intense car dorks.

These Golfs and Rabbits are from the very earliest generation of the car, built between March 1974 and sometime in 1975 or so. To most people, they have the same influential and deceptively simple brilliant Giugiaro design, a straightforward and well-proportioned hatchback design that would inspire so many imitators. But to hardcore liquid-cooled VW geeks (I meant the cars are liquid-cooled, but I suppose if they sweat, the geeks are, too?) there’s a few crucial differences, one of which gives these cars their name: swallowtail.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

It’s this (the swallowtail is on the left, the later, much much more common version is on the right):

Cs Swallow Comp

See the difference? Here, I’ll point it out to you:


Cs Swallow Thesehere

See those two little divots in that lower body crease? That’s what all the fuss is about. That’s what’s called the swallowtail. In case you’re wondering why that is, this is what a swallow’s tail actually looks like:

Cs Swallow Bird

Hm. It’s a bit of a stretch, really. But you sort of see where they’re going, with the V-shape of the tail and the sort-of-V-ish \_______/ shape of that character line below the number plate.

Oh, on that green swallowtail Golf up there, another detail I like are those reverse-lamp-less taillights; we never got them here in America, where the inner segment of the taillights was always a clear reverse lamp. On lower-spec European Golfs, you could have them without luxurious, decadent reverse lamps (that one in the picture has an add-on reverse lamp below the bumper) and I just think those look cool, largely because they’re not what I’m used to, and I, as a human, often seek novelty.


There are a number of other tiny detail differences in the swallowtail Rabbits/Golfs, and I suppose I can let this fellow show you, since he’s gone through all the trouble of making a video.

None are particularly noticeable or striking, yet together these details have made these early Golfs some of the most valuable and collectible. I like to think about what it would be like to explain to a normie all the little differences, and why they made this little car cost so much more than another old Rabbit a year or so newer. I find it all sort of ridiculous, and yet at the same time, I definitely get it. I love early Golfs and Rabbits, and, yeah, I’d love to have a swallowtail one! They’re cool as hell.

While we’re talking early Golfs and Rabbits, it’s worth reminding you that VW did play around with this idea for the car:

Cs Swallow Slidingdoor


A sliding door Golf! Think about how deeply and strangely cool this could have been! The narrowness of the parking spots you could slip into! No more causing cyclists to smack into your doors as you fling them open with the careless abandon of crabgrass! Maybe if I ever get fabulously wealthy (likely because of the success of my all Yoo-Hoo and kielbasa diet plan) I’ll get a swallowtail Golf and have it built to this sliding-door spec.

Man, car people are weird. I love them.

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John Klier
John Klier
25 days ago

There’s one feature of the VW Rabbit that I’m reasonably certain saved my life. A friend had a diesel Rabbit in high school, this was in the mid 80’s. We had been to a party out in the country and a little to fast on a country road with a 90 degree turn had us airborne and hitting a tree about 5 feet off the ground. That VW had the seatbelt ends attached to the door so when you got in you at least had the shoulder belt. Hardly anyone put on seatbelts voluntarily then. My face still smacked the windshield but it was a lot softer hit than it would have been without that shoulder belt.

25 days ago

Jason, you did notice a separate reverse lamp attaching to the bumper of the green Golf, didn’t you? And the taillamps lacking reverse lamps.

Those were common in the Switzerland, Australia, and several countries where the amber turn signal indicators doubled as reverse lamps. They illuminate continuously on both sides when reversing.

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