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
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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:

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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.

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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

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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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Cautionary Tail-Light
Cautionary Tail-Light
1 month ago

 to titillate and elicit illicit desires in a group of intense car dorks

I must be an intense word dork because I think I need a cigarette after that phrase, with its exciting rollercoaster of “-it-“s and “-ill-“s. Well played, Torch, well played.

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago

That lilting alliteration made me ill.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 month ago

I never noticed that feature, but living in New York meant most of these had rusted out by.1980 or so. 1977 was a big year for US spec Rabbits because they switched to K-Jetronic fuel injection except for some poverty spec Westmoreland cars which had a 1 barrel Solex carb.
A high school friend had one for a few years before he bought an A2 Golf. I never owned a Rabbit although I had two Sciroccos and a Jetta so I know my way around an A1 VW.

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
1 month ago

The fact that the door slides forward is my favorite part of that last image.

MiniDave
MiniDave
1 month ago

Weren’t those first Rabbits carbureted too?

Patrick Cook
Patrick Cook
1 month ago
Reply to  MiniDave

Carb’d Rabbits were available in the US from ’75 through at least ’80.

Mattias
Mattias
1 month ago

My guess is, the 1974 Golfs did not receive much love because of the Beetle drum brakes up front. Terrible.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 month ago

Agree that that particular detail is very nice, but the rest of the first year Rabbit? Dad had one, and it was a heap o’garbage. I went with dad to the dealer to get some small part that had broken. While standing at the counter waiting for someone to get the part, I could hear two folks in back talking, and one said, “hey, they got a two-year old Rabbit, and it still runs!”

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

Well, if it makes you feel any better, I owned a 1984 Rabbit Wolfsburg Edition and it was the biggest piece of feces that I’ve ever owned ,which say’s a lot because I have owned over 40 vehicles over the years and this one was the worst. My ownership experience with this vehicle still pisses me off to this today! It was my first VW and my last VW!!!

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

> it was a heap o’garbage

It’s a VW. The “reliability” is silent.

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago

I have a theory that they must use extra-shit components in all the VW’s they sell in the US, because I hear so many horror stories from that side of the pond, and it doesn’t track at all with my VW-owning experiences in the UK.

Danton Cardoso
Danton Cardoso
1 month ago

Actually, there are much more other details than sheet metal creasing and no reverse lamps. Alternator bracketry, raintray, brake lines above the frame rails, and a host of others. There used to be a website dedicated to the swallowtail, but I have yet to find it.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 month ago

I was waiting to read why the swallowtail existed. I assumed it was to accommodate license plates that were more vertical.

It’s similar to the rear bumper on very early Porsche 914s. 1970 914/6s and a very small number of four-cylinder 914s have a rear bumper with a sharp crease in it. Those bumpers and the 914/6 sheet metal that goes beneath the bumper is really hard to find. Lots of people discarded the part below the bumper on the six because of overheating, and the four version wont for the muffler. Also the sixs often got the muffler replaced with a 911 muffler which doesn’t line up with the the four or the six sheetmetal.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 month ago

I’m left wondering, “So why the change? Why spend the money for new stamping dies on a just-released car? Had there been heated disagreement between Giugiaro and VW stylists, or within VW?” There’s a story there.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
1 month ago

My theory has always been that the curves and creases in that area were too curvy or creasy for the stamping die to work well, so there were too many rejected stampings. So they simplified the die and reduced the reject rate.

Church
Church
1 month ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

While this seems more likely, I do like the idea of a heated disagreement about styling.

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
1 month ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

You mean too curvy and creasy for a sensible, German car, over the top in the same way as showing ladies’ ankles once was?

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
1 month ago

Sorta caved in, call it Caerbannog!

10001010
10001010
1 month ago

my all Yoo-Hoo and kielbasa diet plan)

Go ahead, I’m listening.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 month ago
Reply to  10001010

I think that’s only popular in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but I never noticed it’s effectiveness.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
1 month ago
Reply to  10001010

“I’m out there hauling Yoo-hoo 6 days a week”
“It’s a fine product”

Bubble boy!!!

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
1 month ago

Ah, yes, the swallowtail! Had actually noticed that detail back in the day (my hometown had a lot of early adopters of liquid-cooled VWs) but didn’t actually give it any thought and never knew the nomenclature and the significance thereof even though I fancy myself as being somewhat knowledgeable about air-cooled VWs and early liquid-cooled VWs until I read some comments about a 2010 Norwegian film, Trolljegeren (Trollhunter), on imcdb about the rarity of a character’s Mk1 Golf:
http://imcdb.org/i402837.jpg
http://imcdb.org/vehicle_402837-Volkswagen-Golf-Typ-17-1975.html
Here’s a comment from someone in Germany on imcdb:
“It was something very rare, first year only (swallow-tail back panel, chrome mirrors, chrome bumpers, chrome doorhandles, aluminium badges, no backup lights). Just for getting these parts, they freaks would pay a lot of money and would drive even to Norway to get them.”
The film is rather fun, worthwhile watching if you can find it:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trollhunter

Last edited 1 month ago by Collegiate Autodidact
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 month ago

Troll hunter is a most excellent movie, albeit a very slow burn, and I wouldn’t be surprised if US audiences turned it off before the awesome back third.

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
1 month ago

I can’t fathom why many, many more cars don’t have sliding doors… I’m sure there’s an expense element, but how much can it be? And they’re just objectively better… Too bad they pretty much only exist on minivans… Article idea: all the non-minivans ever produced with sliding doors.

Iain Tunmore
Iain Tunmore
1 month ago
Reply to  Spectre6000

I don’t think the Peugeot 1007 helped any arguments for sliding door cars.

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
1 month ago
Reply to  Iain Tunmore

Cooler than a Smart42 (or whatever the cute spelling of it was).

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
1 month ago
Reply to  Spectre6000

Yeah, one such candidate would be the 1954 Kaiser Darrin, a competitor of the Corvette and the European roadsters, which actually had sliding doors; they slid inside the front fenders so they were sort of like pocket doors:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/81/1954_Kaiser_Darrin_dash.jpg/1280px-1954_Kaiser_Darrin_dash.jpg
Only some 435 were ever produced; they didn’t sell very well at all because of their odd looks and because they cost more than Corvettes; however, they’re indeed ineffably cool despite aforementioned odd looks:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/47/1954_Kaiser_Darrin_front_concours_6.1.19_der.jpg/560px-1954_Kaiser_Darrin_front_concours_6.1.19_der.jpg
The Kaiser Darrin also has the distinction of being the first American fiberglass-bodied sports car produced in quantity though GM actually put the Corvette on the market a few months before Kaiser was able to put the Darrin on the market after some delays.

Nate Stanley
Nate Stanley
1 month ago

We had a friend of the family up in Kelseyville, CA with one in mint green. I last saw the car about 1972, and would love to know what happened to it. Owner’s last name was Beeman, if he’s alive he would be about 100 years old .

But we all knew it was something special 50 years ago, hopefully the family felt the same way.

Davidsaur
Davidsaur
1 month ago

I first saw one of those just recently on the Fallout TV show and I thought the sliding doors were freaking awesome but I never started down the internet rabbit hole to figure out what car it was. Thank you for sharing this!

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 month ago
Reply to  Spectre6000

The OSI DAF City Car concept had a sliding driver’s door and suicide doors on the passenger side. IIRC there was on full sized car and thousands of Corgi cars, because I have one.

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
1 month ago

I can immediately tell which articles are authored by Torch simply by the the article photo on the main page… I don’t look at the headline or the author credit, just the photo. If there’s some random feature on the back of an older car, you can bet it’s Torch. Keep Autopian weird man, we love it!

Duane Cannon
Duane Cannon
1 month ago

But is it a holy grail?

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 month ago
Reply to  Duane Cannon

More of a Holy Tail.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
1 month ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

That’s what they call me too. By they I of course mean no one. Ever.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
1 month ago
Reply to  Brandon Forbes

So that would be the “Many people say…”?

Rafael
Rafael
1 month ago
Reply to  Brandon Forbes

That’s what they call me to. And by “they” I mean the giant rabbit that only I can see.

Frobozz
Frobozz
1 month ago

If they were really a bunch of obsessive dorks they would have specified if it was an African or a European swallow.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago
Reply to  Frobozz

Depends on whether it was made in Wolfsburg or Johannesburg.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
1 month ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Those were made in Pennsylvaniaburg.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago
Reply to  Argentine Utop

So an American swallow. I wonder how many coconuts those can carry.

Frobozz
Frobozz
1 month ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Well, it’s a question of weight ratios, really…

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago
Reply to  Frobozz

Well when it comes to weighing more nobody but NOBODY beats Americans!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 month ago

Sshhh. Be vewy, vewy quiet. We’re hunting swawwowtail Wabbits.

Last edited 1 month ago by Canopysaurus
Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

It’s DUCK season!!!!!!

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
1 month ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

Dithhhhhhpicable!

Nick Fortes
Nick Fortes
1 month ago

That’s Jamie from Orchid Euro in that video, his shop is about 30 miles from my house. He always has some crazy unique cars and other strange stuff he’s imported.

MrLM002
MrLM002
1 month ago

Call me prude but it looks like cheek creases to me.

MrLM002
MrLM002
1 month ago
Reply to  MrLM002

*crude

ES
ES
1 month ago
Reply to  MrLM002

whatever, prude.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago
Reply to  ES

Now, now, don’t be rude! 😉

Iain Tunmore
Iain Tunmore
1 month ago

When I had my first car (Vauxhall Nova, five door so didnt even have the box arches) I changed one rear cluster for one from a LHD one so there was no reverse light and the clusters were therefore symmetrical. It was a thing for a while in the 90s.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
1 month ago

I get it. You should see how fucking nerdy I get when listing the differences between my ’76 280Z and the 240Z people are more familiar with.

Who except us cares about the sheet metal thickness, taillight styling and fuel tank design?

Last edited 1 month ago by Manuel Verissimo
Rob Schneider
Rob Schneider
1 month ago

That Rabbit’s dynamite.

Sorry, the Monty Python still isn’t out of my head.

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
1 month ago

So, in the mid-’70s you could get a car in Germany with just…no reverse lamps? If so, that’s wild.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
1 month ago

Guess I gotta get working on my bondo abilities. Find some “boring” Golf’s and turn them into swallowtails, and rip some people off make some customers happy just long enough for me to get lost.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
1 month ago

I think VW dorks are the dorkiest of all the car dorks. They take it to another level.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
1 month ago

Shit like this happens across all brands. It’s why a split-window Corvette is worth so much more than non-splits. It’s how 911 fans can tell a ’72 911 from every other year because of a little door. It’s why a ’67 C10 commands a higher price than a ’68. It’s why every almost every ’70-’73 Camaro build puts a bumper on the front that was only available in ’70 on higher trim models.

People find something they like, and people generally aren’t all that unique.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
1 month ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito
MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

When you get settled in the new place (congrats, by the way) will you be building a RC “environment” in the back yard? The article you did about that was really interesting. Was that like a year and a half ago?

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
1 month ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Yes, that’s definitely part of the plan, and if DT approves, I’ll do another article about it.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Looking forward to that!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 month ago

The dork is strong in this one.

AircooleDrew
AircooleDrew
1 month ago

I’d have to agree. I’m a life-long air-cooled VW nut (inherited obsession from my dad), and myself and my air-cooled friends are massively dorky with air-cooled shit, but my water-cooled buddies (particularly my MK1-obsessed ones) are another level. Those guys are like Indiana Jones looking for museum artifacts when it comes to their pursuit of rare parts and accessories.

Last edited 1 month ago by AircooleDrew
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