1980-82 VW Rabbit Oettinger

I was a little confused when I first spotted this MK1 Rabbit. Was this a real Oettinger-tuned GTi 16S, somehow imported from France? As I got closer I noticed the lack of badging, the white deck on the hatch and the body cladding was a little off. My Volkswagen noob-status had betrayed me. This is just one of the lesser-versions of the USDM VW Rabbit with an Oettinger body kit. A “Malibuized” creation by former Chevy engineer James McLernon. Coincidentally enough, it foreshadows a tactic that the German V-dubbers are trying again, in the opposition of just about every other automaker today.

You see, back when we first got the Rabbit in the US, it was being produced here to be able offer it to the consumer at a lower price. Mr. McLernon figured decided to make a few changes that he believed would help it appeal to the American market (much like VW’s current USDM Passat) These included a cheaper interior and softer suspension (starting to ring any bells here?) The American public wanted an import hot-hatch, and when they got little economy cars with cheap interiors, and cushy suspensions it made the overall package that much worse. The car you see above cranked a solid 74hp out of it’s 1.7L four-pot gasoline engine (52hp in the 1.6L diesel model). VW purists had been betrayed.

Well by 1982 VW HQ had enough. For model-year 1983 the Rabbit shared it’s interior and suspension with the European Golf and we got the awesome MK1 GTi. America’s first hot hatch. Let’s take it back a year though, and across the Atlantic:

It’s 1981 and the 16v engine destined for the GTi is not going to make the MY82 GTi. To solve their problem for the French and Swiss markets they offer the 1982 GTi Oettinger 16S. This little pocket rocket would crack off a 0-62mph run in 7.6 seconds, produced 134hp at 6500 rpm (on the way up to it’s 7500 rpm redline) and 118 ft lbs at 5500 rpm. It made use of this high compression (10.5:1) high revving power train by channeling it through a steep 4.17:1 final drive ratio.

To this day, when building a MK1 Golf/Rabbit/GTi these Oettinger designed parts are sought after for making a hot motor. Today Oettinger still exists, and are doing what they’ve always done best: Tuning and offering aftermarket parts for Volkswagen and Audi cars. Check out the Oettinger-tuned “Edition 30” GTi Stage 2 with it’s 330hp inline 4 cylinder. It’s a real monster.