In 2016, if you tell someone you have a water-cooled VW, they’ll look at you funny. After all, it’s been nearly 40 years since the last aircooled cars were made (in German, at least), and quite a few of the early water-cooled cars have virtually disappeared. With the benefits of hindsight and attrition, they’re quite interesting cars that can be fun to drive. Except when they’re lumbered by a 49hp diesel, which is why some marque enthusiasts have had fun replacing the diesel engines on their first-generation water-cooled cars with later powerplants, as seen in this 1980 VW Dasher Turbodiesel coupe for sale for $4400 in North Portland, OR.
Funny how some updates to the exterior have this car looking much more modern, without moving into the area of questionable taste (too-tall wheels, stretched tires, etc.). The only thing that’s not so great is the matte black finish, though this is a plasti-dip over the original Alpine white. But somehow it works in conjunction with the tastefully lowered stance, teardrop wheels, side skirts, Mk3 door handles, rear spoiler, and more things you could point out at the risk of being outed as an anorak. Passat turbodiesel badging looks to be from a B3 car and contributes to the updated look.
It really looks a lot less gawky – amazing that VW didn’t do this themselves to give Saab a run for their money in the spacious-3-door-hatch market. Side indicators are also a new addition, and if it weren’t for the rear side markers, you’d probably get a lot of questions about this being a Euro-specification car. That said, you might get people with failing vision or bad memories launching into stories about that Scirocco they had that was just like this one.
The interior looks to be in great shape, and includes some tasteful upgrades from other contemporary VW products. Those include a dash cover, Mk2 leather steering wheel, Audi 4000 leather shift boot, VW Fox 5 speed shift knob, Audi 4000 gauges in center console, dual temp switch, factory height adjustable drivers seat, height adjustable passenger seat base from Audi Coupe, dealer accessory front floor mats, and Mk1 Jetta map pockets/ speaker holders. Further, the suspension’s received some upgrades like KYB front and rear shocks, bilstein strut mounts, and Dasher wagon rear springs.
The later diesel powerplant is good for 69hp and about 90 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s not clear when the upgrade was done, and there’s no doubt the extra power and 5th gear are significant improvements, but every early VW with a 1980s diesel seems to beg the question of why they didn’t skip straight to the later 1.9TDI seen in early 2000s VWs, or better yet, the infamous current 2.0TDI. Those would both make this car into a true muscle car (featuring crazy torque and a chassis incapable of handling it). On this car, the clutch is said to be good, and it has a large-diameter exhaust, high output Mk2 radiator fan and auxiliary pusher fan, and more. It’s also had much recent service, including timing belt and water pump. This looks like a fun project on which you could further develop the cosmetics, while using it as your regular driver and taking it to local shows to represent a nearly-forgotten, but important VW.