When an $18,000 Rabbit GTI makes you go “hmmm …”

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Bring a Trailer/tscanlon

The 1990 C+C Music Factory hit “Things that Make You Go Hmmmm….” was all but lost in back of my mind with my other memories of fifth grade. At least until the sale of this 1984 Mk I Volkswagen Rabbit GTI wafted the song’s chorus back into my head.

I’m not looking to bash early GTIs. Although they’re not really my cup of tea, they have long had a cult following. They’re a hoot to drive, mechanically simple, and their design has a clean character that’s absent from most modern cars. And, with only 71,804 miles, this particular example has plenty of driving joy left to give its new owner.

What’s eyebrow raising about this sale is the vehicle’s overall condition relative to its $18,637.50 sale price. Paint is peeling from the front bumper, little dents and scratches were shown on several panels, and some overzealous jack work folded over the rockers. The seller noted that it needs a CV boot. Also, the radio, ash tray, sun visors, and shift boot are not installed, although spares are included for the interior pieces. It’s sat for the better part of eight years and the most recent records date from 2014. From a sale preparation standpoint, the car presents as if it were on a buy here, pay here used car lot rather than Bring a Trailer, which has become best known in recent years for spectacular examples.

VW Rabbit GTI interior
Bring a Trailer/tscanlon

Before you Bring a Pitchfork, I recognize that easy fixes and cosmetic issues won’t harm this Rabbit’s usability, and that the new owner was happy to pay for the ability to enjoy a personality-filled car. What this sale hints at, though, is yet another evolution in the car market.

In the pandemic era, we’re used to seeing good-condition Mk I Rabbit GTIs with 60,000-120,000 miles change hands for $15,000-$20,000. Last July (well into the pandemic’s value bump) a clean 1984 GTI changed hands for $17,745. What sets these two cars apart is condition and preparation. July’s example wasn’t without its own cosmetic foibles, but the car was complete (the seller committed to reinstalling the AC compressor prior to handing the car over), had a thorough recent service and detailing, and was clearly ready for its date with a new owner.

VW Rabbit GTI engine bay
Bring a Trailer/tscanlon

Throughout 2021, we observed that well-sorted, clean examples of any type of collector car would hit or exceed their marks while cars that needed attention weren’t yet securing a similar bump in value. Ten months ago, it took a great driver-quality Mk I GTI to hit this number. That this silver Rabbit GTI commanded a similar price suggests tolerances might be changing.

It’s unclear how much will be too much—we don’t know the threshold when a particular model’s following will decide that they’re not willing to pay a significant price for a car that needs a lot of necessary extra work. This example likely won’t break the new owner’s bank in order to get it ready to blast down some back roads. But in this already heated market, when we start to see price creep on entry-level collectibles like this Rabbit, that need an ever-growing list of parts and effort, we furrow our brows a little and say, “hmmmm….”

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