After more than a decade of slow and ugly cars, the Rabbit GTi told Americans that cars could be fun again. It was a huge success, owning a GTi automatically made one the alpha male of any party. This time period was approximately the crest of the wave for VW in the United States.
Volkswagens had long been admired for their reliabilty and durability thanks to the Beetle. The company struggled a bit in the early Seventies as the Beetle was unable to cope with new US emissions and crash regulations. The Type 3 (fastback,squareback,notchback) had never caught on. The Type 4 (411 was a total flop). They got their mojo back with the Scirocco, Dasher (Passat) and Rabbit (Golf).
Although the Rabbit GTI ushered in a second performance era in America, it soon fell out of favor with buyers. In the early Nineties, VW had acquired a reputation for dealer price gouging, unreliability and expensive service costs compared to Japanese cars. The GTI was exceeding easy to break into and a popular target for theft. They continued to have adherents but never got back to what they had in the late Seventies. Most of the devoted fans clustered around the Tdi diesel, and a 2016 emission scandal assured that they would not be sold in the US any longer.
The Volkswagen Rabbit GTI, the North American version of the high-performance Golf GTI, made its US debut in 1983. Assembled from parts made in Mexico, Canada, Germany and the U.S. in Volkswagen's Pennsylvania assembly plant, it had the same Mk1 chassis, and the same A1 body type as the Mk1 Golf GTI that had been on sale in Europe since 1976, with a few exceptions. Key distinct features of the Rabbit GTI were its squared front end styling, and its alloy "snowflake" wheels. The interior came in red or blue felt and leatherette trim.