1989 Volkswagen Cabriolet
1989 Volkswagen Cabriolet

By Bob McHugh

Summer is the worst time of the year to buy a convertible, if you’re looking for a bargain. The weather is hot, the convertible tops are down, and just about everybody is envious of that carefree, hair blowing in the wind, cool dude behind the wheel.

The convertible version of VW’s successor to the Beetle, known in North America as the Rabbit, the Cabriolet is an European classic. The first Beetle convertible was produced in 1956, the Rabbit Convertible went into production in 1980 and in 1985 the Golf Cabriolet emerged from the Karmann plant in Osnabrueck, Germany.

The Cabriolet has a surprisingly roomy interior and trunk considering its compact outer dimensions and the space needed for the folded soft-top. A built-in roll bar and optional glass rear window with electric defogger are good safety features. Insurance industry injury risk statistics give the Cabriolet an overall average rating for injury protection but it’s actually better than most open sports cars, and even better when you factor in its size.

A well preserved Cabriolet will hold it’s value extremely well and may sell for well above the average prices shown in the attached chart. Not surprisingly, and no doubt for the same reason, this is also a popular car with auto thieves. So, if it doesn’t already have one, a security system would be a good investment.

The original Cabriolet was based on the Rabbit (first generation Golf) but uses the same running gear as the (second generation) VW Golf. Highway fuel consumption is slightly worse because of the additional weight and poorer aerodynamics. The 1.8 litre engine with a 5-speed manual transmission was rated at 9.9 L/100 km (29 mpg) in the city and 7.9 L/100 km (36 mpg) on the highway.

In 1988 a new look Cabriolet hit the streets with wrap-around bumpers and a special ground effects package. In 1990 the 1.8 litre engine received a mild up-grade to 94 horsepower, 4 more than the previous year. In addition, Bestseller and Boutique versions of the Cabriolet were added to the VW line-up. A power soft-top was added as an option in 1991, for the first time.

The Cabriolet product line was trimmed to just one version in 1993 and its price was also reduced. This was also the last year of production with the first generation body style and it didn’t make the Canadian VW product line-up in 1994.

Periodic lubrication of the hood latch is important to keep it working properly and prevent hood fly-up while in motion. The fuel tank in the 1987 to ’90 Cabriolets can develop a hairline crack and allow fuel to seep out. And the ’90 Cabriolet was recalled for a light switch that didn’t meet the daytime running light standard.

Cute, clever and practical, the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet is a car for car lovers and very popular with the ladies. Canadian sales peeked in the eighties when it competed with Mustang and LeBaron for top spot on the convertible charts. New import competition from the likes of the Mazda Miata hurt sales in the nineties so there’s not as many good used Cabriolets around, but they’re certainly worth the search.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

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