For me, this whole car or pick-up if you will is one of the strangest amalgamations of the strengths and weaknesses of both the United States and Europe car industries packed into one, small and in some senses even adorable little pick up. The Volkswagen Golf has been and still is one of the world’s most popular cars, it’s the hatchback version of the utterly unstoppable Toyota Hi-Lux – it’s dominated popular culture, it’s dominated the world and in some ways it’s even dominated history. And it’s because of that, that’s why I’m sitting here thinking “oh boy this Euro-toy is one of the defining cars of the people” and then it struck me; while the Golf Mk.1 is definitely European, hell, extremely German even – the Caddy isn’t.
But quick history lesson before I drone on about how the Caddy is as American as the M16 rifle and… some other stuff and if you don’t even wanna read this rambling just skip uh, the following six paragraphs, the Golf came to be in 1974 – at the exact moment North America shat itself at the economy bricking, fuel becoming equal to gold in price and rarity, the Vietnam war was still happening despite a withdrawal of US troops, it just really wasn’t a great time for North America, or for Europe and Asia… Or even the Middle-East… Y’know what, it was a pretty terrible fucking time for everyone involved – but! Some good news too, at least on the car world front, a small affordable little fighter was about to be introduced to the world.
In May 1974, the Golf was available to be sold around most of western Europe and it may have literally saved an ailing Volkswagen Group from dying out. Volkswagen was barely clinging to life and had been since the early sixties, building over 1.5 million vehicles and only selling a few hundred thousand a year across the decade, competitors like Opel and Ford were killing VW quite effectively by simply playing their own game; building affordable small vehicles. VW held national market shares of nearly half in Germany in 1962, to only 26% in 1972 – hell, the company sat in debt up to the wazoo that would make GM of today piss its pants; in ’74 VW had a 850 million DM loss alone, which is the 1974 dollar equivalent of 314 million, which is a pretty startling amount of money that’s just kind of going away(though plot twist, they’d break this record in 2016 where they’d lose 1.8 billion euro due to the Dieselgate scandal). So it’s pretty damn sufficient to say that Volkswagen could use a spot of good news.
And it did turn out to be good news, to be fair, it really did; from ’74 ’til ’13, the Golf is the third best selling car in the world. Styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s company Italdesign, a company more famously known for drafting up some of the prettiest and downright sexiest cars in the history of man, hell you should gave the list of beauties they’re responsible for a looksee. It’s pretty evident that the Scirocco and Jetta of the same years were designed by them too as it shares most of the body styling and components, but for the Golf one thing was absolutely key; keep it small. Small hatchbacks were already a thing in Europe, with the ever so popular Renault 5 and Fiat 127 to name a couple and the US had also taken its baby steps with the AMC Gremlin and quietly Japan had been stomping out small, affordable vehicles since the fifties but exporting them en masse would take a bit longer still.
The Golf very quickly became a top seller across most of Europe in just about every Western European country for every year across multiple decades, and the United States got its first chomp of the Golf cake in 1975 when Volkswagen effectively said; export these, do it. It was essentially the same car, just with mandated side marker lights, higher ride height and those ever so delightful beauty ruiners known as the “5 MPH Bumper”, it also got a MPH dash and of course the most important thing, a proper export name. In the US, for some reason or another, it got the name “Rabbit”. Why? Well, nobody seems to really know – there’s plenty of theories among marketers, one being Rabbit just having a nicer ring to it and summons images of cute little fuzzy roadkills and the other being that you really couldn’t fit a bag of golf clubs in the back, so there’s that. In ’78 Volkswagen allowed the Americans to effectively produce their own Rabbit Golfs and “Americanize” them, which was famously dubbed by then VW CEO Werner Schmidt as “Malibu-ing”, softening the springs, cheapening the plastic and those square headlights cause that was a trend in those days.
But back to the Golf-being-a-Rabbit thing, someone said you couldn’t fit golf clubs in the back of the thing? Well worry no more! PICK UP TIME! Volkswagen had been testing out a variety of Golf versions for half a decade by 1978, among them were a fully electric Golf, a station wagon version which never made it to life cause of the Passat/Dasher already filling that corner and of course, a wee little pick-up. And guess who was interested in that whole shebang? James McLernon, acting executive over at VW America in ’75 through ’82, known for Malibu-ing the Golf and being hated for it. Greenlighting the Volkswagen Rabbit Pick-up for 1978, it very much was the perfect blend of American ideas(or Australian, even) and European efficiency(to emphasize the American part, it even got a ridiculous decal package in 1981). The whole Caddy nameplate didn’t even exist back then, it only came to be in 1982 when Volkswagen wanted the thing over in Europe and started making them locally and boy did it get a following. I grew up with Caddys everywhere, they were less common than the Golf true but they still had a giant, giant presence – they were effectively perfect for small business owners who were fed up with shoving shit onto their backseats or be forced to buy a more expensive Toyota or Mitsubishi pick-up. It had everything going for it that Europeans were into, it was quite nippy for a small 1.6L powered car cause it hardly pulled any weight(which could be a deal-breaker for people) and one of the really, really popular things to do was to swap parts with a Golf GTI. The GTI seats and grille especially were common swaps, cause it took little to no effort to do so and plenty of spare parts littering most of Europe to work with.
So that’s precisely what I did with this VW Caddy model I bought from C1 Models over in the UK. It’s a cheap little conversion kit especially knowing now what you’re gonna get with it, it’s all cast in quite tough solid resin that’s also still a tiny bit flexible instead of the tough hunks of plastic resin that are covered in eight acres worth of dust by the time it makes it your way. It also, awesomely enough, came entirely with the flash removed. Literally found two tiny flakes around the inserts of the headlamps, that was it. The detail is so ungodly crisp and the quality is so immensely good that I honestly can’t even find a single thing to whine about. I’d rag off anything I’d spend up to sixty bucks on normally but in this case, I can’t even begin to argue the value I got for my money.
The whole set has the crisply cast body, the tail lights, door mounts, rear window, the rear axle and suspension set up and a spare tire, plus a whole set of brass stuff to replicate the spare wheel mount, the tailgate hinge, the axle braces, so forth. Plus a spare tail-gate netting and a smooth bumper for those inclined to use it. Seriously, the thing was 48 British pounds, or the equivalent of 55EUR/61USD and it’s worth it. If you like me, like the VW Caddy, it’s simply worth it. It’s a little hassle, all together crisp piece of work that honestly builds together no less well than the Revell kit you’d have to use as a donor. Speaking of Revell kits, there’s three choices you can work with now to use as a filler-kit; the Revell Golf Mk.1 Cabrio, the Golf GTI and the all new Golf GTI Pirelli kit. The difference in the end kind of comes down to three things, the wheels, if you’d like to use non-GTI interior bits and if you’d wanna use the GTI engine.
I opted for the GTI Pirelli cause I kind of prefer the whole get up, not to mention it was the most recently released kit and was cheapest score. Yay me. When I unpacked the Golf kit, I was absolutely flabbergasted by the detail on this puppy, holy shit. I don’t think I have ever seen this much eye to detail in a kit without resorting to P.E. parts, hell even better, I have never ever seen this much detail in a kit that also still goes together damn near flawlessly. It’s just staggering, the whole thing goes together like a LEGO build, I shit you not. The tiniest little details like engine hoses, the seatbelt and hand-holders in the interior, the perfect little puzzle around the slanted 1.8L inline four engine, it’s such a delightful kit. There’s a ton, and I do mean a ton of little decals to accentuate on every little detail they couldn’t do via casting. I imagine it can’t have been easy to construct the resin kit around this much of a well designed kit, cause any step being taken out in the middle can lead to the absolute ruination of this kit as a whole and they damn well pulled it off.
Granted, you get no instructions. You get to use the five or so pictures on C1 Models’ website and that’s generally it. You’re just supposed to follow the Golf instructions until you hit the awkward moment that you no longer can, at that point your modeler’s intuition will set in – how much do I have to cut away and exactly how much do I have to repeatedly squeeze and fit to try and complete this. The answer is quite easy actually, the bed length ends at roughly the exact part where the interior plate gets raised for the rear bench making a nice easily followed cutting line. The same goes for the chassis underneath and once they’re cut away it’s easy going from there on out, heck you could even simply use the length of the door panels for the Caddy and cut from there on and get just as much a flush fit, no problemo. In fact, the only issue I had with the whole kit(and resin kit) was that I missed the little axle arms and it took me give or take twenty minutes of desperate fitting and hoping to find out which tail light was which. The rest was just kind of going “oh yeah, that’d work” by drilling some holes for the seatbelts roughly where they’d be on the Golf kit, cutting the roof piece in there which wasn’t even required, so forth.
I am so most definitely buying the GTI Pirelli kit again to build that one proper cause my Lord is it a fantastic kit that I had to butcher for the most part to build this Caddy with, had I known that this kit was this good, I’d have bought two. It’s rare to see two separate entities doing such great work at the same time, I always wanted to buy a C1 Models kit but unfortunately missed out on the ’10 Camaro ALMS transkit they had, but then when I spotted that Caddy I knew I had to have it, even though I knew literally nothing of their quality other than seeing one of their Ferrari transkits being built, once. Now, I honestly can say as far as transkits go, these guys are pretty much the peak of it all, first and best experience all at once go figure. And the same I can say of Revell of Germany with the Golf Mk.1 kit, holy shit, it’s something special. It’s dramatically detailed yet such a simple, stress free experience to slap together and it’s… one hell of a good looking build by the end of it.
Feels good to start this year with a build that only went well, for a change. Especially with the decal business being busy and overworked to a extreme level, this was a neat little break to have.
’83 Volkswagen Caddy Mk.1 specifications:
Skill Level: 4
Parts: 118(+ 24 in the C1 kit)
Molded in: Gray