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An American-Built 45 Mile Per Gallon Pickup Truck?

What America needs right now is a domestically-built pickup truck that gets 45 miles per gallon. Ask a small business owner with a local delivery or work fleet that's been squeezed by inflated fuel costs ... a truck that pulls down 45 miles per gallon (MPG) would be heaven sent. Remarkably, we had a domestically-built compact pickup truck that scored 45 MPG ... twenty-five years ago ... but sadly, it slipped away ...

Most folks won't remember that Volkswagen had an auto plant in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania back in the late 1970s and 1980s, where they VW built Rabbits for a market rabid (initially, at least) for econo-boxes. Legend has it that an American design team first penned the VW Rabbit Pickup to compete with the Japanese compact trucks streaming to our shores.

The VW Rabbit Pickup was a unique small truck and produced great mileage figures for two key reasons. Unlike the competing Toyota Hi-Lux, Datsun (now Nissan), Mazda, Chevrolet Luv (Isuzu), and Ford Courier (Mazda), the Rabbit Pickup wasn't built on a true truck frame ... it was car based, in a manner somewhat similar to the Chevy El Camino. But it was the Rabbit Pickup's 1.6 liter diesel engine that made this little truck a penny pincher's delivery dream truck. While no speed demon, the 4-cylinder diesel put out plenty of grunt to propel the tiny light truck around town.

Although production of the Rabbit Pickup at the Westmoreland VW Plant ceased in 1982, VW built pickups (with the Caddy badge) in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, through 1992. VW continues to build pickups in South Africa.

The twenty-five year old VW Rabbit Pickup delivers nearly double the gas mileage of some of today's highest mileage pickups.

Alas, VW stopped selling the wee pickup here in the States after selling through the domestically produced units. The company chose not to import the European- or South African-built pickups.

A surprising number of domestic Rabbit Pickups survive today. A steady stream of 1981, 1982, and 1983 Rabbit Pickups appear on eBay in various states of repair. A kindly eBayer allowed us to include photographs of his faithfully restored example in Lago Blue.

While a well-restored Rabbit Pickup can fetch over $10,000, daily drivers can be had for less than half that amount, as of this writing. Project trucks appear to be selling in the $1000 range.

(NOTE: The Isuzu-built Chevy Luv could also be purchased with a diesel engine. Diesel Luvs pulled down excellent mileage figures, with 33 city/44 highway. Isuzu continued to offer diesel engines in its own Izuzu Pup and Trooper into the 80s.)

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