Driving in 1980: Remembering the VW Jetta

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Alex Reale
Updated on Apr 27, 2022 · 3 min read
The year
was a memorable one in the United States. The U.S. Olympic Hockey Team managed to pull off the upset of a lifetime with a win over the Soviet Union, Mount St. Helens erupted, Ronald Reagan was elected president, and John Lennon was assassinated in New York City. 
Less spectacular, but no less important to car people, was the official arrival of the
Volkswagen Jetta
, which had made its debut the previous year.
The 1980 VW Jetta was comfortable and fun to drive.

A brief history of Volkswagen

started out as “Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH” (Company for the Preparation of the German Volkswagen Ltd.) under the Nazi Party in Germany. After World War II, the British instructed VW to build the Volkswagen saloon. They added the original Beetle, or “Käfer,” model in 1950, and the brand played a key role in reviving the German economy.
Volkswagen made some pretty significant progress in the world of cars. By the time the ‘80s rolled around, the U.S. market had become a fixture of income for the company. Their beloved Beetle had steadily grown in popularity throughout the next couple of decades in America. You may remember the flowered Bugs of the ‘60s, which were emblematic of this time. 

A 1980 review of the VW Jetta

With the advent of the ‘70s and ‘80s, interest in the Bug had begun to drop off, and Volkswagen had to figure out which model would be their next big seller. Enter the Jetta, on the heels of cars like the Rabbit, Dasher, and Vanagon. This small sedan turned out to be a big hit. David E. Davis Jr., writing for
Car and Driver
, described his test drive of the Jetta in Maryland in 1980.
He said the Jetta is “a competent car, more fun to drive than a Dasher” and that he “liked the car a bit better with each passing hour.” Davis complained about an annoying buzzing sound that plagued their drive and added that he did not care for the stereo.
The suspension, which was notoriously poor, did not receive his accolades either. He did, however, like the comfortable seats in the Jetta as well as the overall handling, and wound up rating it above the Rabbit.

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Davis was far from the only one who came away from a Jetta with a good feeling. Americans flocked to these cute sedans, and they became a staple of the ‘80s driving landscape. Since the time of their introduction, they’ve evolved over several generations. The boxy sedan from the years of John Hughes movies has given way to a sleek and sporty vehicle today.
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