1987 VW Cabriolet (Manaul Transmission)

I need some advice, all help provide will be greatly appreciated.

Our Cabriolet is having few issues, when placed in reverse and engaged it tends to pop out or grind, when we drive on the highway not able to engage 5th gear at all.

Mechanic asked me to get shift linkage kit for the car. I ordered it based on the year and the short and long shift linkage rods do not fit they are different. Being said went down to parts store and it looks like the short and long shift linkage rods are from a 1984 rabbit or pick up manual transmission. Could it have a manual tranny with 4 gears only?

Could it be that previous owners swapped the tranny and motor?

1- How can I check if the car has the original motor and tranny

2 - what causing issue with reverse and not engaging 5th gear?

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated


Have you tried looking for a tag/label on the transmission that identifies what model it is? If you’re not sure about what transmission you have, that would be the first thing to check. If it turns out you indeed have the 5 speed, then more than likely a rebuild is in your future.


Anything is possible with a 34 year old car. I would suggest you find a new mechanic; one that orders parts FOR you and one that specializes in older VW /Audi/German cars. Quality mechanics don’t ask customers to source their own parts.

Agree with @FoDaddy , sounds like your transmission needs a rebuild.


thanks for the awesome information.

They only came with a 5 speed or automatic. The odds of someone changing the transmission and especially the engine out would be zero IMO. That would involve changing the entire fuel system, wiring harness, and everything else.

Grinding into reverse points to a dragging clutch. The not going into 5th gear would have me looking at all of the linkage bushings. Not the rods; the bushings.
Any wear at all in those bushings can cause 5th gear to be very difficult or impossible to find and this is/was not a rare problem.
In some cases a broken or sagging motor mount can cause this.

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The Cabriolet was built on the older (Mk 1) Rabbit/Golf chassis, so maybe you got a kit for the '87 Golf (Mk 2), which was different. Like @Mustangman suggested, find an old VW specialist and have them get this sorted out. I’m betting it the linkage/bushings (common problem with Rabbits) and not the transmission.

You might also check out VW forums like VWVortex and TheSamba, lots of old VW owners there.

Do you have the Bentley manual for it? It’d be money well spent.

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Yes we have purchased the Manaul, currently looking for a VW mechanic in my area. Tried checking for label or tags on tranny but looks as if it came from a salvage yard and not original. So not sure where the tag or label would be located.

My son purchased the car and I’m helping him restore it. Parts are hard to find as your local parts store doesn’t have much. Most items ordered are online.

Bushing where definetely worn out and replaced, the stick is now good with improvement on slack.

Mechanic showed me the worn out and missing bushing are he replaced them. Now that it is tighter and correct I just now need the linkage rods as the clips broke when replacing bushings. Old car

You’ve definitely taken on a challenging project, that’s for sure. Rather than purchasing those parts from a parts store, as a first attempt I’d probably start by inquiring at the local auto-dismantlers used parts department. If they don’t have it locally, they might be able to get it by mail from their parts network. Or try that place that keeps a bunch of old cars on their lot, and lets you remove parts yourself, Pick and Pull, some name like that. Check their website, maybe one of their locations has an 87 VW ready for parts picking. Note that’s its quite possible those parts were used in several VW models; i.e. they are not exclusive to the 87 Cab. Dismantlers, Pick and Pull, & such know this sort of info.

If you have some difficulty getting it into first gear also, the problem might be the clutch master cylinder. If it goes into first gear slick as a whistle, but won’t go into 5th, CMC not the most likely cause.

Ask your local VW dealership if they know the engine and transmission serial numbers that were originally installed on your car at the factory. I expect your VIN should provide what’s needed to index into VW’s database and cough up the needed info.

Do you really think they keep those kinds of records on a 24 year old car?

Not using 5th gear seems like a minor problem.
5th is OD, which is usually hiway mode

Not in my '83 GTI, 5th was needed to keep the revs in a reasonable range at highway speed.

And George, the OP’s VW has a cable operated clutch, no master cylinder.

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Actually I did. I presume this sort of info is used by the police when investigating car and car parts theft, so the manufacturers would keep it in their database as a service to their customers. No?

That’s the same as my late 70’s VW Rabbit. I had to replace that cable a couple of times as I recall. The replacement part was relatively inexpensive. That’s the first thing I noticed when I switched from the VW to the Corolla, the improvement in the clutch. As I said above, this will be a challenging project for the OP. But it should be a fun project.