Unless you have connections with body and/or interior shops, get something that is cosmetically sound and will justify your conversion investment. Faded paint can be buffed up, but dents, rust, upholstery, and so forth can get expensive fast.
Also, you want a chassis that is sound structurally, This means no rust to weaken it. Avoid any car that has been in a collision, even if it has been "straightened". There might be subtle misalignments not apparent to the eye. These can interfere with the fit of components, and affect the car's performance.
If possible, take the car to a professional garage and have it checked over. This will give you information about flaws in places you may not notice, such as brakes or wheel bearings.
Here is a list of common worn-out items on Rabbits. These are not deal-killers. They are bargaining chips you can use to reduce the sale price of the car. Get local estimates for the work, and lower your bid for the car by that amount.
- Shift Bushings: These are plastic, and wear out. They will make it hard to find first gear, and you'll tend to get third instead. However, they are cheap and easy to replace.
- C.V. Joints: If the car goes "clack-clack-clack" on corners, one or both front axles needs to be replaced.
- Headliner: On late-model Rabbits, these tend to sag away from the roof. Replacing it means removing the windshield.
- Vent Wing Windows: Here's another little VW design flaw. The vent wing windows are glued to their hinges and latches. Over time, the glue fails. If your donor shows signs of this problem, the best fix is to replace the vent window with a fixed (non-opening) version.