Clutch was practically nonexistent when I got it, but it still worked (sorta). Adjusted the clutch cable persistently, then replaced the clutch cable. Clutch worked OK until one day the entire clutch pedal assembly fell apart. The mounting bracket had cracked! A friend found a pedal assembly and replaced it for me, $70 total.
Brake lights sometimes stay on unless you tap the brake pedal from underneath with your toe. Adjusting the pedals would probably fix this, but it's a quirk I've just gotten used to doing after shifting.
Window tail light mounting had been shattered, found a Jetta window tail light at a junk yard for... uh, free. It fits, but it's upside-down. It lights up, that's what matters.
Odometer/Speedometer stopped working about a year ago during a very cold spell.
Front windshield wiper motor needs to be replaced.
Door handles feel like they could rip off at a moment's notice.
Tape adapter permanently stuck in radio.
Stupid oil pressure buzzer that everyone talks about. I think it may have finally broken, because it doesn't go off any more.
Seats are easily torn from sun damage/age.
Headliner very brittle.
Seals around doors need to be replaced, leaks like a sieve if you go through a car wash.
Paint on roof and hood is gone (doesn't look too bad though, because the car is silver). Previous owner didn't wax or anything.
Replaced distributor cap recently, because the car wouldn't start in the rain. Still a little reluctant to start in wet conditions, but it gets there. Not exactly "safe" to drive in wet conditions until the engine is sufficiently warmed up, because it'll stall when going from a stop.
Had a problem with a shop ripping me off on brakes when I got it. By a stroke of... karma, or something, I bounced the $450 check and never heard from the place. That was almost 3 years ago now.
Inspector also told me fuel pump was leaking, but a local VW mechanic told me not to worry about it.
I got this car in early 2008 for $500 from a coworker, who in turn had gotten it from another coworker for $100. It was the initial coworker's first car, he had it for 7 years. He was the second owner, and drove the bejesus out of it on Philadelphia suburb backroads while commuting to and from college. He didn't take very good care of it, and assumed it was just about dead and sold it to the guy I bought it from for $100, because he was in a pinch when his Mercury Mountaineer clunked out.
That guy replaced the the alternator and one CV axle, drove it for a few weeks, then offered it to me for $500 to break even. I had just sold my 2002 Ford Focus a few months prior and was driving a 1997 Nissan Pickup, and realized I missed the convenience of a hatchback. That, and I'd always loved old VWs and enjoyed driving my girlfriend's 2002 and 2006 Jettas. I was sold.
Most of the aforementioned problems happened within one or two months of me owning it, and were things I expected to happen; remember, the first guy thought the car was ready for the junk yard.
In roughly the past 1.5 years, I've only had to change the oil and replace the distributor cap (free from the junkyard).
Since fixing the clutch pedal issue, this has been a GREAT car. Has never even thought about breaking down.
Survived being borrowed by a recovering heroin addict for 6 weeks!
No rust, despite 1/3 of the paint being gone!
Wonderful gas mileage. Doesn't suck up oil. Keeps up superbly at highway speeds.
Very fun to drive, handles great despite not having power steering.
Spacious, reasonably comfortable interior.
Hasn't even THOUGHT about breaking down. The perfect bare-bones car for around-town errands, and trips within a 100 mile radius.
The money I've spent on this car, especially considering the severity of the repairs needed, is a FRACTION of the cost I spent on little piddly and ridiculously unacceptable repairs on my Ford Focus (like replacing a snapped engine mounting bolt!)
There is a 1986 Jetta TDI for sale up the road, and I'm busy trying to figure out ways to get my wife to let me upgrade.