Eye Candy: 1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6

Do you want to maximize your budget and fun? Need an affordable ride that will reward you nearly every time you turn the key, but is also practical enough to daily drive?

Look no further. We may all want a car collection of virtually new, unused and perfect condition examples of our favorite car designs, but frankly that’s just not a reality most who’s names don’t start with “Sultan” and end with a small southeast Asian country’s name can contemplate. And even he needs to liquidate his massive Ferrari collection from time to time when small rebellions pop up.

Jumping in to a third generation Volkswagen Golf won’t get you much respect outside of dedicated brand enthusiasts. But what it will do is reward your decision. Like the E36 M3, adding two cylinders to the model may not have sounded as sexy on paper as the high-revving double cam inline-4, but the result was better performance, better reliability, and cheaper prices for that speed. With 172 horsepower and 173 lb.ft of torque on tap, the VR6 took the Mk.3 into a new performance territory. It brought with it a more grown up feel, too – leather, a quiet(er) cabin, power windows and sunroof – these were unthinkable a decade earlier in the budget hatch. In fact there was only one option – a trunk mounted CD changer. Everything else? Standard. The increase in performance dictated upgrades throughout; sport suspension with sway bars, larger brakes with 5×100 mm hubs and accompanying 15″ wheels. 0-60 was firmly sub-7 second range, and the boxy hatch could brush 130 mph flat out. In a flat-out drag race, this economy car was on par with the Audi S6.

At nearly $20,000, the price tag didn’t seem cheap at first. Indeed, in a little over a decade the base price of the GTI had increased 100%. But the Golf was still about cheap speed, and so you need to view this package in relative performance. It wasn’t much slower than the U.S. specification M3, for example, but was about half the price. More appropriate, though, was that it was some $6,000 cheaper than the Corrado with nearly the same setup. Today, that cost savings carries over – Corrados are easily twice to many times the asking price of this example:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6 on eBay


Year: 1997
Model: GTI VR6
Engine: 2.8 liter narrow-angle VR6
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 146,346 mi
Price: $2,500 Buy It Now

Great commuter car, gas saver! Selling due to moving. Drives great, leather seats, no mechanical issues, no a/c, tires have less than 6k miles on em, minor body damage, sunroof works, driver side power window does not work. Pics of tires from left to right= front and back tread depth. Sunroof works. Radio/cassett. Aluminum aftermarket radiator. Car is in a lien status. Just asking what I owe.

LB9A/B4 Candy White is pretty rare to spot on a GTI of this ilk, and especially so of the VR6. The original Pininfarina BBS design wheels are in place, as is the original allroad-esque ride height – also rarities at this point in the game. Inside is black leather that shows obvious wear on the driver’s bolster, but otherwise looks pretty acceptable. Important is that there doesn’t appear to be rust on this southern car, though the seller claims “minor body damage”. The tires are budget throw-aways and the air conditioning isn’t functioning, but hey – at least it doesn’t need a charge (or, maybe that’s ALL it needs?). One of the twin-chamber headlights is cracked, but as with most Volkswagens of this period, parts are pretty plentiful and cheap. That the seller has a lien on a ’97 GTI probably indicates that maintenance is a bit behind.

But hey, this is a $2,500 driver, and as $2,500 cars go, it looks pretty damn good. A bit of time detailing and some mechanical freshening will probably reveal a car well worth it’s rather hefty curb weight in inside-wheel lifting action for a commuter car that is infrequently seen today.

-Carter

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2 Comments

  1. Nice write up Carter. I agree seeing any MkIII near OE spec and not destroyed by the Fast and Furious or Turbo Swap crowds is very rare, and nice to see. I also agree with your description of the MkIII VR6. They are great cars that have never risen to the level of appreciation of the MkII 16V, for whatever reason. I bought my 1998 Porclin Blue MkIII GTI VR6 new in June 1998 and while it has long since retired from daily use and lives in storage under a cover on a trickle charger (5 other cars fighting for attention too) I still continue to keep it! Seeing the price for this one is a solid reason why. My car is far cleaner and has 22,000 fewer miles on it with every record back to my deposit check, but still probably wouldn’t pull in five or six grand. Too cheap to make it worth selling and not expensive enough to keep it out of the hands that have destroyed so many (imo). I still have the Speedline wheels that came on the 1998 as standard equipment, borrowed from the 1997 Drivers Edition, which nearly the entire 1998 car was. I had to choose from only two options, the CD player and heated seats, which for some reason were not standard in 1998. While I did change to 16″ wheels and put a H&R Cup suspension on which lowered it to what I think the ride height should have been from VW, the rest is total OE. Each time I drive it I remember what a great car it is and it reaffirms me keeping it. Great sound from the VR6 and amazing how much smaller and closer to the original MkI in spirit it is than the new ones. It was my first new car … But I will admit I’ve always wished they made it look a bit more aggressive as compared to the lesser MkIII GTI and Golf…. You know, like the MKII 16V!

  2. Thanks, @Dan – yours certainly sounds like a nice one! I love those later Speedlines; I had the knockoff Passat version on my ’99 B5 Variant and they looked great cleaned up.

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