The Golf Harlequin is the model that answers the question no one asked. It’s the model that proves Germans have a sense of humor. It’s also a model which defies logic. If you told your automotive-inclined friend you bought a 22 year old 2.0 automatic 4-door Golf with mis-matched body panel colors, he’d probably offer you the couch in his living room to sleep on for the next month. Things must be that hard for you, after all.
Now, tell him you paid a premium for that car. “How much?”, he’d most certain quip.
The stunned silence which would undoubtedly be followed by the most boisterous of laughter would be punctuated only by the whipping out of a phone and a call to the local insane asylum for an admit, or at the very least a consult. But who’s the joke on here?
In 1996, Volkswagen returned to its roots in the Golf lineup. While the GTI VR6 still grabbed the headlines and enthusiast’s dreams, they re-introduced the 4-cylinder GTI utilizing the 2.0 ABA shared with…well, every other A3 chassis car. Quickly nicknamed the “2.slow”, the 115 horsepower on tap wasn’t anywhere near the VR6 performance. 0-60 was 9.8 seconds versus 7.2, and the smaller engine never had the upper hand as soon as the key was turned unless you were measuring fuel burned. Consequently, the base GTI was really more of an appearance package, and in that regard it was pretty good looking.
The GTI set itself apart from the regular Golf and the Golf Sport it replaced with a new 2-bar grill with GTI badges, twin-chamber headlights and integrated bumper-mounted fog lights shared with the VR6. The signature roof-mounted Fuba antenna also appeared, along with smoked rear lights, 14″ “Flyer” alloy wheels and special interior items. At $16,000, it was hardly cheap at the time. For a few grand less, you could get yourself the class-leading Sentra SE-R which had better tech, better handling and more power. So the GTI made due by living on its reputation, and that meant it felt and looked water-down. Still, today it’s neat to see a clean example pop up, and they don’t come much more clean than this 1996 with only 19,000 miles. Of course, even though there’s no reserve on the auction, there’s still a price to pay.
Update 3/6/2018 – The asking price on this crazy period piece has dropped from the $65,000 ask in February to $46,888.
The 80s was a pretty interesting time, as Rob has talked about in some recent 930 posts. While today’s crowd looks back on the time and often wishes they had a completely stock, all-original example of their favorite hard-to-find ride, back then it was all about how much you could mod your ride to make it wild. Watching videos of turned up WRX-STIs, Skylines, M4s and RS3s today, I suppose not much has changed in retrospect. But wild mods in the 80s were somehow much harder to achieve, and therefore all the more neat when they were done. Or, they were a complete dog’s breakfast, as many Mercedes-Benz models often prove – Andrew’s SLC comes immediately to mind.
There are several notorious aftermarket suppliers of kits for cars that are really hard to achieve a good result with. Koenig, Rinspeed, Strosek, Kamei are all names you’re probably quite familiar with. And if you’re familiar with Volkswagen/Audi products, Rieger should definitely be in that list. Their widebody kits, wild bumpers and huge wings often look way out of place. Paint them a wild color, and they’ll stand out even more. Worst of all, often below the shocking exterior they’re a sheep in wolf’s clothes; all show, no go. But this Scirocco? Well, it’s not only got all of those things going for it, it’s managed to pull it together for a look that is cool and correct in a very over-the-top way, and has the chops to match the outrageous exterior. Also outrageous? The price:
Increasingly as some of our childhood (or, adulthood) heroes get priced out of sensibility for weekend warrior on a budget status, there are still some bastions of hope for the shoestring enthusiast. One of the best must undoubtedly be the underrated Porsche 924. As Sciroccos, GTIs, 944 Turbos, Quattros and the like take off in value, here lies a plethora of well-cared for, well-built and fun-to-drive cars that have good parts accessibility, reasonable repair costs and surprising amounts of practicality. Sure, it’s ‘just’ a 924, and Porschephiles will probably poo-poo your choice. So, too, will most of the rest of the automotive world. Their loss is your gain. Try as they might, outside of some very special 924 Carreras, these models that helped to keep Porsche afloat in the 1970s and 1980s still haven’t caught on with collectors.
So today I have two special 924s to consider once again. The first is a lofty Turbo model; finicky even in period, they’ve developed a reputation for lack of reliability and expensive repairs, but then have you ever seen the bill on a proper flat-6 rebuild? I’m going to compare it to the end-of-the-run 924S, and this one is the lightweight Special Edition model, too. Both are quite affordable and both appear to be in great condition, so which one is the winner?
While Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all given us superb performance wagons (yes, even in the U.S.!), the German manufacturer with “Wagen” in its name has managed to skirt a really the opportunity to engage 5-door fanatics of ‘Freedom’.
But wait, you say, what about the Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed?
Yeah sure. It was a really cool concept, and with the sport package BBS wheels it even looked really neat. But it wasn’t really a performance wagon. The follow-up 3.6 4Motion Variant actually did offer a bit more sport, but only came in automatic form. The more serious R36 never came here.
However, a few years ago Volkswagen launched an even MORE potent option – the Golf SportWagon R. With a 300 horsepower version of the 2.0 TSFI linked to the 6-speed manual or DSG dual-clutch box and utilizing the same Haldex all-wheel drive as the regular Golf R, the result was no surprise – a slightly bigger Golf R equaled a small performance wagon with few peers. 0-60 could be topped in 4.5 seconds and the quarter was gone in 13.3 seconds with the DSG, it topped out at 155 mph and yet would return 30 mpg on the highway. Eat your cake and have it too, indeed!
Of course, it hasn’t come here. But since it’s a VW and VW enthusiasts are swap-happy….
The last Golf I took a look at was a high-spec GLS TDi model from the end of the run. A popular niche vehicle, the turbo diesel Golf is a hot commodity and even with over 170,000 miles bids were quick to crest $4,000, finally ending with a $4,350 sale. Yet it’s far from the most desirable, or indeed the most valuable, model within a robust lineup of favorites.
There’s the all-wheel drive 3.2 liter VR6 R32, often with asks that rival multiple generations of M3s:
2004 Volkswagen Golf R32
There’s the 20th Anniversary Edition GTI, a turbocharged terror with great looks:
2003 Volkswagen GTI 20th Anniversary Edition with 9,800 Miles
There’s the Edition 337 – a limited collector-friendly model that kicked off a new generation of turbocharged Golf performance:
Feature Listing: 2002 Volkswagen GTI 337 Edition
And though it carried a ‘Jetta’ badge, we finally got the “Golf Variant” wagon, replete with your choice of 1.8T, 2.0, TDi or even a gutsy 2.8 liter VR6 hooked to a manual:
2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLX VR6 Wagon
So the Mk.4 range really has a devoted following and plenty of love to spread around to make you a bit unique. Today’s car, though, is none of those collector favorites. What we have here is a Flash Red first-year Golf. No TDi, no VR6, not even a GLS. No, this is a standard Golf. Except it’s not a standard Golf, because it’s an automatic. But before you click away, this one’s odometer hasn’t yet turned 23,000 miles….
Want to feel very special, drive a great sports car and stand apart from the crowd but don’t have a million dollars for a Porsche 911?
No problem. I have the solution.
Sure, you could do what I suggested a few weeks ago and buy the ‘affordable’ and ‘useable’ supercar – Audi’s R8. With 600 plus horsepower from a screaming V10 and “arrest me now, I broke the speed limit the moment I turned the key” looks, you’re sure to draw attention and smiles. But even though relative to the used 911 market these cars are bargains, you’re saying ‘Come on, Carter – they’re still $170,000’. And you’re right – for most, they’re only affordable if you would consider them a primary residence rather than a weekend warrior.
So if you need to actually commute, what about Audi’s TTS? Okay, it’s not the 400 horsepower TT RS – I get it. But it retains the walk-on-water MQB platform and pairs it with the Golf R drivetrain – good for 292 horsepower and 280 lb.ft of torque driving all four wheels. Paired with the S-Tronic DSG dual-clutch, you’re capable of blitzing 60 mph in 4.6 seconds yet still this car returns 27 mpg on the highway. Unlike the R8, it’s also got rear seats (albeit quite small) and a hatchback that doesn’t contain a V10. While that’s disappointing when showing off to your friends, the reality is that occasionally you need to carry something larger than your ego.
But though it lacks the headline-grabbing figures and cross-marque instantly recognizable alpha-numeric nomenclature of its more famous siblings, the TTS fails to disappoint with performance and incorporates all the cutting-edge technology, including the mega-cool virtual dashboard. You can also spec it out in a bunch of really cool colors, such as the Vegas Yellow I looked at on the R8s.…
I was thinking about how to relate my feelings about the first few generations of water-cooled small VWs, and I came up with the analogy of the BBC Doctor Who! reboot in the 2000s. The first generation was Christopher Eccleston; edgy, completely different from the prior generations with a fresh face, impossible not to view with a smile but also something you didn’t completely trust. The second generation? David Tennant took ‘The Doctor’ to new levels of popularity; more refined, more fun and with an infectious smile, he was quirky but somehow much easier to live with than Eccleston had been. He also developed a rabid fan base that consider him the best (this author included) even if he had some faults.
Then came Matt Smith. There’s certainly a fanbase who appreciates Smith’s rounder, softer and…well, weird portrayal of the Doctor. I’m not a fan personally, and often find myself pleading with other Who watchers to go back farther because the earlier variations were much, much better. Yet floppy and oddly proportioned, Smith was nonetheless very popular and took the show to a wider audience. See the Mk.3 VW.
Not really the best at anything aside from being pretty expensive relative to its contemporaries, the 2.0 inline-4 ABA-equipped VW’s nonetheless outsold the prior versions. The were poorly built and even more poorly owned; this was clearly a move towards disposable automobiles for the company, and it worked. I never really got the appeal of the third generation until I somewhat reluctantly owned one. And you know what? It wasn’t as good-looking as my ’86 Golf was to me, but in every aspect it was better. It was more reliable (amazingly), got better mileage, had a nicer interior, was faster and had both heated seats AND air con. And both worked! Plus it had fog lights and more stuff fit inside.…
The 1991-1992 GTI followed the same basic recipe as the 1987 model we saw this past week, but everything was turned up a few notches. Starting in the mid 1990 model year, all US bound A2s received the “big bumper” treatment; new smooth aerodynamic covers front and rear. To help to differentiate it a bit, the GTI’s blackened arches were widened. Filling those arches were new 15″ wheels from BBS. The multi-piece RMs were lightweight and the perfect fit for the design, echoing other contemporary class-leading sports cars such as the M3. Volkswagen color-coded the mirrors and rear spoiler to match the car, as well. VW also gave the GTI a fresh face with more illumination; quad round lights filled the grill, and foglights illuminated the lower bumper. Prominent GTI 16V badges still encircled the car.
Power was up to match the heightened looks. Now with 2.0 liters of twin-cam fun, the GTI produced 134 horsepower at 5,800 RPMs and 133 lb. ft of torque at 4,400 RPMs. Coupled to the close-ratio 5-speed manual, that was good enough to drop 0-60 times below 8 seconds. That may not sound like much today, but at the time it was another league of performance compared to the typical economy car. Holding you in place were the same heavily-bolstered Recaros that special editions like the ‘Helios’ 1989 Jetta GLI Wolfsburg had enjoyed.
It was a recipe for success, but these cars were also relatively expensive in period, and fell into the global recession time frame which affected sales of nearly all European marques drastically. The general consensus is that around 5,000 of the last of these GTIs were imported, putting their rarity on the level of the M3. But because they weren’t M3s, there are far less around today to enjoy and few turn up in stock configuration for a myriad of reasons.…
How can you talk about 1980s Volkswagens and not mention the Scirocco? Karmann’s lift of the Giugiaro Asso di Picche, Asso di Quadri and Asso di Fiori designs was plainly evident, but that they were borrowed really should come as a surprise. After all, the reception to the master Italian designer’s other pens – the Golf, first generation Scirocco, Audi 80 (4000) and Coupe GT firmly established both companies in the public limelight. In the case of Volkswagen, it defined a company emerging from the shadow of the air-cooled generation; for Audi, it modernized designs and capitalized on the success of the 100 lineup in the 1970s. But Karmann had been integral in the production of the first two as well, making an easy transition from ItalDesign to Volkswagen’s go-to special production for the second generation Scirocco.
But while the design was all grown up and modern for the 1980s, the underpinnings were the same; little changed dynamically between the 1981 and 1982 model year, and though upgrades came over the next few years with higher-spec trim and a bit more power, it wasn’t until 1986 that VW coupe fans finally got to rejoice as the addition of the PL 1.8 liter dual-cam inline-4 finally joined the lineup. Now with 123 high-revving horsepower, the Scirocco went a bit more like the wind it was named after. The wide-ratio, economy-minded gearbox of yore was gone too, replaced by a close-ratio gearbox. Like the GTI and GLI, 14″ ‘Teardrop’ wheels and a new bodykit heightened the boy-racer appearance, and the 16V models got all matchy-matchy before the Golf and Jetta, too, with body-colored painted bumpers.
Perhaps this was a shot across the bow of the other Giugiaro-designed, sporty 2-door coupe on the market – the Isuzu Impulse Turbo. Because as much of a VW nut as I am, let’s be honest – the Impulse was cooler.…