Update 8/30/18: The car has been relisted at $3,000 Buy It Now.
I keep chuckling as I come across A2 Jettas. I’ve already professed that they’re not my favorite, yet interesting examples continue to pop up and they’re simply too good to pass on. Today’s may buck that trend, however, as it’s a non-original, non-running example. So what’s it doing here? Well, because of how it was built and how it appears today, it was worth a closer look. With a 1.8 PL 16V swap, a great set of Ronal wheels and some other VW-chic mods, is this a Jetta worth saving?
Although I’ve espoused my love of wagons and their do-everything nature, the reality is that I live in the suburbs and there are certainly some times (read: pretty often, actually) that I could use a pickup truck. But, if I’m completely honest, I’ve previously owned a big Chevrolet 2500HD pickup and I’m still not convinced that I’m a pickup kind of guy. Worse still, have you priced a pickup out lately? HOLY MACKEREL. A base Silverado starts at almost $30,000 and if you want things like…seats, and/or wheels, you’ll quickly need more than $40,000. When I see $40,000 asks on a pickup which a) I know will be rusting in 5 years no matter what I do and b) because it’s a GM, will almost certainly break, I get pretty annoyed. Worse still, the “Heartbeat of America” isn’t built in America. I know. I live right by the port where they all come in on a boat. Beside the steady stream of Fiats, Volkswagens, Porsches and Alfa Romeos, there’s a long line of Chevrolet and GMC pickups being driven into the United States for the first time.
So how about a pickup that’s a bit more my speed? Built in America with tons of European flare by utilizing recycled Audi/Volkswagen products, there’s always the Smyth Pickup:
Much like the S4 I posted over the weekend, the Jetta GLI 16V is a car which on paper I should like very much. After all, I’m a huge fan of the same-generation GTI 16V, and the Jetta was little more than a trunk added to that formula. Underneath, there were almost no changes between the two. You got the same high-strung 9A 2.0 16V with Motronic fuel injection pushing 134 horses through that open-diff front end. Your only choice was a 5-speed manual, of course, and it was a close-ratio one – enjoy those highway speeds! Brakes were updated to 10.1″ and dual tailpipes emerged from the new ‘big bumper’ A2 refresh. Central locking and a cassette player were standard, while you could opt for many power options including windows, mirror, anti-lock brakes, trip computer, cruise control and of course a sunroof. The GLI also carried over BBS wheels from the pre’90 1.8 models, in this case the 15″x 6.5″ ‘RA’.
These items should have conspired to produce a deeply desirable product for me. And yet, somehow I never really took to the Jetta though many did. I suppose it’s the same as the 4000 quattro/Coupe GT fan bases. Rarely do they seem to cross over, yet there’s a mutual respect between them. I like the Jetta, and in the absence of the GTI it would probably be a great favorite of mine. It was aimed at being a more refined alternative to the racier hot hatch. But ultimately it falls second fiddle to the GTI, which always seems (and, arguably is) just that little bit more neat.
For enthusiasts, though, that means potential value. As GTI 16V prices climb steeply with no real relent in sight and few good examples hitting the market, you can get a bit of a value if you don’t mind the junk in the trunk:
Like its brethren GTI, in 1985 the Volkswagen Jetta GLI went a bit more upscale with the second generation of water-cooled performance. While the two shared most underpinnings between them, the Jetta was aimed at a slightly more upscale buyer. As a result, things like power windows, locks and mirrors and (gasp!) even an automatic transmission were available in the sedan but not the hatch. The GLI package, like the GTI, offered visual clues that greater performance lay under the hood; you got a red-striped exterior and alloy wheels outside. But unlike the GTI, VW omitted the blacked-out VW badges and the flashy “GLI” grill insert until later in the run. Inside, special velour sport seats, a multi-function display and standard power steering (it was optional in the rest of the range) with a leather-wrapped steering wheel helped to distinguish the model. But the meat of the meal was the added sport; the HT-code inline-4 was good for 100 horsepower and mated to a close-ratio 5-speed manual as standard. You also got disc brakes all around and an upgraded sport suspension with front and rear anti-sway bars. You could grab all of this fun for just a hair under $10,000 with no options – exactly $100 per a horsepower.
For 1986, power was up slightly to 102 with a new RD-code motor, again shared with the GTI. That massive power increase was met with a corresponding increase in base price to $10,190. Yet most reviews of the period felt that even at that price, the Jetta represented a great value; a perfect mix of sport and practicality with reasonably good build quality. The GLI of the period never sold quite as well as the GTI or caught on in quite the same way, though, so it’s a special treat to come across a clean and mostly original ’86 like this one:
The introduction of the DOHC motor into the Volkswagen lineup may not have heralded a massive increase in power; on paper, the 21 horsepower bump from the RD 8 valve 1.8 liter inline-4 to the PL 16V of the same displacement was pretty modest compared to the massive leaps of today. But in a 2,000 lbs car, the 20% bump in thrust meant that the new Jetta GLI 16V for 1987 felt like the rocket ship its tach acted like every time you stabbed the throttle. To match the additional power, Volkswagen offered many upgrades over the standard 8 valve GLI in 1987, the only year they were offered together in the U.S. market. A deeper front lip spoiler with brake ducting and rear spoiler added boy-racer looks. Though the wheels remained 14″x6″, the new “Silverstone” design you know as “Teardrops” looked cooler than the bottle-cap inspired design on the 8V. A swept-back Fuba roof-mounted antenna continued the speed theme and became the signature Volkswagen look for some time. Inside 16V badges on the dash and a higher red line prepared you for the thrill ride while heavily bolstered half-cloth, half-leatherette Recaro Trophy seats hugged you. And to show how fancy you were to your friends, this Volkswagen included a lit key fob – the first I can think of for a Volkswagen. The Jettas were also marketed upscale of the more boy-racer GTI (a trend which recently has been reversed), so options included power windows, air conditioning and a sunroof, and the model carried over from 1987 largely unchanged into 1988. They were a cut-rate M3 to an entire generation that was never able to even contemplate new BMW ownership, and became wildly popular as a result:
A little over a week ago, I took a look at a 1992 GTI 16V. One of my absolute favorite cars, it was worth a look outside of the inherent appeal because of the survivor status and the prove-my-theory-right dirty pictures. I figured that it was about a $4,500 car, but was surprised that the bidding pushed upwards to $5,300.
Today we have another Volkswagen to consider. It, too, confirms many of my prejudices about the Volkswagen market. It, too, is a second generation water-cooled car. The asking price is right where I pegged the value of the last Mk.2 at $4,500. And it, too, has 16 valves under the hood – although in this case, it didn’t start there.
Speaking of not starting, it also doesn’t run.
Is this modded Jetta GLI worth a roll of the dice?
Yesterday, searching through bad 1980s movies to watch I came across the Orwellian classic 1984. I sat and stared at the image of John Hurt, slightly bemused that Orwell’s vision of the future was so dark, dire and complicated. Sitting at the end of a head-scratching 2016, 1984 seems in many ways to be such an easy time. Okay, remove the equally crazy politics of the period; telling my students that bombings in downtown London were commonplace when I was growing up confuses them, or that plane hijackings happened almost as often as mass shootings do today, nevermind the environmental and infectious disease disasters of the period. In 1984, you could buy a Volkswagen Jetta GLi for $8,500. Inflation corrected, that’s just below $20,000 – so still quite a deal in the grand scheme. Sure, today’s cars offer more luxury and convenience, and isolation from the driving experience. They are, without a doubt, safer in every measurable characteristic than cars in the 1980s. And faster? Also indisputable, as a new Jetta GLi turbo will positively wipe the floor with this A1’s performance. With only 90 horsepower on tap, you’ll struggle to best speeds most modern cars can do without the driver even blinking. Relatively speaking, this Jetta GLi is slow, loud, unsafe, and not hugely comfortable. Why, then, were they so much fun to drive?
While the GTi, and more recently “R” models, have enjoyed the Volkswagen performance limelight, in the background has been an equally fun and nearly as capable sedan. Since the A1 chassis, Volkswagen has offered the same underpinnings with slightly different style in the betrunken Jetta (clever, that), and just like the GTi there have been some special models along the way. For example, the Wolfsburg Limited Edition “Helios” GLi was one of my favorite 80s VWs, with the beautiful blue color matched on the BBS RA alloys and uniquely striped Recaro seats. While the Mk.3 model lost the GLi in favor of the upscale GLX VR6 models, the GLi made a triumphant return in the Mk.4. As with the Golf, it was available with either VR6 or 1.8T turbocharged powerplants, and in fact the Jetta got an undercover screamer in a 24V version of the VR6 not offered in the Golf. Today, though, we’re taking a look at the equivalent of the 20th Anniversary Edition GTi in the Jetta lineup:
As I talked about in a post last April, the 1987 Volkswagen GLi 16V had some unique trim features. 1987 was the sole year in the U.S. that you could buy both a 16V and 8V GLi. Upgrading to the DOHC motor got you a rear spoiler and deeper front spoiler with integrated brake ducts. Though they were the same 14″x6″ size of the 8V model, 16Vs got the signature “Teardrop” alloys (though their actual name is Silverstones). Inside you got some awesome Recaro seats in place of the normal sport seats, and the more luxurious GLi models had many power features available. Both 1987 models retained the earlier split front door window design and narrow door trim as well as the 7-bar grill, but the 16V GLi also got a roof-mounted Fuba antenna. That particular 1987 I looked at in April was in awesome condition with near 140,000 for, so this one should be spectacular with 90,000 miles less:
Edit 6/17/2017: This car has reappeared with new photos, a new listing and a $10,000 Buy It Now HERE!
The late 1980s saw an explosion of popularity in homologated race specials. There was the Quattro, fresh off the World Rally Championship. Though technically not a homologation, Porsche gave us a pretty popular option in the 944 Turbo which derived much of its technology from the successful 924 Carrera GTR/LM program. Of course, the real heavy hitters were the 190E 2.3/2.5-16 Cosworths from Mercedes-Benz and the superstar BMW M3. But all of those cars were pretty expensive; the Quattro and 944 Turbo were the best part of $40,000, the Benz hit the market at $37,000 while the slightly more affordable M3 stickered for $34,000. Still, inflation corrected, even the least expensive 1988 M3’s sticker price would equate to roughly $69,000 in buying power today – hardly affordable to most.
However, for a little less than half of what the M3 cost, you could get a fair chunk of the high-revving European feel in the Jetta GLi. It hit the markets around $15,000, which felt like quite a lot considering a base Jetta cost only half that amount a few years early. But a lot of Jetta you got for that money. Like the M3, it had a deep front spoiler with integral brake ducting and a rear wing. It had a roof mounted antenna, too, and most Jetta GLis were full of power options like windows, mirrors, anti-lock brakes and sunroofs. Also like the M3 you got form-fitting Recaro seats, and light alloy BBS wheels. And at its heart was a high-revving double-overhead cam 16 valve motor hooked to a close ratio 5-speed manual gearbox. Of course, for $20,000 less than the M3, you weren’t going to get a BMW – power, material and build quality, and the performance were all less than the Munich cars or the rest of that group previously mentioned. But impressive was the Jetta nonetheless, and the late run 16V GLis are still heavily appreciated today: