VRffordable Double Take: 1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6

Tired of seeing high prices for Corrado SLC VR6s? Today is your day, because nearly all of the fun offered in the 6-cylinder Corrado was also slotted into the GTI. For a hair under $20,000, you got the same thrilling 2.8 liter VR6 mated solely to a 5-speed manual. Did you want an automatic? Well, then buy the Jetta. Sure, that motor and the bigger body of the Mk.3 meant it was quite a bit heavier than the previous GTIs had been – by 1995, the ‘hot hatch’ had bulked up with 700 additional lbs of super-weight gain Mk.3000 versus the A1. But faster? Without a doubt. With nearly double the horsepower of the original U.S. market model, 0-60 was sub 7-seconds and you could hit 130 flat out. Coupled too with VW’s ‘we don’t care if you think it’s broke we’re not going to fix it’ styling attitude, the Mk.3 might have not looked as slinky as the Corrado, but underneath it was still a Golf and as such, practical.

So while the Corrado pretended to be a Porsche, the GTI remained the answer to the ‘what if’; you wanted a Porsche, but you a) didn’t want to (or couldn’t) pay for a Porsche, and 2) you occasionally needed a car that you could actually use to transport things other than your smile. This was the recipe that made the first two generations successful.

It was no surprise then that the third generation GTI remained a niche hit for Volkswagen even in relatively dire times for European imports. While finding a nice GTI VR6 can be quite difficult, it was a bit of a Thanksgiving treat to see two pop up in my feed. So which is the winner?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6 on eBay

1983 Volkswagen GTI

Over the last few weeks, we’ve gotten to see the rewards of a new trend in water-cooled Volkswagens. For a long time, years if not decades in fact, if you wanted a clean A1-up chassis your only hope was that you’d stumble across an unknowing candidate. But the advent of the internet and a greater appreciation for 1980s automobile designs has finally resulted in a market where it’s become possible to restore these cars and not (entirely) lose your shirt. What does that look like? Well, we’ve seen some lightly restored Sciroccos bring pretty good money:

Wild or Mild? Double Take: 1978 and 1980 Volkswagen Sciroccos

But what about the heavy-hitter from Volkswagen? The GTI has name recognition outside of the brand; heck, even outside of European cars. Guys with Camaros and Ram Trucks know what a GTI is. They may not like it, but often I think they respect the hot hatch. As a result, outside of mega-clean Sciroccos and camper vans, GTIs have generally been the best bet for bringing strong money at an auction and if you were hoping for a resto-flip, it’s the likely candidate to choose to come out on top:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1983 Volkswagen GTI on eBay

2.Slow Double Take: 1996 Volkswagen Jetta and 1998 Volkswagen GTI

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.…

1984 Volkswagen GTI

We’ve had plenty of Volkswagen A1 chassis to look at recently, from the neat Jetta Turbo Diesel we’ll be seeing again soon through the string of very awesome Sciroccos from both the first and second generation. I’ve also looked at quite a few GTIs, from the second, third and fourth generation. But for all that love, I’ve somehow managed to avoid combining the two and covering what is arguably the most famous modern Volkswagen – the original GTI.

Today I hope to rectify that with today’s last-year example of what many consider to be the original ‘hot hatch’. While the U.S. example was somewhat watered-down and had chunkier styling than the truly Spartan 1976 design, it was still a revelation in performance and universally heralded as the benchmark by which all other sporty economy cars would be based moving forward. At a time when there were few do-it-all type cars, the GTI managed to be nearly all things to all people; it got good fuel economy thanks to a relatively miserly 1.8 liter inline-4 with efficient fuel injection. It looked neat, thanks to 14″ alloy wheels, wide fender flared and blacked-out detail work with red accent stripes. It was functional and flexible, with fold-down seats and a (for its size) spacious hatch area to transport goods. It was usable year-round, with front-wheel drive allowing for decent snow traction. And the sport suspension, heavily bolstered seats and close-ratio transmission made the whole package an athletic alternative to the norm, allowing practical-minded men and women to fling their family car through corners with aplomb. Near universal was its appeal, and infectious were the ad campaigns, which in the Volkswagen tradition used short phrases to capture attention like “They’re going fast” and “Serious Fun” – even the oft-used “It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.…

1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6

After its unceremonious and unexplained exit from the U.S. market with the introduction of the third generation Golf in 1993, the GTI came roaring back in a big way for the 1995 model year. Sure, it was bigger, bulkier and well…roundier, but it came with a bunch more gusto thanks to the addition of the VR6 motor as seen in the Corrado and Passat models. The single-overhead cam, twelve valve head lacked the race-bred feel of the Mk.II 16V, the new motor more than made up for it with the addition of two more cylinders. Good for 172 horsepower and 173 lb.ft of torque, it swept the hot hatch from 0-60 in 7.1 seconds and produced a 15.5 second quarter mile at over 90 mph. But much like the original, the GTI was more than the sum of its numbers, with drivers enjoying the great 6-cylinder soundtrack which accompanied the waves of usable torque.

Of course, like all VWs from the period, it was expensive. Really quite expensive. A base GTI VR6 rolled out the door in 1995 at $18,875, and with a few options it wasn’t difficult to breech $20 grand. Yet that was still only a little more than half the money it would take you to grab a same-year M3, which offered only a bit more motivation and cornering prowess. Catch the pesky BMW driver off-guard, and they’d be unlikely to easily out-drag you. So you could either look at this model as a really expensive Golf or a really cheap BMW. That was what the legendary GTI had always been about, and this was a resounding return to form and continuation of the brilliance that was the GTI 16V, even if they felt (and, looked) completely different:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6 on eBay

2003 Volkswagen GTI 20th Anniversary Edition with 9,800 Miles

News broke this morning that the brand new RS4 Avant is unsurprisingly not coming to the United States. While this is no doubt disappointing to the twelve people who actually would have bought it and the 1.8 million who claim on the internet they would if given the option, it follows a long tradition in German motoring of leaving the best of the breed in the homeland. When it came to the GTI, not only did we have to wait several years before we got the hot Golf, but indeed it was a bit watered down and heavier when it did arrive. The same continued in the next two generations; more weight, less power. Both in the second and third generations we also lost out on supercharging, all-wheel drive and special body kits available in the European market.

Once again in 2001, a neat Golf was launched that – of course – wasn’t coming to the United States. But of all of the special editions that weren’t sold here, perhaps this one made the most sense to be excluded. It was called the 25th Anniversary Edition and you didn’t need to be good at math to realize that there was no GTI sold here 25 years before 2001. Since the “18 year Anniversary Edition” didn’t make much sense from a marketing perspective even in spite of Volkswagen’s continual spotty judgement in that regard, it was no surprise that it wasn’t offered. That was too bad, as it had a lowered suspension, better brakes, a bit more power, fantastic Recaro seats and the best looking BBS wheels fit to any Volkswagen, ever. Volkswagen enthusiasts in America drool inwardly and shouted openly, so in 2002 Volkswagen finally did bring the special edition here. Again, since “19th Anniversary” didn’t make any sense, we instead got the “337” Edition.…

1991 Volkswagen GTI 16V

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.…

1987 Volkswagen GTI 16V

1987 was the year that the GTI started its climb up the weight and complexity scale with the addition of the PL 1.8 liter double overhead cam inline-4. Now with 123 horsepower, Volkswagen continued its mid-80s trend of charging the customers about $100 a horsepower, resulting in a $2,000 increase in base price to correspond with the 21 horsepower jump. New “Silverstone” alloys which had debuted (like the motor) on the Scirocco were still 14″ x 6″, but looked the part with their signature teardrop machined look. Also carrying over from the Scirocco was the Fuba roof-mounted antenna; something which would become a call sign for fast VWs for the next two decades. The lower valences, both front and rear, were painted matte black, further highlighting the red-stripped bumper covers and accented by a deeper front spoiler with twin brake ducts. The red theme carried over to the “16V” badges surrounding the outside and highlighting the inside; a new red-stripe velour and leatherette sport interior kept the passengers planted. While the 21 horsepower increase didn’t sound like a lot, the 16V was a case of a car which outperformed its numbers on paper and felt much quicker than it might have appeared. 0-60 was gone in a tick under 8 seconds and the GTI would gear-out at 124 mph. Car magazines proclaimed it the best GTI yet, though many pointed out that it was also getting quite expensive. Though still popular, not quite as many of these A2 GTIs seemed to hit the market, and finding clean, original examples today like this beautiful Red Pearl Mica example? You guessed it, exceptionally hard.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1987 Volkswagen GTI 16V on eBay

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%.…

Feature Listing: 2002 Volkswagen GTI 337 Edition

As I talked about in the recent post about the 20th Anniversary Edition GTI, the 2002 ‘337’ was the GTI to get when they launched. The moniker derived from the original project code – EA337 – for the first generation GTI, and effectively the 2002 337 was a carbon copy of the 25th Anniversary model that was a Europe-only special from 2001. Hunkered down with the 1BE sport suspension, the 337 wore 18″ specially painted BBS RC wheels with low profile 225-section tires. Red calipers grabbed 12.4″ front vented discs and 10″ in the rear, also with veining. Powering the 337 was a 1.8 liter, 20V turbocharged motor, good for 180 horsepower, mounted to a new MQ350 6-speed manual gearbox. Underneath was a stainless steel exhaust system tuned to emit a bit more noise than a standard model. Inside the GTI got Recaro “Le Mans” red and black cloth seats, a special golf ball shift knob, aluminum interior accents and Monsoon radio system. Finally, a unique Votex body kit and retro badging helped to distinguish this model as the one to get for 1,500 lucky U.S. customers:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2002 Volkswagen GTI Edition 337 on Autotrader