Infrequently do we look at a standard Volkswagen Golf. To be fair to us, they’re not the most impressive vehicles ever designed, especially when you go back a few generations. They were oft the most expensive in category, but seldom the quickest, most tech-laden, most efficient, best handling, neatest or most reliable. Those items are the domain of vehicles like Hondas and Toyotas, who mimicked and improved upon the ideas of others many times over. Their sales reflected that.
But there’s still something nostalgic and lovely about the simplicity of the first two generations of the Golf. It grew up considerably between the A1 and A2 chassis, in weight, size, power and refinement, but the recipe remained the same. Recently I’ve looked at two of the best performers in the chassis overall (and the fastest offered to U.S. customers) with the 1991 GTI 16V and 1987 GTI 16V. Deep seat bolsters, special trim, dual overhead cam high compression inline-4s, close ratio 5-speed manuals, alloy wheels; these represented the pinnacle of performance in the hot hatch segment. Today’s car has none of those things.
What we have instead is a bit of a curiosity. As you can no doubt see, it’s a pretty standard 4-door Volkswagen Golf. It appears to be Ascot Gray Metallic (LA7U) with cloth interior. There’s nothing special under the hood; it’s a standard RV 1.8 inline-4 counterflow engine, running Digifant II injection and good for 100 horsepower. No, what’s unique about this car is where it’s come from…
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.
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:
Do you ever see a car and think ‘I’d love to know the story behind that one’?
I do, all the time. But something in particular caught my eye about this 1986 Golf. Well, first off, it’s become rare to see a 1986 Golf anymore. The ’85 and ’86 model years were a bit unique, since the base and diesel models were manufactured in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania. There were minor trim differences, but the easiest way to spot them was the Rabbit-inspired sealed-beam headlight and unique grill. Unlike today’s market where the Golf has gone upscale, with the launch of the A2 chassis for the U.S., the diesel Golf was the cheapest way to buy a VW – and the gas unit was only a hair more money. But they were fairly basic transportation; the 1.8 liter inline-4 GX motor was rated at 85 horsepower for adequate acceleration and fuel mileage. Interiors were basic tweed in a few colors, you had to option in things like a radio and power anything (including steering!), and they came with 13″ steel wheels. If you wanted more upscale, you either spent another $1,000 and bought a Jetta or in 1986 Volkswagen added the Wolfsburg package to make you feel a bit more special.
But this car isn’t a Wolfsburg package. It’s a basic Golf. So why am I interested? A few reasons. First, I had one just like it, and it was a great car all things considered. My ’86 Golf was also a Westmoreland model, and quite basic. Mine had been bought new by a teacher who needed it to commute; after 10 years, she’d accrued just north of 200,000 miles on the odometer, but it still ran like a top. Yet this one, some two decades after I owned mine, has only 44,000 miles since new.…
Edit: After selling for $4,650 in the auction from June, this car has been relisted with a $4,750 Buy It Now.
Jumbo Shrimp. Act naturally. Hell’s Angels. Living Dead.
Oxymorons are part of our life to the point where we often don’t even consider their genesis, nor their contradiction. Yet these things pop up on regular basis and have become integral to our culture. Well, I’d like to add a few oxymorons to the list when considering this 1986 Volkswagen:
1) 1986 Volkswagen GTI 16V : Yes, it’s true that the 16V wasn’t introduced in the U.S. until the 1987 model year. Yet, here we have a well engineered, so-clean-it-looks-stock PL-code 1.8 16V swapped in.
2) Clean, well-presented Volkswagen: I know this one seems silly, but it’s really true – outside of the ridiculously clean (and ridiculously bid to $21,000!) 1987 Jetta Coupe , it is extremely rare to find crisp, well-maintained, well-photographed and detailed Volkswagens from the 1980s.
And, unfortunately for the seller but fortunate for us, there’s one more:
3) Buyer didn’t pay: This happens on a regular basis on eBay, but thankfully it offers us a chance to take a peek at the lovely condition:
In 1987, there were quite a few Jettas to like (as Jettas go, that is). If you absolutely had to have a trunk, you could grab a turbo diesel for its last year until the 1990 Ecodiesel arrived. The “GL” trim package gave you power options like windows, mirrors, locks, and even a power antenna – remember when breaking antennas off cars was a hoodlum pastime? Your GL would even come with a ski sack! There was the new Wolfsburg Edition, which gave you all the options of the GLI without sport seats – so you got the special Pirelli P-slot wheels, deeper spoilers, and even a power bump to 105. Did I mention the GLI? For good measure, there were two that year, with the 8V bowing out to the incoming 16V model.
This car is not any of those trim levels, though. This is a plain-jane Jetta; steel wheels, the lowest power available, and manual everything (except, predictably, the transmission). So why look at it? Well, two reasons – and they both open. Oh, and it only has 5,581 miles, too.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Great“, you’re saying, “Carter wants to look at another shitty swapped Volkswagen. Pass. When will he get over this?”
Admittedly, I have looked at quite a few hot hatches recently. There was the A1 GTI with an ABA 2.0 swap; subtle, and clean, but certainly not original and that hurt the value. Several notches up from that was the repeatedly for sale 1977 Rabbit with the 2.8 24V VR6 swap – neat and generally clean, but again a bridge too far for many. Then there was the ultra-clean and fully custom 3.2 swapped Golf; cool, but clearly not a daily driver candidate. So, here we go again – another swapped Golf. But, this one has a bit of a twist…is it worth a roll of the dice?
Trying to find a clean 1980s or 1990s Volkswagen is just about impossible these days, unless you’re interested in either of two models. If you want to find a clean Vanagon, you will – just be prepared to pay, as models like the Westfalia Syncro challenge the myth that only air-cooled multi-window VW vans are worth money.
On the other end of the VW spectrum is the Corrado. It doesn’t have the multi-purpose, all-weather camping capability of the T3, true. But what it does have is a serious cult following who have loved and kept these cars up since they were new – rare for this period of VW history. Specifically, when Wolfsburg decided to slot the narrow-angle VR6 into the Karmann coupe, the recipe was transformed into an instant hit. Consequently, it’s not unusual to find an all-original, very clean Corrado SLC like this Flash Red example with only 80,000 miles:
Though it was never available in the U.S. until this coming model year, all-wheel drive in a standard Golf is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around since 1986.
If you follow me around the internet, and I don’t expect you to, you might have caught my article for The Truth About Cars about all-wheel drive Golfs which predated the R32. Though the idea sounds simple enough since parent company Audi had an all-wheel drive system that was ever so popular, mounting that longitudinal transmission and drivetrain into the transverse engine Golf was impossible. Instead, Volkswagen contracted Steyr-Daimler-Puch to design a viscous coupling setup for the Golf with a new independent suspended rear. Like the contemporary Quantum and Vanagon setups, it was dubbed “Syncro”, though outside of all-wheels being driven the three systems shared almost nothing.
The result was a few fan-favorite models. Performance types love the Quattro-inspired Golf Rallye, Golf G60 Syncro and Golf Limited models. But undoubtedly the most recognizable Golf to wear the Syncro badge was the jacked-up Golf Country. Utilizing an already heavily modified Golf Syncro, Daimler-Steyr-Puch installed some 438 unique pieces to create the light offroading Golf way before the Outback was conquered by Subaru:
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?