What is the price for rarity? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, enthusiasts will sometimes go to extremes to have something just a bit different than the norm. Take today’s Golf. Like the 1989 Volkswagen GTI I looked at a few weeks ago, something odd will stick out to the brand faithful that will probably go unnoticed by nearly everyone else. First off, for the U.S. market, the VR6 was limited to the GTI range. This looks like a GTI with the dual chamber headlights and foglights, VR6 badges and BBS wheels. But another minor detail then rears its head – or, in this case, rears its doors. That’s right, this is a 5-door Golf VR6 from Europe. Look closer and you’ll notice items such as the textured flares, deeper chin spoiler and fender mounted directionals that differentiate ROW A3s. So what will getting into this rare-to-see VW cost you today?
Recently, in my 1989 GTI post, I referenced the Radwood show in California. A celebration of all things 80s (being liberal to accept items both older and newer, too!), Radwood has become the newest and hottest show to consider. Why? Well, to head to Pebble Beach, Amelia Island or Greenwich Concours, you’ll need a car of significant stature. But you can roll up to Radwood in a 4000 quattro you literally just pulled out of a field (seriously, someone did), and you’ll find fans to celebrate both the model and your insistence that it’s a cool car worthy of being saved. Because, ultimately, it was!
But the GTI I presented was a headscratcher because it was so expensive and subtle that most would probably walk right by. Sure, it had little details that were neat, but not THAT neat or THAT particularly 80s. But today’s GTI takes 80s To The Extreme, killin’ your brain like a poisonous mushroom as you ponder if anything less than the best is a felony:
Obviously, this post comes to you from someone who likes Volkswagens – and, in particular, 5-door VWs. I’m not sure exactly what the attraction is for me, but the last two Volkswagens I’ve had – both Passat GLS 1.8T Variants – have been faithful and fun-to-drive companions. Despite their relative popularity (VW sold nearly 110,000 wagons in North America – 20% of production overall), they somehow manage to stand apart from the crowd. And for about ten years VW enthusiasts got to choose not only from the Passat’s fairly robust lineup of wagons which featured everything from luxurious automatic V6 all-wheel drivers to thrifty diesels and outrageous W8s, but there was also the slightly smaller Jetta Wagon as well. Like the Passat, several options were available, from a basic 2.0, the turbo 1.8, the TDI and the crazy VR6 model.
Today I’ve got two examples to consider; in this case, both are front-drive 1.8T 5-speed manual GLSs. Despite what should be a very similar basis, these two take on remarkably different character. Pricing is pretty similar but presentation and mileage are quite different. Which is the one to buy? Let’s start with the Jetta:
In a recent post about a 1986 Volkswagen GTI, I covered the changes and what made the early 8V GTIs unique from the Golf lineup. But I made a mistake, and I’m happy to admit it. In my defense, so did Volkswagen, though. I stated in that post that early GTIs were limited to Mars Red LA3A, Black L041, and Diamond Silver Metallic L97A. That information is backed up by Volkswagen’s official GTI brochure.
Here’s a white one.
The 1990 up GTI 16V had Alpine White as an option, but I struggle to remember seeing one earlier than that, and all the catalogs don’t list it as an option. Yet here it is and it seems to be original:
While not the fastest or the prettiest car Volkswagen ever made, the GTI represents the ethos of VW’s 1980s philosophy of cheap, fun-to-drive, and eminently practical cars for consumers. As they did when new, the first generation GTI also represented a car which gave much faster cars a run for their money. True, the 90 horsepower under the hood won’t scare a supercar. But what this car lacks in straight-line performance it more than makes up for in value.
You see, over the past few years we’ve watched the fan-favorites and driver’s cars from the 1980s increasingly price themselves out of the range of most enthusiasts. The esoterics are also forged in unobtanium today, and while there was a period where you could snap up cheap 80s products in Europe and import them, they’re going away, too. Sure, the M3 and 911 led the charge, but today a clean 190E 2.3-16 or Quattro will set you back some serious bucks. And then when you do get one, you need to worry about collector insurance, expensive and hard-to-source parts and whether you bought in a bubble.
The solution is still the giant-killer GTI. Find a clean one, and you’ll have a car that can be driven at 10/10ths still today and generate plenty of smiles, yet is relatively cheap to buy and very cheap to run. You’ll get thumbs up just like the 911 driver will. Maybe even more, honestly, because when was the last time you saw an A1 cruising around?
It’s always great to hear from a reader who appreciates the blog or just sends in a link to a neat car that they spotted. While I don’t always take enough time to acknowledge them, I’ll let you know now that we always are thankful that you’re out there thinking of us! But it’s really special when one of our readership buys a car that we featured, and last fall that exact thing happened with this cool 1984 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Diesel:
1984 Volkswagen Jetta GL Turbo Diesel
I caught up with its new owner, Jesse, who was kind enough to share his story and some images of the car!
The lineup of unlikely VAG survivors continues today with this second generation Volkswagen Passat, of course badged the “Quantum” for the U.S. market. This model replaced the lovely and popular Dasher model which had been available in several configurations. Briefly, the new B2 continued that and if you’ve ever seen a 1982 Quantum 2-door hatchback in person in the U.S., you might be alone. The model was dropped quickly, though continuing on was the Variant (VW-speak for wagon) model. And because the underpinnings were shared with the B2 Audi, things started to get pretty interesting for the upscale VW. And, confusing.
Volkswagen was happy to tout the Quantum as the sole “German engineered Grand Touring car sold in America that was available as both a sedan and station wagon and came equipped with a 5-cylinder, fuel injected engine, front-wheel drive, power assisted rack and pinion steering, four-wheel independent suspension AND cruise control”. You don’t say, VW? Seriously, I think they could have left a few modifiers off that description and it still would have been true. The weird part is that the upscale Volkswagen actually tread on the toes of its even more upscale competition – the Audi 4000. Though early 4000s had the 5-cylinder available as an option, when it came to the mid-80s Audi saved the inline-5 only for the quattro models and Coupe GT/5000 front drivers. The 4000 grabbed the engine from the GTI, instead. But you could still get a 5-cylinder Quantum, and you could get a wagon version. Heck, you could even get a Syncro version of it, but only as a wagon!
Here’s where things get even more confusing. The 5-cylinder is usually associated with the moniker “GL5” – the upscale sedan with alloy wheels. And indeed the base Quantum Wagon in 1985 came with the 1.8. But in 1986, you could get a base Wagon with the 2.2 liter inline-5, and I believe the wagon was never officially badged the “GL5”. Weird? That’s VW.
Back to the Golf. A few days ago I looked at a pristine, original low-mileage ’85 Golf. A Westmoreland build, it was a very basic model. But your only other option in the first model year was the GTI, and it was a $2,000 upgrade over the basic Golf. Of course, for that amount you did get quite a jump in quality. Replacing the basic 85 horsepower 1.8 was a high-compression HT 100 horsepower unit. It didn’t sound like a lot, but that did represent a roughly 20% gain in power. Signature red-striped trim announced that this was the performance variant of the hatchback, and you also got 4-wheel discs as a first in the U.S. range. Those brakes hid behind carry-over “Avus” (Snowflake) wheels, though instead of the machine/dark gray finish the A1 had, they were now all silver and with “Volkswagen” imprinted on flush covers. Sometimes GTIs were equipped with “Montreal” (Bottlecap) alloys which were also shared with the Jetta GLI. Application seems somewhat indiscriminate. The GTI also had an upgraded suspension with front and rear sway bars and a close-ratio 5-speed manual as the only transmission. Of course, the interior was also upgraded with a leather-wrapped steering wheel borrowed from earlier GTIs, a multi-function display and specially-trimmed cloth sport seats. Unlike the prior GTI, the new model now also had flush-fitting aerodynamic glass headlights which were also seen on the Jetta, and later in 1986 the Golf Wolfsburg Edition.
In all, it was a substantial upgrade over the standard Golf, and you could of course further opt to include a sunroof, air conditioning, power steering, and a nice radio. Early U.S. Mk.2 GTIs were only available in Mars Red, Diamond Silver Metallic, or as seen here Black. Magazines fawned over the new GTI, which quickly established itself by winning Motor Trend‘s ‘Car of the Year‘ award. They proclaimed the model was “a case of specialized strengths plus broad flexibility — domination in some areas combined with sound capabilities in all others — to produce a commendable win.”
Today, those first two years of the GTI are quite hard to find. More popular were the later, much more potent 16V versions. But occasionally a really nice early example turns up, and here it is:
Continuing on the theme of basic Volkswagens, as I mentioned in the A2 Jetta post I have a soft spot for the Golf. I’ve twice owned them; my last was a ’98 K2 4-door and my first Volkswagen was just like this car. It was a 1986 Westmoreland-built Golf. Compared to most of the cars that come across these pages, the Westmoreland Golfs aren’t really very special. They were very basic models. But they were also unique in their trim, and they were only built in the configuration you see here for two years. Of course, that really only matters to Golfphiles, but it’s a neat bit of trivia, anyway.
I covered the details of these models when I last covered a Westy Golf back in July, 2017. Basically, the easiest way to tell them apart from German builds are the wheel covers and the grill with sealed-beam rectangle headlights. That particular ’86 was mega impressive, as it had only 44,000 miles. Well, today’s ’85 has even less:
For me, the Jetta got a lot more interesting when it came to the fourth generation. That’s mostly because the Mk.4 came in a myriad of variations. Sure, there was no coupe as there had been in the first and second iterations. But I’d gladly trade the odd two-door sedan for what did come to the U.S., as the Golf Variant finally arrived here as the Jetta Wagon. Engine choices were plentiful, as well; the base 2.0 continued on, but there was the torquey and tunable 1.8T, the thrifty 1.9 TDI, and…of course…the 2.8 liter VR6, Volkswagen’s party hat since 1992.
Mild revisions in the late 1990s gave the VR6 174 horsepower and 181 lb.ft of torque. In most Jettas, the VR6 had been paired with the “GLX” package since the prior generation. They were fully loaded with electrical accessories and leather interiors in an attempt to bring the economy sedan closer to near-luxury models. But since the GLX and VR6 came with a serious premium on the Jetta – almost $6,000 over the base price of the 2.0 GLS Wagon – Volkswagen offered a de-contented GLS version of the VR6. I remember a friend purchasing one when new and excitedly showing it to me. There it was – a Jetta which looked pretty much like every other Jetta, but with a VR6 under the hood. It had smaller 16″ wheels, cloth interior, and…like pretty much every other basic Jetta…an automatic.
So, two days after the last cheap and interesting spec Jetta, here we are again. This one is in a very interesting configuration, as well. It’s a GLS wagon – so, cloth interior and no sunroof, but it was selected with the VR6 motor and is mated to a 5-speed manual. Talk about a sleeper!