2004 Volkswagen Phaeton

The Phaeton is a very perplexing car. It was established as a plan to produce a no-expense spared, world-beating luxury car – and, in many ways at the time, it was world beating. It offered similar luxury and performance to the established German standards – Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class and BMW’s 7-series, but also challenged stable-mate Audi’s A8. Yet it was available on a more Volkswagen budget – at least, in theory. That’s because if you walked into a Volkswagen dealer in the mid 2000s and wanted a basically optioned model, you’d be out about $75,000. For reference, that’s about three times what my expensive-for-the-category Passat cost in 2002. And the big problem with that was how the Phaeton looked, because a bulk of the population wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart.

But that wasn’t the point about the Phaeton. Nor was it that you could get the lighter, aluminum version of what appeared to be the same car from more upscale Audi that would arguably attract much more attention for not much more money. And it was this exact confusion that befuddled the market; why would you ever pay $75,000 for a Volkswagen? The trick came in realizing what you were getting, which actually shared little architecture with the Audi corporate partner. Park a Phaeton next to an A8 and you’d swear they were just about the same car with light badging changes, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

Although the model shared components with the D3 A8, it also shared much more architecture with other side of VAG’s portfolio – the Bentley Flying Spur and Continental. This meant a steel chassis rather than the aluminum space frame, and that meant more weight – a lot more weight. To mitigate this, Volkswagen upped the power slightly over the A8’s V8 to 335 and dropped its axle ratio to 3.65:1.…

1978 Volkswagen Scirocco with 27,000 Miles

Normally I write fairly verbose introdutions, covering the history of a particular model or some interesting tidbit about its history. Sometimes they’re my personal connections to the cars. I’m sure on more than one occasion you’ve wished I’d just shut up a bit so that you can get to the car. Today’s that day, because the presentation and condition of this 1978 Volkswagen Scirocco are so staggering I was literally left mouth agape looking through the photo reel. Enjoy:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1978 Volkswagen Scirocco on eBay

2004 Volkswagen Passat GLS 1.8T Variant

The Volkswagen Passat isn’t a particularly exciting car to drive. It’s also not particularly exciting to look at. While most people would categorize those as negative attributes for vehicle ownership, there’s a third thing that the Passat isn’t particularly exciting at which I’d wager most would consider a very good thing.

It’s not an exciting car to own.

“But isn’t that a bad thing?!?! you’re thinking to yourself? Sure, when I go out into the garage and see the M3 sitting there, my pulse rate quickens. Scratch that, I don’t even have to go into the garage – endorphins flow at the mere thought of it. And turning the key? All sorts of goodness happens. I’ll spare you the details, but sufficed to say it’s an exciting car to own, look at and drive. The Passat is not a M3.

But it is a vehicle thoroughly devoid of drama, and to me, that’s what makes the Passat a not exciting car to own. Take the contemporary Audi Allroad from the same period for example. The Passat mimics the look and the function of the A6 in nearly every way. It’s not even much slower on a continuum. But Less exciting to own? For sure, and when you’re talking breaking and repairs, that’s a very good thing.

Because let’s be honest for a second; these cars that we love, that we fawn over, that we pontificate about – they’re pieces of metal with a lot of plastic and complicated electrical and pneumatic systems. And they’re not getting any younger. Take my 2002 Passat as a case study; it’s on the verge of being 17 years old and has now covered over 140,000 miles. Yet it’s caused no sleepless nights, no emptying of wallets, not even left me stranded once. It’s just been completely reliable transportation in all weather, with my family, all our goods and a ridiculous amount of various cargo.…

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”.…

2001 Volkswagen Jetta VR6 Smyth ‘Ute’

I’m sure you’ve seen it once before. Someone takes a regular sedan or wagon, grabs a sawzall, then three months later out rolls a car with a bed on it. Usually the rear window is something out of a truck at the junkyard and is held in by some leftover bathroom caulk. The entire car now has the structural integrity of a pool noddle and it’s only a matter of time before the entire thing collapses. But what if I told you that there is now a way to make a ute from your VW or Audi without risking your life and everyone elses lives on the road? Thanks to this 2001 Jetta ”Ute” in Detroit, I now know there is an entire market for these conversions.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 Volkswagen Jetta VR6 ”Ute” on Detroit Craigslist

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

1987 Volkswagen Scirocco 16V

I can say with utter confidence that I’ll never own a Scirocco II. Here’s the weird part – I’m not exactly sure why.

It’s not as though I don’t appreciate the design, though how it came about is somewhat suspect. Volkswagen canned Giugiaro as the replacement designer for the exceptionally beautiful and unique first generation car, moving in-house to Karmann for the second go at the Golf-based sport coupe. The result looked suspiciously like Giugiaro’s Italdesign Asso di Fiori from 1979, though – the car that became the Isuzu Impulse. Two years later, and Viola! the Scirocco II debuts from Karmann with a near identical shape. On top of that, the mechanicals continued to be based upon the first generation Golf, while the A2 series went upwards in refinement. To me, because of the short wheel base and long overhangs – especially highlighted with U.S. spec bumpers – the second-generation Scirocco has just never looked quite right. The visually similar Audi Coupe was better balanced both in design and driving characteristics, and ultimately there wasn’t a huge price gap between them. A 1986 Scirocco 16V, with a few options, was yours for about $13,500 – only about $2,500 shy of the basic Coupe GT. But the performance nod went to the later 16V version of the Scirocco.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1987 Volkswagen Scirocco 16V on eBay

2001 Volkswagen Eurovan Westfalia Weekender

I’ve always been intrigued, and a little confused, by the Volkswagen Van. I first learned to drive on a neighbor’s T2, and I grew up in a period where vans were as cool as it got. Vans were ambulances. Vans were campers. And vans even carried the A-Team. Sure, the GMC Vandura wasn’t a Countach, but to kids in the 1980s it had nearly as much impact, fool!

But it’s not the appeal of these vans that I find confusing at all. The first thing I find hard to follow are the various trim levels. Especially when it came to the T3 and T4 models, things get a bit complicated. You could buy, for example, a Wolfsburg Edition Vanagon in the 1980s and early 90s. This was not to be confused with the Westfalia model, which was notable for having the pop-top. However, there was also a Weekender model, which sometimes had a pop-top but didn’t have the camping accoutrements of the Westfalia. That these were further available in two- and four-wheel drive made things even more confusing, and then – of course – there was a Wolfsburg Weekender for a short period. I don’t even know what came in that model. Well, I do, actually, but the point remains that it was confusing.

The switch to the T4 was pretty revolutionary. Gone was the antiquated rear-engine layout, and cylinder count went up to five as Audi’s 2.3 liter motor was massaged into 2.5 liters with a short stroke for lots of torque in the new Eurovan. These came to the U.S. starting in 1993, and there were two configurations – the Eurovan and the Multi-Van (MV for short). The difference was the seating configuration, in that the MV had rear-facing seats behind the captain’s chairs and a table in the middle.…

2004 Volkswagen Golf R32

The Mk.4 GTI lineup got progressively better through the early 2000s and culminated with the U.S. finally getting the Super Golf. All-wheel drive was nothing new to the hatchbacks, as they’d had it in the normal run starting in 1986 and it was offered pretty much straight until today. But for U.S. customers, models like the Golf Rallye, Golf Limited and VR6 Syncro models were forbidden fruit until the fourth generation of Golfs.

In late 2003, the model with so much promise was finally added to the U.S. lineup. The underpinnings were shared with the Audi TT, which meant a transverse engine utilizing a Haldex hydraulic controller to drive the rear wheels. Power came from a double-overhead cam 24 valve narrow-angle VR6. Displacing 3189 cubic centimeters, it generated 237 horsepower and 236 lb.ft of torque and for the first generation it was mated solely to a 6-speed manual transmission. Outwardly there were a few clues that it was more potent than yesterday’s 20th Anniversary GTI; revised front and rear bumper covers with dual exhaust and gaping intakes. The wheels were the same 18″ OZ-made Aristo wheels from the 20th, but the calipers were painted blue and grasped rotors a full 1.3 inches larger than the GTI. As with the signature model for performance in the hot hatch category, the R32 received larger anti-roll bars and 1BE sport suspension, good for a 1″ drop. Tires were meaty 225-40-18 ZR-rated rubber. All of these things helped to keep the weight of the R32 in check, and there was plenty of that to manage. The addition of heavier-duty running gear, two more cylinders and all-wheel drive meant that the R weighed in a full 3,350 lbs – about two full-sized adults north of a GTI. It was more powerful, but it wasn’t really much quicker in a straight line.…

1979 Volkswagen Dasher Hatchback

Like the Scirocco duo from earlier this week, Volkswagen’s “large” chassis has become an obscure name long gone from these shores. The Dasher premiered VW’s use of the shared B1 platform. Marketed in the rest of the world as the Passat (a name, like the Scirocco, for a type of wind), Volkswagen opted to use a name closer to its stablemate Rabbit and came up with “Dasher”. From 1974 through 1981, the B1 laid the foundation for larger watercooled Volkswagens in three configurations; two-door hatchback, four-door hatchback and wagon. Also like the Scirocco, the design came from Giogetto Giugiaro and was forward-thinking. Power came from the EA827 derivatives, with a relative modest 1.6 inline-4 gas motor and later diesel options available. In 1978, the B1 was refreshed and gained quad-round headlights and other light revisions, visually matching the Scirocco lineup a bit more. They’re obscure and relatively rare to see at all these days, but this survivor has popped up on eBay in a no reserve auction:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1979 Volkswagen Dasher Hatchback on eBay