It’s hard to fit into the regular lineup all of the various neat German vehicles from diverse brands, so admittedly I end up focusing on ones that really spark my interest. That leaves big gaps in coverage, and one such gaffe is certainly the Volkswagen T-series. The first three generations were based upon the Type 2 platform and rear-engine configuration, which left plenty of space for a slab-sided apartment on wheels. But Volkswagen continued the feat with the T4. The engine moved to the front and was water-cooled, transverse and in most applications driving the front wheels. But like the T3, the T4 was also available in syncro configuration with all-wheel drive.
However, while the T3’s viscous coupling sent power forward with twin locking differentials for each axle, the T4’s front-drive transverse layout meant that it needed to employ a system similar to the Golf platform. That meant a viscous coupling to transfer power rearward when slip was detected, with some T4s also having a manually locking rear differential to assist in really sticky situations. While not the go-anywhere mountain goat the T3 could be, it was a neat configuration not offered in the States. Further, you could get a plethora of engine choices at the same time the EuroVan was solely offered with the 2.5 inline-5 gas motor. Case in point is today’s 2.4 liter AAB. While not more powerful than the 2.5 gas motor, the 10 valve inline-5 diesel was a lot less thirsty and offered 77 horsepower and 121 lb.ft of torque at low revs. Here it’s hooked to a manual transmission and already imported to the U.S.:
I owned an A1 GTI once. It was one of the worst automotive decisions I’ve ever made. This comes from a man who bought a non-running Audi 200 Avant full of bees in a field in New Hampshire, mind you.
Back in 1998, I bought a non-running, rusty and very tired black over blue 1984 example for $300. I had every intention of “restoring” it to back good condition, but I was 21 and a poor college student and it was 14. But it wasn’t the age (or the mileage, Indiana), it was how it had been treated in that 14 years. After all, my current Passat is 17 years old and while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty damn nice. Heck, my M3 is 16 years old and basically looks and drives new. No, age was much harder on the cars of the early 1980s; plastics weren’t as durable as they are now, nor was paint. Metal was more rust prone and the electronics were no where near as reliable even though there were so far fewer in the car. To back my GTi up, you could simply look through the crease in the bodywork between the taillights and the rear floor where there was no longer metal. Every single bushing was gone, and what was left vibrated like an unattended paint shaker at Home Depot set to high. The paint was ruined – the car had clearly been hit at some point, so the passenger door and fender were a different shade of black than the rest of the car, which could more be described as dark gray spread very thinly over light gray primer. One time it started itself, which was a bit scary. Another time, it refused to start because the starter had removed itself from the transmission, but only enough to jam the gear into the flywheel. Then one fateful night one a ride home from a late shift at work, the fuse box lit on fire, consuming the functionality of all electrics save the high beams. I had sunk a few thousand dollars into keeping that car running and improving it over the year and a half I drove it. Ultimately I sold it for parts – for $300.
I won’t over romanticize my life with a GTI. I was not sad to see it go. I don’t wish I had it back – in fact, it may be the only car I owned that I never long to sit in again. Indeed, I even have more connection to a few parts cars that I bought but never drove. But, I will say that it did provide me with some entertaining stories. And when it ran right (there were at least two times), it was really a joy to be behind the wheel. There were glimpses of its former glory; you could get in, start it up and immediately be driving at 11/10ths everywhere you went. 40 m.p.h. has only felt near as exhilarating on my bicycle. And the shape was beautiful in such a strange, boxy way. I certainly wouldn’t mind owning a GTI (again), and every time I see one pop up I take notice:
Earlier this week I just about broke my neck to catch a second glimpse at a car which probably went unnoticed by nearly every other driver out there. It was a new what appeared to be a B8 Passat Variant, and you don’t have to know a lot about Volkswagens to know you haven’t seen one recently – or, probably ever – on these shores since VW dropped the large wagon from its lineup after 2010. Is this an indication they’re coming here? Unlikely, at least according to VW. With the Atlas and Tiguan relatively fresh and still selling like proverbial hotcakes, along with the many iterations of the Golf Sportwagon available, there just is no need. More likely than not, the car I saw was part of a VW testing program which makes sense since I live very close to one of the importation ports.
So that leaves fans of the larger VW wagon to clamor over older examples. So back we go fifteen years to a B5.5 again! This one, like the last, is a silver example from 2004. Also just like the last, it’s a manual and all-wheel drive. But unlike that rare factory 1.8T 4Motion manual, this one is a home brew, mating a 1.9 TDi out of a Jetta, a 6-speed manual from Europe, and a GLX 4Motion chassis into a neat and thrifty all-wheel drive combo that was never offered here:
Let me start by saying this: Are you really going to drop $15,000 on an about-to-be 15 year old needlessly complicated Volkswagen? Then you must be looking at a R32, because they’re simply no way you’re contemplating this car.
Volkswagen piggybacked on the success of its B5, C5 and D2 platforms with a decidedly upscale move in the late 1990s. The headlines seem preposterous, but then so was the result; Volkswagen Siamesed two 2.8 liter VR6s together on a common crank, then stuck them in the middle of an all-wheel drive supercar. Still utilizing the Syncro moniker, all four wheels were driven by the 414 horsepower W12 and with a body from Giugiaro’s ItalDesign, it looked poised to take on just about anything. Volkswagen wasn’t done, as they punched out the motor to 6.0 liters and raised the specific output to a shocking 591 horsepower. It was renamed the W12 Nardo, and it then went to its eponymous track and produced staggering results. It’s easy to overlook the achievement now, but in 2002 VW managed to lap a W12 Nardo at 200.6 mph…for 24 hours. That’s right, in 24 hours a Volkswagen became the fastest car in history over that distance, covering an amazing 4,815 miles. That’s one fifth of the world’s circumference, if you’re counting.
What VW did next was perhaps even more shocking. The world was used to upscale market brands of popular marques; after all, what were Lexus, Infinity, Acura…heck, you could even lump Audi into that group. But Piëch gambled that you’d pass over all those brands and…BMW…and Mercedes-Benz…to plunk down over $100,000 on a W12 Phaeton. Few did. Specifically, only 482 did, and it seems like more than half of those are black. Here’s one that’s not, for a change. And, it’s no reserve!
Tuner cars – especially those from the 1980s – seem to have lived a hard life. Like Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty, they were stars that burned ever-so-bright in the limelight of the Reagan era. Tyrell said to Batty, “You were made as well as we could make you”. “But not to last”, quipped Batty – a seemingly appropriate exchange when considering these cars. Few have survived unscathed, but with a renewed appreciation for period-correct pieces from the 80s cars like today’s example have a second lease on life.
So what do we have? Well, it’s the penultimate year of the first generation Scirocco. Along the way this genius of Giugiaro received a heart transplant to a 2.0, and then a AutoTech supercharger for good measure. But that’s just the headline grabbers of a lot of neat additions to this faded front-driver:
One of the reasons that I felt the B4 Passat I just looked at wasn’t a great deal was that there are just a lot of other great models you can get for less. Case in point, today’s 2004 B5.5 1.8T 4Motion Variant 5-speed. Sure, you loose the great growl of the VR6 – but what you gain far outstrips that auditory shortcoming.
Produced only for the 2004-2005 model year, Volkswagen linked the 4Motion all-wheel drive borrowed from Audi to the AWM 1.8T. Rated at 170 horsepower, it was down a few ponies on the 30V V6 GLX 4Motion that preceded it. But while the GLX focused on luxury and was only offered with the Tiptronic transmission (unless you stepped up to the W8), you could opt for the 5-speed manual with the 1.8T. It was something few people did; a scant 2,333 manuals were sold in North America, with just 657 of those being wagons. 516 made it to the United States, and this is one of 16 Stonehenge Gray over Anthracite leatherette 2004s originally sold:
Without a doubt, wagons are one of the favorite subjects here at GCFSB, and while there are plenty of desirable, big name Avants, Tourings and Estates that grab the headlines and generate the “likes” on Myface or Spacebook or Instaselfie or whatever, if I’m honest I’m always a fan of the underdog Passat Variant. Perhaps it’s because I’ve owned two, perhaps it’s because it’s the less common choice; I’m not entirely certain. True, the Passat isn’t the best performing wagon out there, and I’d concede that it’s not the best looking or best made one either. But in terms of the performance you can get in a stealthy, good looking package on a budget, I think that the Passat may be the real sleeper in the German wagon realm.
But the positive aspects of the Passats aren’t unknown to all; the Quantum Syncro is always a popular if rarely seen ’80s icon for the company, and when we got to the Golf-based B3 and B4, there were some cool options too – such as the not-for-the-U.S. G60 Syncro. But even in the U.S., the B4 offered some neat performance options for the wagon aficionado – interestingly, in very different directions. Check the “TDi” option, and you had a hyper-miler capable of over a thousand miles on a tank of gas. Check the “GLX” option on your order form and you’d get the torquey, great sounding VR6 engine and BBS wheels in a sporty package. While both of those engine options were also available in the Golf lineup at the same time, if you wanted a true 5-door you could only select the Passat. Admittedly that’s a niche market, so it should come as no surprise that this is a fairly uncommon car to see today:
The lineup of offbeat VAG survivors continues today with this second generation Volkswagen Passat, of course badged the “Quantum” for the U.S. market. 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. 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.
The weird part is that this model 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 – something Audi didn’t offer at all in the B2:
As I mentioned in my Audi A4 TDI post, the VAG community loves things that are different; and any Volkswagen Polo that makes it to the U.S. is certainly different since the model was never sold here. The Polo launched in 1975 as a rebadged Audi 50, but managed to outlive the car that it was based upon by some good measure. In 1981, the second generation debuted on the A02 platform – a standalone for the model and its be-trunked twin, the Derby (also not sold here). These super-minis were intended to be cheap and efficient; very basic equipment was met with very basic engines, though there was a GT version and an even cooler supercharged G40 model which we’ve looked at previously.
Today’s example is none of those. This is the basic 2-door wagon model that looks a bit like a delivery van. I had a friend I went to visit in Germany, and he and his girlfriend shuttled me around in a Polo not too dissimilar to this. A Volkswagen fan, I loved being in a model that wasn’t available in the States, but I did get the distinct impression that for many Germans ownership of a Polo was akin to a venereal disease. It was something you had to live with and couldn’t easily get rid of, and you really didn’t want anyone else to know you had it. But because these are different than the run-of-the-mill A2s, are they desirable today?
The 1987 launch of Volkswagen’s fabled 16 valve motor into the Golf lineup created an interesting transition. VW had a high performance version of the GTI now, but it was also a bit dear at $12,000. So, VWoA decided to continue running the less-expensive 8 valve version for alongside for one more year (this was mimicked in the Jetta GLI lineup, as well). This split lineup would resume in 1990 for the GTI.
However, for the ’87-88 model year, VW added a third Golf performance version. Labeled the GT, outwardly it shared many characteristics with the early A2 8V GTIs. The same 14″ alloy wheels were there, black fender flares, special interior fabric, a 4-spoke sport steering wheel and red-splash decals front and rear. However, if you looked closely there were several differences to the GTI. The GT didn’t have the red-stripe trim outside of the more illustrious GTIs. Nor did it have the rear spoiler, sport seats, or a few other unseen details of the same-year GTI like uprated suspension and 4-wheel discs. So why get one? Well, first off it was a bit less expensive than the GTI. And, underneath it carried the same close-ratio 5-speed manual hooked to the high-compression RD 1.8 8V from the GTI. But the real benefit of the GT was that it came in more colors, with more doors (there was no 5-door GTI in the U.S. yet, nor for a while) and with an available automatic (again, not for the GTI). Of course, by the time you selected all of that stuff you were in GTI pricing…which meant that few GTs sold, and they’re very rare to see today: