A few weeks ago I took a look at a low-profile GTI; it looked pretty nice, mostly original, and wasn’t too unreasonably priced overall. It’s no surprise, then, that it didn’t last that long:
1983 Volkswagen GTI
Today’s car is also a 1983 GTI, but it’s there that the similarities end. This one was worked over by Mike and Ant of Wheeler Dealers. It’s less original, but also catches attention with its clean presentation. Is it the right price to make it a deal, though?
While the US-market GTI was somewhat watered-down and had chunkier styling than the truly Spartan European 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”.
So what do Germans do for fun? They love to drive. Preferably in a Volkswagen GTI. Because the GTI is designed to be fun. Not fun in the sense of a dashboard cluttered with all sorts of doodads. But fun in the sense of a precision machine that respects and answers its driver’s every wish.
Hyperbole? Certain, this is advertising after all. But it pointed towards the beautiful simplicity of the design, the functionality of the package, the elegance of the execution. The GTI didn’t pretend to be a Corvette like the Opel GT, or a luxury car like the Passat. It wasn’t competing with Mercedes-Benz, or even really Porsche, on any level. And that allowed the characteristically unfun Germans to let their hair down and have a bit of a ball:
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?