‘It’s like déjà vu all over again!’
Only a week after looking at another example of my favorite GTI – the Montana Green 2.0 16V – we get another of my personal greatest GTI hits. Again, it’s one that’s pretty hard to come across at all, never mind in good shape. In this case it’s Ginster Yellow last-year Mk.3, and yet again after claiming it’s hard to find one, one popped up pretty recently:
1998 Volkswagen GTI VR6
Since I just covered what made the Mk.3 tick, I won’t do so again, but let’s dive a bit into this example. The last one, as it turned out, may have had some issues which prevented it from really being a top-tier example. Is it the same with this pristine and lightly modded one?
Looking for a performance car? This isn’t it. It’s also about as far from a classic Audi as you could get in the U.S. market; there was no turbo, no inline-5, no manual and no quattro drivetrain. But the B4 Audi Cabriolet was ironically the last 1980s holdover for the company, and it survived until somewhat amazingly 1998 here, with the basic chassis construction from 1985. To the end, it remained a competent and handsome convertible, a conservative alternative to the more expensive Mercedes-Benz drop-tops and the flashier BMWs. The Cabriolet really only came in one configuration here, with the 2.8 liter V6 linked to the 4-speed automatic driving the front wheels. On the fly, this was a fine setup and certainly potent enough to rustle your hair, though it was far from lighting it on fire. Pricing at the end of the run was surprisingly high at $34,600 base price. Added to that were the packages many came with for the 1998 model year; Premium Package added a power roof, burled walnut wood trim; Kodiac leather seat upholstery, remote locking and alarm. To make it more palatable to most of the country, the “All Weather Package” added heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, and heated door locks. Also optional for the end of the run were the Votex Speedline Competition 16″ 6-spoke alloy wheels and even high backed sport seats; both (especially the latter) are very rare. Of course, the Cabriolet is rare full stop, with only 5,439 sold here between 1994 and 1998, or roughly 1,000 per a model year. This ’95 is one of 1,087 and might be one of the best left:
While the last few VWs have been a bit strange in some way or other, each held a specific subset of people absolutely obsessed with them. The same does not seem to be true of today’s Mk.III Jetta GLX VR6, which is strange to me since it has the hallmarks of a potential collector.
Purists decried the arrival of the â€œgrown upâ€ A3 chassis Golf and Vento, sold as the Jetta in North America. It was expensive, it was heavy (relative to the A1 and A2 chassis, anyway) and the performance was dulled â€“ that was, until the introduction of the GLX model that replaced the earlier GLi models. Now sporting the VR6 that had debuted in the Corrado a few years earlier, the GLX was all around a screamer. It might have been heavier than the GLi had been, but it was quicker to 60, quieter on the highway, more comfortable and better in crashes (if things went south), and returned close to the same fuel economy as the thirsty, buzzy and boxy 16V had. The Volkswagen Jetta III, as it was known in the US, was introduced at a time when US sales were at their lowest and it appeared as if VW was considering pulling out of the US market. This generation Jetta became the best selling Volkswagen by the time the production run ceased in 1999. It was insanely popular and seemed to be the defacto college car of choice for both men and women. Because of that, many of these Jettas fell into disrepair or were totaled, so itâ€™s rare to find a lower mile and clean GLX these days:
Update 11/11/18: This Jetta is listed as sold at $1,486.
Update 11/8/18: After being listed as sold for $1,977, this Jetta GLX VR6 is back on the market again for no reserve.
There’s something really special about the used Volkswagen market that you just don’t get with other cars. There are stories – stories of plans hashed over a few too many PBRs, stories of hard luck and bad decisions. A fair chunk of the time the cars appear with hurt feelings – or just “hurt” and “feelers” in Volkswese. Listings leap into “I was planning…” and proceed to outline a SEMA build-off from someone who clearly is neither Chip Foose, nor has the budget to be. Even when they’re not, hilarity can still ensue.
In short, you just don’t get the type of entertainment from a Porsche listing that you do from a VW. Today’s listing is a 1997 Jetta – but the seller assures us that this is “not your typical Jetta”. That must mean that everything works, it’s not rusting, and it has some residual value? I kid, I kid. What drew me to this listing, though, were two things. First off, Jetta GLX VR6s are getting harder to find, and this one both looked reasonably clean at first glance and was being offered at no reserve with a semi-useful description and set of photos.
But those photos are the key here. Not only did this seller manage to line up the Volkswagen to take pictures with signs indicating it’s pointing the wrong direction on a one-way, further investigation reveals that they’re not on a road at all – they’ve parked straight in the middle of a bike path. In front of a Meineke, which I’ll fully admit I was amazed to see was still a thing. But the coup de grÃ¢ce must be the giant hanging “CHECK ENGINE” sign. Is there a more appropriate way to depict a dark green Jetta from the 90s?
Still, it is a VR6…
I continue to be a bit grumpy about the Corrado market. Recently I recounted my story of encountering the Corrado G60, deciding ultimately that today it’s not the car I lust after. In part that’s because of its more desirable replacement, the SLC. Yet I have issues with that model as well, speaking back in July about not only how these cars were expensive when new, but often nice examples have pretty ridiculous asking prices vis-Ã -vis what you’re getting compared to alternatives today.
That brings us to today’s 1992 Corrado SLC. It presents better than most on the market today with only 74,750 miles. It’s a nice color combination of all black and wears the original BBS wheels. Unusually for these cars, there’s even what appears to be a pretty solid history of maintenance and a detailed hand-written log. Sounds great? Well, then there’s the price…
When it launched in the late 1980s as a replacement to the ancient Scirocco, the Corrado was Volkswagen’s attempt to appeal to the Porsche crowd. With the supercharged G60 motor that may have been somewhat farcical, but when VW dropped the narrow-angle 2.8 liter VR6 into the nose of their 2-door Coupe it became more of a reality. Though on paper it didn’t have much more power, the VR6 was better suited to the design and weight of the Corrado. Zero to 60 plummeted nearly a second and top speed went up to a then-impressive 137 mph. But it was the all-around flexibility of the motor that proved the winner; torquey at low revs yet happy to head towards the redline, the Corrado finally fulfilled the promise of being a budget P-car.
Unfortunately, there was a price to pay. The base price for a Corrado in 1992 was nearly $22,000. Add a few options in and you were paying more than you did for a Porsche 924S four years earlier. To put it into even more stark perspective, the base price of a much quicker, nicer, more efficient, better cornering, better braking, more technologically impressive and significantly safer GTI today is only $26,415 some 26 years later. As a result, Corrados and especially the SLC have always held a cult status and higher residual value than the rest of the lineup. Today, as they head into collector status, many have been priced out of the market – a trend I’ve looked at several times, with asks of $20,000 and occasionally even more. So it’s refreshing to encounter a reasonable condition driver-quality example that’s priced within the reach of the group these cars appeal to:
So on to the C4 chassis. Though it was instantly recognizable as an Audi, the all-new C4 bore little resemblance to the boxy C3 it replaced. Fluid lines and curves dominated the design, while new running gear and motors made a splash in performance. The C4 continued to stress Audi’s pioneering aerodynamic tradition, but the result this time was a car which seemed far less top-heavy than the chassis it replaced. It looked more trim even if it was a big bigger than the outgoing model.
On the fly, the 100’s new motivation was a revelation. The 2.8 liter V6 replaced the 2.3 liter inline-5, and though horsepower was only 172 and torque 184, both figures represented a nearly 30% gain over the 5-pot. New, too, was a 4-speed automatic transmission. And while the inside looked little different from the last of the C3, only switch gear was shared and the C4 brought a host of new safety and convienence features to the large-chassis Audi.
Strange, though, was the re-appearance of Audi’s earlier naming convention in the U.S.. Back in the early days of the 5000, Audi had used the “S” and “CS” monikers to denote turbo and quattro models at times (but, again being Audi, inconsistently). Well, the S and CS were back after a four-year hiatus. Base model 100 came with steel wheels, while the “S” model stepped you up in options and gave you alloys. But outside of the 20V turbo S4 model, the 100 to get was still the 100CS, which was the most loaded and gave you the option for Audi’s quattro drivetrain. Fully loaded, they were around $35,000 – not cheap, but also not the most expensive in class, and were still unique in offering all-wheel drive.
However, like the C3, the front-drive 100/100S/100CS outsold the quattro model by a fair margin. Audi claims they traded 2,230 of the new 100CS quattro in 1992, and here’s the nicest one out there:
Back in March I took a look at two Audi A4s, comparing an early FronTrak example to a late loaded Avant. Though it looked to be in good shape, the running condition of the ’96 was in question. More problematic, it was a front driver, and hooked to the Tiptronic 5-speed automatic. As a result, despite the low entry price point, it was really hard to get excited about it.
Today’s A4 remedies many of the ailments afflicting that particular A4. It’s still in an Audi signature color combination from the 90s; in this case, Emerald Green Mica over Ecru leatherette. But the highlight here is the drivetrain, with the much more desirable 5-speed manual driving all four wheels through the combination of a Torsen center differential and an electronic rear differential “lock”. Best of all? It’s in great condition and the auction is no reserve!
Following up on the A8 3.7 front-driver oddity I posted last week, today I’m going to look at a few of the cars that put Audi back on the map. 1996 was the year Audi brought the brand-new A4 model in to replace the aging B4 90. So successful was the A4, and so ubiquitous in the small German executive market today that you’d assume the early examples were far more prolific than they were, in reality.
Still, the A4 is credited with saving the company, at the very least for the U.S. market share. Is it true? Take this into consideration; Audi sold 18,960 A4s from the launch in late 1995 until the end of 1996. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Toyota, after all sells about 400,000 Camrys every year for the last half-decade – and that’s in a market that very much no longer values the sedan. But in 1995, Audi sold a total of 18,124 cars including those early A4s. Go back a year, and the number was substantially lower; 12,575. Entering into the 2000 model year, Audi crested 100,000 A4s sold in the U.S. market. The proof was in the pudding. By the time the new C5 A6 launched, Audi’s sales had crested 65,000 units a year and they haven’t looked back. 1994’s sale figures represented 0.08 of the marketplace; today, Audi sells a still modest but sustainable 1.3%.
But while Audi and “quattro” are synonymous, like the A8 I looked at, a fair chunk of the early A4s avoided the extra cost of all-wheel drive and came configured as FronTrak models. About 7,000 of those nearly 19,000 1996 A4s were so ordered. The prolific nature of these cars, coupled with typical low Audi residual value, has meant that they’re hard to find in clean condition. So today I have two; one from the beginning and one from the end of the run. While both are white, it’s just about there where the similarities end:
Update 2/6/2018: After selling in November for $2,250, the new owner of the Candy White GTI is selling it with an uninstalled turbo kit asking $2,900 now.
Tired of seeing high prices for Corrado SLC VR6s? Today is your day, because nearly all of the fun offered in the 6-cylinder Corrado was also slotted into the GTI. For a hair under $20,000, you got the same thrilling 2.8 liter VR6 mated solely to a 5-speed manual. Did you want an automatic? Well, then buy the Jetta. Sure, that motor and the bigger body of the Mk.3 meant it was quite a bit heavier than the previous GTIs had been – by 1995, the ‘hot hatch’ had bulked up with 700 additional lbs of super-weight gain Mk.3000 versus the A1. But faster? Without a doubt. With nearly double the horsepower of the original U.S. market model, 0-60 was sub 7-seconds and you could hit 130 flat out. Coupled too with VW’s ‘we don’t care if you think it’s broke we’re not going to fix it’ styling attitude, the Mk.3 might have not looked as slinky as the Corrado, but underneath it was still a Golf and as such, practical.
So while the Corrado pretended to be a Porsche, the GTI remained the answer to the ‘what if’; you wanted a Porsche, but you a) didn’t want to (or couldn’t) pay for a Porsche, and 2) you occasionally needed a car that you could actually use to transport things other than your smile. This was the recipe that made the first two generations successful.
It was no surprise then that the third generation GTI remained a niche hit for Volkswagen even in relatively dire times for European imports. While finding a nice GTI VR6 can be quite difficult, it was a bit of a Thanksgiving treat to see two pop up in my feed. So which is the winner?