Saying that you like the Fast and Furious series at all to any dedicated car enthusiasts is a bit like saying you are a Bach and Beethoven fan, but you’ve got a penchant for Weird Al Yankovic too. But the Fast series is, weirdly, a great collection of car films. Okay, back out that the driving scenes are pretty ridiculous, the stunts completely implausible, the plots barely coherent and the acting often one step above pornography. The same claims could easily be said about the Cannonball Run movies, and yet they’re generally accepted among enthusiasts, no?
Each one of these movies is full of iconic cars from start to finish. I’ll admit that I haven’t made it through the most recent additions to the Fast series. They seem a bit contrived (I know, bold statement considering the topic, but work with me) compared to the original, but then it’s hard to argue with their success. Over the past decade a new sequel has emerged like clockwork every two years, and the last one – The Fate of the Furious – netted $1,234,908,020 worldwide. And that was $300,000,000 less than the previous movie, lead actor Paul Walker’s last before his untimely death. In total the series has generated over 5 billion (yes, with a “B”) dollars in ticket sales.
Perhaps it was Paul Walker’s involvement that gave the movies real car credentials. By all accounts, he was a true automobile enthusiast. Just check out some of the cars in his incredible collection. With everything from E30 M3s to R34 Skylines, this man lived life as if he was really in Gran Turismo.
But within the series, there’s still some laughable moments. From the first movie there was Jesse’s Volkswagen Jetta. A Mk.3, it already had lost some street cred in my mind, but the ridiculous body kit and paint scheme was only further underscored by the ABA powertrain. Of course, as VW fan I was outraged. They didn’t even need to open the hood, because the 4-bolt wheels gave away that this was a 2.slow drag racing?!? It was, however, one of the few and the only featured German car in the first movie, and now it’s for sale:
Without a doubt, for me the best change ever to the GTI lineup was the revision in mid-1990 of the GTI 16V. The DOHC screamer was already a pretty potent performer, but Volkswagen pushed the desirability over the top for the end of the run. The result was what many – this author included – consider the best of the breed. The original may have been more pure, and subsequent models are a lot faster and more dependable. But none of them got it quite as right as the 2.0 16V.
Outside the GTI built on its legend with wider European-market flares and deep rockers. Like all of the A2s, new ‘Big Bumper’ covers integrated fog lights and brake ducting. Yes, they looked heavier than the previous slim bumpers, but they also matched the design well. Iconic round headlights returned, now with inner driving lights too. But arguably the best change was the addition of 15″ wheels – in this case, the BBS RM multi-piece units. New colors also were introduced, including the equally iconic and signature ‘Montana Green’. Inside the interior was bulked up with large bolster Recaro Trophy seats. To match the wicked looks, under the hood was improved with a new 2.0 version of the 16V motor. The 9A introduced CIS-E Motronic fuel injection, while the bore was increased from 81mm to 82.5 and the stroke from 86.4 mm to 92.8. Compression was increased slightly from 10.5:1 to 10.8:1 and the result was 134 horsepower at 5,800 RPMs and 133 lb.ft of torque at 4,400. The engine was still matched the the 2Y close ratio transmission with a 3.67 final drive. While the GTI 16V couldn’t match the Callaway Turbo GTI we saw yesterday on sheer acceleration, it was generally reviewed as the best GTI yet. Finding a clean example today is always cause for celebration, and this one looks ready to party. Does it hold up?
I’ve talked in previous posts about how in the early 1990s, the standard Jetta was pretty hard to get excited about because of the other neat products at your local VW dealership. But the Jetta was done a service by the birth of its new sibling – the New Beetle. Looking a bit like a Golf with mumps, the New Beetle was gimmicky and a clever marketing exercise, but as an enthusiast it was about as far from desirable as you could get. Adding to that was that a majority of early examples were tied to the “2.Slow” and had an automatic transmission – now you were stuck in a slow fish bowl.
To make it more appealing, nearly since its inception VW has had special editions of the Beetle pretty much every year. 2018’s are the ‘Convertible Coast’, which has a “surfboard-look appearance dashboard” and the ‘Dune’, which comes with a free VHS copy of the eponymous movie I think. 2017 included the ‘Classic’ model which had a special interior. But for special interiors, we need to talk about 2016’s ‘Denim’ edition. It was a throwback to the 1970s, when Volkswagen launched multiple ‘Jeans’ editions of the original Beetle, replete with “denim-style” fabric. But these two weren’t the only times that a Volkswagen attempted to capture America’s favorite pantalones:
In 1996, Volkswagen returned to its roots in the Golf lineup. While the GTI VR6 still grabbed the headlines and enthusiast’s dreams, they re-introduced the 4-cylinder GTI utilizing the 2.0 ABA shared with…well, every other A3 chassis car. Quickly nicknamed the “2.slow”, the 115 horsepower on tap wasn’t anywhere near the VR6 performance. 0-60 was 9.8 seconds versus 7.2, and the smaller engine never had the upper hand as soon as the key was turned unless you were measuring fuel burned. Consequently, the base GTI was really more of an appearance package, and in that regard it was pretty good looking.
The GTI set itself apart from the regular Golf and the Golf Sport it replaced with a new 2-bar grill with GTI badges, twin-chamber headlights and integrated bumper-mounted fog lights shared with the VR6. The signature roof-mounted Fuba antenna also appeared, along with smoked rear lights, 14″ “Flyer” alloy wheels and special interior items. At $16,000, it was hardly cheap at the time. For a few grand less, you could get yourself the class-leading Sentra SE-R which had better tech, better handling and more power. So the GTI made due by living on its reputation, and that meant it felt and looked water-down. Still, today it’s neat to see a clean example pop up, and they don’t come much more clean than this 1996 with only 19,000 miles. Of course, even though there’s no reserve on the auction, there’s still a price to pay.
I was thinking about how to relate my feelings about the first few generations of water-cooled small VWs, and I came up with the analogy of the BBC Doctor Who! reboot in the 2000s. The first generation was Christopher Eccleston; edgy, completely different from the prior generations with a fresh face, impossible not to view with a smile but also something you didn’t completely trust. The second generation? David Tennant took ‘The Doctor’ to new levels of popularity; more refined, more fun and with an infectious smile, he was quirky but somehow much easier to live with than Eccleston had been. He also developed a rabid fan base that consider him the best (this author included) even if he had some faults.
Then came Matt Smith. There’s certainly a fanbase who appreciates Smith’s rounder, softer and…well, weird portrayal of the Doctor. I’m not a fan personally, and often find myself pleading with other Who watchers to go back farther because the earlier variations were much, much better. Yet floppy and oddly proportioned, Smith was nonetheless very popular and took the show to a wider audience. See the Mk.3 VW.
Not really the best at anything aside from being pretty expensive relative to its contemporaries, the 2.0 inline-4 ABA-equipped VW’s nonetheless outsold the prior versions. The were poorly built and even more poorly owned; this was clearly a move towards disposable automobiles for the company, and it worked. I never really got the appeal of the third generation until I somewhat reluctantly owned one. And you know what? It wasn’t as good-looking as my ’86 Golf was to me, but in every aspect it was better. It was more reliable (amazingly), got better mileage, had a nicer interior, was faster and had both heated seats AND air con. And both worked! Plus it had fog lights and more stuff fit inside. In short, it was just better at being a car.
While I still don’t lust after Mk.3 VWs, I can appreciate them much more when I see them today. They’re affordable and fun transport that’s quite efficient. In 1993 they felt huge compared to their predecessors. But today? They’re downright tiny. And though this duo has high mileage, they don’t often come to market looking anything like these two anymore:
In roughly 1999, a local-to-me European car business turned up with something quite unusual. It was a pastel blue 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit. There was nothing particularly special about it; it was a base model with steel wheels. It wasn’t unusually optioned. It wasn’t a GTI. In fact, there was only one really remarkable thing about it – it had only 5,000 miles on the odometer from its single owner, and was in close-to-new shape.
The story went that the original owner had suffered a heart attack when the car was quite new. The widow had left the car in the garage, untouched by all but dust, until finally an estate sale liberated the single oil change bunny. The condition was certainly astounding, but to me the asking price at that time was, too. The seller was looking for $5,000.
It was pretty cool that the car was like a new fifteen year old car, but then cars had come a long way since 1984 in 1999, and the collector market on the Rabbit hadn’t really taken off. In 1999, $5,000 would have bought you a very nice 2.0 16V GTI, after all.
Fast forward to today.
It’s been an astounding nearly twenty years since today’s equivalent to my parable was new in the dealership. Like my memory, it’s a very basic Golf in very good condition with very low mileage. Similar to my story, cars have come a very long way in the past twenty years, and a quick jaunt in this buzzy, basic and slow Golf will quickly remind you of that. So has the market on a clean, low mileage automatic base Golf taken off yet, or is this doomed to a similar fate as my Rabbit – to sit and wait for jsut the right nostalgic buyer?
Like the Rabbit Pickup from a few days ago, today’s Scirocco won’t win you a trophy in preservation-class at your local Euro show. But will it draw attention? Absolutely. The Scirocco 2 may not have been the landmark design the original Giugiaro-designed first generation was, nor was it as pretty, arguably. It was interesting that Volkswagen chose to farm the design to Karmann rather than pay for Italdesign’s follow up, because that resulted in the Scirocco’s competition. The Isuzu Piazza (Impulse) took the Italian’s lines to a new level with cleaner execution, cool wheels that looked ready for a auto show, plus you got the automotive equivalent of Thor’s hammer to impress your friends with trim levels like the “Turbo RS” and “Handling by Lotus”. Show up at a party in a Impulse Turbo while one of your friends drove a Scirocco, and you’d go home with the girl and Simple Minds playing in the background.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t that easy. And honestly even if the Scirocco was a little underpowered and had clunky bumpers and poor headlight execution here, it still was a compelling choice. This car fixes some of the second generation’s problems, too – Euro bumpers and headlights slim it down, the removal of the rear spoiler tidies up the design a surprising amount, and under the hood lies more motivation in a trusty ABA 2.0:
Way before “i” stood for everything ‘intelligent’ from your phone to your (no joke) pet, adding the 9th letter of the alphabet to your German car meant something equally as forward thinking in the 1970s and 1980s – injection. Unless, of course, you were talking about ‘e’ in a few cases, where the German word for injection – Einspritzung – came into play (I’m looking at you, Mercedes-Benz. And, occasionally BMW, for no apparent reason).
But I digress.
Adding fuel injection to your motor in the 1970s was pretty close to rocket science, since in the 1960s only the most exotic and high performance cars available had it. So when Volkswagen dropped a fuel injected 1.6 liter inline-4 pumping out an astonishing for the period 110 horsepower in 1975, it’s no wonder it was a revolution. Consider, for a moment, that the 1975 Corvette – with its gargantuan, gas-guzzling 5.7 liter V8 – managed to produce only 165 horsepower. Today’s base Corvette produces about 455 horsepower, meaning that the same relation would make today’s GTI a 300 horsepower hot hatch. Which, ironically in R form, it pretty much is! Still, it was the formula of the original that made this the hottest commodity on the market. It would be eight long years until the GTI debuted in the U.S. market. When it did, it had been turned down slightly and injection was no longer solely the domain of the GTI. Still, it was a potent and popular package, with attractive Guigiaro-penned looks and plenty of practicality. Some 34 years on from launch, the looks still capture the imagination of many who owned (or longed to own) one of these transformative hatches:
In an attempt to challenge Mercedes-Benz’s R107 for chassis longevity, Volkswagen’s introduction of a more affordable German drop-top in the 1980 Rabbit Convertible stretched production until 1993. That meant that the A1 outlasted all of the A2 production cycle and was no squarely into the newly launched A3. Volkswagen introduced their replacement for the aging and renamed Cabriolet with the Mk.3 Cabrio in 1994. As with the A1, production again would extend beyond the A3 chassis life, because in 1999 VW introduced us to the fourth generation Golf. As with the 2nd generation, VW didn’t plan a convertible version for the Mk.4 – well, at least, not for the Golf, as convertible duties would be handed off to the New Beetle. But since the launch of the nostalgic Beetle Convertible waited until 2003, VW covered the gap with the “Mk3.5” refresh on the Cabrio. It received softened and rounded bumper covers, Mk.4 inspired lights, and a lightly revised interior. As with other VW models, there was a base GL model or the better equipped GLS, like today’s example:
The third generation Volkswagen GTI 2.0 might just go down in history as the least appealing of the brand name. Starting with the move to 16 valves in the second generation, the 8 valve models would play second fiddle as mostly an appearance package slapped onto an economy car. But while the second generation had the benefit of butch good looks, flared arches and the signature quad-round headlight arrangement to make you feel that you had gone upscale, when it came to the third generation’s base GTI it was a bit of a head-scatcher. It wasn’t that you didn’t get equipment; your $16,000 got you lots of standard items such as air conditioning, an upgraded stereo, power sunroof and door locks, and a few other premium-feel items (An alarm! Specially colored seat fabric!). The meat of the GTI was the appearance changes, though – from the 14″ alloy wheels to the dual-chamber headlights and projector fog lights, along with smoked tail lenses and a roof-mounted antenna, the special grill held the all-important letters “GTI”. But the performance of the ABA 2.0 inline-4 was standard Golf fair and the suspension wasn’t upgraded – this was, after all, just a Golf. That meant 0-60 in a lethargic 10 seconds unless you fried the front tires and knocked .2 seconds off – the result of all those “luxury” item additions. The 2.0 was a poser, then, and lived fully in the shadow of the high-output VR6 model which packed a full 50% more power in the same package but with upgraded brakes, suspension and wheels. The premium to jump to the VR6 was about $3,500 – a lot of money. But the leap in performance well paid off for your additional indebtedness, and consequently the 2.0 seemed to be popular only with college-bound Jersey girls who were convinced their compact economy hatch was actually a bumper-car ride at an amusement park. Few survive in the condition of this one today: