‘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?
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:
The Golf Harlequin is the model that answers the question no one asked. It’s the model that proves Germans have a sense of humor. It’s also a model which defies logic. If you told your automotive-inclined friend you bought a 22 year old 2.0 automatic 4-door Golf with mis-matched body panel colors, he’d probably offer you the couch in his living room to sleep on for the next month. Things must be that hard for you, after all.
Now, tell him you paid a premium for that car. “How much?”, he’d most certain quip.
The stunned silence which would undoubtedly be followed by the most boisterous of laughter would be punctuated only by the whipping out of a phone and a call to the local insane asylum for an admit, or at the very least a consult. But who’s the joke on here?
For most enthusiasts, last week’s 1997 BMW 318ti M-Sport represented too little car for too much money; sure, the M-Sport looked great, but as pointed out by one of our readers the performance didn’t necessarily live up to the badges. The M-Sport was fast in appearance and carried a hefty price tag to go along with it. A fully optioned 318ti M-Sport in a special color would set you back around $25,000 – a steep asking price considering the M42 engine with only around 140 horsepower motivating it. So the 318ti M-Sport was a bit of a sheep in wolf’s clothes; a good car, but with the promise of more performance than it could deliver.
On the other end of the spectrum was the original giant-slayer hot hatch, the GTi. While not all versions enjoyed great performance, if you opted for the VR6 variant you got a handsome, well built and good handling package capable of out-drag racing, out-turning and out-carrying the 318ti. Best of all, it was about $5,000 cheaper than the BMW. Outwardly, aside from the wild-colored Jazz Blue or Ginster Yellow examples, to many the GTi VR6 was virtually indistinguishable from the standard Golf – for many, part of its huge appeal. It was, simply put, the wolf in sheep’s clothing:
Fewer cars looked more wrong leaving the dealership than the Harlequin Golfs. Schemed up as a marketing attempt to make the rather plain-Jane Golf stand out a bit, they kicked it up a notch by shipping several different colored Golfs to dealers and then having them switch body panels. What they created – perhaps somewhat unintentionally – was a whole culture of VW fans who know way, way too much about the Harlequin. Ironically, I doubt many of them know that it’s named after a duck, but then the people that are into Harlequins are hugely ironic. In any event, let’s take a look at this rare duck:
Model: Golf Harlequin
Engine: 2.0 liter inline-4
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 134,033 mi
Price: $6,300 Buy It Now
Here is a very rare 1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin. It has 134,033 miles on it and it is the Ginster Yellow base color. It is number 137 out of 200 out of 264 according to rossvw.com. The car is in great condition mechanically and aesthetically and was taken care of by an artist and engineer for 12 years. A lot of effort was put into keeping the paint in pristine condition with regular washing and waxing. Feel free to contact me with any specific questions you may have.
The Harlequin came with several different wheel options – most seemed to have Cabrio/GTi alloys or dealer-installed alloy options, but some had hubcaps. This car, however, has obviously lost it’s originals somewhere along the way. The best solution to wheels on a Harlequin I’ve seen yet was different color-matched BBS RSs on each corner, because why not? They’d certainly look better than the wheels that are currently on this model. A fair amount of Harlequins were automatics, so it’s nice to see a manual and the original “Joker” interior. This particular car was originally Ginster Yellow, meaning none of the other removable panels could be yellow. Properly, I believe that means that the front bumper should not be yellow, so perhaps it’s been redone along the way – not surprising given how easy it would be to repaint just one panel – no matching involved!
Speaking of paintwork, this car has some usual Golf III rust issues, so you’ll probably need to attend to more than just the wheels. Otherwise, the 2.0 ABA is a pretty solid motor and enjoyable to drive. These are light cars that get great mileage; I averaged around 33-34 mpg and put over 200,000 miles with the original motor never apart on mine. If you’d like a unique part of Volkswagen history, this is certainly one way, but it’d make a decent driver too. There were only around 260 of these imported to the U.S., so you’re not likely to see another pass you – ever. Is that exclusivity worth $6,000? That’s strong money for a A3, but the Harlequins do demand a premium. It will be interesting to see if this car gets close to that figure.