1991 Volkswagen GTI 16V

The 1991-1992 GTI followed the same basic recipe as the 1987 model the double-overhead cam motor was introduced in, but everything was turned up a few notches. Starting in the mid-1990 model year, all US bound A2s received the ‘big bumper’ treatment; new smooth aerodynamic covers front and rear. To help to differentiate it a bit, the GTI’s blackened arches were widened. Filling those arches were new 15″ wheels from BBS. The multi-piece RMs were lightweight and the perfect fit for the design, echoing other contemporary class-leading sports cars such as the M3. Volkswagen color-coded the mirrors and rear spoiler to match the car, as well. VW also gave the GTI a fresh face with more illumination; quad round lights filled the grill, and foglights were integrated into the lower bumper. Prominent GTI 16V badges still encircled the car.

Power was up to match the heightened looks. Now with 2.0 liters of twin-cam fun, the GTI produced 134 horsepower at 5,800 RPMs and 133 lb. ft of torque at 4,400 RPMs. Coupled to the close-ratio 5-speed manual, that was good enough to drop 0-60 times below 8 seconds. That may not sound like much today, but at the time it was another league of performance compared to the typical economy car. Holding you in place were the same heavily-bolstered Recaros that special editions like the ‘Helios’ 1989 Jetta GLI Wolfsburg had enjoyed.

It was a recipe for success, but these cars were also relatively expensive in period, and fell into the global recession time frame which affected sales of nearly all European marques drastically. The general consensus is that around 5,000 of the last of these GTIs were imported, putting their rarity on the level of the M3. But because they weren’t M3s, there are far less around today to enjoy and few turn up in stock configuration for a myriad of reasons. This example has not been spared that fate, but it still looks worth consideration:

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1996 Volkswagen GTI VR6

Jumping in to a third generation Volkswagen Golf won’t get you much respect outside of dedicated brand enthusiasts. But what it will do is reward your decision. Like the E36 M3, adding two cylinders to the model may not have sounded as sexy on paper as the high-revving double cam inline-4, but the result was better performance, better reliability, and cheaper prices for that speed. With 172 horsepower and 173 lb.ft of torque on tap, the VR6 took the Mk.3 into a new performance territory. It brought with it a more grown up feel, too – leather, a quiet(er) cabin, power windows and sunroof – these were unthinkable a decade earlier in the budget hatch. In fact there was only one option – a trunk mounted CD changer. Everything else? Standard. The increase in performance dictated upgrades throughout; sport suspension with sway bars, larger brakes with 5×100 mm hubs and accompanying 15″ wheels. 0-60 was firmly sub-7 second range, and the boxy hatch could brush 130 mph flat out. In a flat-out drag race, this economy car was on par with the Audi S6.

At nearly $20,000, the price tag didn’t seem cheap at first. Indeed, in a little over a decade the base price of the GTI had increased 100%. But the Golf was still about cheap speed, and so you need to view this package in relative performance. It wasn’t much slower than the U.S. specification M3, for example, but was about half the price. More appropriate, though, was that it was some $6,000 cheaper than the Corrado with nearly the same setup. Today, that cost savings carries over – Corrados are easily twice to many times the current bid of this example:

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1985 Volkswagen GTI

Replacing a car universally heralded as the second coming of the automobile certainly wasn’t easy for VW, but the Mk.2 chassis proved up to the task immediately. It was very much the same formula as the original with a touch more refinement, space and power. The lines of the Mk.2 were less angular and upright than Giugiaro’s original design, but several aspects of the Herbert Schäfer replacement mimicked another Giugiaro design – the Lancia Delta. This was most notable in the C-pillar, which tapers with nearly the exact same angle, while early 4-door Golfs also shared the split-glass look on the doors.

For U.S. customers, the GTI continued to be a 2-door only affair and was initially only available in three colors – Mars Red, Black, and Diamond Silver Metallic for an extra charge. Customers opting for the GTI package paid approximately $10,000, which included red-accent trim outside, ‘Bottlecap’ 14″ alloys and blacked-out fender trim, a rear spoiler above the window and aerodynamic headlights. Dynamically, the GTI received the new 100-horsepower ‘HT’ high compression 1.8 liter fuel-injected inline-4, which was solely mated to the front wheels via a close-ratio 5-speed manual. GTIs also sported 4-wheel disc brakes for the first time and front and rear anti-sway bars to go along with the sport-tuned suspension. The driver got special striped fabric in either gray or red over their sport seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and digital computer display were all standard. Buyers could, of course, opt for a sunroof, air conditioning, power steering, cruise control and an upgraded stereo if they chose.

Despite the upgraded spec and new model, Golf sales continued to slide in the mid-80s from their height (as the Rabbit) in the late 1970s. Coupled with their spunky nature, affordability and less-than-stellar build quality, very few Westmoreland-built A2 GTIs remain around. This one looks to be saved from obscurity, and a few tasteful mods have it looking ready to impress:

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Unicorn Patrol: 1983 Volkswagen GTI Callaway Turbo Stage II with 19K Miles

Popular wisdom would suggest that modifying a car will never be rewarded in improving its desirability. After all, they are personal expressions of automotive passion, and passions vary wildly. So slap a set of VMR rims and an APR tune on your GTI, and yeah, it’s faster. But it’s not necessarily worth more. That logic has been challenged over the past few years, though, as tuners from the 80s have really come to the forefront of value in the classics market. Ruf, AMG, and Alpina have all produced some stunning cars, and lately, stunning numbers at auction. But it’s hardly a new trend.

Way back in 2013, I watched in amazement as an unassuming 1983 GTI took center stage in a bidding war which resulted in a then-staggering $18,000 worth of bids. I was lucky enough to speak with the new owner, and shared his vision and experience in a Reader Ride story which revealed a lot more not only about why he bid, but about what we didn’t know – how incredibly well preserved that Cashmere White GTI was, with full documentation from day one. Certainly, the chance to own such a piece of history was unrepeatable. Or, was it?

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1996 Volkswagen GTI 20th Anniversary Edition

Okay, before you start hurling things at the screen, let’s remember that 4-door GTIs were a thing well before the Mk.5 brought them to the US, and that while the GTI started its Westmoreland production in ’83, Europe had the hot hatch in ’76. So even though our 20th Anniversary Edition came in the Mk.4 model, the ‘real’ 20th Anniversary of the GTI was celebrated solidly in Mk.3 production for Europeans.

What was it? Well, as you might have noticed, it was a 4-door GTI equipped with BBS RXII two-piece wheels, special trim, a really funky GTI interior, and a 2.0 liter inline-4. It doesn’t sound like an enthusiast’s dream, but as they were very limited in production and never came to the states…well, you guessed it:

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1984 Volkswagen GTI

If, for some reason, you didn’t really love the modified GTI I just looked at and were hoping for a more pure version of the Westmoreland Wonder, well…I’m not sure this is it, either. But it is a lot closer to how it was delivered new, with sealed-beam headlights, a stock interior, and the original 8-valve under the hood. It’s also traveled just under 55,000 miles since new. And if that wasn’t enough to tempt you, it’s got WORKING AIR CONDITIONING. No, I’m not kidding:

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1984 Volkswagen GTI 2.0 16V

Okay, so recently we’ve seen neat A2 and A3 Golfs turned up a few notches – where’s the A1 love? Not to be forgotten or overlooked, the ‘original’ hot hatch is ready to make a splash in your morning feed!

This ’84 GTI looks relatively innocent enough, but it’s sporting an early production look with round headlights, thin Euro bumpers, and small taillights. It’s obviously low and it’s hard to miss those fantastic BBS RM wheels. But there’s even more to see on this neat example:

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2016 Volkswagen GTI S Performance Package

Hard to believe though it may be, 2020 rings in the reign of what will certainly be the new benchmark for small hatchbacks – the Golf Mk.8. The Mk.7 redefined the driving dynamics and performance of the category with what is generally hailed as the best VW chassis to date – the MQB platform. So it’s time to start looking at these models as potential values while we wait for the next GTI to bow.

The Mk.7 introduced a new strata of GTI trim levels. The base was a S, which gave you the Tartan interior, the turbocharged 2.0TFSI motor cranking out 210 horsepower, LED foglights, Bluetooth and a 5.8″ touchscreen, 18″ alloy wheels and a review camera. In other words, it wasn’t exactly a stripped model, and as such it’d cost you over $26,000 to get into one. Moving to the SE got you leather and a sunroof, along with automatic headlights, premium Fender radio and rain-sensing wipers. The top-tier Autobahn package further added navigation, power seats, and dual-climate control – by which point you were knocking on the R’s base price if you had fully optioned out your GTI.

So the one to get was the S if you could live without a sunroof, since it gave you the best look and the most bang for a buck. But there was a secret – the Performance Package, which gave you a further 10 horsepower and a limited-slip differential in front, along with upgraded brakes. Click one more option – the Lighting Package – and you got adaptive HIDs. This Pure White over Titan Black/Clark Plaid cloth 2016 had just that set of options, and just 5,500 miles since new:

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1983 Volkswagen GTI

I owned an A1 GTI once. It was one of the worst automotive decisions Ive 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 wasnt 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 its not perfect, its 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 werent 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 wont over romanticize my life with a GTI. I was not sad to see it go. I dont 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 wouldnt mind owning a GTI (again), and every time I see one pop up I take notice:

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1985 Volkswagen GTI

Update 9/21/19: This GTI sold for $5,555.

If 1984 GTI was the all-star high school athlete that just couldn’t lose, the 1985 GTI was the freshman college student he became. Sure, the DNA was the same but he seemed somehow softer, wiser and…well, there was that ‘Freshman 15’ that he put on with the all-you-can-eat meal plan for athletes. He was also a lot more fun to spend longer times with than the high schooler had been. That didn’t mean he still couldn’t stretch his legs when he wanted, and indeed the ’85 GTI had a few tricks up its sleeve to make up for its additional mass. Mostly that came down to the motor; the high-compression ‘HT’ 1.8 inline-4 with KE-Jetronic injection now made 100 horsepower and 105 lb.ft of torque thanks to a bit of tweaking. It still wore the red-striped exterior trim and signature ‘GTI’ badging, and the rear hatch was still blacked-out around the window. But now there was a slight spoiler included at the top as well. 14″ alloy wheels still ruled the day, but a new ‘bottlecap’ design was introduced and they wore 185-60-14 Goodyear Eagle GT+4 tires. That first year of the A2 GTI, you could only get three colors – Black, Diamond Silver Metallic or Mars Red as we see here:

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