I owned an A1 GTI once. It was one of the worst automotive decisions I’ve 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 wasn’t 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 it’s not perfect, it’s 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 weren’t 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 won’t over romanticize my life with a GTI. I was not sad to see it go. I don’t 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 wouldn’t mind owning a GTI (again), and every time I see one pop up I take notice:
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:
Okay, $22,000 is a lot for an old hot hatch, even if it’s the ‘original’. When I was perusing some cars to consider, I noticed that there was a point where Mk.2, 3, 4 and 5 prices were all pretty equivalent. In fact, you can just about buy all four of these cars shown below for the same price as that Kamei X1 GTI. It raises an interesting question; what generation is the one to get at this price point? Certainly a lot depends on priorities – if, for example, you really want a fun daily driver or you’re looking for more of a weekend warrior show car. But let’s look at this group and see which has potential:
Volkswagen’s GTI is legendary on its own as a performance icon. It’s also got a deserved reputation as one of the most tunable cars out there; from turbos to suspension and everything in between, it’s no surprise that the basic GTI is actually hard to find.
One of the more popular visual tuners in the 1980s was Kamei. The company provided everything from hood scoops to spoilers, and headlight conversions to fender flares. While they have a decidedly 80s feel, that vibe is currently very much in vogue. So when an original GTI comes along with the full spectrum of Kamei accessories, it’s one to take notice of:
‘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?
Update 7/21/19: This GTI 16V sold for $7,500.
Another GTI 16V?
Yes. And there are good reasons to look at this one!
A few years ago it seemed near impossible to find a clean, original 16V anymore. With prices of nice ones in the basement and most modded to death, it was a really rare treat to find a survivor. But they still weren’t really worth anything, so most nice examples remained tucked away, appreciated by their owners instead of the market. Today, though, the market has very much changed as 80s icons are enjoying celebrity star power once again and cars like today’s ’88 GTI attract as much attention as that new Porsche GTsomenumeral. Don’t believe me? Well, the lightly modded Montana Green Metallic example I just looked at hammered at $12,900 just the other day:
1992 Volkswagen GTI 16V
The ’87-89 model years are, to me, not quite as appealing as the later 9A GTIs. But in true hot-hatch form, they retained a strong link to the normal production models while offering sports car performance. Adding 8 more valves in ’87 to the GTI gave it about 20% more power, and that additional grunt was met with new wheels, trim, a deeper spoiler and a revised interior. ’88 saw the change to the “big door” and one-piece glass, along with a new 3-bar grill. We’ve recently seen two ultra-clean Tornado Red ’89s, so let’s take a look at this L90E Alpine White ’88:
Update 7/2/19 – this GTI 16V sold for $12,900.
Back in April, my favorite GTI popped up for sale – a 1992 9A 2.0 16V version in signature Montana Green Metallic. While not perfect, it certainly looked good enough to contemplate jumping in on:
1992 Volkswagen GTI 16V
But alas, before the auction ended it disappeared and we didn’t get to see what the final price would be. Fast forward two and change months and here we are again; a lightly modified GTI 16V in the color I love. With far less mileage on the clock and a lot of recent work, this one looks primed to score – and with the reserve off, bids are flying. How much will this iconic hot hatch fetch today?
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:
Update 5/10/19: Bummed that you missed out on this totally tubular GTI? PSYCH! Not to worry, it’s back up for sale in Orlando with a $29,995 Buy It Now. Nostalgia doesn’t come cheap, after all…
Recently, in my 1989 GTI post, I referenced the Radwood show in California. A celebration of all things 80s (being liberal to accept items both older and newer, too!), Radwood has become the newest and hottest show to consider. Why? Well, to head to Pebble Beach, Amelia Island or Greenwich Concours, you’ll need a car of significant stature. But you can roll up to Radwood in a 4000 quattro you literally just pulled out of a field (seriously, someone did), and you’ll find fans to celebrate both the model and your insistence that it’s a cool car worthy of being saved. Because, ultimately, it was!
But the GTI I presented was a headscratcher because it was so expensive and subtle that most would probably walk right by. Sure, it had little details that were neat, but not THAT neat or THAT particularly 80s. But today’s GTI takes 80s To The Extreme, killin’ your brain like a poisonous mushroom as you ponder if anything less than the best is a felony:
I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom “lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice“.
In fact, it’s fairly common for lightning to strike the same place twice. Check out tall buildings, for example. Still, humans like to think that the odds of a rare event happening twice in a short amount of time are statistically very low. And, if I’m honest, I’m not immune to that belief. That brings us today’s Volkswagen. If this 1989 GTI 16V looks familiar, you’d be forgiven for thinking I just covered it. I, too, thought it was the same car I looked at back in February.
1989 Volkswagen GTI 16V
After all, what is the statistical probability of coming across another perfect condition, LY3D Tornado Red 1989 GTI 16V after seeing one just two months ago? Apparently it is quite good. Because while they look similar and both in impossibly good condition, February’s VIN was 1VWDC0179KV009402 while today’s is 1VWDC0176KV016260. The last one sold at $8,322 – frankly, quite a deal for what that car was. Today you’ve got a second chance if you missed out – but you’ll need to bring more money to the table…