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?
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:
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:
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:
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:
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?