I’m back with another “Which would you buy?” scenario, but this one is quite a bit different from the twin S6s I took a peek at over the weekend. Today I’m looking at two very different 80s icons – the GTI and the Porsche 944. In their own right, both were also 80s film stars – the Porsche 944 in John Hughes Sixteen Candles, while the A1 Volkswagen appeared topless in nearly every other movie – most notably, ‘The Coreys’ License to Drive. Today’s subjects are higher performance, driver-oriented examples, and like last time both fall into driver-quality examples. Yet while the performance and original sticker prices of these cars is quite far apart, today in the market they’re not only within reach of budget-minded enthusiasts, but also they’re in direct competition with each other. So which would you score?
The seller “m3456y” on eBay has a secret. He manages to find some seriously impressive condition original A1 chassis cars – in particular, GTIs. I’ve looked at a few of them before, and they never fail to impress. In November 2017 there was a lovely white over red 1983:
1983 Volkswagen GTI
May of this year brought a beautiful black over blue 1984:
1984 Volkswagen GTI
And, another black ’84, this one with red interior:
1984 Volkswagen GTI
Each time I’ve been shocked by how clean the presentation is. Having owned one nearly two decades ago, mine was a wreck even then compared to these cars. It was full of miles, holes and mold with electronics and seat fabric that barely functioned. So every time I spy an A1 over this seller’s driveway pavers, it’s as if the clouds have parted and my long-since dead GTI has come back to Earth from Volkshalla, resurrected in much better shape than when I last saw it hanging from the cross.
Well, Mark’s back with another GTI, and this one is the best yet. It’s the most original with the lowest mileage we’ve seen in a while, and I bet it’ll blow your mind, too:
When it launched in the late 1980s as a replacement to the ancient Scirocco, the Corrado was Volkswagen’s attempt to appeal to the Porsche crowd. With the supercharged G60 motor that may have been somewhat farcical, but when VW dropped the narrow-angle 2.8 liter VR6 into the nose of their 2-door Coupe it became more of a reality. Though on paper it didn’t have much more power, the VR6 was better suited to the design and weight of the Corrado. Zero to 60 plummeted nearly a second and top speed went up to a then-impressive 137 mph. But it was the all-around flexibility of the motor that proved the winner; torquey at low revs yet happy to head towards the redline, the Corrado finally fulfilled the promise of being a budget P-car.
Unfortunately, there was a price to pay. The base price for a Corrado in 1992 was nearly $22,000. Add a few options in and you were paying more than you did for a Porsche 924S four years earlier. To put it into even more stark perspective, the base price of a much quicker, nicer, more efficient, better cornering, better braking, more technologically impressive and significantly safer GTI today is only $26,415 some 26 years later. As a result, Corrados and especially the SLC have always held a cult status and higher residual value than the rest of the lineup. Today, as they head into collector status, many have been priced out of the market – a trend I’ve looked at several times, with asks of $20,000 and occasionally even more. So it’s refreshing to encounter a reasonable condition driver-quality example that’s priced within the reach of the group these cars appeal to:
While not the fastest or the prettiest car Volkswagen ever made, the GTI represents the ethos of VW’s 1980s philosophy of cheap, fun-to-drive, and eminently practical cars for consumers. As they did when new, the first generation GTI also represented a car which gave much faster cars a run for their money. True, the 90 horsepower under the hood won’t scare a supercar. But what this car lacks in straight-line performance it more than makes up for in value.
You see, over the past few years we’ve watched the fan-favorites and driver’s cars from the 1980s increasingly price themselves out of the range of most enthusiasts. The esoterics are also forged in unobtanium today, and while there was a period where you could snap up cheap 80s products in Europe and import them, they’re going away, too. Sure, the M3 and 911 led the charge, but today a clean 190E 2.3-16 or Quattro will set you back some serious bucks. And then when you do get one, you need to worry about collector insurance, expensive and hard-to-source parts and whether you bought in a bubble.
The solution is still the giant-killer GTI. Find a clean one, and you’ll have a car that can be driven at 10/10ths still today and generate plenty of smiles, yet is relatively cheap to buy and very cheap to run. You’ll get thumbs up just like the 911 driver will. Maybe even more, honestly, because when was the last time you saw an A1 cruising around?
Back to the Golf. A few days ago I looked at a pristine, original low-mileage ’85 Golf. A Westmoreland build, it was a very basic model. But your only other option in the first model year was the GTI, and it was a $2,000 upgrade over the basic Golf. Of course, for that amount you did get quite a jump in quality. Replacing the basic 85 horsepower 1.8 was a high-compression HT 100 horsepower unit. It didn’t sound like a lot, but that did represent a roughly 20% gain in power. Signature red-striped trim announced that this was the performance variant of the hatchback, and you also got 4-wheel discs as a first in the U.S. range. Those brakes hid behind carry-over “Avus” (Snowflake) wheels, though instead of the machine/dark gray finish the A1 had, they were now all silver and with “Volkswagen” imprinted on flush covers. Sometimes GTIs were equipped with “Montreal” (Bottlecap) alloys which were also shared with the Jetta GLI. Application seems somewhat indiscriminate. The GTI also had an upgraded suspension with front and rear sway bars and a close-ratio 5-speed manual as the only transmission. Of course, the interior was also upgraded with a leather-wrapped steering wheel borrowed from earlier GTIs, a multi-function display and specially-trimmed cloth sport seats. Unlike the prior GTI, the new model now also had flush-fitting aerodynamic glass headlights which were also seen on the Jetta, and later in 1986 the Golf Wolfsburg Edition.
In all, it was a substantial upgrade over the standard Golf, and you could of course further opt to include a sunroof, air conditioning, power steering, and a nice radio. Early U.S. Mk.2 GTIs were only available in Mars Red, Diamond Silver Metallic, or as seen here Black. Magazines fawned over the new GTI, which quickly established itself by winning Motor Trend‘s ‘Car of the Year‘ award. They proclaimed the model was “a case of specialized strengths plus broad flexibility — domination in some areas combined with sound capabilities in all others — to produce a commendable win.”
Today, those first two years of the GTI are quite hard to find. More popular were the later, much more potent 16V versions. But occasionally a really nice early example turns up, and here it is:
Update 2/6/2018: After selling in November for $2,250, the new owner of the Candy White GTI is selling it with an uninstalled turbo kit asking $2,900 now.
Tired of seeing high prices for Corrado SLC VR6s? Today is your day, because nearly all of the fun offered in the 6-cylinder Corrado was also slotted into the GTI. For a hair under $20,000, you got the same thrilling 2.8 liter VR6 mated solely to a 5-speed manual. Did you want an automatic? Well, then buy the Jetta. Sure, that motor and the bigger body of the Mk.3 meant it was quite a bit heavier than the previous GTIs had been – by 1995, the ‘hot hatch’ had bulked up with 700 additional lbs of super-weight gain Mk.3000 versus the A1. But faster? Without a doubt. With nearly double the horsepower of the original U.S. market model, 0-60 was sub 7-seconds and you could hit 130 flat out. Coupled too with VW’s ‘we don’t care if you think it’s broke we’re not going to fix it’ styling attitude, the Mk.3 might have not looked as slinky as the Corrado, but underneath it was still a Golf and as such, practical.
So while the Corrado pretended to be a Porsche, the GTI remained the answer to the ‘what if’; you wanted a Porsche, but you a) didn’t want to (or couldn’t) pay for a Porsche, and 2) you occasionally needed a car that you could actually use to transport things other than your smile. This was the recipe that made the first two generations successful.
It was no surprise then that the third generation GTI remained a niche hit for Volkswagen even in relatively dire times for European imports. While finding a nice GTI VR6 can be quite difficult, it was a bit of a Thanksgiving treat to see two pop up in my feed. So which is the winner?
Before we move any further, yes, I know this is a Ford. Ford isn’t German, you’re sure to say, not even when they’re masquerading as Merkur. Right you’d be. However, allow me a bit of latitude; first, Henry Ford was I’m fairly confident the only American to receive the ‘Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle‘ from one Adolf Hitler. I always love to toss that one into a conversation should I be cornered with a true-blue American-devotee proudly wearing a Ford hat at a social function because he’s also a ‘car guy’. “You know Henry Ford was basically a Nazi, right? I mean, beyond hating the entire Jewish race, he was also a megalomaniac who wanted to create his own master race of workers. No, I’m not joking – it was called Fordlândia. Look it up.” The conversation usually ends quickly after that.
Okay, how about this – Ford Europe’s headquarters is in Cologne, Germany. And they produce a fair amount of cars in Germany even today. Since we consider the Volkswagens built in Chattanooga and Westmoreland, the BMWs built in Spartanburg, and the Mercedes-Benz models bolted together in Alabama, I think we can deviate for a moment into a hot Ford.
So what Ford is it? In many ways, this is the perfect follow-up for the Quattro. Audi and SAAB helped to mainstream turbocharging, and by the 1980s it was almost expected in performance circles. That culminated in a wave of ever increasing performance hot hatchbacks that completely changed our perception of speed. As newer, faster models emerged, the technology increasingly filtered its way into lower-spec models until the results of all of the turbocharging basically were acknowledged to be wrecking the world’s environment. I call it ‘Trickle-down Turbonomics’. The result? The Fiesta RS Turbo you see here:
Update 12/23/2017 – This R32 is back with almost no changes a year and a half later – except the price. When I looked at it in June 2016 the seller was hoping for $16,700. It’s now up to $17,400. Will this bold strategy pay off?
For a few generations, Volkswagen fans were denied the cream of the crop for Volkswagen products. It took several years to finally get the original GTi to these shores, and then it wasn’t quite as hot as the European version. The second edition might have sported twin cams and 16 valves, but Euro customers got the addtional option of a supercharged, all-wheel drive version. There were plenty of cool options missing from the U.S. lineup in the 3rd generation, too – including the 2.9 liter VR6 Variant Syncro. So there was a bit of rejoicing finally when the all-wheel drive hot hatch was finally added to the U.S. lineup after the initial launch in 2003. Sporting the same 3.2 VR6 found in the TT, unlike the Mk.1 TT it was 6-speed manual only. It was also only available as a 2-door model, with special body kit unique to the R32 and dual exhaust to help announce its sporting intentions. With the best part of 240 horsepower on tap, it certainly seemed like the ultimate Golf and the sound generated from the narrow-angle 6 was mesmerizing. While heavy weight meant it wasn’t considerably quicker than the 1.8T models, it nonetheless has secured a spot in U.S. fans hearts as the top trump from the Mk.4 generation:
Over the last few weeks, we’ve gotten to see the rewards of a new trend in water-cooled Volkswagens. For a long time, years if not decades in fact, if you wanted a clean A1-up chassis your only hope was that you’d stumble across an unknowing candidate. But the advent of the internet and a greater appreciation for 1980s automobile designs has finally resulted in a market where it’s become possible to restore these cars and not (entirely) lose your shirt. What does that look like? Well, we’ve seen some lightly restored Sciroccos bring pretty good money:
Wild or Mild? Double Take: 1978 and 1980 Volkswagen Sciroccos
But what about the heavy-hitter from Volkswagen? The GTI has name recognition outside of the brand; heck, even outside of European cars. Guys with Camaros and Ram Trucks know what a GTI is. They may not like it, but often I think they respect the hot hatch. As a result, outside of mega-clean Sciroccos and camper vans, GTIs have generally been the best bet for bringing strong money at an auction and if you were hoping for a resto-flip, it’s the likely candidate to choose to come out on top:
1987 was the year that the GTI started its climb up the weight and complexity scale with the addition of the PL 1.8 liter double overhead cam inline-4. Now with 123 horsepower, Volkswagen continued its mid-80s trend of charging the customers about $100 a horsepower, resulting in a $2,000 increase in base price to correspond with the 21 horsepower jump. New “Silverstone” alloys which had debuted (like the motor) on the Scirocco were still 14″ x 6″, but looked the part with their signature teardrop machined look. Also carrying over from the Scirocco was the Fuba roof-mounted antenna; something which would become a call sign for fast VWs for the next two decades. The lower valences, both front and rear, were painted matte black, further highlighting the red-stripped bumper covers and accented by a deeper front spoiler with twin brake ducts. The red theme carried over to the “16V” badges surrounding the outside and highlighting the inside; a new red-stripe velour and leatherette sport interior kept the passengers planted. While the 21 horsepower increase didn’t sound like a lot, the 16V was a case of a car which outperformed its numbers on paper and felt much quicker than it might have appeared. 0-60 was gone in a tick under 8 seconds and the GTI would gear-out at 124 mph. Car magazines proclaimed it the best GTI yet, though many pointed out that it was also getting quite expensive. Though still popular, not quite as many of these A2 GTIs seemed to hit the market, and finding clean, original examples today like this beautiful Red Pearl Mica example? You guessed it, exceptionally hard.