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 â€” domination in some areas combined with sound capabilities in all others â€” 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:
The M5 might not have been the original super sedan. It wasn’t even the first hot 5-series. But just like the GTI is synonymous with the hot-hatch segment, the M5 became the standard by which all other super-sedans were judged the moment it rolled onto the scene in 1985. Power seemed other-worldly; 280 plus horsepower from the race-derived M88/3 hunkered down with beefy suspension upgrades and huge (for the time) alloy wheels linked with a limited-slip differential. At a time when “fast” cars had 180 horsepower, BMW’s first M-offering in the sedan range might as well have been a space ship.
BMW promised limited production for the U.S. market, too – and, indeed, only 1,200 were produced for the U.S. with the slightly de-tuned S38. Unfortunately, that was 700 more than BMW had promised to make, and that led to a lawsuit. It also wasn’t very long before the M5’s power reign was eclipsed; first by its replacement E34 model, then by the whole range of new V8 models emerging on the market, from the 1992 Audi V8 quattro to the 500E. Values quickly fell as these old-looking (even when new) boxy rockets fell out of favor, and they remained there for quite some time.
But recently there’s grown a much greater appreciation for all things 80s M, and though the E30 has grabbed the headlines as the market star, outside of the M1 it is the E28 M5 that was brought here in fewest numbers. Even fewer have survived, and finding clean, lower mile examples can be tough. It can also be very, very expensive – Enthusiast Auto Group currently has four great ones on offer, but the lack of listed prices is an indication of some of the market volatility. Hagerty now values condition 1 cars at $98,000, and even poor examples are quite pricey. So is there room in the budget to improve upon one that’s listed at a bargain rate?
Update 4/20/2018: After showing sold again at no reserve for $46,400, this 1991 M3 is back again on a new no reserve auction. Bidding is currently much lower, but I have a feeling that even if you’re the high mark at the end there might be shill bids involved here.
Update 3/28/2018: Although it was listed as no reserve and sold at $39,900, the 1991 M3 I looked at in February is back again on a no reserve auction. With a day to go, bids are already in excess of February’s auction. Will this one actually sell this time?
I’ll refrain from my typically verbose introductions, as even the few who only occasionally peruse our pages will need to hear about how, when, or why the E30 M3 came about. There’s not really much point in talking about the mechanicals, either – ‘S14’ has become nearly as recognizable as the chassis designation. Nor is this particular M3 a special edition, limited run, or race car. It’s not completely stock, it’s not perfect, it doesn’t have super low mileage, and it’s not the best color combination. No, there’s really only one reason to talk about this car. Price.
For a while it was only really outstanding M3s that were bringing big bucks. Pundits called it a bubble that was due to burst at any moment. I’m not here to say they’re wrong; it certainly does seem unsustainable. But, then, the U.S. economy also is pretty unsustainable if you boil it down to some basic facts, yet it seems to keep on rolling. And just two weeks ago another (albeit low mileage) example sold for $102,000. So today’s M3 is particularly interesting not because it’s the best or most rare example out there, but because it represents a much greater majority of the pool; cars that were driven and modified, even if only a bit, from their stock configuration. Yet unlike nearly all that are for sale today, the seller of this car has taken the brave step of testing what actual market value is:
It is, admittedly, quite hard to lump the importance of one car into the same category with yesterday’s M3. But if there’s a German car from the same period that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath, it’s certainly the Quattro.
True enough, the U.S. version wasn’t really as quick as you’d expect it would be considering the Deitous stature levied upon it by fans of the brand. But if you looked up “game changer” in the dictionary, an image of the Quattro should certainly appear next to it. So advanced was the thinking behind this car that today it’s still the recipe being followed by many manufacturers nearly 40 years later. And those iconic boxflares that the M3 sprouted? That’s right, they appeared here first. While in some ways the re-work of the design sullied Guigiaro’s clean silhouette, the result was monumental and again the basis for all of the important be-flared WRC fighters that came after. The M3 was only one to copy the style; the Celica Alltrac Turbo, the Escort Cosworth, The Lancia Delta Integrale, the Subaru WRX, and the Mistubishi Lancer Evolution are but a few of the turbocharged, all-wheel drive and box-flared cars that would go on to become legendary in their own right. But the one that started it all has finally gotten some recognition over the past few years. Great examples of the Quattro are few and far between, so when they come to market it’s something very special. And this particular Quattro is really exceptional:
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:
The M635CSi somehow gets lost among the other greats of the period from BMW. Perhaps, for U.S. fans, it’s the nomenclature that’s confusing. After all, there was a M1, an M3, and a M5, but when it came to the M version of the E24, BMW stuck with the moniker M635CSi in all markets but the United States and Japan. Confounding that decision was the launch of the E28 M535i. Like the M635CSi, it had additional body pieces, special interior trim and wheels from M-Technic. But while the M535i had a fairly normal M30 under the hood, the E24 received the full-fat M88/3 that was shared with the M5. Like the European M5 production started in 1984, well before they were available to U.S. customers. But while the M5 only sold in very sparse numbers over its short production cycle (about 775 sold in Europe between 1984 and 1987), the M635i was a relative hit, with just over 3,900 selling overall – far more than made it the U.S. market. Additionally, the European models were a slightly more pure form of the design; smaller bumpers, less weight, and about 30 more horsepower on tap without catalyst.
These European spec models were offered with some color combinations and interiors that never came to the U.S. market. A great example of the combination of these factors is today’s 1986 right hand drive model in the striking “AkaziengrÃ¼n” – Acacia Green Metallic:
While usually our ‘Double Take’ features look at one model, today I’m going to look at two cars that share a brand, and idea, and a price point. Both of these Audis represent a huge leap forward from their predecessors; versus the front-drive Type 81, the Type 85 B2 was much more modern-feeling, refined and introduced all-wheel drive to the mass market (excusing its bigger brother, and twice as expensive and exotically flared Quattro brethren, of which only 664 sold here) and the C4 S4 introduced the U.S. market to S-cars and merged the 200 20V’s setup with a modern body and more sporty interior along with even a bit more power. Both are legendary in the 4-ringed circles for their longevity. Both have cadres of fans who seek each model out. And both are hard to find in good condition.
So here we go, Alice – red or green pill? For your $6,000 investment, which of these inline-5 all-wheel drive legends would be your choice?
If you follow these pages, it goes without saying that I’m a pretty strong Ingolstadt devotee. My first car was an Audi 4000CS quattro and since then I’ve owned an astounding 9 models along the way. But that doesn’t mean I buy everything from the company hook, line and sinker. Indeed, I’ve been less than impressed with many of the newer models. Sure, sometimes they look slick, go like stink or are really pretty inside. But would I want to own one? In most cases, no – outside of a few very select models, I don’t really desire to own much post ‘Y2K’.
One exception to that rule – and it’s literally and figuratively a huge exception – is the S8. Everything about this car was just spot on to me. In an age when increasingly the offerings from the competition were unattractive and overly complicated, the S8 was to me the last of the great original quattros. It was an analog offering in a digital age; simple, blunt force from a 360 horsepower V8 in front driving all the wheels with a luxurious driver-oriented cockpit. Sure, there were plenty of computers. Probably there are too many. But compared to the new luxo-suites? The D2 seems downright cart-like. And the proportions of the car were just perfect; lowered, menacing stance, huge yet delicate-appearing wheels, just the right amount of bling, yet an understated car which easily fades into the background. So even though I’m still probably a long way from ownership, I often find myself dreaming about being behind the wheel of one.
The pool of candidates that remain is beginning to dwindle; the newest of the D2 S8s is on the verge of being 15 years old and parts are already getting hard to source. As a result, if you want to get into one of these cars, you’ll want to find the best one available.
Here it is.
There are a few strange similarities between yesterday’s 1987 Volkswagen Scirocco 16V and today’s subject – the much more elusive and legendary BMW M1. Both were sporty cars developed from more pedestrian beginnings. Both featured high-revving dual-overhead cam motors. But the interesting part comes in the sublet of construction, and the design. Both have links to Giugiaro, but both also borrowed heavily from other designs.
In an article I penned for The Truth About Cars last year, I covered some of the development of the Wedge Era and how those spectacular show car designs channeled their design language down to more pedestrian models. One of the stars of that article were the cutting-edge looks from Giugiaro’s ItalDesign – the firm, and man, responsible for some of your favorites such as the basic shape for the Audi Quattro. But while the Quattro launched its brand into the luxury realm and redefined the 80s, the undisputed German star of the wedgey wonders was the BMW M1.