Golf Match! Volkswagen GTI Mk.2 v. Mk.3 v. Mk.4 v. Mk.5

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:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1992 Volkswagen GTI 16V on eBay

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1998 Volkswagen GTI VR6

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:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1998 Volkswagen GTI VR6 on eBay

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1998 Volkswagen Jetta GLX VR6 with 31,000 Miles

While the last few VWs have been a bit strange in some way or other, each held a specific subset of people absolutely obsessed with them. The same does not seem to be true of today’s Mk.III Jetta GLX VR6, which is strange to me since it has the hallmarks of a potential collector.

Purists decried the arrival of the “grown up” A3 chassis Golf and Vento, sold as the Jetta in North America. It was expensive, it was heavy (relative to the A1 and A2 chassis, anyway) and the performance was dulled – that was, until the introduction of the GLX model that replaced the earlier GLi models. Now sporting the VR6 that had debuted in the Corrado a few years earlier, the GLX was all around a screamer. It might have been heavier than the GLi had been, but it was quicker to 60, quieter on the highway, more comfortable and better in crashes (if things went south), and returned close to the same fuel economy as the thirsty, buzzy and boxy 16V had. The Volkswagen Jetta III, as it was known in the US, was introduced at a time when US sales were at their lowest and it appeared as if VW was considering pulling out of the US market. This generation Jetta became the best selling Volkswagen by the time the production run ceased in 1999. It was insanely popular and seemed to be the defacto college car of choice for both men and women. Because of that, many of these Jettas fell into disrepair or were totaled, so it’s rare to find a lower mile and clean GLX these days:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1998 Volkswagen Jetta GLX VR6 on eBay

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1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin

Update 3/25/19: This car appears to have sold at $5,000.

Update 3/1/19: Although it listed as sold for $3,050 in the auction which ended 2/22, this Harlequin is back and not joking around, with $5,000 worth of bids this time as of this morning.

So I’ll start off by saying that we usually try to find the best examples of cars that we can. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist, or even to have particularly good vision, to note that the Volkswagen Golf in the picture above is NOT the best example out there. In fact, we recently looked at what may be one of the best Mk.3s left out there – albeit an odd one – just a few weeks ago:

Riders Wanted: 1993 Volkswagen Golf Ryder with 31,000 Miles

However, if you know anything about water-cooled VWs, you also know that the car above is quite special. It was not because it had the best spec, or the most power, or the highest price tag; in this case, it was all about the marketing and it’s one of those cases where an oddball becomes incredibly endearing to a very small group of people. If you were to buy this car and turn up at a ‘normal’ automobile enthusiasts’ home, they’d probably think you’d gone mental with your recent purchase. Full of rust and mis-matched panels, as well as likely a lot of miles and even more likely a ruined interior – not to mention what is sure to be a host of mechanical woes – this Golf probably looks to most like it’s ready for the wrecking yard. But turn up at a VW show in this car even in its partially destroyed state and all eyes would be on you, because this is a Golf Harlequin, and in the world of water-cooled, that’s a pretty special thing:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin on eBay

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Riders Wanted: 1993 Volkswagen Golf Ryder with 31,000 Miles

Update 3/15/19: No surprise, this Golf Ryder is down in ask from $16,500 in January to $12,500 today. Heading in the right direction….

In Tuesday’s post about the GTI 20th Anniversary Edition, I mentioned that often the U.S. was left out of the special model production cycle. That was very true for the many limited editions of every generation of Golf. Of course, we did get some special Golfs – the Wolfsburg Edition being the best known, but there was also the Mk.2 Golf GT and, of course, the Harlequin, Trek and K2 models for the third generation. But with clever names like the ‘Driver’, ‘Match’ and the myriad of band-themed Mk.3 Golfs, most were left in Europe. One other model which was a bit of a head-scratcher was the ‘Ryder’.

Of course, Google ‘Golf Ryder’ and you’ll get all sorts of information about Tiger Woods. While the Driver was, like the Golf GT, a de-contented GTI, the Ryder was more confusing. In Mk.2 guise, it got the 4-headlight setup of the GTI, but little else. It had a 1.3 inline-4 barely motivating it, and came to market with steel wheels and manual everything. It did have a special diagonal stripe black interior and a sunroof, but otherwise the only thing you got were badges. They really were playing into the theme that, if you were a driver, you got the more driver-oriented ‘Driver’ model apparently. This was more for people who just wanted a ride in some sort of transportation.

For the third generation, the Ryder returned, but again was even a bit more confusing. Displacement was up to a stock 1.4 rated at 59 horsepower (woooooow!) and it was good for a 16.3 second 0-60 time! Gone were the GTI headlights, replaced by the standard single-chamber stock Mk.3 units. Also not present were painted bumpers, and the steel wheels no longer sported the upgraded trim rings from the Mk.2. The Ryder badges did make a reappearance, but the once standard sunroof didn’t. Also not appearing as standard kit was a radio, air conditioning, cruise control, fog lights…in short, this was about as basic of a Golf as you could get. But since we didn’t get them here, it’s neat to check one out – and what must be the best one out there for sale has appeared in Florida:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1993 Volkswagen Golf Ryder on eBay

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2.Fast, 2.Furious: 1995 Volkswagen Jetta GL

Update 1/20/19: After not selling all of Fall 2018 for $99,000, this crazy Jetta is down to $70,000 today.

Saying that you like the Fast and Furious series at all to any dedicated car enthusiasts is a bit like saying you are a Bach and Beethoven fan, but you’ve got a penchant for Weird Al Yankovic too. But the Fast series is, weirdly, a great collection of car films. Okay, back out that the driving scenes are pretty ridiculous, the stunts completely implausible, the plots barely coherent and the acting often one step above pornography. The same claims could easily be said about the Cannonball Run movies, and yet they’re generally accepted among enthusiasts, no?

Each one of these movies is full of iconic cars from start to finish. I’ll admit that I haven’t made it through the most recent additions to the Fast series. They seem a bit contrived (I know, bold statement considering the topic, but work with me) compared to the original, but then it’s hard to argue with their success. Over the past decade a new sequel has emerged like clockwork every two years, and the last one – The Fate of the Furious – netted $1,234,908,020 worldwide. And that was $300,000,000 less than the previous movie, lead actor Paul Walker’s last before his untimely death. In total the series has generated over 5 billion (yes, with a “B”) dollars in ticket sales.

Perhaps it was Paul Walker’s involvement that gave the movies real car credentials. By all accounts, he was a true automobile enthusiast. Just check out some of the cars in his incredible collection. With everything from E30 M3s to R34 Skylines, this man lived life as if he was really in Gran Turismo.

But within the series, there’s still some laughable moments. From the first movie there was Jesse’s Volkswagen Jetta. A Mk.3, it already had lost some street cred in my mind, but the ridiculous body kit and paint scheme was only further underscored by the ABA powertrain. Of course, as VW fan I was outraged. They didn’t even need to open the hood, because the 4-bolt wheels gave away that this was a 2.slow drag racing?!? It was, however, one of the few and the only featured German car in the first movie, and now it’s for sale:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1995 Volkswagen Jetta on eBay

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1995 Volkswagen Cabrio 1.8T

When the second generation Cabriolet finally launched for 1995, Volkswagen had waited so long to replace the A1 chassis that it completely bypassed the A2. What appeared then was a A3 chassis, and compared to the outgoing model it was bigger, rounder, softer and not appreciably sportier. Motivation was from the same ABA 2.0 inline-4 found in the standard Golf rated at 115 horsepower, so to make it ‘hipper’ Volkswagen dropped the “let” from the name.

It was, however, instantly recognizable as the new go-to affordable 4-seater drop-top, but sales were slow in the mid-90s. Volkswagen sold just over 5,800 1996s, for example. They were pretty expensive for a Golf at nearly $20,000 MSRP and over with some options, but then this was the cheapest German convertible you could buy. The big problem was that for less money you could get the much more entertaining (and reliable) Miata. The combination of low production numbers, the classic styling of the original and lack of enthusiast appeal mean we just about never feature them. I last wrote up a Cabriolet in July 2017, and the last Cabrio was a year earlier. So there’s nothing to see here? Not with this turned up and built one, that’s for sure!

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1995 Volkswagen Cabrio on eBay

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1993 Volkswagen Golf VR6

What is the price for rarity? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, enthusiasts will sometimes go to extremes to have something just a bit different than the norm. Take today’s Golf. Like the 1989 Volkswagen GTI I looked at a few weeks ago, something odd will stick out to the brand faithful that will probably go unnoticed by nearly everyone else. First off, for the U.S. market, the VR6 was limited to the GTI range. This looks like a GTI with the dual chamber headlights and foglights, VR6 badges and BBS wheels. But another minor detail then rears its head – or, in this case, rears its doors. That’s right, this is a 5-door Golf VR6 from Europe. Look closer and you’ll notice items such as the textured flares, deeper chin spoiler and fender mounted directionals that differentiate ROW A3s. So what will getting into this rare-to-see VW cost you today?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1993 Volkswagen Golf VR6 on eBay

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1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin

The Golf Harlequin is the model that answers the question no one asked. It’s the model that proves Germans have a sense of humor. It’s also a model which defies logic. If you told your automotive-inclined friend you bought a 22 year old 2.0 automatic 4-door Golf with mis-matched body panel colors, he’d probably offer you the couch in his living room to sleep on for the next month. Things must be that hard for you, after all.

Now, tell him you paid a premium for that car. “How much?”, he’d most certain quip.

“$10,500”

The stunned silence which would undoubtedly be followed by the most boisterous of laughter would be punctuated only by the whipping out of a phone and a call to the local insane asylum for an admit, or at the very least a consult. But who’s the joke on here?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin on eBay

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VRffordable Double Take: 1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6

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?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 Volkswagen GTI VR6 on eBay

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