Fortunately for its seller but unfortunate if you actually were interested in it, the 2.7T-swapped Audi B6 A4 Ultrasport Avant ‘Unicorn Killer’ I wrote up a few weeks ago sold just before I went to press. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other interesting options out there, and I found two in direct competition (at least, ostensibly) with one another on my local Craigslist.
Here, we have two all-wheel drive wagons from VAG. Both are complicated. Both are reasonably quick. Both have mindbogglingly long names. Both have 6-speed manuals, both originally had MSRPs north of $40,000 and both, predictably, are quite rare to find. But while the mileage on the two is different, their asking prices are within a hundred dollars. So which would you take?
Do you ever wonder ‘What if VW had decided to make the Golf platform develop from the Beetle rather than the Audi 50?‘
Me either. But it’s an interesting thought exercise, and what’s interesting is that we actually have an example of what could have been. That’s because Volkswagen do Brasil did produce a hatchback successor to the Beetle, and here it is – the Brasilia. The Brazilian branch of VW utilized a Karmann Ghia floor, a 1600 cc Beetle motor and borrowed the styling from the Type 4s to create a small 3- and 5-door hatchback.
It was reasonably successful, too – Volkswagen do Brasil reportedly sold somewhere north of 1,000,000 of them over a ten year production cycle from 1973-1982. They were sold primarily in Central and South America, never making it past the Rio Grande officially, but kits of the Brasilia were also sent to Africa. The Brasilia remains the only mass-produced air-cooled rival to the Beetle, amazingly. Today, an absolutely pristine example is up on eBay:
Continuing on my theme of rare European treats, here’s a Jetta you don’t see every day. While the market may have seemed fairly saturated by the 2000s with all-wheel drive wagons – including Volkswagen’s own Passat Variant 4Motion – that didn’t stop VW from bringing a new generation of small wheel drive five-doors to customers. Of course, there had been a Mk.3 Golf Variant Syncro available with the VR6 previously – I looked at one a few years ago:
4WD Week: 1996 Volkswagen Golf Variant 2.9 VR6 Syncro
The Syncro name was dropped for the 4th generation and fell in line with the new 4Motion branding shared with the Passat. However, while the Passat’s longitudinal drivetrain borrowed Audi’s B5 quattro system, the Mk.4 was of course transverse. As a result, the Mk.4’s Haldex system was shared with the Audi A3 and TT. The Golf Variant was also renamed the Bora Variant, and thus was born today’s car. Engine revisions mid-run led to this model: the 2.8 V6 4Motion Highline. While the car is branded “V6” and if you open the engine bay it even says “V6” on the beauty cover, it was in fact a 24 valve variant of the 2.8 liter narrow-angle VR6. Dubbed the BDF and rated at 201 horsepower, that made this a little all-wheel drive pocket rocket 5-door, and just like the R32 we saw it could be mated to a manual transmission:
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 â€œgrown upâ€ 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 â€“ 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 itâ€™s rare to find a lower mile and clean GLX these days:
Update 3/20/19: This Étienne Aigner sold for $11,500.
As I explained back in 2017, towards the end of their lengthy production run, the Volkswagen Cabriolet broke into a three-tier model platform. All shared the same basic underpinnings, but each had a unique trim. The base model and best seller had cloth interiors, with the latter being opted with the ‘Teardop’ Detroit alloys, air conditioning and cruise control. Opting for the upscale Boutique model got you a matching leather interior to your white exterior. These packages had replaced the mid-80s Wolfsburg and Carat packages.
1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet with 23,000 Miles
However, there was a fourth trim model available in 1991; the Étienne Aigner Edition. Étienne Aigner is famed for high fashion leather products aimed specifically at women. So, you guessed it, this Cabriolet featured a cloth interior. As with the other upscale Cabriolets, this was an entirely appearance-based package, full of special details and badges. Étienne Aigners also differentiated themselves from the normal Cabriolets by being equipped with the Fuchs-made forged 14″ Le Castellet wheels and were available in three special colors, Midnight Blue Metallic, Mangrove Green Metallic or Bordeaux Red Pearl Metallic, each with a special color-matched interior fabric and top cover:
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:
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:
For the last few years, Volkswagen has perpetually teased us with the hottest Clubsport and Clubsport S version of the GTI, promising they “may” come to the United States but never following through. While this is no doubt disappointing to the twelve people who actually would have bought them and the 1.8 million who claim on the internet they would if given the option, it follows a long tradition in German motoring of leaving the best of the breed in the homeland. When it came to the GTI, not only did we have to wait several years before we got the original hot Golf, but indeed it was a bit watered down and heavier when it did arrive. The same continued in the next two generations; more weight, less power. Both in the second and third generations we also lost out on supercharging, all-wheel drive and special body kits available in the European market.
Once again in 2001, a neat Golf was launched that â€“ of course â€“ wasnâ€™t coming to the United States. But of all of the special editions that werenâ€™t sold here, perhaps this one made the most sense to be excluded. It was called the 25th Anniversary Edition and you didnâ€™t need to be good at math to realize that there was no GTI sold here 25 years before 2001. Since the â€œ18 year Anniversary Editionâ€ didnâ€™t make much sense from a marketing perspective even in spite of Volkswagenâ€™s continual spotty judgement in that regard, it was no surprise that it wasnâ€™t offered. That was too bad, as it had a lowered suspension, better brakes, a bit more power, fantastic Recaro seats and the best looking BBS wheels fit to any Volkswagen, ever. Volkswagen enthusiasts in America drool inwardly and shouted openly, so in 2002 Volkswagen finally did bring the special edition here. Again, since â€œ19th Anniversaryâ€ didnâ€™t make any sense, we instead got the â€œ337â€ Edition. This was, for all intents and purposes, an exact copy of the 25th Anniversary model, but instead the 337 referenced the internal project code for the original GTI. But they were quite limited, with only 1,250 sold in the U.S. and 250 sold in Canada. So, you probably missed out on your chance to own one, right? Well, wrong, because in 2003 Volkswagen re-released the 337 edition. Conveniently, there was now a round number that they could actually commemorate the GTIâ€™s longevity with as it had been 20 years since the A1 GTI rolled out of Westmoreland. Again, it was a greatest hits edition; the 337 upgraded 12.3 inch vented brakes with go-faster red calipers carried over, as did the upgraded suspension. Though they sported different fabric, inside was the same Recaro interior with deep bolsters. The golf ball shift knob also returned, though it now was mated to a new 6-speed transmission (MQ350) which in turn were connected to R32 Aristo wheels in place of the BBS RCs. Deeper front and rear valances matched the previous two models, and the 20th AE got blacked headlights more similar to the 25th AE. The AWP 1.8T turbo’s boost was cranked up a bit, delivering 180 horsepower through the front wheels and tied to an electronic differential. A final homage to the original model were subtle rabbits adorning the rear and vintage inspired GTi badging. But the biggest change was that the 20th AE was available in three colors unlike the silver-only prior cars; Black Magic Pearl, Imola Yellow and Jazz Blue :
The Golf Limited may be one of the best sleepers of all time. It’s such a sleeper, in fact, that most of the world doesn’t even know it exists. Yet this was the car that arguably gave birth to Volkswagen’s “R” lineup and along with cars like the Lancia Delta Integrale took hot hatches to a new level of performance. So why is it so thoroughly overlooked?
The root of the cause, I believe, comes down to availability. A scant 71 Golf Limited models rolled out of VW Motorsports’ skunkworks, and to the naked eye, they weren’t nearly as impressive looking as the Rallye, GTI G60 or even the Country models they were sold alongside of. But Volkswagen was looking to move into FIA Group A rally after its exploits with twin-engine Sciroccos and the Pike’s Peak Golf attempts from ’85 and ’86. I wrote about those crazy cars back in 2016 on The Truth About Cars:
Bi-Curiosities: Volkswagen’s Twin-Engine Terrors
Volkswagen had also simultaneously developed its own ‘syncro’ system to rival Audi’s signature quattro drivetrain. Audi’s system only worked with longitudinally mounted motors, so to mate all-wheel drive and the transverse Golf platform required a complete redesign. I talked about that solution back in 2017 when looking at a Passat G60 Syncro:
Forbidden Fruit: 1992 Volkswagen Passat G60 Syncro
Though only seen in the Corrado in the U.S., the supercharged PG 8 valve G60 was found in three models in Europe. But VW Motorsport had a trick up their sleeve; they took all of their experience from the BiMotor Golf, the syncro development, and the G60 and they combined it. The new 3G engine was both supercharged and a 16V, and cranked out 211 horsepower. Rallye suspension and special front fenders were fit into a relatively sedate-looking 4-door syncro chassis. Distinguishing features outside were few; BBS RM wheels, a pre-facelift 16V front chin spoiler, a Fuba roof-mounted antenna, and a blue outline grill with a VW Motorsport badge were all that let you know this was the highest performance Golf that had ever been built:
While the step up to the Mk.3 added a fair amount of size – and accompanying weight – to the Volkswagen Golf, the GTI emerged with the much more potent VR6 engine borrowed from the Passat and Corrado. While admittedly the power and the exhaust note was very appealing, and in hindsight the third generation Golf looks positively tiny compared to cars today, I have always lamented the loss of the what I consider the best GTI – the 1990-1992 16V model.
But, what if that model had continued? Well, it did – just not in the U.S.. What we have here is a 1994 GTI 16V from England. Replete with Recaro interior, blacked-out rub strips and fender flares, beefy wheels and dual-chamber headlights with foglights. But the best part is under the hood, where the 9A lived on as the ABF. With Digifant engine management power was up to 148 at a nose-bleeding 6,000 RPMs, while torque remained at 133 lb.ft but again higher in the range. One of these gems has turned up for sale on Ebay: