Acclaimed as the original of the “Hot Hatch” market, the original A1 GTI gained weight before it even hit U.S. shores and never stopped eating. Each generation gained weight, options and complexity – and to make up for that, VW kept upping the power. From the simple 1.6 8V the original sported, it was up to 1.8 liters by the time it hit U.S. shores – then a few years later, gained 8 more valves, than another .2 liters in 1990, and finally made the jump to the narrow angle VR6 with its mighty 2.8 liters pumping out nearly double the horsepower of the original. Despite the changes, each generation has been revered by its own group of enthusiasts, and it’s rare to find original condition GTIs over 10 years old.
On its way out of production, VW sweetened the VR6 even more with the “Driver’s Edition” model in 1997. Red stitching, red calipers and special Speedline wheels made an appearance, and while the package was ’97-only it was more-or-less completely carried over to the ’98s. This particular ’98, though, doesn’t carry much of that original spec because it’s been thoroughly upgraded, stretched and restored to an impressive level:
I know I just said that we were on Passat overload, so why are we here again? Well, I certainly haven’t written up many newer Passats. And, truth told, while competent the U.S.-specific B7 Passat hasn’t really given many reasons for fans to celebrate. Instead of leading the market, VW chose to give consumers what they thought consumers wanted. They reacted….sorta. B7 sales spiked with its introduction in 2012 to 125,000 until in the U.S.; respectable for what has always been a slow seller for the company. That was more than the B6 ever sold in a single year by a factor of 2.5, for example. But every year since has been a downward slope; 110,000 in 2013, 96,000 in 2014, 78,000 for 2015, 73,000 in 2016, 60,000 for 2017 and just 41,400 for 2018. Sure, sales of normal sedans are slipping all around. Compare that to the Honda Accord; a popular, “sporty” alternative, and it’s drawn into sharper contrast. In 2018, Honda sold 291,000 Accords. And that was an uncharacteristically bad year for the model.
So to help prop up sales towards the end of the B7 run, Volkswagen introduced new trim packages – no surprise there. And one came out in 2018 called the “GT”. Now, traditionally VW hasn’t done a stellar job on its GT packages, but hear me out on this one – because it’s pretty special. Outside, the Passat GT distinguished itself with red-trim grill like the GTI, blacked out roof panel and big dual exhaust. 19″ ‘Tornado’ wheels filled the lowered arches; the GT was a bit over half an inch lower with stiffer shocks. Inside, contrasting stitching and two-tone sport seats were met with carbon-like and aluminum trim. But the real news was what made this car sing; under the hood was the 3.6 liter DOHC 24 valve narrow-angle VR6 rated at 280 horsepower and barking through that big exhaust. Shifts were handled solely by the DSG 6-speed dual-clutch box, meaning lightning-fast changes and a manual mode. While VW has seldom given you something for nothing, the Passat GT also rang in as one of the cheapest 6-cylinder cars you could buy last year – base price was $29,995, making it one of just three sub-$30,000 sixes on the market. But today, you can grab one a whole lot cheaper:
For some, the A2 is a religion and the GTI 16V is their prophet. Being that it’s the Christian Sabbath today (observed, at least – forget for a moment that it’s supposed to be Saturday!) I thought I’d take a look at a chosen few. The other meaning of sabbath, interestingly, is a meeting of witches with the Devil at midnight. Perhaps that’s more appropriate for these hot hatches, all of whom have a slightly evil temper and love mischief? Regardless, in the wake of the Rallye-inspired Golf this interesting trio of what were once original GTI 16Vs popped up, and all are worthy of a look. They range from mild to wild both in terms of mods and price. Are any of them winners?
Watch out Quattro, here comes the Golf!
While in the 1980s if you bought any of the branded ‘quattro’ systems you basically got the same drivetrain no matter what model you jumped in, the same was not true at corporate sibling Volkswagen. To add all-wheel drive to its lineup, VW had to incorporate three distinct systems all of which fell under the moniker ‘syncro‘. As just discussed in the T4, the T3’s system was a viscous coupling setup sending power forward with twin locking differentials. The B2 Passat shared its platform with the Audi B2, so there the all-wheel drive syncro was really just a re-badged generation 1 quattro system. But in the A2 chassis, a different viscous coupling setup engineered by Steyr-Daimler-Puch helped to transfer power rearward from the transverse engine when the front wheels slipped. The engineering was pretty trick, but underneath it all it was pretty much just a standard Golf – albeit one with potential.
So in the late 1980s when Volkswagen Motorsports wanted to enter Group A racing with the new all-wheel-drive Golf, it needed to build more than just race cars if they wanted a mean motor in it. It was homologation at its finest. Okay, maybe not, but build more they did, with at around 5000 road-going units planned of what was dubbed the Rallye Golf.
Defined by its rectangular headlights with cooling slats underneath, the Rallye continued the I’m a race car on the road … SHHHHHHH! theme with typical 1980s box-flared fenders. The Sebring alloy wheels were also seen on U.S.-bound Corrados. Despite the racer looks, the extra performance of the 1H G60-supercharged, 1.8-liter 8-valve inline-4 rated at 158 horsepower wasn’t enough to overwhelm the additional mass of the rear drive system, and, consequently, a well-driven GTI 16V would be quicker to 60 and around a track. But BOXFLARES!
Consequently, though the Rallye may not win the VW drag race, it won the hearts of enthusiasts. This tribute plays into that with a visual recreation of the Rallye – lacking the viscous coupling setup, but with a lot more motivation under the hood:
Not everyone agreed with my thought that the low-mileage 1995 Volkswagen Passat GLX VR6 Variant I looked at a few weeks ago was overpriced. I really do understand in many ways; a well-cared for, low mileage example of an unusual car can be virtually impossible to replicate.
Lo and behold, here we are again. Admittedly, none of the trio I have here is quite as low mileage or quite as mint as that October example. But all are also priced a bit more competitively. We’ve got two sedans and a wagon to jump through, with two being automatics and one a manual. All are basically very clean stock examples. Are any of them for you?
Update 11/17/19: This Passat sold for $5,950.
Without a doubt, wagons are one of the favorite subjects here at GCFSB, and while there are plenty of desirable, big name Avants, Tourings and Estates that grab the headlines and generate the “likes” on Myface or Spacebook or Instaselfie or whatever, if I’m honest I’m always a fan of the underdog Passat Variant. Perhaps it’s because I’ve owned two, perhaps it’s because it’s the less common choice; I’m not entirely certain. True, the Passat isn’t the best performing wagon out there, and I’d concede that it’s not the best looking or best made one either. But in terms of the performance you can get in a stealthy, good looking package on a budget, I think that the Passat may be the real sleeper in the German wagon realm.
But the positive aspects of the Passats aren’t unknown to all; the Quantum Syncro is always a popular if rarely seen ’80s icon for the company, and when we got to the Golf-based B3 and B4, there were some cool options too – such as the not-for-the-U.S. G60 Syncro. But even in the U.S., the B4 offered some neat performance options for the wagon aficionado – interestingly, in very different directions. Check the “TDi” option, and you had a hyper-miler capable of over a thousand miles on a tank of gas. Check the “GLX” option on your order form and you’d get the torquey, great sounding VR6 engine and BBS wheels in a sporty package. While both of those engine options were also available in the Golf lineup at the same time, if you wanted a true 5-door you could only select the Passat. Admittedly that’s a niche market, so it should come as no surprise that this is a fairly uncommon car to see today:
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:
Over the past year, there’s been quite a bit of buzz about the Volkswagen Arteon. These reviews tend to focus around two main points; that the Arteon is quite nice, and that the Arteon is quite expensive – at least, for a Volkswagen. The model starts at $35,000 and if you add a few options it’s not hard to crest $40,000. I did manage to find a SEL 4Motion under $40,000 but it has few options. The 2.0T is rated at 268 horsepower in base form, and you can select front- or all-wheel drive variants and a ton of tech as the price climbs, but initially they’ll all be offered only with an 8-speed ZF automatic. Although outwardly it looks a lot like an Audi A7, and indeed features the same hatchback configuration, like the previous few Passats and Passat CC it is based on the Golf MQB platform.
All this got me to thinking; is it really that radical a departure from the last CC?
‘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?
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: