Here’s another alternative air-cooled Volkswagen from Brazil. We saw the Brasilia recently – Volkswagen do Brasil’s answer to the Golf platform and intended to extend the life of the Beetle platform. Here was their attempt to modernize the Karmann Ghia – the infamous SP2.
‘SP’ referenced São Paulo where the SP and SP2 were produced. The early model had a 1.6 liter flat-4, while the SP2 moved up to a 75 horsepower 1.7 air-cooled flat-4 mounted in the rear. The proportions of the body styling seemed to suggest the opposite though, with the long, low hood and hatchback GT profile looking more like a traditional sports car than any VW had before. Other period designs were borrowed – the Volkswagen 411, the Porsche 924 and Audi’s 100 Coupe S all had similar angles. But it was probably Volkswagen do Brasil’s own Karmann Ghia TC (Typ 145) that looked the most similar.
Only about 11,300 of these ultra-rare, Brazil-only SP2s were produced. They’re about as legendary as air-cooled VWs get in the U.S., so when one pops up for sale it’s worth a look:
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:
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:
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:
I don’t spend a lot of time talking about air-cooled models on these pages, and that’s a huge gap in Volkswagen’s history. It’s also not so long ago that VW continued to crank out brand new Beetles alongside their water-cooled replacements. The proliferation paved the way not only for the water-cooled replacement models I tend to favor, but some pretty awesome air-cooled examples, too.
Of those my favorite certainly must be the Type 34. I dissected Volkswagen’s first attempt to move upscale in an article on The Truth About Cars last year:
Volkswagen’s Other Karmann Ghia: the Type 34
Basically, like the Phaeton, the Type 34 was a sales failure. It was too expensive – costing about 50% more than a normal Type 14 Ghia. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a very good looking failure. While the underpinnings were shared with its less exotic 1500 cousins, the upscale Karmann Ghia was aimed squarely at making peasants feel like landed gentry and certainly looked the part. Sweeping character lines ran the length of the car, giving it its signature “razor” nickname. Added to the upscale look in terms of desirability today is rarity. Never imported to the United States, the Type 34 only achieved about 42,500 units – less than 10% of the total number of the more popular and familiar Type 14 Karmann Ghia. But we’re lucky to find one today in Michigan:
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: