Popular wisdom would suggest that modifying a car will never be rewarded in improving its desirability. After all, they are personal expressions of automotive passion, and passions vary wildly. So slap a set of VMR rims and an APR tune on your GTI, and yeah, it’s faster. But it’s not necessarily worth more. That logic has been challenged over the past few years, though, as tuners from the 80s have really come to the forefront of value in the classics market. Ruf, AMG, and Alpina have all produced some stunning cars, and lately, stunning numbers at auction. But it’s hardly a new trend.
Way back in 2013, I watched in amazement as an unassuming 1983 GTI took center stage in a bidding war which resulted in a then-staggering $18,000 worth of bids. I was lucky enough to speak with the new owner, and shared his vision and experience in a Reader Ride story which revealed a lot more not only about why he bid, but about what we didn’t know – how incredibly well preserved that Cashmere White GTI was, with full documentation from day one. Certainly, the chance to own such a piece of history was unrepeatable. Or, was it?
If, for some reason, you didn’t really love the modified GTI I just looked at and were hoping for a more pure version of the Westmoreland Wonder, well…I’m not sure this is it, either. But it is a lot closer to how it was delivered new, with sealed-beam headlights, a stock interior, and the original 8-valve under the hood. It’s also traveled just under 55,000 miles since new. And if that wasn’t enough to tempt you, it’s got WORKING AIR CONDITIONING. No, I’m not kidding:
Okay, so recently we’ve seen neat A2 and A3 Golfs turned up a few notches – where’s the A1 love? Not to be forgotten or overlooked, the ‘original’ hot hatch is ready to make a splash in your morning feed!
This ’84 GTI looks relatively innocent enough, but it’s sporting an early production look with round headlights, thin Euro bumpers, and small taillights. It’s obviously low and it’s hard to miss those fantastic BBS RM wheels. But there’s even more to see on this neat example:
I owned an A1 GTI once. It was one of the worst automotive decisions I’ve ever made. This comes from a man who bought a non-running Audi 200 Avant full of bees in a field in New Hampshire, mind you.
Back in 1998, I bought a non-running, rusty and very tired black over blue 1984 example for $300. I had every intention of “restoring” it to back good condition, but I was 21 and a poor college student and it was 14. But it wasn’t the age (or the mileage, Indiana), it was how it had been treated in that 14 years. After all, my current Passat is 17 years old and while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty damn nice. Heck, my M3 is 16 years old and basically looks and drives new. No, age was much harder on the cars of the early 1980s; plastics weren’t as durable as they are now, nor was paint. Metal was more rust prone and the electronics were no where near as reliable even though there were so far fewer in the car. To back my GTi up, you could simply look through the crease in the bodywork between the taillights and the rear floor where there was no longer metal. Every single bushing was gone, and what was left vibrated like an unattended paint shaker at Home Depot set to high. The paint was ruined – the car had clearly been hit at some point, so the passenger door and fender were a different shade of black than the rest of the car, which could more be described as dark gray spread very thinly over light gray primer. One time it started itself, which was a bit scary. Another time, it refused to start because the starter had removed itself from the transmission, but only enough to jam the gear into the flywheel. Then one fateful night one a ride home from a late shift at work, the fuse box lit on fire, consuming the functionality of all electrics save the high beams. I had sunk a few thousand dollars into keeping that car running and improving it over the year and a half I drove it. Ultimately I sold it for parts – for $300.
I won’t over romanticize my life with a GTI. I was not sad to see it go. I don’t wish I had it back – in fact, it may be the only car I owned that I never long to sit in again. Indeed, I even have more connection to a few parts cars that I bought but never drove. But, I will say that it did provide me with some entertaining stories. And when it ran right (there were at least two times), it was really a joy to be behind the wheel. There were glimpses of its former glory; you could get in, start it up and immediately be driving at 11/10ths everywhere you went. 40 m.p.h. has only felt near as exhilarating on my bicycle. And the shape was beautiful in such a strange, boxy way. I certainly wouldn’t mind owning a GTI (again), and every time I see one pop up I take notice:
Volkswagen of America’s small pickup truck offered a unique experience at the beginning of the 1980s; basically, the front half of the pickup was a Rabbit, which meant relative comfort, reliability, easy of use and driving and good fuel economy. In back, Volkswagen stretched the wheelbase nine inches and swapped in a tubular axle supported by leaf springs giving the pick up 1,100 lbs of payload capacity and a six foot bed – not too shabby! They even launched a “Sportruck” model, which gave you bucket seats and some really trick decals that covered most of the side. You also got some amazing options for the period, like a tachometer (wooooow) and a 5-speed transmission. However, even with the 5-speed the 1.7 liter low compression 8V motor available wasn’t exactly going ignite your enthusiast dreams. Unleashing the 78 horsepower would return a not particularly stunning 0-50 time of 9.7 seconds. 60, you’ll remember, was illegal in the United States at that time, so why bother designing a car that could approach it?
Still, the Rabbit Pickup was one of the rare occasions when the U.S. got a desirable model which wasn’t available in Germany. We spend much time lamenting the cars that never came here, so it’s worth while to take a bit of time to appreciate the Rabbit Pickup – especially one in this condition:
Update 4/20/19: This GTI 16V sold for $8,322.
Remember what I just said about being at the mercy of what’s available? So here comes another Volkswagen, but I promise this one won’t disappoint. That’s because unlike the other examples which were fringe favorites, here’s the bad boy everyone wants – the GTI 16V.
For 1987, Volkswagen brought its development of the EA827 inline-4 (the “PL”) to the Golf. Already in the Scirocco, it boasted 16 valves, 10:1 compression, KE-Jetronic injection and 123 horsepower. That was over a 20% jump in power, and mated to a close-ratio 5-speed manual it more than made up for the additional heft of the A2 compared to the A1.
To help differentiate its new engine, and because it was initially run alongside the 8V model, several styling cues were added to the 16V. Shared with the Scirocco, the easiest to spot were the “Silverstone” (Teardrop) alloys that would be the signature of the 16Vs for the next few years. Less noticeable were minor changes; painted lower valances and a deeper front lip spoiler, a relocated Fuba antenna now residing on the roof, and of course 16V badges and red stripes throughout. The 16V also got a special leatherette interior and beefy 205-55-VR14 Pirelli P600 tires.
Over the subsequent two years there weren’t many changes to the GTI 16V outside of the “big door” single pane glass change and revised grill of all A2s in ’88, as it’d undergo a major overhaul and bump in displacement for the ’90 model year. This particular GTI is also unique as one of the very last Westmoreland built GTIs, as production closed in ’88 and shifted to Puebla. And this ’89 must certainly be one of the best left out there:
Landing squarely back into reality and our comfort zone, let’s look at the 1985 Volkswagen GTI. Replacing a car universally heralded as the second coming of the automobile certainly wasn’t easy for VW, but the Mk.2 chassis proved up to the task immediately. It was very much the same formula as the original with a touch more refinement, space and power. The lines of the Mk.2 were less angular and upright than Giugiaro’s original design, but several aspects of the Herbert SchĂ¤fer replacement mimicked another Giugiaro design – the Lancia Delta. This was most notable in the C-pillar, which tapers with nearly the exact same angle, while early 4-door Golfs also shared the split-glass look on the doors.
For U.S. customers, the GTI continued to be a 2-door only affair and was initially only available in three colors – Mars Red, Black, and Diamond Silver Metallic for an extra charge. Customers opting for the GTI package paid approximately $10,000, which included red-accent trim outside, ‘Bottlecap’ 14″ alloys and blacked-out fender trim, a rear spoiler above the window and aerodynamic headlights. Dynamically, the GTI received the new 100-horsepower ‘HT’ high compression 1.8 liter fuel-injected inline-4, which was solely mated to the front wheels via a close-ratio 5-speed manual. GTIs also sported 4-wheel disc brakes for the first time and front and rear anti-sway bars to go along with the sport-tuned suspension. The driver got special striped fabric in either gray or red over their sport seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and digital computer display were all standard. Buyers could, of course, opt for a sunroof, air conditioning, power steering, cruise control and an upgraded stereo if they chose.
Despite the upgraded spec and new model, Golf sales continued to slide in the mid-80s from their height (as the Rabbit) in the late 1970s. Coupled with their spunky nature, affordability and less-than-stellar build quality, very few Westmoreland-built A2 GTIs remain around – certainly not in the condition of today’s example:
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:
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:
Continuing on the theme of basic Volkswagens, as I mentioned in the A2 Jetta post I have a soft spot for the Golf. I’ve twice owned them; my last was a ’98 K2 4-door and my first Volkswagen was just like this car. It was a 1986 Westmoreland-built Golf. Compared to most of the cars that come across these pages, the Westmoreland Golfs aren’t really very special. They were very basic models. But they were also unique in their trim, and they were only built in the configuration you see here for two years. Of course, that really only matters to Golfphiles, but it’s a neat bit of trivia, anyway.
I covered the details of these models when I last covered a Westy Golf back in July, 2017. Basically, the easiest way to tell them apart from German builds are the wheel covers and the grill with sealed-beam rectangle headlights. That particular ’86 was mega impressive, as it had only 44,000 miles. Well, today’s ’85 has even less: