Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

VW Golf

VW Golf Published: 14th Oct 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

VW Golf

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Mk2 8v is best value and most usable; 16v a bit faster
  • Worst model: Project cars
  • Budget buy: Five-door Mk2
  • OK for unleaded?: Fine – if the ignition is retarded
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 3720x1630mm (Mk1)
  • Spares situation: Very patchy
  • DIY ease?: Generally excellent
  • Club support: Good
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes – rapidly at the moment
Magazine Subscription
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

VW’s brilliant Beetle replacement that’s great in GTi form where it offers prestige performance with practicality and pragmatism. Easy to live with and there’s plenty of choice but prices are rising

Hole In One

Happy birthday to the VW Golf. Replacing the iconic Beetle was never going to be easy not least because it also signalled the biggest change of direction by the company, even to this day. The rest, as they say, is history and the Golf not only surpassed Beetle sales with a reported 30m owners, but like the Beetle saved Volkswagen, the company.

The reason the Golf is so popular is not simply due to its design, packaging and build quality. Add perceived image. No other affordable family car is as classy yet classless; Dukes and dustbin men remain happy to be seen driving a Golf. This buying guide specifically looks at the car VW didn’t want to make – the GTi – although the feature’s comments broadly relate to all the ranges.

When Volkswagen’s Alfons Löwenberg and his team decided out of hours to create a Golf with a bit of extra pep, little did they know what a monster they were creating. They could see that the way forward for sports cars was something with the practicality of a hatchback and the security of front-wheel drive. It would also need a low kerb weight for added agility plus a decent amount of power to ensure the performance wasn’t lacking.

The team’s start point was the recently introduced Golf, styled by Giugiaro and with its front-mounted water-cooled engines it brought Volkswagen into the modern age. They fitted a stroked Audi 80 engine, vented discs and shorter springs, plus some discreet styling upgrades. Volkswagen’s managers reckoned there would be no demand for such a hot machine, but despite this they agreed to 5000 examples being produced. Thinking customers would be hard to find, they were proved very wrong – and the rest is history…


Oct 1974 Golf Mk1 series 1 is launched in UK with a choice of 1093cc or 1471cc engines, three and five-doors and a select trim level.

Sep 1975 A 1588cc engine supersedes the 1471cc unit. The Golf GTi makes its début at the Frankfurt motor show in concept form, known as the Sport Golf using a fuel injected Audi 80 GT engine that’s good for 110bhp.

Oct 1976 The Golf GTi is go and is now available to special order, in left-hand drive form only for all markets.

Jul 1979 Right-hand drive Golf GTis are now offered, with same 1588cc engine.

Apr 1980 The Karmann built GLi convertible arrives, with same 110bhp GTi engine and similar appointments.

Aug 1980 Golf series 2 makes its début, with bigger rear lights, a revised dash and a 17-digit VIN (it was previously 10 digits).

Sep 1981 There’s now a five-speed gearbox fitted as standard.

Sep 1982 The GTi and GLi get a larger, lustier 112bhp 1781cc engine from this point on.

Sep 1983 Golf Mk2 is launched, but the original Mk1-based convertible continues right up until 1993 where a Mk3 style is used. The hatchback version is built in (and for) South Africa until 2009.

Mar 1984 Second generation Golf GTi Mk2 arrives in the UK, with a 112bhp 1.8-litre 8-valve engine that now features Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection.

Dec 1984 A handy five-door GTi appears for the first time; until now, all Golf GTis have come with three doors only.

Aug 1985 A mild facelift brings twin exhaust pipes and side mouldings.

Oct 1986 New 139bhp 16-valve GTi arrives and is sold alongside the 8-valve model.

Oct 1987 A facelift deletes the quarterlight glass in the front doors and reduces the number of grille slats amongst other minor tweaks. The 8v moves from K-Jetronic to cleaner Digifant injection but same power.

Aug 1989 The ‘big-bumper’ GTi surfaces, with front fog lamps and optional catalytic converter and the 16V gains power steering but loses electric front windows.

Oct 1990 The 8v gains power steering and central locking but retains its steel wheels; electric windows return to the 16V!

Oct 1991 Run-out 8v GTi arrives, with smoked rear lights, BBS alloys, electric windows; the 16V got the FIrst two from October 1989.

Feb 1992 Softer Mk3 Golf GTi goes on sale – not badged GTi in other countries…

Aug 1992 Final Mk2 GTIs are registered on a K-plate in the UK.


Along with the Alfasud, The Golf was the game-changer of the 1970s. The Italian may have boasted the best character but the VW combined, prestige, performance and practicality in a package that infl uenced every car since.

Standard Golfs are nice to drive, feeling crisp and nimble, but it was the GTi that invented the hot hatch that we still know and love four decades on.

The Golf GTi may not have arrived officially in the UK until the summer of 1979, but it was a full three years before that (in June 1976) that Car, Autocar and Motor first put the hot hatch through its paces. Launched alongside the mechanically identical Scirocco GTi, the Golf came with left-hand drive only and at that point it was assumed the steering would never move to the right.

In typical understated 1970’s Autocar fashion, the review never went as far as being enthusiastic (“the gearchange, in spite of a longish movement, was good”, “the steering is surprisingly light for a frontwheel drive transverse-engined car, and is precise with adequate feel”, “the brakes gave the impression there was plenty of reserve even after using them hard on the swervy downhill bits”), but the car was out of the bag at the end of the piece. It came over all emotional and conceded that “it looks as though VW’s aim in trying to produce two cars that are outstandingly pleasant to drive has been achieved”.

Car could never be achieved of sitting on the fence or being bland, in its 1970’s heyday. It put the Mk1 GTi through three group tests, the first in July 1979. Pitched against the Sunbeam Talbot Lotus and Renault 5 Gordini, it was the latter which took gold thanks to its lower price – but the magazine admitted that if the VW hadn’t cost £500 more than the Renault (£4705 against £4149), it would have won.

The final GTi Mk1group test from Car came in January 1981, when its adversaries were the Escort XR3 and Alfasud 1.5 Ti. Although the Alfa was the most fun to drive and the cheapest of the lot too, it also lacked practicality plus it trailed in terms of performance and economy. The Golf was the most grown up of the lot, with excellent grip, a superb engine and gearbox plus the strongest performance of the trio. But it was the Essex boy Escort that took the honours thanks to its affordability, cabin space and cornering ability – even though its lack of ride refinement was a real issue.

By the time the much more solid feeling Mk2 GTi 16v had been unleashed, the tables were turned when Fast Lane (remember that great mag?-ed) pitted it against the Escort RS Turbo. The Ford got a thorough pasting from VW this time, the verdict being that “the natural winner has to be the Golf; it’s hard to think of any instances where the Ford comes out better, even though it does reach equally high standards on some counts”.
At a time when turbocharging was starting to become increasingly popular, especially with aftermarket tuners, it commented on the GTi’s powerplant: “It’s such a delightful and efficient engine that one really does wonder if the turbo trend is the correct one”.

Perhaps most tellingly though, the article concluded: “There is not a great deal to separate the 16v from the eight valve. On the other hand, the RS Turbo represents a big practical gain over the XR3i”.

Perhaps the most complimentary verdict of the great all rounder Mk2 came from Car’s CoTY awards of the mid 80s when among the many plaudits said it could have been a car built by Mercedes.


Ian Green has run Southampton-based Wagen Wheels ( for 12 years, specialising in Mk1 and Mk2 Golf GTis. It’s clear there’s a lot of upheaval in the early GTi market at the moment, as Green confirms: “Values for some variants have shot up recently, but not all cars are affected. Despite this, some very average cars are going for more than they’re worth – while others are being advertised for more than they’re worth, even if they’re not selling. So before buying any GTi, it’s essential that you check all is what it seems and that you’re not paying over the odds for it”.


Turning the practical Golf into a sun seeking cabrio worked so well that VW skipped the Mk2 and only facelifted the car with a Mk3 body 20 years ago, which means you can own a fairly modern classic and enjoy the best of both worlds. The stout roll bar retained the majority of the hatchback’s rigidity so they drive pretty GTi-like and as they don’t boast the same following means they remain cheap buys.

There’s a definite pecking order, and although the GTi got more usable as it evolved – especially the Mk2 compared with the Mk1 – the earliest cars are by far the most sought after. Says Green: “Exceptional series ones can change hands for as much as £20,000, but these earliest editions are very rare – we see less than one each year”.

After the series 1 it’s the run-out Campaign model that’s most popular; these highly coveted Golfs can change hands for up to £10,000. High values mean there are fakes around; check for green tinted glass, a four-lamp grille, a post-August 1983 registration, a spring-loaded fuel filler cap, EW in the chassis number, and a factory- fitted sliding steel sunroof.

“Of the Mk1 GTis that are generally available, you’re unlikely to find anything worth much more than £8000 – by definition, the best cars rarely come onto the market, he adds”.

Colour makes little difference to a GTi’s value; many Mk2s came in dark colours and none of the hues offered on the Mk1 or Mk2 was lairy. It’s the Helios Blue and Lhasa Green that the purists favour, but black or red are popular too. What can affect values is what options the car has, although this tends to apply to the Mk2 more than the Mk1.

With these later cars, it’s items such as central locking, electric windows and power steering that are especially sought after – especially the latter as without assistance the steering is rather heavy.

Later Mk2s tend to have power steering so it’s easier to find, but the Mk1 GTi wasn’t offered with it at all.

As with many classics, the best GTis tend to change hands behind closed doors, so immersing yourself in the scene is generally essential if you want to have any chance of picking up a mint early car. If your pockets aren’t that deep, you can still buy a Mk1 though – something that isn’t a liability can be picked up from £3000, but you have to be careful at this end of the market. There are a lot of bodged cars out there, which have been tarted up or which are highly unoriginal.

Or you could buy a GTi Mk2 instead – even the best examples of these rarely sell for more than £6000, with something good available from just £2000. That’s excluding the ultra-rare and hugely desirable supercharged G60 and Rallye models, which change hands so infrequently that they’re hard to value accurately. There are plenty of standard cars available from just £500 – but these tend to need at least twice that spending on them straight away, and probably more in the medium to long term.

Again there’s a pecking order in terms of desirability among enthusiasts, and hence their values.

Cars with eight valves are worth less than 16-valve models while three-door cars are much more sought after than five-door editions. Big-bumper cars are also higher up the desirability scale than the smallbumper cars, so if you’re after a 16-valve big-bumper three-door GTi Mk2 you’ll have a lot of competition after that car!

Green continues: “The early cars are being bought as third cars; they’re used sparingly, originality is key and they’re being snapped up by collectors – hence the rising values. Those buying them are often older and on a nostalgia trip, whereas those buying the Mk2 will use their cars more readily – perhaps even as everyday transport. It tends to be younger buyers after these later cars and they’re not as particular about originality – a few choice upgrades are often seen as desirable”.

The Mk3 and Mk4 GTis still have some way to go before they’re accepted by the classic fraternity. There’s not a lot of crossover between those who want a Mk1 and those who want a Mk2. These are, however, seen as bona fide classics by many enthusiasts nowadays – whereas the Mk3 and Mk4 are still too new. They’re more usable, and good value thanks to low values, but they’re still going through that banger phase from which the earlier GTis have now emerged.

If you’re more taken with the Mk2, the 8-valve engine offers decent performance and these simpler powerplants are more reliable too. As a result, the 1992 model year 8v run-out model which looks like a 16v is arguably the best real-world choice.


The sky is the limit here, and while it’s worth improving the Golf in several areas, now the early GTi is a bone fide classic, originality is highly prized by buyers.

So before buying a modified GTi or undertaking modifications yourself, make sure you keep any original parts and ensure such work is reversible.

The Mk1’s brakes weren’t that great, so beefier discs are worthwhile; the Mk2’s factory-fit items were far more reassuring. It’s also worth tweaking the shock absorbers and springs while fitting upgraded suspension bushes should also improve the handling.

The original GTi pushed out 110bhp so. But with a kerb weight of just 780kg it’s still pretty perky – the Mk2 in 16-valve form still tipped the scales at under a ton (it weighed 960kg). So releasing some extra horses is worthwhile, and here the sky is the limit. You can fit an induction kit, intercooler, remap the ECU and fit a performance air filter – you could even fit a later GTi 1.8 turbo engine or a 2.0-litre unit.


If even £2000 is too much for you, there’s still the possibility of putting a decent GTi on your drive – but it’ll be one of the later Mk3 or Mk4 editions. These are still going through that banger phase that hits most mainstream cars when they get to a certain age, which is why you can pick up something worthwhile for less than £1000. However, these cars generally don’t have much cash lavished on them and many of them have been abused. It’s rather telling that these cars wore GTi badges only in the UK – in other markets these cars were sold as regular Golfs… Mk4 GTis can sell for the same as a Mk2 so it depends what you want from your GTi.

What To Look For


The Mk1’s electrics are a weak spot, largely because the fuse box, located under the dashboard on the nearside, gets wet when the windscreen leaks. Spliced-in accessories and upgraded stereo or security systems can also wreak havoc. From late 1982 blade fuses replaced the earlier bullet type; these later electrics are more reliable, but still problematic. Check that the 1.8 GTi’s trip computer works, as parts for these are now very scarce; it’s usually the ribbon cables or LCD which are at fault.

The Mk2’s headlining can cause problems, as the outer fabric can become detached from its foam backing, leading to it sagging. Getting it professionally retrimmed and refitted is a £300 touch, although it may be possible to fit a decent used one for £100. However, decent used headlinings aren’t easy to find and it’s not a five-minute job to remove and refit.


One good thing about the unloved Mk3 GTi was that it ushered in some great Q cars with a vee in their bonnets. The VR6 was the best with its silky and swift 174bhp 2.8 V6 that turned the GTi into a bit of a sophisticate. A step down was the curious V5, a VR6 with a cylinder missing giving 2.3-litres and 150bhp – rare finds indeed although you can pick up a good example of either for well under £2000.


Gearboxes are tough, but second-gear synchro wears out eventually and reverse selection becomes crunchy; rebuilt units are £600. Well before this, expect a vague gear change caused by a worn linkage; repairs are fiddly and the only proper repair involves replacing it completely. The parts are just a tenner, but it takes ages to fit them, as access is poor.

If there’s oil seeping from the gearbox, a rebuild is required if the transmission isn’t to self-destruct. The first sign of problems will be a very noisy top gear or popping out of fifth altogether. Diff casings can fall apart.

On the Mk2, rear-wheel steering stems from perished rear axle location bushes. These form the pivot point for the rear suspension; when they wear out, knocks from the rear suspension result, with the steering effect only coming into play once things have got really bad. Expect to pay £200+ to have them replaced; it’s best to have better polyurethane items fitted while you’re at it.

Most GTis came with alloy wheels; the design changed over time, and original good-condition rims can be hard to find – the earliest design is now especially scarce. If original rims are fitted, at least you can have them refurbished; replacing aftermarket items with originals can be rather harder.

The Mk1’s brakes are OK, but have a reputation for lacking feel because of the conversion to right-hand drive; the linkage isn’t especially direct. They’re perfectly effective however; they just require more effort than you might expect. There are plenty of upgrades available, from harder pads and bigger callipers to bigger, cross-drilled discs.


It has been known for a Mk1 1.8 GTi to have a 1.6-litre engine fitted; the water take-off is the give away. On a 1.6 it’s above the alternator, while on the 1.8 it’s closer to the nearside of the engine bay.

The engine has a cam belt which needs replacing every four years or 25,000 miles; it’s a two-hour DIY job, with a complete kit just £20 or so.

The 1.6 and 1.8-litre engines are strong, but you can’t expect to get more than 100,000 miles out of them between rebuilds. The first sign of trouble will be blue exhaust smoke signifying tired valve guides. Replacing these is straightforward; the head doesn’t even have to be removed. Bank on paying a specialist £350 to rebuild the head, or you could do the work yourself for £100 or so.

Check the state of the fuel lines, especially on an injected car. These aren’t necessarily a weak point, but if there’s any perished rubber or corroded metal, the high- pressure system will soon start leaking.

Post-1988 GTis can suffer from an inability to idle properly, when the idle stabilisation valve throws a wobbly. Replacing the part is easy enough, but a new one costs around £140 from Volkswagen. All may not be lost though, as the same symptom can be caused by an air leak in the rubber intake boot, which thanks to constant exposure to heat can perish and crack. Expect to pay £40.

The oil pump fitted to 8-valve Mk2s is a weak spot. It’s worth replacing it every 100,000 miles as a precaution, because if it goes the engine will be trashed – a specialist will charge £150. This doesn’t apply to the 16-valver, as it features a much stronger pump, based on the diesel.

The Golf Mk1 rots really badly, but there’s a decent supply of panels thanks to the car remaining in production in South Africa until 2009. Some of them don’t fit all that well though, so some fettling is often required. The Mk2 was far better rustproofed and panel availability is also excellent.

The Mk2 is most likely to corrode in the wheelarches, sills, rear panel seams and the nose panels where corrosion takes hold when stone chips are ignored, or due to previous accident damage.

The Mk1 rots in these places too, as well as the tailgate, sunroof aperture, seatbelt mountings, and the rear light clusters – the tailgate rubbers also perish, along with the metal to which they attach. When these latter areas go, water gets into the load bay, rotting out the boot fl oor. Another common issue is rot at the base of the A-posts, leading to play in the doors; repairs here can be a nightmare.

The Mk1 also suffers from rotten rear axle mounts; welding them up is time-consuming, so can be beyond economical repair. Also check the bulkhead, which tears where the clutch cable passes through; repairs are often bodged here.

Three Of A Kind

Ford spiced up the Escort Mk3 soon after its arrival in 1980, with the carburetted XR3. It wouldn’t get fuel injection until 1983, by which point Ford had also built 8,659 examples of the similar RS1600i. There was a Mk4 XR3i too, but if you wanted some serious power there were RS Turbo versions of both the Mk3 and Mk4. All are sought after now, but none is especially costly to buy – if you can find a good one.
The 205 was a high spot in the evolution of the car, so when a GTi edition arrived in 1984 it was always going to represent a turning point for the hot hatch. At first there was a 1.6-litre car that packed a 105bhp punch – by 1987 there was a 130bhp 1.9-litre version with disc brakes all round. It’s this latter car that everyone wants, but the 205’s chassis is so good that you’ll have huge fun, even with the 1.6.
When Renault launched the original Clio Williams in 1993 it vowed there would be one production run only, of 3,800 cars. But when they sold a bit too fast for Renault’s liking, it launched a second take on the model – and then a third. The original buyers weren’t happy, but with 12,100 cars ultimately built, that means more to go round. Except few are left intact, so if you want a good one, be prepared to search.


The term ‘icon’ is bandied about far too readily, but when it comes to the Volkswagen Golf GTi, it’s completely justified. However, there’s a definite split between the Mk1 and Mk2 in more ways than you might think.

Values, usability, the type of person who buys and the reasons for buying are markedly different. There are also far more really good Mk2s about than Mk1s as the cars were considerably better built and the cars are naturally newer. Originality on both will be a vital factor in years to come.

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today
Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Britians top classic cars bookazine