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Volkswagen Golf GTI

Published: 21st Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Angular shape MK1 is still a classic style. But they rust badly Angular shape MK1 is still a classic style. But they rust badly
Engines are robust but can smoke and develop cam clatter Engines are robust but can smoke and develop cam clatter
Rear seat space is good, especially on MK2s.MK1 trim is hard to find Rear seat space is good, especially on MK2s.MK1 trim is hard to find
Front cross member rot is a Mk2 worry so check well. Rear axles are a known Golf rust point on all models Front cross member rot is a Mk2 worry so check well. Rear axles are a known Golf rust point on all models
Customising is rife but value lies in originality Customising is rife but value lies in originality
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What is a Golf GTi?

It’s one of those iconic life changing classics that defined a generation and started a whole new fashion. The hot hatch may have been the curse of the traditional roadster and GT saloon but it provided the best of both worlds; sports car ecstasy yet van-like practicality. And when it came to making these pocket rockets nobody did it better than the instigator of it all; Volkswagen’s Golf Gti. Celebrating 30 years of thrills, the Golf Gti is rightly acclaimed as a modern classic that can be used to the full each and everyday. There are plenty around and the value is as strong as the car’s reputation.

History

The Golf GTi was rumoured to have been devised by a bunch of VW engineers who played with a standard version by slotting in the capable 1.6-litre fuel-injected engine that was already doing the business in the often overlooked Audi 80GT (a 1500cc GL Golf was also being produced at the time so the swap was relatively simple).

With a suitably modified chassis and sports interior this humble family hatchback instantly became a brilliant practical performance car and VW big wigs were so impressed with the results that they ordered the car for production, arriving late in 1975. Brits didn’t officially see the GTi until 1979 would you believe which by that time a five-speed gearbox was made a welcome option.

A minor but welcome interior revise followed the next year. The biggest change came in 1983 when (under strong competition from Ford’s XR3i) the Golf GTi gained a larger 1.8-litre lump. Although power only increased from 110bhp to 112bhp, there was more low-rev torque. To mark the end of the MK1 era, the most desirable GTi of them all was launched – the Campaign.

Actually, the name was an unofficial title: in VW speak it meant Special Sales Campaign model and this special GTi was simply a marketing ruse to mop up unwanted cars before the MK2 came out shortly afterwards.

A lot of nonsense has been talked about the Campaign. In simple terms it was a specially trimmed GTi featuring some subtle changes (of which the vast majority could be retro fitted by owners anyway) such as dedicated Pirelli ‘P’ alloy rims, driving lamps enclosed in the grille, sunroof, locking fuel cap, tinted glass, and even those famed and unique ‘golf ball style’ interior door lock buttons! Only 1000 cars were made so beware of fakes!

The MK2 Golf was launched in 1983 and is generally regarded as the best GTi of them all. Larger, more refined (with the welcome option of five doors) yet just as sporty (care of a new superior front suspension set up), it elevated this hot hatch to new heights. Not only was it a performance tool par excellence, but imagewise it was spoken in the same breath as a BMW or Mercedes.

Early Mk2s featured the wipers set for lefthand drive and the door mirror set too far back, but for ’84 this was changed, although the far nicer looking twin headlamp configuration didn’t arrive until ’85, with larger bumpers for ’89 and central locking, tinted glass and standard power steering figuring for 1990.

Driving

The Golf GTi is arguably the most practical and sensible everyday modern classic on the block. A performance car one minute, makeshift van the next, it’s easy to see why the hot hatchback killed off many so-called sports cars during the 1980s. Even 30 years on, the MK1 Golf GTi is a joy to drive. Okay so the brakes (never much cop when new) can be heart stopping when compared to modern anchors but the car’s sheer agility and athleticism is still mind blowing due in no small part to this little car (the same size as the MK3 Polo, incidentally) weighing less than 850kg. Shorn of power steering and other artificial driving aids it’s a most involving drive that only a Mini Cooper S can match.

What the more mature Mk2 lost in seat of the pants thrills, it more than compensated in greater refinement and user friendliness. Although the 16V offers a lot more power on paper, in real world driving the difference between it and the sweeter 8V isn’t great because you really have to use a lot of revs to make those all 16 valves work for their unleaded. The fatter, flashier MK3 is a disappointment. Heavier and slower than earlier GTis, that lovely agility was dumped to pander to a growing market of enthusiasts who wanted to be seen in a GTi rather than drive one! The 8V feels sluggish but there again the 150bhp 16V isn’t that quick either but they make good cruisers, as does the smooth but poorly sprung VR6.

To summarise, the MK1 serves up the most pure raw fun while the MK3 (in standard trim) is most cosseting but least involving. The Mk2 is the best blend of the trio.

Prices

Prices for Golfs are difficult to pin down because they relate to the cars’ originality and condition. True, you can buy a ratty but usable MK1 or MK2 for around £600 but don’t expect anything special. Decent examples hover around the £3500 mark while mint Campaigns bearing their original sales invoice, supported by every MOT (and there are plenty around, according to Club GTi), have been known to touch five figures. Mk3s don’t have classic status as yet so the usual trade values apply: £1500-1800 for a good Kreg GTi, around £2300 for a 16v and up to £4000 for the convertibles, with later hatches stretching to £4000 on the forecourts – and around £5000 for the rag tops. VR6s start from £1500-2000 and level out at £4500 for last of line cars.

What To Look For

  • For us classic car lovers, originality and authenticity are the watchwords but nowadays you have to look long and hard to find a standard Golf GTi. Most have been modded and customised – and thrashed and crashed – accordingly, so be discerning when Golf getting. A HPI check is worth while.
  • Care for a Campaign? As only 1000 were made and they are coveted, fakes are commonplace. Apart from the changes outlined in our ‘History’ section, check the chassis numbers. That long line of digits must contain an E mark mid way through, together with a number that’s special to the car. However, as E also signifies a September ’83 build car look also for EW and DW letterings. Alternatively, check with an owners’ club for confirmation.
  • It may be a VW but do they rust – especially the MK1 and MK2 cars. Favourite places are the floor, bulkhead, suspension turrets, windscreen surround (can be nasty). sills, front wings rear axle and chassis rails, front suspension cross members, (usually MK2s), clutch cable location and the outer panels such as the doors and rear hatch (MK1 are as rare as hen’s teeth). Perhaps the most serious rot spot are the box sections under the rear. If bad on a MK1 then the shell has probably had it.
  • The good news is that thanks to a strong following, quite a lot of panels are still available, even for the MK1, which is still in production in South Africa and South America.
  • Another odd rot point is around the fuel filler neck – mainly on MK1s but also MK2s. Apart from being unsightly, corrosion also seriously contaminates the fuel lines (which are pretty involved and need to be replaced with correct quality parts) and leads to poor running. And it’s a nightmare to eradicate, made worse by the fact that much of the fuel line was discontinued by VW years ago.
  • Mk3s should be fairly rot free unless they have been sorely neglected or badly crash repaired. Incidentally, the MK1-based Cabrio was fitted with a modified ‘MK2/Scirocco’ style floorpan in the 1980s. This according to TSR Performance 01278 453036 can make sourcing exhaust and fuel tank fittings a nightmare.
  • The engines (marked E on the 1.6s and DX on the 1.8s – although the 2-litre may have been used as a substitute) can be long-lived but only if serviced regularly. Usual trouble spots are worn cams (tappet noise), smoking and fuming and worn valve guide oil seals. The cam belt needs changing periodically – say every 50,000 miles to be on the safe side. The 2-litre suffers similar maladies while the VR6’s weak point is its timing chain assembly!
  • Fuel injection is not a worry if serviced properly. Sometimes hot starting points to a dodgy fuel pump valve. Also the fuel pump can play up and lead to starvation, unless you keep the tank well topped up. Incidentally, MK1s feature the Bosch K Jectronic system while later MK2s 8 valvers use a later Digifant system. Chipping for more power is common but has it been done right?
  • Transmissions are known for a couple of faults. For a start, crunchy reverse gear selection is almost a Golf characteristic and usually due to poor cable adjustment. Second gears can also suffer a similar fate although modern synthetic oils can help here. The differentials can be a worry; VW rivetted the gear clusters together and these can let go like a bullet and even smash through the casing! If the gear change is less than crisp and precise then only suspect worn bushes.
  • Suspensions suffer from bushes/damper/spring/wisbone/balljoint wear but all are easy to fix, although MK2 and Mk3 wishbone assemblies can rot out. Mk3s suffer most from worn rear axle bushes.
  • The brakes on Golfs were often criticised, particularly Mk1s where the change from LHD to RHD created artificial slack in the system, leading to a long pedal travel (can be rectified). Apart from lack of maintenance, ensure that the brake compensator fitted to the rear axle beam is working properly many aren’t.
  • Too often Golfs are over-modified in the suspension and tyre departments. A good spring/damper match is crucial while many owners go far too wide with the wheels and spoil the car’s geometry.
  • The electrics can be a bugbear on pre-Mk3s and it’s usually due to water ingress of the fuse box (you can’t swap with a later, improved type either). Sometimes the rear was/wipe on MK2s don’t work and it’s caused by the wiring snagging in the rear door causing an open circuit.
  • The trim on MK1s was discontinued quite a while ago and the striped seats on the GTi will be hard to replicate. Look for broken switchgear and usual decay due to age. Once again, originality is paramount, especially on the MK1.
  • Variations of the GTi theme include the rag top off-shoot built by Karmann; initially billed as the GLI. It stayed in production from 1980 until 1993 before being replaced by the MK3-style car. There was also the very rare left-hand drive G60 which used a 160bhp supercharged engine (later to be found in the Corrado) to brilliant effect..

 

Verdict

If you’re after a totally usable, practical classic then few can deliver the goods like a Golf Gti. There’s plenty around and prices are still more than keen – although don’t be fooled by Beetle-like durability with this model and buy the best you can. Full of class and yet totally classless, playing this Golf game suffers few handicaps.



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