Image of black classic VW Golf GTI Mk 2

Golf GTI Mk2

BUYER’S GUIDE

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2 Review

Bigger, more sophisticated and faster than its Mk1 predecessor, the second-generation Golf GTI is rapidly growing in desirability…

What Is It?

Replacing an icon like the original Mk1 Golf GTI was never going to be easy but there was no ‘difficult second album syndrome’ for VW, and its Mk2 replacement simply moved the game on.

True, it became a bigger and more solid car in the process. But it also introduced significantly improved performance with the arrival of the more powerful 16V version, while the option of a five-door body increased the practicality for those not wanting to ditch the fun of driving just because they needed a family hatchback.

As the Mk1 slips into true modern classic territory the Mk2 is going the same direction, but still represents a more affordable route into a classic GTI in a considerably more modern-feeling package.

Corrosive Areas

Inner front arches

Windscreen frame

Sunroof surround

Checklist

  • Original 8V engine carried over from first-generation Golf GTI and joined by revvier, more powerful 16V version in 1986
  • Non-cat UK-market cars are more powerful than those sold elsewhere, the 16V sold here getting 10PS (7kW) more to 139PS (10kW), equating to half a second off the 0-62mph time and top speed increasing from 124mph to 129mph; some later UK cars may have cats, though
  • 8V cars may have as little as 107PS (79kW) depending on the version but they punch above their weight and the Mk2 is still a sub-tonne car, the more flexible power delivery appreciated by those who don’t want to be up in the revs all the time
  • Post-1987 models identifiable by various external changes, including switch from seven- to five-bar grille, ‘right-hand drive’ wiper configuration (look for the blanking plates for the previous arrangement on the scuttle), single piece front side windows with the loss of the quarterlights and replacement of the Bosch fuel-injection on 8V models
  • Engines are generally considered tough, though smoke can suggest worn valve seals, stems or piston rings; any hesitance or stalling could be trouble
  • Earlier Bosch K-Jetronic fuel-injection can prove troublesome compared with the later Digifant system
  • Sloppiness in gearchange could be as simple as worn shift bushings, while a tricky shift to first and/or fifth could be a misaligned linkage – both are relatively simple fixes
  • Hydraulic tappets were introduced for post-1985 models and may rattle on start-up, though this should quickly quieten so beware any lingering top-end clatter
  • Check all electric features work as they should; also make sure that the tip and release system on the front seats of three-door cars operates properly
  • Worn, modified or damaged interiors can be tricky to put right, so seek out cars in good condition where possible
  • Any good Mk2 should drive with precision, with any looseness or slop likely due to the usual stuff like worn suspension parts, bearings or bushings

How Does It Drive?

For those used to more modern hot-hatches the lack of power steering on all but later versions adds a level of physicality to the Mk2 driving experience, the extra metal around you compared with the Mk1 making it feel a good deal more substantial.

It still has that spring in its step, mind, and there are plenty of period pictures of road testers pitching it into turns with lashings of lurid body roll and an inside rear wheel cocked in the traditional hot-hatch style. The decision between 8V and 16V versions is less obvious than it may seem, given the substantial increase in on-paper power and performance of the latter.

True, its revvier, peakier power delivery may ultimately be more exciting on the limit, and it benefits from a stiffer, lower set-up, but the torquier 8V has its fans for its improved flexibility and all-round comfort.

What’s Good?

The Mk2 took the Golf GTI from the ‘80s and into the ‘90s and, as a result, feels a bit step on from its ‘70s-designed predecessor. As such it’s a much more liveable car for frequent use, so if you want a modern classic you can use every day rather than just save for the weekends it’s still just about viable for that.

Later versions with the option of five-door bodies, power steering and more modern styling also open up GTI ownership to a wider cross-section of drivers, the Volkswagen feeling considerably more grown-up and refined than hot-hatch contemporaries like the Astra GTE or Peugeot 205 GTI but still having that feisty spirit fans of the genre love so much.

What’s Bad?

Inevitably age-related issues are starting to make their presence felt and corrosion is going to be your number one concern when choosing a Mk2 GTI to buy. Refinement may have been improved with the addition like wheelarch liners and suchlike but these also make it harder to identify regular rust spots without a detailed inspection. If the front subframe looks rusty there’s a good chance the inner wings may also be crumbling.

Other common corrosion spots that are easier to spot but also indicators of more worrying rust include bubbling round the ‘blanks’ for post-1987 cars with the ‘reversed’ wipers, at the base of the screen and in the A-pillars. If there’s rust here there’s a good chance it’s spread to the bulkhead. If the car has a sunroof check the surround and make sure the drainage channels aren’t blocked – wet carpets are a bad sign and should be a prompt to check the condition of the floorpan and sills if you haven’t already.

Interiors wear their years well but trim parts can be hard to find so bringing a scruffy car back into good condition can be tricky. Beyond that the GTI is mechanically pretty tough, but it still pays to choose carefully.

Which Model To Choose?

The choice between 8V and 16V will be a personal one and best resolved – where possible – by trying both or sampling opinion from other owners within the enthusiastic VW community. Everyone will have their opinions, of course, but consider your personal driving preferences and whether you prefer to rev your car out to the ragged edge all the time or generally take it a little easier.

Other than that, the main choice is between the original look or post-1989 ‘big bumper’ configuration. Accepted wisdom in classic circles is that earlier cars of a given model are usually the most sought-after for their apparent purity but the Mk2 GTI bucks this trend and these later cars are much sought-after for their chunkier and more resolved looks. They’ll also be that bit younger, so hopefully a little less likely to be suffering from terminal rust. This configuration with a nice set of original BBS wheels is, for most fans, peak Mk2 GTI.

Specifications: 1990 Golf GTI 16V (non-catalyst)

 

Engine

1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

139PS (102kW) @6,100rpm

Torque

168Nm (123lb ft) @ 4,600rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Kerb weight

975kg (three-door)

0-50mph

8.5 seconds

Top speed

129mph

Production dates

1984-1992

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Image of front of classic silver Golf GTI Mk II with male driver

Golf GTI Mk1

BUYER’S GUIDE

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 Review

If not technically the first hot-hatch, the Golf GTI is arguably the car that set the mould…

What Is It?

While the Simica 1100ti, Mini Cooper and various others may beg to differ on ‘hot-hatch originator’ status the Golf GTI probably counts as the first mainstream, modern example and still the blueprint to this day.

VW’s origin story of an idea cooked up by a small team of enthusiasts and waved through by sympathetic senior management has a romantic ring to it as well, more so for the fact the sales team apparently reckoned they’d be lucky to sell 500 of the projected initial run of 5,000. The rest is history, the combination of a revvy, 110PS (81kW) fuel-injected engine, 810kg kerb weight and some well-judged stylistic flourishes like the golf-ball gear selector and checked cloth upholstery creating an instant hit.

First seen at the 1975 Frankfurt show, right-hand drive versions arrived here in 1979, the GTI switching to a torquier 1.8-litre engine towards the end of its life, the Mk1 eventually selling just over 460,000 examples and creating a legend.

Corrosive Areas

Inner front wings

A-pillars and windscreen surround

Spare wheel well

Checklist

  • Early Mk1 GTIs had four-speed gearboxes but most will have the later five-speed; these are considered generally tough but look out for a crunching synchro from first to second, especially when cold
  • UK sales started with a trickle of left-hand drive examples in 1977 and 1978 before right-hand drive versions came on stream in 1979
  • Earlier Mk1 Golf GTIs feature the desirable ‘spittoon’ three-spoke steering wheel with the classic Wolfsburg logo in a recess at its centre; early cars also separate the speedo and rev counter into round recesses in the dash while post-1980 cars have a single, rectangular binnacle with combined instruments
  • Pre-1980 cars also have the original small rear lights, which some purists may prefer
  • Rust is an issue on all Mk1 Golf GTIs but especially pre-1980 versions, which had less protection
  • Check everywhere for corrosion, obvious spots being the seams on the front valance, wheelarches under the rubber extensions and door edges; of greater concern are the inner front wings, A-pillar bases, lower windscreen frame (look under the seals), front jacking points, fuel filler neck and spare wheel well
  • The electrics are pretty simple but the location of the fuse box by the bulkhead means any water ingress from the lower windscreen can wreak havoc, as can bodged wiring for aftermarket alarms and other systems
  • Engines are generally considered tough but most will have covered big mileages by now so check for smoke on start-up (valve stem seals), overrun (valve guides) and under acceleration (piston rings)
  • From a cold start the revs should drop comfortably to a smidge under 1,000rpm without hesitation or stalling
  • Original interior trim can be hard to find so a car with a cabin in good condition is an excellent starting point

How Does It Drive?

The enduring brilliance of the Golf GTI’s hot-hatch template is its simplicity – take a regular small car, stiffen the suspension a bit, keep the weight down, pep up the engine and let rip. Suffice to say, the team behind the Sport Golf (as it was known during development) absolutely nailed it first time, and with a kerb weight of just 810kg the 110PS (81kW) of the original 1.6-litre, fuel-injected engine is absolutely plenty.

By modern standards the Mk1 Golf feels tiny as well, the superb visibility as confidence inspiring as the square-cut, wheel in each corner stance. While the later 1.8-litre engine has a couple more horsepower, and offers a bit more torque and flexibility, many purists actually prefer the 1.6 for its revvier nature and invitation to thrash it in the authentic hot-hatch driving style.

Drivers of more modern cars may find the non-assisted steering and the firm brake pressure necessitated by the convoluted pedal linkage on right-hand drive cars a bit of a shock but, overall, the Mk1 is as delightful to drive as it is easy.

What’s Good?

Those square-cut Giugiaro lines look as good now as they did back in the day, the wheelarch extensions and GTI trimmings giving the Golf just enough additional muscularity over the standard version to stand out. Details like the golf ball gear shifter and the checked cloth interior (created by VW’s first female designer, Gunhild Liljequist) are just the finishing feelgood touches.

The balance of size, power and weight are just perfect to enjoy even on modern roads, and indeed closely match the stats for the acclaimed Up! GTI of more recent times. In driveability terms there’s really little compromise here compared to more modern cars, crash protection and rustproofing the only real areas of concern. While parts availability can be a challenge the passionate VW scene also means a huge network of expertise and support for keeping a GTI running (or restoring it to its former glory) as well as ongoing demand for the good cars that survive. Values are only going one way, as a result.

What’s Bad?

Desirability is a double-edged sword, the fact for years Golf GTIs were cheap to buy and run meaning many will have been through periods of neglect, aftermarket modding, engine transplants, bodged repairs or dodgy maintenance.

So, while there may be a decent number around it’s going to take care to find a good one and an owner who has been willing to invest in the proper upkeep. While mechanically simple and tough it is, inevitably, bodywork that can make the difference between a car worth investing in and one you should run from, the many rust traps within that iconic shape meaning trouble could be lurking beyond where you can see.

As the GTI evolves into a proper, covetable classic that means extra scrutiny is required to avoid being ripped off.

Which Model To Choose?

As with many classics rarity attracts the real enthusiasts, so a super early four-speed 1.6 in good, original condition will now command serious money. For British buyers, and assuming you’re not holding out for the more attractive early interior, it’s probably better to go post-1980 to secure right-hand drive and the improved build quality in the hope of avoiding the worst of the corrosion traps.

If you’re after a 1.6 that leaves a narrow window before the 1.8 arrived in 1982, but this is probably the most desirable phase of Mk1 GTI production. All that said, the differences in character between the different versions aren’t enough to make it a deal-breaker and the wise choice would be to buy on condition and history and go for the best you can afford. That may not come cheaply, but should hold its value for the long-term.

Specifications

 

Engine

1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

110PS (81kW) @ 6,100rpm

Torque

139Nm (103lb ft) @ 5,000rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Kerb weight

810kg

0-50mph

9.0 seconds

Top speed

110mph

Production dates

1977-1984

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Image of silver classic VW Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle (1960-1969)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Volkswagen Beetle (1960-1969) Review

VW’s icon makes for a great classic, the 60s era perhaps the best balance between traditional looks and decent driveability…

What Is It?

A car that should require very little in the way of introduction, the Volkswagen Beetle is an automotive classic combining a fascinating history, mechanical intrigue, unmistakeable design and a uniquely characterful driving experience.

From the Christmas of 1945 all the way through until July 2003 a total of 21 million Beetles of various types were built on production lines across the world, but for the purposes of this guide we’ll concentrate on the middle phase of production in the 1960s. Over this period the original design was refined and the engineering modernised, resulting in a more driveable classic that retains the cleaner look of the older models.

For while the fundamentals of the Beetle clearly didn’t change that much over its long life there were endless detail tweaks along the way, prompting endless debate among the superfans about which is best. That argument can run and run but, in general terms, a mid-’60s Beetle will be considered by many to be the sweet spot. Here’s how to get a good one.

Corrosive Areas

Sill heater channels, especially at joint with inner front arch

Battery tray beneath rear seat

Spare wheel well in front luggage compartment

Checklist

  • Modifications and personalisation are part and parcel of the Beetle scene and aided by easy interchangeability of parts – unless you’re chasing originality it’s not necessarily a problem as long as it’s been done sympathetically and by someone who knows what they’re doing
  • Rust can occur anywhere but is especially bad in the ducts that channel heated air to the cabin via the sills, with condensation causing corrosion to spread from the inside – check where they meet the inner front arches and, while they can be patched, a full repair of the sills is a body-off job
  • Beetles have a distinctive mechanical smell but a strong whiff of exhaust could be damaged heat exchangers directing fumes into the cabin, which is obviously something to be addressed as a matter of urgency
  • Sloppy steering could be indicative of worn front suspension or loose ‘worm and roller’ mechanism – the latter can be easily adjusted but can end up feeling ‘tight’ if not set correctly
  • Power brakes feature on all Beetles of this era and all should offer decent stopping power when correctly maintained so check for corroded lines or leaking cylinders at the wheels if not – 1500s and later models also got discs rather than drums on the front axle
  • Wings are bolt-on and easily replaced but the seam between them and the body can be a rust trap
  • If you’re chasing a convertible it’s worth paying the (considerable) extra for a proper Karmann bodied one for its reinforced body – aftermarket conversions may not be as structurally sound
  • Enthusiasts favour earlier cars and these are considerably more valuable – look for the smaller side windows of pre-1965 cars, ‘five-stud’ wheels, sloping headlights and smaller rear lights as giveaways, though cars may also have been ‘backdated’ so check for originality
  • Engines are generally tough and air-cooling means one less thing to worry about, though overheating can do lasting damage so make sure the oil is in good condition and the black painted ‘tinware’ directing cooling air around the cylinder heads hasn’t been removed
  • Broken fanbelts can also lead to overheating so carry a spare and the tools necessary to fit it
  • While in the engine bay give the crank pulley a tug – a little play is fine but visible or audible knocking could be something more worrying, ditto any rattles or other undue noise from the valvegear
  • Earlier cars with the dynamo powered 6V electrics may not be as sturdy as later 12V ones, though many will have been upgraded at some point in their lives so don’t be surprised if you find a retrofitted alternator and 12V system
  • Volkswagen offered two automated transmission options over this period across different markets, including the four-speed Saxomat with an automated clutch mechanism and three-speed AutoStick seen on some late 60s models – both are rare and have quirky appeal but most drivers will prefer the manual

How Does It Drive?

Many of the Beetle’s handling traits have since been taken to extremes by the Porsche 911 it shares its backstory with but, with the engine in the back, the steering could be kept light even with relatively fast gearing while all independent suspension means decent ride quality. A steering damper introduced in 1961 means a smoother response at the wheel, the distinctive floor-hinged pedals one of the many quirks while the four-speed gearbox should shift cleanly.

No ‘60s Beetle in standard trim will ever be described as fast in modern terms, though a steady run is perfectly pleasant and they go well on motorways thanks to the original pre-war design brief requiring the car to be capable of cruising the then-new German Autobahns at a steady 60mph. Like a 911 the light front end means corner entry speeds need to be respectful, the swing-axle rear suspension and engine behind it also demanding respect if you lift-off mid-turn.

Power brakes (earlier Beetles use cable ones) make a ‘60s car easier in modern traffic, post-1968 ones getting discs up front.

What’s Good?

The Beetle’s looks are obviously a huge draw, the curvy shape arguably at its best through this ‘60s era with its longer front end, smaller lights and elegantly sculpted engine cover at the back. But you’re not just buying a car – you’re joining an entire community in its own right, with a huge scene stretching from matching numbers originalists to customisers enacting modifications from mild to wild each with its own unique aesthetic and fanbase.

The combination of that charismatic engine note with driving manners and refinement that work better on modern roads than many other cars of this vintage are also appealing while the Beetle’s enduring popularity also means a huge support network of parts, specialists and knowledgeable folk. This, interchangeability of parts and inherent mechanical simplicity means it’s also a relatively easy car to work on and fix yourself.

What’s Bad?

Given the popularity of modifications and ease with which older examples can be upgraded or changed you’ll need to decide if you’re going to hold out for an original car or take a more relaxed approach. Condition is key and, as ever, it makes sense to buy the best you can afford unless you have the time, money and inclination to take on a restoration project.

Inevitably rust will be your first consideration, common traps including the heating channels that run through the sills (check where they meet the inner front arches and bulkhead), the floorpan and battery tray (look under the carpets and rear seat) and spare wheel well common rot spots.

A puff of blue smoke on start-up is nothing to worry about but if it persists or there’s any noticeable rattling from the engine there could be trouble brewing.

Which Model To Choose?

The Beetle enjoyed a steady process of upgrades throughout the ‘60s, starting in ’61 with an upgraded version of the 1.2-litre engine, better fuel permitting a higher compression ratio to unleash a mighty 34PS (25kW).

This 1200 was joined by 1300 and 1500 versions as the decade went on along with a number of other detail improvements. The big decision point, though, is whether to chase a more desirable pre-1968 model with the sloping headlights and slimmer bumpers or save a bit of money and opt for the updated later version distinguished by the US-style upright lights and chunkier bumper with the obvious black trim strip along its. middle.

Real purists will probably be after a pre-1965 one with the smaller side windows as well but, according to those in the know, the one you really want is the 1966 1300 for its combination of a revvier engine and lower gearing.

Failing that a 1967 1500 would also be a good pick for its combination of torquier power delivery, improved rear suspension and disc brakes combined with the rounder, old-school look. 

Specifications: Volkswagen Beetle 1300 (1966)

 

Engine

1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

51PS (37kW) @ 4,600rpm

Torque

90Nm (66.7lb ft) @ 2,500rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 800kg

0-50mph

14 seconds

Top speed

75mph

Production dates

1966 (overall post-war production 1945-2003)

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