I’VE ALWAYS had a penchant for things older than myself. Music from the ’70s and ’80s, actors who’ve been around for a few decades; you get the idea. Unlike the rest of the Unique Cars crew, a look at me wouldn’t suggest an appreciation of older motors. But I decided to break that stereotype with the purchase of a 1990 Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI. The lack of cup holders and electric windows should be telling: It wasn’t a convenience purchase.
The ownership route before buying the Golf was anything but straightforward. It meandered via an HX Kingswood residing in rural North Queensland, a BMW E34 535i and a Golf VR6 but time and again, I couldn’t shake the notion of owning a GTI. My first car, a Mitsubishi Lancer VR-X, was a little underpowered, but feisty when it came to handling. It seemed that owning a Golf wouldn’t change my driving style too dramatically.
So I did some research, and forums such as vwgolf. net.au reassured me that even older Golfs are reliable, assuming they haven’t been abused.
I eventually stumbled upon something that seemed just that little bit special. Plus, it was close to where I live in Brisbane.
I went and had a look at the Mk2 GTI not long after I saw the ad. The seller was a car detailer from Germany who had clearly paid plenty of attention to maintaining the near-immaculate
interior. During the first viewing of the Golf, there wasn’t a lot that would have thrown the purchase into question. The bullet hole stickers, though? They’d have to go.
Here’s a tip: if you’re on friendly terms with a professional mechanic, take them along to see a car before you buy it.
My mechanic and good friend Dave gave the Golf a thorough once-over before the test drive. I think we had the owner a little worried.
After being given the thumbs up by Dave, I managed to knock a fair chunk off the asking price, and was back a couple of days later to pick up my first hot hatch. Originally, it was driven up from Sydney to live here in Brisbane, but this drive home would be a lot shorter.
I thought I’d be in for some mild disappointment when it came to the ability of the Golf. Stepping down from the 2.0 litres of my Lancer to the 1.8 in the Golf seemed a much bigger deal than it actually is. What I didn’t take into account is the fact Golf is about 200kg lighter than my previous car so the Golf’s torquey 1.8-litre four-banger is just fine.
The GTI didn’t leave me disappointed elsewhere, either, especially with new Bilstein shocks, recently changed tyres and disc brakes all round.
I was honestly unsure of what mod-cons to expect.
As it turns out, the lads at Volkswagen are a lot better at making their cars comfortable than they are at making diesel engines run clean. It has power steering, of course, as well as very strong air-conditioning and a manual gearbox that doesn’t require daily weightlifting to handle.
The shift pattern could also prove itself as good theft-prevention. The Mk2 even has a computer which VW calls the ‘Multifunktionsanzeige’, that’s MFA or Multi-function display to us. Power windows are, thankfully, something I can live without, but I feel like the steering wheel lock I had to buy is going to get a bit annoying over the years.
A few hundred kilometres of driving has only chewed through half a tank of fuel, and Dave the mechanic has made a reasonable price estimate to fix up the little mechanical issues the Golf has. This includes a CV joint swap and a timing belt kit, as well as a check for any bearings that need changing. The previous owner pointed me to a classic VW-dedicated website (au.vwheritage. com) which ships a variety of parts to Australia minus the ridiculous price tags, as long as you can put up with the wait. Buying a recently worked-on Mk2 was a bit of luck for me as most of the exxy work has been done.
What I’m most enjoying about the GTI is the admiration other motorists show for it. Many people already consider it a classic, which could be a product of the car culture currently dominating younger enthusiasts. It’s been called an old car a dozen times by people in their early 20s, my girlfriend included.
Jon Faine recently wrote about the issue of calling a 25-year-old car classic, but I think for people my age that’s quite easy to do. Sure, it doesn’t have the quirk of a ’49 Light 15 Citroen, but the Mk2 GTI has enough character that it stands out amongst the blandness of any car park today.