• Graham Eason

Golf GTI Mk2 Restoration

The original Mk1 Golf GTi is credited with inventing the 'hot hatch' genre. But it was arguably the Mk2 of the mid 1980s onwards that popularised it. We've got a 1990 'Big Bumper' GTi in the workshop this week for restoration. And it got us thinking...

The Golf was launched in the UK in 1974 as Volkswagen's long-awaited successor to the hugely popular Beetle. It was a very different car but one that quickly found homes in suburban Britain, with buyers drawn to its combination of no-nonsense practicality and German build quality. In an era of iffy Allegros and rusty Alfasuds, it was a gamechanger.

Two years later VW announced the GTi, a sporty version of the standard car. Although latterly hailed as a work of marketing genius, it was a pretty simple - and, arguably, obvious - idea. After all, VW had already demonstrated the sporting capabilities of the Golf's underpinnings with the mechanically identical Scirroco. And most car makers offered lukewarm 'sports' versions of their humdrum models.

Except the Golf GTi was different. It didn't just look sporty, it drove sporty too.

And yes, it was popular. It helped kill off the Capri after all and encouraged a whole host of copycats, such as the Escort XR3 and the Astra GTE. But it was a three door hatchback in a five door hatchback world.

And that's why the Mk2 is the car that really changed things. Available as a three and five door hatchback, the new GTI launched in 1985 was a more grown up version of the original. It may have got bigger and the quality may have stepped up but it hadn't lost its innate ability to turn any journey into a road trip. And now, with two extra doors, it could do all that whilst also doing the school run and the weekly shop.

Whereas the XR3 and GTE made do with three doors and attention-grabbing go-faster stripes and spoilers, the GTi looked pretty much like every other Golf. Because Volkswagen knew that the way to sell the car to the family market was to dial down the brashness. It's a ploy that has arguably spawned a million copies - adding a soupcon of sportiness is exactly how most cars are sold today.

The original Golf may have invented the hot hatch phenomenon, but it was its successor that placed it firmly in the mainstream.

But it wasn't entirely plain sailing for the new car. So beloved was the original that the new car was not greeted with universal acclaim when it was launched. Critics felt the Golf had grown heavier, bigger and softer. What had actually happened is that the Golf had grown up. It had to.

The original GTI's place was taken by the Peugeot 205 GTI, a car that was perpetually 'on it.' The new Golf was a more laid back proposition, a car more suited to a suburban driveway than an urban getaway. The new car worked so well because it was just as good at pottering on the commute as blasting along a B-road. Something that couldn't quite be said of the fidgety 205.

All of which perhaps explains why the Mk2 Golf has always had a very loyal following. With large numbers about and a solid club scene, modifying and personalising helped keep the car current, even when it was simply an old banger. But now, with the early cars approaching their 35th birthdays, there is an increasing trend to restore Mk2 Golf GTis to standard.

Investing in a Golf GTI Mk2 restoration makes a great deal of sense. They're extremely useable cars, the engines go on forever, parts are fairly easy to obtain, there's a good club scene and, of course, they are great fun to drive.

The downside to the Golf is that while it may clunk and click like a proper quality German car, it does rust. As our work on this car shows. So any restoration project should be approached with care. The positive news is that values are on the up and will doubtless begin rivalling Mk1 prices. After all, the Mk2 is a more useable car.

After the Golf Mk2 the GTi entered a fallow period, with the Mk3 and Mk4 resting rather than build on its reputation. Thankfully more recent models have recovered what was great about the first cars - solid but nimble, quick but not fast, a car to enjoy without breaking the bank.

This is our second Mk2 Golf restoration of 2019, which seems to reflect the growing appreciation of these cars. This car has done 200,000 miles but has been sat outside for some time - hence the moss and green tinge to the paintwork. We've approached this project as we would with any restoration - we provided the customer with a clear, firm price for the work required to put the car back on the road. This will include a full respray. The owner can then sort the interior and other cosmetics as time and budget allows. In the meantime they'll have a very presentable GTI with all the structural problems sorted. For a fixed, reasonable price.

Gone are the days when Mk2 GTIs were to be used and abused. Now owners want to preserve and respect them. We'll post regular updates on this car over the next few weeks.

To discuss your restoration project call 01527 893733 or email info@greatescapecars.co.uk

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