1984 Volkswagen GTI MkI & 1990 Volkswagen GTI MkII. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony
How does the saying go, you shouldn’t meet your heroes? Pfft, screw that!
Granted, it’s unlikely that a classic car will be as obnoxious as probably just about any human can be, but there is still an overwhelming possibility that it will underwhelm. Face it: cars today are faster, more refined, more capable, more polished and often still raw in all the right ways.
Well, chalk one up for the good guys. Years of anticipating, reading and talking about the car that launched a thousand hot hatch imitators, and it still amazed me with its charms and surprising abilities.
Believe it or not, this is a segment in which I actually paid money to own a vehicle. This brand. This nameplate. My first car. A 2001 GTI VR6. I still pine for that sweet VR6, a relatively modestly powered V6, but with an engine note that still smoothly reverberates in my soul. Other than that engine though, it was a bit of a softie, and straying more toward luxury than sport. Still, it was my first car and more powerful and engaging than anything we’d ever owned as a family or that I grew up learning to drive.
Here we have the 1984 Volkswagen Golf GTI (Mark 1). I’m going to buy one. Not this week, not next month, probably not even next year, but I will own one, and I will make sure it is babied and cared for to attain its full glory as this one was.
Because it was glorious.
From the slightly crooked square headlights to the distressed Rabbit logo on the tailgate, the bright red trim accents still shone brightly, and the vivid red velour seats invite you into its cheesy embrace. Fully expecting a plaid seat, I consoled myself with the soft touch of velour, the unattainable luxurious fabric only dreamed of in my childhood of Chevette and Horizon vinyl benches.
The dinky little VW branded key brings to life a raucous, excitable little powerplant. All of 1.8 litres, the cutting edge technology was fuel injection. Mind you, that was port fuel injection, not the advanced direct fuel injection becoming increasingly popular today, but it was state of the art back then. This “tuned” engine delivered a whopping 90 hp, 10 more than the standard Rabbit, but short of the European-spec GTI that delivered another 20. Yup, even then we weren’t getting all the top-trim, top-output options. Some things never change.
1984 Volkswagen GTI MkI Rabbit badge, dashboard. Click image to enlarge
But it’s not about the power, it’s about everything else. In this day and age we are spoiled for power, but we are saddled with copious weights and intermediary technology between us and the road. We are able to travel at ever-increasing velocities, but feel it that much less. In the Mk 1 GTI, you feel and hear everything.
The engine turns over with firecracker pops and the exhaust starts barking in response immediately. If there is any sound insulation, it long ago gave up the fight and keener ears and mechanics will be able to pick out the various breathing and pumping noises, and this car was equipped with some sort of divine retribution exhaust. It seemed like Thor was hanging off the rear bumper having an argument with Zeus and a gaggle of Harpies, various barks and crackles whether hard on the accelerator, lifting off or trying to rev-match on a downshift. Sign me up for one of these aftermarket exhausts when I buy mine.