David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
2/6/18 10:32 a.m.


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The Volkswagen Golf GTI arrived on our shores for the 1985 model year sporting an even 100 horsepower–and at the time, that was just plenty for full-on hooning.

Like its predecessor, the Rabbit GTI, this new GTI used a proven formula. Step 1: Take Volkswagen’s popular three-door hatchback. Step 2: Turn up the wick just enough. In this case, “just enough” again included a bit more power than the standard car, plus bigger brakes and a stiffer suspension. Occupants continued to be greeted with nicely bolstered seats and big, legible gauges.

The final step: Just the right amount of red accents to alert those in the know.

The Golf chassis was a bit stiffer than the Rabbit that it replaced. The new car was also longer, wider, taller and heavier, yet its rounded edges lowered the coefficient of drag.

Both cars featured the same 1780cc of displacement, but the Golf GTI received a higher compression ratio plus a more aggressive camshaft and an updated Bosch fuel injection setup. Those little differences gave the newer GTI a bump in performance over its predecessor and kept the GTI nameplate competitive almost everywhere, from SCCA autocross and Improved Touring road racing to IMSA Firehawk endurance competition. The GTI wasn’t fast by today’s standards–figure the zero-to-60 sprint took close to 10 seconds–but back then it was plenty quick enough.

The GTI also delivered that distinctive German driving experience to those on a budget. Seating up front was rather upright, and thin A-pillars revealed a wide view of the road. The strut front suspension and torsion bar rear might sound primitive by today’s standards, but a 2150-pound curb weight made the GTI light on its feet.

Things didn’t stay still for the GTI. A 123-horsepower, 16-valve sibling was added for the 1987 model year, while both eight- and 16-valve cars received bigger, body-colored bumpers for 1990. The last big upgrade came for 1991, as the 16-valve’s engine grew to 2.0 liters, boosting output up to a then-impressive 134 horsepower.

Back then we’d spend hours arguing which is the best example: the lighter, original car or the higher-output later ones. Today, just be happy to find a clean, original driver–about a $4000 purchase, give or take a grand or three. While it’s not the fastest hot hatch ever released, a well-prepped Golf GTI still turns heads today, attracting attention from old-school autocrossers to today’s stance crowd.

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xflowgolf
xflowgolf Dork
2/6/18 12:42 p.m.

<3 mk2 GTI's.  

chrispy
chrispy HalfDork
2/6/18 2:06 p.m.

For all its quirks, I still loved my MK2 Golf/GTi.

Carsandbikes
Carsandbikes New Reader
2/6/18 2:17 p.m.

I will guess it has been several years since I have seen a 2nd generation....or even a 1st generation GTI.  Even the Golfs and Rabbits of these generations are fast disappearing.

tuna55
tuna55 MegaDork
2/6/18 2:18 p.m.

So if I was going to buy a cheap GTI which I could absolutely rely on to do A->B every day, as well as be an entertaining weekend car, which one would it be?

admc58
admc58 Reader
2/6/18 2:22 p.m.

The Golf GT came out for 1988 and was the one with drum rear brakes and a more basic interior. All other drive train parts were GTI spec. The GT also had the Digifant injection which provided a much broader torque band. It was  a real sleeper in ES autoX back in the day, as it was about 50lbs lighter.

FYI: ALL of the 8v GTI's had rear Disk brakes. 

markwemple
markwemple UberDork
2/6/18 3:52 p.m.

Golf GT also came as a 4dr and was easily upgraded to GTI spec.

84FSP
84FSP SuperDork
2/7/18 9:10 p.m.
tuna55 said:

So if I was going to buy a cheap GTI which I could absolutely rely on to do A->B every day, as well as be an entertaining weekend car, which one would it be?

I am the proud and biased owner of a Mki Rabbit GTI setup for FSP autox.  The 90-92  MkII GTI is what you want for the combined duty as it’s simply a lot better place to live.  

DeadSkunk
DeadSkunk UberDork
2/8/18 8:04 a.m.

I have a 55,000 mile 1991 16V GTI in the garage. I need to get at it and make it roadworthy. It's been sitting for about 14 years now.

docwyte
docwyte SuperDork
2/8/18 8:57 a.m.

In reply to DeadSkunk :

Send it on over to me.  My first "real" car was a '91 16V GTI.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
2/8/18 9:07 a.m.

If any of you VW fans need a complete 2.0 liter ABA, I have one sitting in my garage I'd sell cheeep!   It was a warranty return-- -valvetrain issue, so from what I understand it's nearly a zero-mile engine.  It turns freely, but I've never attempted to run it.   PM me if you want it.  It would be an easy way to make a MK1, or MK2 car a lot of fun.  

 

Your faithful hoarder.....

 

Joe

 

 

noddaz
noddaz SuperDork
2/10/18 10:04 a.m.
DeadSkunk said:

I have a 55,000 mile 1991 16V GTI in the garage. I need to get at it and make it roadworthy. It's been sitting for about 14 years now.

Let me come and get that out of your way...  laugh

doc_speeder
doc_speeder HalfDork
2/10/18 1:49 p.m.

My first "real" car was a 1985 GTI.  It had issues but darn it if that car didn't get me infected with the VW sickness.  I had a long line of Mk2 and Mk3 platform cars.  Favourite was my last one.  a 1992 "big bumper" Tornado Red Jetta sedan.  I swapped in a 2.0 ABA bottom end, used the Digifant 8v head, tweaked the Digi flapper door, stainless header, Techtonics 272 cam, and complete Mk3 front subframe and rear beam swap with a boxed rear beam.  also a Peloquin diff with a custom trans with close ratio 1-4 and overdrive 5th.  I ran Nitto NT01's  on it on the street. 

No, it wasn't a rocket, but damn that was a fun car to drive, and not a terrible commuter either.  My second favourite was a 1990 "small bumper" Jetta GTX 2.0 16v.  Pretty quick, but that CIS-E Motronic had some, uh, issues.  I didn't have the patience for that one.

Fond memories of those cars, but I'm not going to go back down that rabbit hole...

84FSP
84FSP SuperDork
2/10/18 9:07 p.m.
DeadSkunk said:

I have a 55,000 mile 1991 16V GTI in the garage. I need to get at it and make it roadworthy. It's been sitting for about 14 years now.

Holy crap - I need to own another one.  Pics please and we’ll draw straws to avoid an unsightly bidding war...

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