Double Take: Volkswagen Motorsport’s Twin-Engined Golf

By Staff Writer
Jan 16, 2022 | Volkswagen, Golf, Twin-Engined | Posted in Features | From the Nov. 2019 issue | Never miss an article


Story by Johan Dillen • Photography by Dirk De Jager

It was wicked. It achieved four-wheel drive in an unusual way, with two engines packing a total of 650 horsepower. And it came very close to winning the 1987 Pikes Peak hillclimb. “I could see the guy waving the finish flags,” driver Jochi Kleint recalls of the biggest letdown of his career. Where did things go wrong for Kleint and the twin-engined Volkswagen Golf?

The man is too modest. He would roll out the red carpet for the big boys like Röhrl or Vatanen and fetch them their drinks. “Ah, you know, everybody always says ‘Walter is so fast.’” He says it with the gentlest of smiles, not a hint of jealousy showing.

But in his rallying career, Jochi Kleint, now 71 years old, was often right there with him. At the 1987 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Kleint actually came very close to beating Walter Röhrl in a twin-engined Volkswagen Golf.

At the halfway point I was second, close behind Röhrl,” Kleint remembers during some recent demo laps in the very same VW. “I don’t know if I would eventually have beaten Walter, but it certainly would have been very close.”

Learning the Skills

The son of a Hamburg-based Saab dealer, Klaus-Joachim Kleint was sent early on to the Trollhättan competitions department in Sweden, where he learned his trade in mechanics. “Erik Carlsson took me along on test drives with the Saab 96,” Kleint reminisces. “I could see what he was doing, and I learned the basics of left-foot braking from him.”

Kleint took up rallying in a Saab 96 and, in perfect Carlsson tradition, put the car on the roof in his first rally. Kleint’s career picked up, though, and by the early ’80s he was in the works Opel team, driving the Group B Ascona alongside Röhrl.

After Kleint moved back to Volkswagen, he became involved in an extraordinary project through which VW tried to steal Audi’s thunder in a very unorthodox way. “Of course, we knew about four-wheel drive,” Kleint starts. “Audi started developing their quattro system from a Volkswagen Iltis.” Volkswagen had introduced the Iltis as a small military vehicle in the late ’70s.

“They were doing very well,” Kleint continues, “and at Volkswagen the competition department started looking for a different way to beat Audi in the four-wheel-drive game: Two engines, one for the front wheels and one for the rear wheels, would give us more power and more drive.”

Finding a Venue

Volkswagen Motorsport pitched the idea to Kurt Bergmann, Austrian engineer and, with his Kaimann Racing, one of the European godfathers of the VW-powered Formula Vee scene. He quickly started to develop prototype cars for this venture.

Testing started with a normal VW Jetta equipped with two engines; later a Scirocco followed. “I drove both cars a couple of times,” Kleint explains. “They worked great.”

Volkswagen started looking for motorsport possibilities for the twin-engine concept. But even in the midst of the wild Group B scene, options were limited for Volkswagen. “Even for Group B, you had to have a small homologation batch of road cars,” Kleint explains. “At that time, Volkswagen was not yet fully into four-wheel drive for road cars. So, we couldn’t do the World Rally Championship. But Pikes Peak was an interesting high-profile challenge, with a very liberal set of rules. Volkswagen sold the Golf in the USA, first as the Rabbit and then under the Golf name, so it made sense.”

First Practice

Bergmann had the first twin-engine Golf ready for Pikes Peak in 1985. This one was based on a factory body shell, with only the wider front and rear fender flares plus an extra air intake on the roof to visually separate it from ordinary Golfs.

A peek inside the rear windows, however, revealed that the back seat had been replaced with an extra engine that drove the rear wheels. “We used two 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engines. No turbos,” Kleint explains. “Each engine delivered some 200 horsepower, so we had 400 horsepower to play with.”

At that time, Audi had dominated the Open Rally division at Pikes Peak with John Buffum (1982-’83) and Michèle Mouton (1984) in the quattro Coupe. For 1985, Audi had its sights set on overall victory. But with 400 horsepower for the quattro, the tiny Golf actually drew level on firepower. Kleint had a big handicap however: experience.

“When I first went to Pikes Peak in 1985, I had everything to learn,” he recalls. “Before the race, I had driven up the mountain in a rental car and had dictated pace notes to myself. But at Pikes Peak, most of the learning happens during the race itself. Practice is only limited.

“Against guys like Bobby Unser, who had driven the course numerous times, that was definitely a disadvantage. Yet, very much to our surprise, we ended up in third place with the Golf, so the potential was clear. It was also clear that we needed more power. We lost up to 40% of the power near the end of the climb because of the altitude.”

But Volkswagen was convinced the answer lay in turbocharging and lots of boost. “So in 1986, we came back with the Golf with two smaller-capacity engines, 1.3 liters, each taken from the smaller Polo model–but with much bigger turbos,” Kleint continues. “Now we had 500 horsepower, but it turned out the car was difficult to come to grips with.”

Kleint finished fourth that year, 1 minute and 22 seconds behind Bobby Unser, who was driving a wild 476-horsepower quattro S1. To be fair, Unser set a record on the mountain that year.

New Car, No Wings

Far from feeling discouraged, Volkswagen and Kurt Bergmann decided to give it another go and came back to Pikes Peak in 1987 with a completely new Golf–the one pictured here. They had built the previous cars around production chassis, but for this attempt they used an aluminum monocoque wrapped with composite bodywork–a sort of Golf costume.

“It is in reality 20 centimeters wider than a production Golf,” Kleint explains as we walk around the car. “But Volkswagen’s marketing department applied some pressure to have it resembling a normal Golf as much as possible to make it instantly recognizable for the fans. That meant that we didn’t have the big wings Audi and Peugeot used.”

Then he muses: “If I would have had a better aerodynamic performance, the car would have been quicker still.”

The suspension is also bespoke, with much of it based on formula car technology but with vertical shock absorbers–remember, this is back when Pikes Peak was run on dirt. “We needed more travel,” Kleint explains. “We used the settings from the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland, a gravel event. It worked great.”

The only parts this car carries from a real Golf are the steel doors, the mirrors, the lights and the windshield wipers. The windows are plastic in order to save as much weight as possible.

Even with two engines, the Golf doesn’t carry much of a penalty against the quattro: At about 2200 pounds, it only weighs about 45 pounds more.

Bergmann worked to cut weight as much as possible. In addition to the aluminum tub and fiberglass body, for example, he installed a tiny fuel tank–just about 8.5 gallons total for both engines. After all, the car only had to cover 12.42 miles.

One Lever, Two Gearboxes

Mechanically, Bergmann also completely changed the car for 1987. The 1.3-liter engines were swapped for the 1.8-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder units found in the Golf GTI.

Each engine received a KKK turbo, which upped power to 326 horsepower. Combined, it gave the Golf an output of about 650. “That was the power at 1.6 bar,” Kleint explains. “Nowadays, we are happy with 500 horsepower.”

Both engines sit longitudinally, in contrast to the previous efforts. Each engine sends power through a Hewland five-speed gearbox. The driver, though, only has to operate one clutch pedal and one gear lever; double mechanical links make the feat possible.

Software keeps the revs as closely matched as possible, and each engine can be operated separately. In fact, Kleint fires them up one at a time. Because each exhaust system has its own length–the front engine’s exhaust travels partly through the passenger’s footwell and exits close to the door, while the rear exhaust is a bit shorter–they produce their own distinctive notes.

All the engine cooling takes place at the back of the car thanks to two radiators; the required vents can be found in the rear bodywork. A separate intake on the roof cools the rear turbo. “The altitude made cooling difficult,” Kleint remembers.

Audi vs. Peugeot

Kleint now had a very serious weapon to tackle Pikes Peak in 1987–yet all the headlines were focused on the battle between Audi and Peugeot. Audi had its mighty quattro S1, while Peugeot brought a 205 T16, one of its recently banned Group B cars.

The drivers were just as legendary. Audi hired Röhrl, the 1980 and 1982 World Rally champ who, in 2000, would be named rally driver of the century. Peugeot counted on Ari Vatanen, the 1981 WRC champ.

Few people were paying much attention to the Volkswagen effort, especially since Peugeot had just taken its rally car off the shelf and showed up at Pikes Peak. But the giants weren’t infallible. Peugeot’s practice times were pulverized by the aerodynamically superior Audi. Audi, too, had problems of its own with an anti-lag system that didn’t work as planned. Crewmembers implemented a solution before the race, but it was untested, leaving Röhrl quite nervous leading up to the start.

Things at Volkswagen weren’t going all that great, either. Kleint purposely practiced while running just one engine, meaning he took the green less than fully prepared.

“All was fine with the car,” he reports, adding that he had the perfect mount on race day. “All worked well.

“One of the important things at Pikes Peak is to get a good start and to instantly have a good rhythm. I knew Walter would be fast. Walter is always fast. But this was his first year, and you only truly learn the course at speed during the race, so I had a bit of an advantage there.

“I got a great feeling right from the start. The car just drove beautifully. The smaller turbos meant the car kept its rhythm better. You had to keep the car and the engine on the move. The trick was not to lose the boost, so you had to left-foot brake whilst keeping your right foot on the throttle.

“The car is so nicely balanced,” he adds, a nod to the twin-engined Golf’s almost 50/50 weight distribution. “It is not difficult to drive at all. All the sideways movements felt like they were happening in slow motion, and coming out of the corners I always had the engine above 4000 rpm.”

Just 400 Yards Short

It wasn’t just a gut feeling that the Golf was running well. Kleint didn’t know it at the time, but at the halfway point he recorded the event’s second-fastest time, with only Röhrl having an advantage.

“To me, the second part felt just as fast. It didn’t feel like I was losing time,” Kleint recalls. “I don’t know if I would have beaten Walter, but it sure would have been close.”

Two corners from the finish, with just 400 yards to go, a cracked rod end housing allowed the front suspension to collapse. “The wheel snapped right off,” he says. “I could see the guy waving the finish flags.

“Of course, at first you are very disappointed. But it passed quickly in my mind. This is a part of motorsport. It happens. If you can’t handle it, you wouldn’t be driving next time.”

Back Driving

Over time, Kleint has learned to accept that he might have seen a very big victory slip away–against some of the day’s very best drivers, in fact. But that’s how it is, he indicates with a shrug and a smile.

Since Pikes Peak, the Golf had been stowed away in a museum. Last year, however, Volkswagen Classic got it up and running again, showing off the car in the Austrian Alps in Zell am See. The occasion was their first ice race since 1974.

“Getting the software right was the most difficult part,” Kleint explains. “We had to redo it completely from scratch. We refurbished the mechanical components and renewed stuff like the rubber tank bag, and now it drives again.”

Now Jochi Kleint can get behind the wheel every now and then. “I am so happy we get to show this car again,” he says. “After all, it is really something special and not many people know the story behind this car. After seeing and hearing it again, people come to me asking, ‘Wow, how did you manage to be so fast up the mountain in this?’ Remarks like that make me happy. They make me realize I may not have been the best rally driver, but still a pretty decent one after all.”

As for Volkswagen, the factory finally got its big win in 2018, with Romain Dumas setting a Pikes Peak record in the electric-powered ID.R.

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JesseWolfe Reader
11/28/19 9:07 a.m.

I loved the era of twin engined Pikes Peak cars. 


RossD MegaDork
11/28/19 10:17 a.m.

Neat, i didnt know about double engine factory racecars.

irish44j MegaDork
12/3/19 4:28 p.m.

still not as cool as the Durocco ;)

I remember when he first posted up this video like 13 years ago and thought it was pretty awesome then :)

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/3/19 6:43 p.m.

In reply to irish44j :

The Durocco is pretty rad. Is it still out there? 

irish44j MegaDork
12/3/19 9:15 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

In reply to irish44j :

The Durocco is pretty rad. Is it still out there? 

no idea, though I saw something a year or two ago on Jalopnik or something about it?

wspohn Dork
12/4/19 11:16 a.m.
RichardSIA said:

Inspired by the twin-Mini no doubt.

Or the Chris Lawrence designed Deep Sandersons

brianathasport New Reader
12/9/19 9:36 a.m.

Where is that CRX? I'd like to swap a couple of K's in it.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/10/19 6:26 p.m.
brianathasport said:

Where is that CRX? I'd like to swap a couple of K's in it.

Last I heard, it hasn't changed hands but the owner isn't interested in selling it. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
12/10/19 6:39 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:
brianathasport said:

Where is that CRX? I'd like to swap a couple of K's in it.

Last I heard, it hasn't changed hands but the owner isn't interested in selling it. 

Correct. There was a teaser in the CRX community recently that it was going to be fixed, but I think it's going to remain in "ran when parked" mode for some time.

If you're going to swap Ks into it, you might as well just pick up another CRX and start from scratch.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/12/20 5:24 p.m.

Just checking our stats, and looks like more than a few of you enjoyed this piece. I enjoyed reading it as well. smiley

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