1990 Volkswagon Golf GTi 16v Mk.2
Shot for Petrolicious
Words: Andrew Tucker Images: George Bale
The significance of the Golf GTi in motoring history is well documented and yet often underestimated in my opinion. How many iconic cars simply would never have been built if it were not for the GTi?
The relationship each & every owner has with theirs is very different and - in my case, began as an 8yr old the day my father bought home his brand new 3dr 8 valve GTi mk2 (small bumper) in Atlas grey.
My Dad had got me hooked on cars as a child, just as his father had done with him. I'd grown up listening to tails of my grandfather rallying Landrovers' in the army and his good friend Ron Flockhart winning the 1956 & ‘57 Le Mans 24hr in an Ecurrie Ecosse D-Type Jaguar... so there was always petrol talk in our household and it's never dwindled to this day with my old man’s latest whip being the very first V8 MG BGT to roll off the British leyland production line.
Incidentally, the very same car my parents owned when they were expecting me.
Sadly that grey 8v GTi lived a short life thanks to an accident that condemned it to the scrap heap, but the replacement big bumper 8v that was to follow became part of the family and one that was to shape my passion for the mk2.
I remember the exhaust note of that 8v even to this day some 27yrs later - and repeatedly begging my father to do 0-60 sprints down the long country lane near our house. 8.2seconds was the PB as a recall & that was fast to an 8yr old who's mates dad's were all driving Ford Orion's or Rover 320's.
''The 16v would be quicker'' my Dad said. I dreamed of the 16v.
As a young boy sat in the back timing these sprints up & down the lane, I remember saying to my father almost every Sunday (pocket money day) that one day, I was going to buy my own GTi and that if I really saved hard, it might be a 16v.
Fast forward 13 years as a 21yr old, my first car was the 1600 Golf Driver mk2 and I loved that car despite it not carrying the all important 3 letter badge.
It had the same steel rims as the grey GTi my father had written off years before and the same rainbow interior. It was completely stock, low mileage & was - at the time, as cool as first cars got.
That car set the tone for what has continued to be a life-long love affair with owning interesting cars to this day, and whilst I’ve owned several faster cars than the 16v, none have been so charismatic.
In 2009 I finally found myself in the right place and time to acquire a '91 16v in the famous Oak Green. The lesser desirable 5dr model but I didn't care. It was a mk2 16v in the best colour and It would be my daily driver for 6months until one night, whilst parked outside my house in Bristol - someone decided to set fire to the cover that it sat beneath leaving a smoking pile of melted rubber and paint for me the next morning when I woke up. Devastated doesn't come close. Another mk2 written off never to be seen again.
Several years of grieving passed and I was still struggling to find a clean original 16v until my Dad came across G484 PGJ in Cornwall. Unbeknown to me, he acquired it just before Christmas and presented it to me shortly after as the ‘one to keep’.
A black 3dr example with the latter KR engine utilising the Bosch fuel injection system, full service history and most importantly in completely original form. Used but well cared for by the owner who I believe was connected to the ClubGTi as a collector. Allegedly this was the ‘worst’ of his mk2 collection... I never did get to see the rest.
She needed nothing doing and ran perfectly. The deal was done.
Today, 'Whitney' as she's lovingly referred as is not a daily driver but a well cared for hobby car that I continue to improve and restore as time & money permits. Originality is key for me. Whilst so many cars lend themselves to modifications - for me, the mk2 big bumper is just perfect as it is and almost every modified one I’ve seen never quite resonates with me in the same way that an original one does.
There is nothing about this car that differentiates it from how it rolled out of the factory in 1990. She gets used little and often and deserves to be so. I've never understood owners who simply polish and admire. Perhaps if I was staring at my late grandfathers friend's Le Mans winning D-Type I might think otherwise, but one of the beautiful things about a GTi is just how useable they are.
My 6 month old son & labrador can happily ride along in style.
Whilst not quick by today's standards with just 139bhp onboard - the GTi is relatively easy to use most of that power and the manner in which they do is just so rewarding. Unlike the 8v - the ‘valver loves to rev right the way through to 7k & beyond with most of the smiles coming between 4 & 6500.
Last year I had the suspension re-built with the modern equivalent of the original Bilstein/Eibach set up. The 16v cars sat a little lower than the 8v’s from new anyway, and this one sits just a further 5-8mm lower than stock so almost unnoticeable. It has made a world of difference to the drivability however with a precise turn-in and a sharper response in feedback from the road. A recent set of Brembo pads & discs give you a little more confidence but Ive resisted the common upgrade to Corrado brakes as many people do as the car doesn't carry enough power to warrant them in my opinion.
It doesn’t get track use, so the stock sized discs work just fine in almost all conditions provided you have the right rubber.
The engine, gearbox, clutch and brakes are all original - as is the infamous ‘Rainbow interior’ showing none of the tired sagging that so many mk2’s suffer from. The head unit is the original Panasonic cassette deck and the original speakers sound suitably awful... none of which matters as the rebuilt exhaust system (using the original as a template of course) provides the best possible soundtrack in almost any driving scenario.
15” BBS RA alloys suit this car better than any other for me, and whilst mine may benefit from a refurb they’re looking really good for a car that’s 27 years old showing 142k miles on the trip.
The challenge this year is to find a specialist fabricator who can rebuild and replace the ageing original solid steel fuel & injector lines. Whilst braided seems like an obvious upgrade, the rigid horizontal lines of the 4 injector pipes running across the front of the manifold cover are how the engine bay should look if your interested in genuine OEM, and so for me its worth the effort to get them remade properly.
Whilst many bits are readily available for the mk2 making ownership an easy affair for the most part - there are some key parts that you just simply cannot find anymore. Too many ‘specialists’ are far more interested in modification than preservation sadly and Im not in a position to fabricate parts myself. The importance of finding a good genuine mechanic as opposed to a technician cannot be underestimated, no matter how good ‘value’ these cars are.
To be to able to pass this car on to my son for another 142 thousand miles will continue to require sympathy, patience and understanding from me and an experienced engineer who loves these iconic cars as much as I do.
They too, however are becoming equally hard to find.