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Why you’d want a Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2
The Golf GTI came of age in Mk2 form: fast, powerful and latterly developed with dual overhead cams, 16 valves plus, ultimately, four-wheel drive and supercharging.
When production ended in ’92, it marked the end of an era: the Mk3 couldn’t hold a candle to it, so the Mk2 was guaranteed future collectable status. Now that most qualify for classic insurance, prices of the best examples are rising.
The wheelbase grew 3in, track 1-2in, width 2in and length almost 7in from the Mk1, greatly increasing cabin space. Weight rose 10%, but aerodynamics improved dramatically – drag coefficient dropping from 0.42 to 0.34 thanks to integrated gutters, flush glass and more rounded styling.
Disc brakes all round were a step up, too, while four headlamps and red bumper inserts set the GTI apart from lesser models.
At the new robot-intensive production plant, heated bodyshells were dipped in liquid wax to enhance durability. Heating and ventilation were better, and longer suspension travel refined the ride.
After 2½ years, the opposition had outstripped the standard GTI and VW responded with the twin-cam 16-valve, which had the same engine size but was 24% more powerful.
With lower, stiffer suspension and bigger front brakes, the 16V was king, but the 8V retains a keen following thanks to a broader torque spread that makes it feel as quick without needing to rev it hard.
In 1987, quarterlights were deleted, wipers on right-hand-drive cars parked on the left and VW dumped the mechanical K-Jetronic injection (on the 8V only) in favour of an electronic Digifant set-up.
Some today feel less responsive, but a good service, curing vacuum leaks and fitting a new genuine Volkswagen blue temperature sender should restore them to sparking health.
The final 16-valve big-bumper models are currently the most sought-after, but prices are hardening throughout the range and the market for really good, unspoilt original cars is keen.
Mechanical parts are plentiful and many cars are still being broken, which means that rot is usually the biggest enemy. So check all the areas listed carefully, especially the scuttle/bulkhead, floors and front subframe; wet carpets are a bad sign.
Rust often starts around holes (for numberplates and wipers etc) and behind plastic trims. Look also for signs of accident damage, especially panel gaps and front chassis legs, and check the V5 against the VIN plate and engine number.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Engines, both 8V and 16V, are well engineered and durable, with no weaknesses: problems will come from neglect, abuse, wear and age. Hydraulic tappets (fitted from late 1985) may rattle on start-up, but should quickly go quiet. Check service history for most recent cambelt change; inspect condition of oil and coolant, too.
Injection (this is Digifant) is basically reliable, but senders and vacuum hoses can fail and, on K-Jet, the metering head can clog and the airbox flap can stick.
The cooling system is effective, but any 25-year-old rad will be silted up. Check running temperature and signs of past overheating that may have warped head.
Look for split gaiters, worn bushes, broken springs, soggy dampers and odd tyre wear. Aftermarket parts may make set-up overly hard; only quality items last.
Gearbox is robust, but the change goes sloppy as linkages wear (easily sorted). Feel for worn synchro on second, and ensure fifth doesn’t jump out on overrun.
It’s rare to find seats as pristine as this. Inspect for wear, burns and marks, and see that three-door fronts tip and lock
in place correctly because cables can fail.
Test all the electronics: trip computer, rev counter, heater blower, rear wiper etc. Age and damp play havoc with solder joints on circuit boards, including the ECU.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2: on the road
Expect lively performance and sharp, safe handling: if it delivers less, negotiate the price. The trick is to secure one with only minor faults that are easily rectified.
Both engines should pull well, with the 8V giving a wide spread of power but tailing off above 5000rpm, at which point the 16V is coming alive. Blue smoke on start-up is likely to be tired valve stem seals. If it smokes on the overrun, it may well have worn valve guides, too, and if it smokes under acceleration, the bores are probably beyond tolerance – engine rebuild/swap time. It’s best to replace the oil pump on 8V engines after 100,000 miles.
Regular servicing is vital, so be happy to pay more for a car with a sheaf of bills that show it has been cherished. A well-kept 8V will do 200,000-plus miles before it needs major work, a 16V 150,000-plus.
Hydraulic tappets that don’t stop rattling are a sure sign of neglected oil changes and will need renewing (and may signify other wear). Cambelts should be swapped every 40,000 miles (or 5-6 years on cars doing low mileages) and the idler should be replaced at the same time. Check the engine starts readily when hot.
A noisy fuel pump (just ahead of the right rear wheel) isn’t a worry, provided it’s not loose or leaking, but a full fuel tank on test may indicate that the lift pump in the tank is on its last legs.
A clicking when cornering is probably a worn CV joint, a front-end knock suggests tired top strut mounts and rumbling indicates a worn wheel bearing. Brakes should be sharp, but rear calipers can seize (as can the compensator valve); check the handbrake, which can be a weak point.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2 price guide*
- Very good/Show: £7000/£10,000
- Average: £3000
- Restoration: £750
*Prices correct at date of publication
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2 history
1984 Feb Mk2 Golf launched, including GTI
1985 Feb Five-door added, alloys (3dr now steels)
1985 Sep Hydraulic tappets, indicator repeaters added to front wings, deeper front spoiler
1986 Sep Height-adjustable seats, new alloys; 16V 3dr launched: lower, stiffer, bigger front discs
1987 Aug RHD wipers park on left, quarterlights deleted, five-slot grille, trim changes, digital instrument pack optional on 16V
1989 LHD 4x4 Rallye G60 3dr: 5000 made with square lamps, supercharger; 160bhp, 166lb ft
1989 Aug Big bumpers with integral spoilers, logo in side strips, front foglamps, smoked rear lights
1990 Jan Five-door 16V introduced
1990 G60 launched with blown 8V engine, FWD, 134mph, 3/5dr, lower stiffer suspension, LHD only; Golf Limited with supercharged 16V engine, 210bhp, 4WD, 5dr, leather: 70 built
1990 Oct Power steering standard
1991 Oct 8V gets 16V trim, suspension and 15in BBS alloys, electric front windows, metallic paint
1992 Feb Mk2 GTI production ends
The owner’s view
“I bought my first Mk2 when I was 20,” recalls owner Sean Stokes. “It was Diamond Silver with 60,000 miles and full history. The first time I’d noticed one was the TV ad with the woman in a fur coat and the slogan: ‘If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen.’ I drove that car for 10 years, only selling it to finance a TSR 2-litre for the Tornado Red one I’d bought from my brother. It only let me down once, when the ECU failed.
“A few years ago, I decided to strip it and give it a good tidy up, but the shell was rough. I found a solid but incomplete project at a bargain price; another big-bumper in Metallic Grey. I’m building the best bits from the red one into that car, and having it finished to a high standard. Ultimately, I may get the Mk1 in Lhasa Green that I covet!”
PEUGEOT 205 GTI
Cheaper and more fun, the little Peugeot packed serious punch, but it felt fragile compared to the planted Golf. Many were rodded or rotted away, but there’s a strong following.
Sold 1984-’94 • no built 332,942 • mpg 23-36 • 0-60mph 8.7-7.8 secs • top speed 116-122mph • price new £10,290 (1.6, ’90) • price now £4-10,000*
VAUXHALL ASTRA SRi/GTE
Vauxhall’s GTE 1.8, then 2.0, then 16V were consistently the fastest in the class, and the cheaper-to-insure SRi was still quick. But it lacked the VW’s poise and build quality. Now rare.
Sold 1984-’91 • no built N/A • mpg 26-38 • 0-60mph 9-7.6 secs • top speed 120-132mph • price new £11,135 (SRi, ’90) • price now £2-8000+*
*Prices correct at date of publication
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
The Mk2 GTI built on the superb foundation of the Mk1 and was a motoring icon of the 1980s, so is now deservedly appreciating.
You may have to hunt far and wide to find a really good, highly original example, but it will be worth it for the rewarding drive and widespread kudos that it will provide. Just don’t buy a bodged, neglected or rusty one.
- Hugely practical, reliable everyday classic
- Performance still more than enough to excite
- Parts readily available and inexpensive
- Great online and specialist support
- Hidden body rot can spoil the fun
- Many have been modified and/or abused
- Damp and lack of use can lead to various problems with the electrics
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2 specifications
Sold/number built 1984-’92/c600,000
Construction steel monocoque
Engine iron-block, alloy-head sohc 1781cc ‘four’, with Bosch K-Jetronic/Digifant fuel injection, or dohc 16-valve with KA-Jetronic injection; 112bhp @ 5400rpm-139bhp @ 6100rpm; 117lb ft @ 4000rpm-124lb ft @ 4600rpm
Transmission five-speed manual, FWD
Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear coil springs, torsion beam, trailing arms, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
Steering rack and pinion, 3.7 turns lock-lock; 3.2 turns with optional power assistance
Brakes discs all round, vented 9.4in front (10.4in on 16V), rear 8.9in, with servo
Length 13ft 1in (3988mm)
Width 5ft 6in (1676mm)
Height 4ft 7in (1400mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 11/2in (2476mm)
Weight 2026-2158lb (920-980kg)
0-60mph 8.3-7.5 secs
Top speed 115-134mph
Price new £11,429-14,449 (8V 3dr-16V 5dr, ’90)
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