First of an occasional series where AROnline pours scorn like used engine oil over some of the scene’s most highly prized old clunkers.
I’ll be honest here, I think my dismay at the Volkswagen Golf Mk2 stems from one single – major – sin. Rather like the 1973 Allegro, its improvements over the car it replaced were few, far between, and buried under the skin where many buyers didn’t actually notice. And yet, today, it’s venerated as one of the finest family hatchbacks, adored by throngs of ‘Dub’ fans who enjoy nothing more than lowering the things and sticking roof-racks on. Why? I have no idea.
When the Volkswagen Golf Mk2 was unveiled in 1983, it was accompanied with a sense of disappointment for those who appreciated good design. Following on, as it did, from the brilliant Giugiaro original, the Mk2 needed to look and feel good. But where the 1974 car was right-sized for its time, and had styling that was just right from every angle, the 1980s replacement was flabby, ill-defined and just plain lazy. But it was symptomatic with the direction that VW design was going at the time, as the company sought to bring its styling back in-house after a decade very successfully flogging a generation of Italian designs.
So, the Giugiaro-styled Passat, Scirocco and Golf and Bertone styled Polo (which was actually an Audi 50), made way for fatter, less appealing Wolfsburg replacements. First came the 1980 Passat, which looked, okay; the 1981 Scirocco that was frumpy; the 1981 ‘breadvan’ Polo, which was outlandish, and then the 1983 Golf… which was plainly just fatter.
It wasn’t all bad news for the Golf. The new car was roomier and better built inside. And was far more resistant to rust. All the positive aspects that should have marked out the Allegro as better than the BMC 1100. But with size came heft – and each model was heavier than before, and therefore slower and less economical. In terms of genuine innovation, the Golf Mk2’s only real step forward was its formed plastic fuel tank. Marvellous. It had better passive safety, to counteract disappointing dynamics, but it’s arguable that those gargantuan C-pillars benefited anyone, except panel beaters and insurance companies.
So, was the Golf Mk2 Volkswagen’s Allegro? Yes…
…except that it managed to sell extraordinarily well, thank you very much. However, its opposition wasn’t that strong, really, and that must have helped a great deal. The 1980 Ford Escort and GM Astra/Kadett were neat and useful, but were ageing rapidly (and eventually replaced by no-hope facelifts), the Renault 11 was a joke, the Fiat Strada was useless, the Alfa Romeo 33 was ghastly expensive, and the Austin Maestro was dumpy, poorly made and ignored by anyone outside of the UK.
So, VW relied on the hopeless opposition, great marketing, and its excellent reputation and dealer backup to draw the punters in. And in the process, failed to move forward the medium hatchback class one iota. How fortunate for Wolfsburg.
And today, it’s a car that’s guaranteed a gentle slide into classic status thanks to a healthy scene following on the back of the wider VW movement. But rather like the K70, 411 and Beetle itself, the Mk2 really doesn’t merit such veneration. They’re a common sight on the roads today, and modified to boot – and rust resistance and build quality ensure depressing longevity. It really is Volkswagen’s Allegro, and I really would prefer to own a Longbridge pudding. Or even a Maestro…
Over to you.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.