Overhyped and over here : Volkswagen Golf Mk2

Keith Adams

First of an occasional series where AROnline pours scorn like used engine oil over some of the scene’s most highly prized old clunkers.

Volkswagen Mk2: Dumpy, dull, and a step back from its predecessor. So why is it so loved now?
Volkswagen Mk2: Dumpy, dull, and a step back from its predecessor. So why is it so loved now?

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…

A Volkswagen Golf Mk1: isn't that better?
A Volkswagen Golf Mk1: isn’t that better?

…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.


Keith Adams


  1. The MKII lost something over the MkI, yet it still sold like hot cakes which confused me, i like the MkI and that was about it i am not sure about any of the newer ones …..

  2. A car can primarily be judged by its rivals and in this case (as you pretty much say) the mk2 was better than all of them.

    With the fact there are so many left on the road, I’d say that also proves they can last.

    So better than all of its contemporary rivals and able to stand the test of time. I think I can see the appeal…

  3. Personally I think the MK3 is worthy of scorn as it was a pretty undistinguished car, though it did cause the arrival of the important MK4…

  4. don’t agree with the negative sentiment. Mk2 was a solid car that could easily have been used for rallying.. It’s tough and strong, and from an acoustic point of view it’s very good. The Mk3 was a different matter and even the build quality was up for some scrutiny.. In fact I always find it difficult to remember the Mk3 Golf compared to the VAG SEAT Ibiza.
    Nope, much as I loved my Maestros, I was always envious of the Mk2’s solidity.

  5. I’m sorry, but I still think that the Mk2 Golf is a masterpiece. It wasn’t cheap, but it was solid in looks and performance while offering some character. It’s also the last VW model that was sold in the US that I wouldn’t consider a greater trouble magnet than similar models from other manufacturers. Simply put, if VW owners here didn’t love their cars, VW would’ve been run out of the market a long time ago. I’m not sure if the problem is with the Mexican plant that builds most of the US models, their suppliers, or VW itself.

  6. That G60 on BBS’es looks rather nice…

    As the first reply already hinted upon, the answer to why the Mk2 is revered within VW enthusiasts now, of course is the Mk3. In Richard Porter’s words, that is where the Golf did an Elvis by becoming fat and rubbish.

  7. Thus began the UKs obsession with overpriced, overrated German cars that are a marvel in marketing and media-whipped advertorials (in certain motoring magazines…) rather than styling or dynamics.

    Even the latest Golf has boring styling copied directly from the previous, slightly different lights, and sold on for a fortune.

    And the sheep continue to flock to VW showrooms cause of “German engineering innit?”

  8. VW’s are solid, well built and generally reliable cars, but their styling is so dull both inside and out. The same applies Audi and Skoda, and less so for Seat (but that’s supposed to be the avant garde marque of the group).

    Now on the other hand italian cars are good to look at inside and out, shame they’re not as well put together. Just traded in a 4yr Fiat because the electrics were starting to go all “mediterranean”. Still got another though. (yes i’m a sucker).

  9. As a MKI Golf owner; two years with a 1.5 GLS before progressing to the ubiquitous 1.8 GTi for another six years , I never saw the appeal of the MKII . I was put off for all the same reasons you have listed in the article. A string of company cars allowed me to choose a MK3 GTI (oh dear!) and a MK4 1.8T (Good but not exciting). For me the MK1 will always be the definitive Golf, one of Giugiaro’s finest designs.

  10. i have to agree, like the MK1 fiesta, the Mk1 Golf is the best of the lot, it is definitely a distinctive car, the MK1, the MK2 onwards became frumpy and boring

  11. I’ve had a Mk1 GTI 1.8, numerous Mk2s 1.3 1.6TD and 1.8 and my first brand new car was a Mk3 Diesel. I liked them all. I remember the dissapointment when seeing the TV commercial for the first time when a Stratus Blue Mk1 5dr grew a cacoon and emerged as a fat Mk2, but it grew on me and my 86/C plate 1.8GL was the best of the lot I think.

    I do think that if they’d sorted the detail build quality, rust and used the S series / Montego dash from 83 the Maestro was the equal of the MK2 in other respects. Drive a 1.6 S series Maestro in comparison to a 1.6 CL Golf 2 and the Austin beats the Golf hands down.


  12. I have to disagree on the MK2 Golf being VW’s Allegro. The second generation Golf was, in a nutshell, a case of being evolution than revolution of the original. Building on the strengths from its predecessors.

    They’re a common sight on the roads compared to its contemporaries proven on how well made these cars are. Plus, they have a huge and loyal following by ‘Dub enthusiasts – especially the GTis.

    The MK3 Golf WAS VW’s Allegro. It was a backwards step from the previous Golfs. Frumpy styling, soft, wallowly and flabbier. They weren’t even as well made as its predecessors.

  13. I can’t think of any Golf which in fairness could be compaired to an Allegro. All were massive sellers. If any of them missed the market it was the MK4 when VW took the path of solidity just as Ford went after the drivers with the Focus Mk1.

    The MK3 was inline with the similarly flabby Mk4 Escort and Mk3 Opel Astra. A Mk3 GL with the 90BHP 1.8 or TDI is still a classy thing.


  14. I agree with this article in every sense. The mark II was horrible. The engines were rubbish as well, a 1600 pushing out a mere 75 horsepower and being asked to lug around a very heavy car, while vauxhalls dynamics with the MK2 astra had a 90 bhp 1.6 engine in a lighter and more dynamic package that would leave a MK2 golf in a cloud of dust from a standing start.

  15. I’ve never seen the appeal of any Golf. Outside they have always been bland and make a design feature of a C pillar which is a massive blind spot. If the outside is bland, the interior is even more so – it’s as though they are built to last forever but to make you wish that they wouldn’t.

    I did have a Passat as a company car once; it was ok for the motorway miles but had really odd florescent blue dashboard lighting on which I really struggled to focus. Are Golfs similarly afflicted, or have they been in the past?

  16. I think the hatred should really be aimed at the mk3 especially the gutless 115hp GTi. The Mk2 was probably the best built of all Golfs, which definitely marks it out from the Allegro, or any AR product.

    I had a GTi 16v a few years ago, which had been chaved and thrashed for 160000 miles and 16 years, it was fast, loud and prone to lift off over steer. It never seriously went wrong, despite years of abuse, eventually succumbing to the tin worm, but then after 16 years outside in Scotland who could blame it.

  17. rubbisch and has nothing to do with what aronline is all about… i say ban the golf etc…

  18. I had a Golf GTI as a company car from 1989 to 1991. At the time I don’t think there were many other hatchbacks that could match the overall appeal of the Golf. The quality of build has also stood the test of time and it is not unusual to see a well maintained example on the road today. You can’t say that for MK3 Escorts, MK2 Astas or Maestro.

    In 1991 I changed to a 216 GTI Twin Cam. A great car, but not quite the image of the Golf. In 1993 I changed to a 200 coupe, this was one of the worst put together cars I have ever owned.

  19. The MK2 Golf was possibly the best all round VW ever built. How it can ever be compaired to any AR product beggars belief!
    I ran a 1.8 GTi from 50,000 Miles up to 190K without trouble its still going on the same engine at well over 200K.
    Ive an low mileage E Reg 1.8 GL that is awaiting my attention, having been standing for the last 5 years

  20. MK2 was ugly not exactly that well built from the experiences of people I know and was a fat ugly bugger. The Mk 3 which was not exactly that good in way of a ride did improve on the looks at least – and at least the Corrado was spurned at the same time.

  21. Hmmmm I had a mk2 Golf GTi blah blah. I liked mine but would have loved the Peugeot 205GTI but that would have fallen apart. And so would have the Maestro….

    As for the cooking versions they were stolid and dull weren’t they? Lumpen styling (unless it was a big bumper GTI) and coalmine cabins. Great as a GTI, safe second hand car but forget the rest.

  22. As Bender on Futurama puts it “Sir, you are responsible for the defacement of a national icon”. In that case he’s referring to his behind, apt all things considered.

    These cars were uuuuugly. True they are practically indestructable, but that just means the ones surviving today are bodged out basketcases that dont so much drive as snake down the road (that memory still makes me cringe). My cornsnake in a hurry could hold a straighter course.

    I am curious slightly as to your choice of VW bashee… Why not the interminably pointless Bus, or that jewel of motoring legend that is the 1980 VW Polio. That car was terrifying, sure you could get it up to 80mph but the only way of stopping it was a kedge anchor and a winch. Add to that my ex was an undiagnosed epileptic at the time who’d been banned after she’d had a petit mal at the wheel and driven across three lanes of motorway traffic and 50ft up the verge you can see why the Polio is my choice for Room 101.

  23. @ Jemma, Yep that and the wobbly front suspension which made you feel that the steering column had come loose 🙂


  24. @ jemma – not as much fun as the Citreon AX. My friend had two and they both used to have an alarming wobble at 65mph!

  25. Mark 3 Golf was even worse than the Mark 2! I remember looking at a GTi on a J reg and being astonished that electric windows and central locking weren’t standard. Windy windows, creaking dash and a 0-60 time of over 10 seconds in a GTi – from the creator of the GTi! What were they thinking?

    In fact, if you look at the hot hatch specs from the Eighties, most modern cars would wipe the floor with them! My Honda CR-V has 150bhp and out-accelerates most of the old hot hatches to 60mph – and this from a family orientated 4×4 with integral picnic tables!

  26. Is it just me or does the 5 door Golf in the brochure scan above have a slightly misaligned rear bumper?

  27. Please, keep to Austin > Rover products on this website. If there’s not enough to write about, then at least keep to British subjects.

  28. ‘…where AROnline pours scorn like used engine oil over some of the scene’s most highly prized old clunkers.’ The feature does what it says but why? AROnline has long been a bastion of not pouring scorn – and devotees of BL products should know all about stones and glass houses.
    As for comparing Golf II and Allegro I don’t remember anyone laughing at the Golf when new and, if the production numbers in Classic and Sportscar’s Cars of the 1980s are correct, then the Golf II outsold the Aggro by 13 to 1. If I was a betting man I’d wager the Golf II alone must have outsold BL’s entire 1983-1991 car output during it’s lifetime.

  29. @IanS

    Yes, but sales numbers don’t reflect a car’s interest or technical merit. The Beetle was a great seller, too, but it was far from being any good.

    The VW Golf Mk2’s unforgivable sin – for me at least – is that the car it replaced was the better, and more appealing package. And I didn’t compare it with the Allegro – I drew parallels… an important and subtle difference.

    But this is a personal perspective, and an invitation for others to join in. And judging from the response – most of which are in agreement – it has certainly done that.

    Glad you enjoyed the essay.


  30. @Paul

    Fair point. There are currently over 2000 posts/pages on this website, and I’d wager that 99% are exclusively about the British car industry…

    However, speaking to many of the site’s readers, it seems this is an enthusiast site, too… and they quite like the alternative perspective.

    I’d just say ‘other pages are available’ and ignore this one 🙂


  31. I have a Mk2 as a daily drive. An 8v GTI from 1985 on a B plate.. It starts, it stops, and if only everything was as reliable as a (1980s) volkswagen. But try as I might I find it as interesting as white goods, it’s an appliance and likely to be outed as soon as the XM is on LPG

  32. I think the difference with the Mk 2 and the Mk 1 was the looks. If you look at the Mk 1 it was clean, crisp and new, and when compared to the competion it was streets ahead. Compare the Mk 2 with the competition and its not exactly the smartest in the pack and had odd proportions. The Mk3 however looked dull but had a more upmarket look and was more of a complete design (without the darcy backend).

  33. Oh gods… The Citroen AX or what you’d get if a sit on lawnmower got it on with a roll of Aldi Kitchen Foil. Those things were unremittingly awful. Sounded like a food mixer in a coal mine, handled like a jack russell on amphetamines and contained less metal than an NHS hip replacement…
    A friend had one, that we’d all pile into to go to various events. There was more torsional stiffness in my grandmothers back than in that thing. 5 average teens/twenties tripled the kerbweight. Poor lass never lived it down when one of our friends sat their waif like 5 year old daughter on the bonnet – couple of minutes later the little one said her backside was hurting… The bonnet had sagged so badly under her weight (and I use the term advisedly, ive carried handbags heavier than that little one) the lil girl was basically sitting on the hot engine and getting cooked buttocks as a result.
    But back to the Golf – I dont know what was wrong with the one this person had but the steering wheel was about as easy to keep straight as a battleship in a typhoon, there are probably still marks in the door where I was holding on for dear life.
    Id forgotten about the ‘Deaths Cottage’ decor, but to be fair most cars interiors of the time were designed by people who could probably have done with professional help. The high point of Vauxhall interiors was a dashboard that looked like a cross between the front gatehouse of the bastille and an executioners block. Not to mention most of the colours seemed to have been chosen by the method of scanning the chelsea pensioners beards into a computer and picking from the results at random.

  34. re: the stones and glass houses… Its more like grenades and glass houses..

    Thats a thought – how to make Cricket more interesting – replace the ball with a live grenade.

    As to the bashing, I cant think of one manufacturer in the 80s and 90s that didnt have at least one utter disaster in their range…

    Fiat: umm pretty much everything in sunny weather, everything otherwise.
    Alfa: fine right up to the point it a) rained or b) you tried to start it. Not to mention the widespread ‘cloverleaf knee’ that was probably a registered medical condition in the DCMIII

    Ford: fine as long as bland with a side order of bland with a blando di italiano from the wine list. Not to mention slower than a retired civil servant, and smokier than the entire high seas fleet at flank speed. Not to mention the sound of them starting which puts me in mind of a saddleback pig with tb in the middle of the london marathon. It was better than an alarm clock for me… 7:15 The Overture of The Clapped Out Cortina – composed R.Haynes arranged Half Asleep Execu-drones.

    Vauxhall: the Chevette, ah the memories. the Astra I – usually in that colour that made it look like a hearse whos colour had run, either that or it had gotten a bad case of delhi belly. The Senator, portly, like the sort of landowner that gets made an MP at a certain weight, which was about as popular as warm nitroglycerine. The Nova, which always sounded like its engine was going to go nova and had all the refinement of a pound shop shoe box – amazingly that it was possible, but boy racers actually managed to make it worse than it already was. The numerous sports models that had the suspension movement of the average skyscraper, or all the others that had all the poise, wit and handling of Broadmoor Prison custard.

    Renault: ah the 9 and 11 – one with all the build quality of a roadgoing rabbit hutch, the other giving you the distinct feeling you were following a disembodied jamaican buttock.. The 21, being the number of seconds before you again remembered you owned one and wanted to die. The Espace, ooh look, a barn with wheels.

    The point being there is more than enough scope for AR officionados to put the boot into other companies products…

    Even so, there is still no excuse for the Vanden Pus 1500 – the automotive pinnacle of cruel and unusual punishment.

  35. @ Jemma, not all AX’s were bad. I had a run out model that was very good indeed. Many friends of mine who drove much bigger cars at the time loved it. It got 60+ mpg from it’s 954i petrol engine too! The bonnet was very thin though.

  36. Ah yes, the vastly overrated, overpriced and generally underpowered Golf MkII. GTi apart, one of the most uninspiring cars to come out of Wolfsburg, after just about any Passat. With styling that made the Maestro look interesting, and an interior that made a Sherpa van seem luxurious, we all yearned after one. Or rather a GTi. Or maybe a Driver (I know I did, until I saw sense and bought another Italian car!) Why the surfer-dudes slather over these is beyond me – the only thing I can think of is that they are generally still here, unlike most of their competitors. To my eyes, the epitome of un-cool…….but, what do I know – I once owned a Renault 5!

  37. Oh and actually the Mk2 (ceratinly the GTI anyway) used less fuel than the Mk1. This was due to it having a much lower drag coeficient. Although they did have a problem with the GTI as it was painfully obvious it was going to be heavier and this have blunted perfomace so for the early Mk2 GTI cars they went to great lengths to keep the weight down (No sound deadning, lighter seats, no CL no PAS) once the 16V arrived this was not needed so it all went back on resulting in the 8v GTI gaining weight. This can be seen in the early Mk2 road tests comapred to the later ones

  38. I think people forget that when the mk2 Golf was designed in the late 70s/early 80s,all the major car firms wanted to go down the aero road:Astra/Kadett mk2 & Golf mk2.Main reason being better mpg.I believe VW got the shape of the Golf bang on.It retained the familiar shape,so not to put off the customer(unlike Ford with the Sierra)with a much lower drag,down to 0.34(the same as a Sierra).The Golf mk2 was roomier inside and had much better brakes compared to the Mk1 Golf.When you see an original big-bumpered GTi now,I consider the shape to be superior to the modern hot hatch that weigh nearly as much as a 4×4!

  39. It was the Mk3 that was the ugly one, it was also very badly made and some of the design was terrible (one bulb to illuminate the whole of the heater control cluster for instance which lead to an inconsistantly lit panel, and a wiper stalk that was placed so close to the ignition key that turning the key lead to many impromptu screen washing!), gloveboxes that dropped to pieces and very ropey electrics made the Mk3 (and mk4 and 5 for that matter) an overrated joke!

  40. I thought that the best car by far in the Mark 2 Golf range was the GTD – a sprightly and economical turbo diesel in a Driver/GTi style with red bumper inserts, sportier trim etc. A forerunner of cars like the excellent diesel only Skoda Fabia vRS.

    The Golf GTi I thought was overrated. The greatly missed LJK Setright, when testing a load of hot hatches for the original (and best) Car magazine in 1990, agreed. He considered it to be too dull and safe, excitement-free and akin to an appliance rather than a hot hatch.

  41. well really the GTD was a forerunner of the Golf GTi (with a diesel), it’s just a question of badging. You’ve been able to buy a Golf GTi for years, with a choice of Petrol or Diesel power.

  42. @Keith Adams

    “The VW Golf Mk2′s unforgivable sin – for me at least – is that the car it replaced was the better, and more appealing package.”

    An interesting point. I have a similar opinion about the Skoda Fabia Mk1/Mk2..

  43. “…. I thought that the best car by far in the Mark 2 Golf range was the GTD – a sprightly and economical turbo diesel in a Driver/GTi style with red bumper inserts, sportier trim etc. A forerunner of cars like the excellent diesel only Skoda Fabia vRS.”

    Yes, totally agree with this. I ran a Mk2 GTD from 18,000 to 140,000 miles and only sold it because a growing family needed an estate car. After I sold it, it ran around for another 6 years by which time it had well over 200,000 on the clock.

    It was only marginally slower than a GTi8v in real life and did 50mpg which was almost unheard of in 1990. it was also a comfy long distance cruiser.

    I would agree that it looked a bit dumpy but the interior was fine and the seats were comfortable. The handling was great and it could be flung about on twisty bits with complete security … and it was reliable, didn’t rust and was cheap to service and fix.

    For me, there were few really good motors around in those days, the Astra Mk1 was one of them and the Golf Mk1 & 2 were others. VW lost the plot with the Mk3 (which I managed to avoid) and Vauxhall screwed up the handling of the Mk2 Astra which was not a patch on the Mk1. Ford were never in the same league for me.

    I would still like J408MVM back.

  44. @ Jemma,
    I love VDP 1500s! wonderfuly daft cars, could only have ever been made here, owned 3 of them! The intireor is just such a nice palce.. and when you are there you don’t have to look at any of the bad bits… (the outside of the car) drove nicely and was comfy..

  45. Sorry, I normally like the writing on here but this piece seems like sour grapes. Different opinions etc, but to me, the MK2 is a masterclass in minimalist utilitarian packaging. The lines are as neat, purposful and crisp and still look fresh almost 30 years later, especially when you compare it to tired, creaking offerings from GM and yep, AR that looked like they were designed by bean counters, not engineers. Not to mention bomb-proof and mechanically straight-forward. Yes, German engineering “innit”- a no-nonsense teutonic agenda to actually make a quality car that appealed to a broad cross-section of drivers.

    I bought a MK2 Driver for £350 a few months back and it’s a great little motor. I was surprised how fast I could chuck it into corners and it would just stick, hardly any roll. It’s a completely unmolested model and only my old 205 GTI beats it for handling. Yeah, the engine might only be 75BHP (probably less now) but it’s willing. Huge inside too but tiny when you park it next to a Focus. There are still thousands of MK2’s on the road, which speaks volumes. The last “iconic” VW maybe?

  46. If this was bad, how about the Mark 3 with its coal mine cabin, ghastly detailing( those huge headlights) and complete lack of charm? Also remember the Maestro beat the Mark 3 Golf in the 1994 JD Power survey, which must have embarassed Volkswagen. The Mark 2 was in many respects a good car, but the Mark 3 was horrid and nowhere near as good as reliable as Volkswagen would have liked.

  47. Ok,the gti mk1 was iconic so what?i prefer the mk2.it oozed granite like build quality and the handling blew your mind(up there with an alfasud)the best of the bunch was the 8v engined car because it was more flexible than the 16v model in terms of torque (vauxhall-opel cured that with thier cosworth designed 16v engine with unheard of amounts of low end grunt)im sure most will think im mad but the mk1 was tinny,had weak bulkheads (clutch cable furrules splitting bulkhead)but i have to agree the handling was amazing.

  48. Loved the MK1… didn’t care for the MK2 at first but once you got used to seeing them on the roads it grew on you. All VW Golf’s retain a similar profile despite their generational age so keep their value longer(?)

    Once I had the use of a colleagues Golf MK2 Driver 1.8(?) when he was on holiday.. it went well and was reliable.

  49. Strange 1943 version couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding, and then there was the Jetta version – big and bulky, no style whatsoever. You still see them though, 20 years after they were all dropped.

  50. VW seemed to under-engine some of their earlier FWD cars, The base Polos had only 895cc & Passats 1296cc.

    I guess they were for markets with car tax based on engine size.

    • Underengined? The early Polo was hardly heavier than a 850cc Mini. Ford sold us 1300cc Capris and Cortina/Taunus – both slower and havier than a 1300cc Passat. There was certainly a market for these cars. Ford, VW and GM offered their Maxi sized cars with a large choice of engines – basically covering 55-110PS, compared to BL only offering the 1750 unit in a single tune on the continent.

      Germany had an engine size based car tax system, and Ford, GM and VW did play this a lot better than BL… But wasn’t 1600cc a changing point for road tax in the UK at some point?

  51. Around 1997/98 the 1600cc tax rule came in to the UK AFAIK.

    I think originally it was going to be 1100cc? Think they realised that even small cars then can have 1.4/1.5D engines!

    Greece I think was the home market for the 1.1 BX. It was slow enough with the 1.9D!

  52. 1500, in the UK. Some cars were 1549, some 1498 – was downright irritating!

    Italy has some of the best tax-dodges – IIRC, a Ferrari with a 2.0 V8 and Turbochargers, and similarly sub-2.0 variants of otherwise powerful cars? And a specific variant of Citroën GSA engine that varied by a couple of cc.

  53. Opel made Asconas & even Mantas with a 1.2 engine I guess to get into a lower tax bracket.

    Interestingly Renault didn’t do well with the 3 which had a 603cc engine to compete with the 2CV, but potential buyers were put off by the 3’s purchase price being not much less than the base model 4.

  54. Thing is back in the 70s, Rust/Poor reliability and Dealer Apathy were the biggest faults with anything built in Blighty, The Japanese offered Reliability, nicer Dealers and better equipment levels but strange Transatlantic styling And Rust was no better.

    French cars rode nice in a sloppy scrape your door mirror off sort of way and all had loads of character but otherwise suffered from similar problems as British stuff, I remember one family member swore by Renaults (Yes this is correct) but seriously moaned about lack of parts if it went wrong, as dealers just shrug their shoulders..whilst your local auto shop laughed at you!

    Italian Cars usually had style but a scream to drive, shame most fell apart and had similar parts problems, whilst The original Golf was all things to all men, Dealers that stocked parts (though expensive) and an attractive small car that could fit 4 adults in at a squeeze and a practical Hatchback, it was also very light for its size so peppy performance, also in smaller engined models delivered pretty decent economy in a refined package, something the Allegro could never compete.

    VWs were bought if it were your own money despite the Austere Interior and lack of decent equipment, rust prevention was probably the best? (apart from the early ones), I had one of the last mk2 1.6d versions, Heavy steering aside it had much nicer handling and actually a nice ride, after many years of driving Fords you appreciate the little things despite the sparse interior, less is more, It was nothing special but it never did much wrong either, thats probably why it has a loyal following.

    The mk1 wasnt exactly broken when it needed replacing, just needed more room and more creature comforts, the mk2 did improve the space issue but mechanically little changed meaning it struggled pulling the new heavier body.was essentially the same problems as the Mk5 Escort, better in most places but not much changed and could of been much better, But then German cars tend to be just that, nothing more just better than the last!

    It is a shame that after the MK2 Quality fell down the drain, (when was the last time you noticed the slogan “If only everything in life was as Reliable as a VW?) The mk3 was when VW were at its lowest with a very dated range of dull but worthy, Only when the new Passat and mk4 Golf arrive did VW become a player again, Although the MK4 had its problems “apparently” there are still too many of them around (Diesel versions,) which probably explains Our mk6 which is self destructing before our eyes!
    The mk2 wasnt pretty but did grow on you, if it were painted the right colour!

  55. Well well… it certainly is interesting to see an against article leveled at the Mk2 Golf. I have owned and restored, track prepared and generally lived and breathed all things Golf for nearly a decade and have to both agree and differ with some of the sentiments of this article.

    First off, the Mk2 wasn’t actually slower – that’s incorrect – despite its increased weight. The 1.8 8v GTI actually had a higher top speed and 0-60 due to its better aerodynamics (compared to original GTI). However, the ‘lesser’ pedestrian models were indeed slower, as proven by the base model Mk2 1.0-litre shortly being dropped after launch, as it was agonisingly slow and rough.

    The Mk1 is a masterpiece and as such is certainly a tough act to follow and the Mk2 does lose a bit of the magic of the original. However, the ’86 16v Mk2 not only brought back the fizz of the first GTI, but it took the performance to a new level! And what about the brakes? No one has mentioned that the Mk1’s major downfall in the UK (its brake link from left to right) was cured with the Mk2 and as a result was a huge step forward for UK buyers…

    Yes its slightly softer and bigger, but the styling still works a treat, and having replaced, upgraded or simply maintained every aspect of both the original GTI and the Mk2, I have to say the Mk2 is in another league when it comes to spanner work, SO MUCH BETTER!

    So to sum up from me, the Golf became a disgrace from Mk3 onwards, the second one IS better than the original in almost every regard.

    • Nice to hear from you, John-Joe. And good to see my well-intentioned rant has attracted so much debate. I suppose being an old fart, I remember the launch and seeing the car for the first time, and being incredibly disappointed by what they’d done to the Golf. But it was part of the trend at Wolfsburg at the time – the 1981 Scirocco and Polo both lost their tight Italian styling, and suffered as a result (IMHO). They were probably better cars, but just looked a whole lot less appealing.

      Of course, it’s academic now – as VW is now the world’s most successful car company.

  56. Always a pleasure Keith… I agree its brilliant to get a hot topic bubbling away! However, I don’t understand some of the massively anti-German comments above, we all seem happy to discuss French, Italian or even Japanese competition to British metal, but German cars appear to not be granted the same grace.

    Of course I am a massive German car fan, but at heart I’m a CAR fan regardless of the country of origin. If it’s worthy, it deserves mention. Oh, are you going to Retro Classics again?

  57. the mk1 golf gti is an great car.. just dont like driving it.. clutch is way too hard its either in or out no middle.. brakes were good enough to stop it. the engine was more then powerful enough to out run other cars.. i sure wont say no if one came up for sale for a good price..

    mk2 golf yes it was slower and fatter then the mk1 but the gti were as quick as most cars of the time.. there simple and easy to work on… the mk1 and mk2 go up in value were as every other golf goes down in value..

    the only good thing came from the mk3 was the ABF and vr6 engines and the recaro leather bucket seats.. everything else was rubbish.. its like driving a bath tub around ..even with the vr6 engine it was still slow.

    if the mk2 is so rubbish how comes they started to remake them? i belive back in 2006 in south Africa was the same shape as the mk1 golf but was all modern inside and under the bonnet..

    if here in the UK vw did a limited number run of new mk2 golf same shape but with modern touches they will sell like hot cakes. but they wont because people wont buy the mk5/mk6 golfs.

  58. Hi,firstly I will say that the MK 1 is a true classic.Mk 2 may have been dull or safe design in which VW tries to do for all their cars, safe design nothing funky or odd except the current Scirocco.But the MK 2 has an iconic presence in this modern world.I have a MK 1 1983 gti, MK 2 1990 gti ,Mk 2 1990 GL and a MK 4 gti turbo.They are all great cars and easily usable for daily driving.

    I disagree to the many negative comments that they have against the MK 2 as I think it has served to be the best VW GTI ever in most countries. You will see many still doing their daily commutes in these cars because they were so well made. Im not sure for todays new cars.

  59. Personally I thought that the Mark 2 was the best of the breed to be honest, I had a last of the line 1992 1.8 Driver and I loved it! My opinions of the subsequent generations:

    Mk.3 = Disaster, tubby, technologically backward (remember it came last in a CAR magazine group test, when even the Zetec-powered Escort buried it), badly built. You see less Mk.3’s on the road compared to Mk.2s!

    Mk.4 = They got the build quality and desirability back up to scratch but as a drivers’ car with the old chassis and running gear it was never going to match the all-conquering Ford Focus which came out shortly afterwards.

    Mk.5 = VW gave with one hand and took back with another. Multi-link suspension brought back the dynamic ability that had been lacking since the Mk.2, but took away the Mk.4’s biggest asset – its Mercedes-rivalling build quality and luxury feel.

    Mk.6 = Jury is still out on this one. Little more than a reskin of the Mk.5 to bring down the production cost, they have managed to restore some of the Mk.4’s luxury feel, but my partner has had a 61-plater which is now starting to demonstrate interior rattles at just 3 months old!! Better to drive than before, but it seems to have taken advantage that Ford has softened the Focus a bit.

  60. The road tax break in the UK was originally 1100cc, I know as I had a Punto with a 1.1L engine which was 1121cc, argh! I think it changed again in 2001 to 1400cc as I had already paid my road tax and I received a cheque from the DVLA for the difference. Obviously all the CO2 nonsense came in afterwards, which set a dangerous president as we hadn’t been subject to retrospective taxation changes until then…

  61. I’ve seen a lot of rusty mk3s.

    Mk4 came out mid 90s, when I reckon a lot of car manufacturers (cf. Mercedes, even the likes of Renault with the Laguna and Citroen with the Xantia) were at their peak between ridding themselves of 80s build quality issues but before things (engines emissions, standard equipment etc) got too complicated and they tried to reduce costs.

  62. I am still using a 1991 Mk2 GTD as a daily driver, 22 years old and 230,000 miles. Uses no oil, 50mpg despite the way I drive, it is still trusted to do 600 miles a week with no hassles. Rust is finally getting its teeth in. The biggest problem is setting up the front alignment after replacing dampers. Garages always mess this up. Horrible tyre wear then is the result.
    Yes the interior is funerial, the gearboxes explode when the crownwheel rivets fall off, (stupid design, still being used by VW, the only bit of the car spoiled by accountant engineering).
    I can still remember growing up in the early 70’s, when four year old cars with gaping rust holes was the usual.
    It was VW’s obsessive rustproofing from 79-80 that has forced all the car makers to do the same to some degree.
    I will miss mine.

  63. Mk2 golf gti , sorry but don’t agree with the negativity. The car that made a lasting impression on me and I’ve had Porsche , Ferrari etc. Golfs after the mk 2 should have been renamed as something had been lost that the golf was originally about .

  64. The Mark 2 Golf and Mark 2 ( Breadvan) Polos were probably the best cars Volkswagen produced after the Beetle. They offered reliability, a decent driving experience, a well made interior and held their value well, which was all most people asked of their cars then and not many delivered all four of these then.

  65. Volkswagens Allegro? Depends on how you view these things. The Allegro was a bad car and a commercial disaster that more than played its part in BL collapsing into public ownership in 1974. The Golf Mk2 on the other hand may have been a bad car, or at least not as good as its predecessor but sold like hot cakes and more than played its part in powering VAG toward being the global powerhouse it is today.

  66. I think the thing the Mk2 has when compared with the Mk1 and its rivals is that the Mk2 looks “robust” which was matched I recall by an overall robust feeling to its finish that its rivals also lacked.

    It was this robustness that made it aspirational and so “classy” and so why a young professional in the 80s was not going to be embarrassed parking a Golf as opposed to an Astra, Escort or god forbid a Maestro in the office car park.

    To look at it another way (and very much from a man’s point of view I admit, so sorry ladies), imagine two young ladies arriving at the office in the mid 80s, one driving a Golf GTI the other an XR3i and make an assumption which one is the high flyer in the finance department and which one is going nowhere in telephone sales.

  67. I think there is a lot of truth in the article. Owned a d reg 1.3 mk2 in the early nineties. You had to get used to holding up traffic the car was so underpowered (less oomph than a 1.3 Marina) and the dashboard was a relic of the seventies as well. Got rid of it after a year when the heavy clutch started to cause aching knees and the gearbox started whining. Not a great experience.

  68. Trolling article. Anyone telling you that a Mark 1 is a better car than a Mark 2 has never owned the cars he’s talking about. The Mark 2 wasn’t much heavier than the Mark 1; but was better built, handled better and had far better brakes. In 16v GTi form, it was far quicker and, with the 4-lamp grille, looked much better. The Mark 3 and Mark 4 GTis were not GTis. The Mark 1 and 2 were excellent, as was the Mark 5 onwards. in an era of Vauxhalls and Ford’s with chocolate engines (16v GTE an honourable exception), VW engines got better with age. Typically, a 100k mile one would be quicker than a new one.

    This guy also thought the Mk1 was better – until he actually drove them both, back to back:

    “And my word, what a leap forward it is. I was expecting only incremental changes, but the reality is very different.

    The MkII feels so much more tied down. Grip and traction at the front end increase exponentially, and body roll is far more contained.

    It’s more serious. More capable. And yet, it still knows how to have fun – it’ll still happily cock a rear wheel and indulge some lift-off oversteer. It may be over 30 years old, but in a lot of ways, it feels a lot like a modern hot hatchback, the only true giveaway being the steering – like the MkI’s, it’s reasonably sluggish.

    The big surprise, however, is the engine. I thought this car was going to be all about the chassis, but the 16-valve 1.8-litre N/A inline-four is a rev-hungry hero. It’ll keep going to 7000rpm, letting out a glorious induction bark during the final 1000rpm before the redline. It reminds me of the four-pot in the Mercedes 190E 2.3 16, which remains just about the best-sounding inline-four-powered road car I’ve ever heard. 139bhp may not seem like much, but don’t forget, although weight did increase quite a bit over its 810kg predecessor, this is still a light car. And unlike the MkI, the II does actually feel quick.”

    See: https://www.carthrottle.com/post/the-mki-vw-golf-gti-is-a-legend-but-the-mkii-is-the-one-i-want

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