Motoring: Volkswagen's original pocket rocket

Radical, or what? James Ruppert on the success story of the Nineties
Click to follow
The Independent Online
There's a new Volkswagen Golf, but you'd hardly know it. Squint a bit, and you would swear that the new Golf is little more than a subtle make-over of the old one. At the launch of the new Golf, VW chairman Dr Ferdinand Piech made it clear that this is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary car. But in 1974 the Golf did start a revolution, sending shock waves through the industry, which suddenly realised that the future was hatchback shaped. In the Nineties it is still the most radical car you can drive, but for very different reasons.

"The Golf has become the car to be seen in," says Simon Cooke, editor of Golf Xtreme. "I believe the Golf has replaced the Ford Escort as the first choice cult car for young drivers, mainly because it is regarded as the hot hatch of the past two decades." Cooke is right: the qualities that made the GTI hugely popular in the Seventies are still relevant to the Nineties.

According to Volks Cars in Stourbridge, West Midlands, customers bring in contemporary Mark 3 Golfs in part exchange for the earlier Mark 2. "It would seem odd to a non-Golf enthusiast, but there is a big difference between driving the two cars. The Mark 3 is much heavier, slower and softer than the earlier car, and we find that buyers are disappointed by the lack of character and sportiness of the later version."

It is worth looking at the Mark 3 to see how it has weathered in the used car market, and whether there are any bargains out there.

Arguably the best model Volkswagen built - which will not be built as a mark 4 - is the VR6. It has been described as a miniature Mercedes, which is not far off the mark. At the Vulcan Motor Company in Norwich, a very nice, 1992, 80,000 miles example had had one previous owner, a doctor. It came with air-conditioning, was in stunning condition and drove beautifully. The price was almost pounds 11,000.

A privately advertised five-door GTI was a reasonable pounds 6,000. That was because it had covered just over 100,000 miles, according to all the records and the digital odometer. The last GTI was a shadow of its former self, but a magazine such as Golf Xtreme would have the information to turn it into something much more fun to drive. However, Golfs don't all run VR6, or GTI engines. They can be dull, worthy plodders with a diesel unit on board which is likely to last well into the next century. A small trader had a turbodiesel 1994 model, which had led a busy life with its one previous, caring owner. It was advertised at pounds 7,700 and had covered 90,000 miles. The engine isn't that bad once you get used to it.

So why wait for a Mark 4 Golf? If you really want one, wait until 2006. A 1998 example will be nicely run in by then.

Vulcan Motor Company - 01603 494494.