- This rare and immaculate 53,000 mile run from 1992 Volkswagen GTI comes very close to our editor-in-chief’s first car.
- As the last second-gen GTI 16V, this 2505-pound hatchback is powered by a rugged 134-hp 2.0-liter four.
- Complete with the factory installed BBS wheels and Recaro seats, this original example is currently up for auction until Saturday 28th January.
They say you can’t go back, but then you see your first car being auctioned off on Bring a Trailer and you start to question that adage. On my laptop screen, a boxy piece of my past stares down at me: a 1992 Volkswagen GTI 16V with 52,000 miles on it. It matches my first car except for the color Tornado Red – other paint colors were white, black and Montana Metallic, a teal shade.
Okay, it’s not exactly like mine. My 1990 model lacked the integrated third brake light and had a black border around the rear window. But mine had the same plush Recaro seats with electronic height controls and two-piece BBS RMII cross-spoke wheels that had the look of the far more expensive three-piece BBS RS wheels.
The last second-generation GTIs, the US models, were assembled at the VW plant in Mexico. Earlier second-generation Golfs and GTIs came from the company’s Westmoreland, Pennsylvania plant, which closed in 1988. Early 16Vs came in 1987 and featured a 1.8-litre four-cylinder developing 123 hp. In 1990, the engine grew to 1984cc, or 2.0 liters, and power increased to 134 hp, with 133 pound-feet of ready torque. VW added the grille with four headlights and large bumpers that helped modernize the car. A very high compression ratio of 10.8:1 meant the four thirst for premium, a recommendation from our sister publication road & track missed when it tested one in 1991; CD never tested one. Runs on 87 and with a R&T Testers at the wheel, the 2505-pound 16V hit 60 in 8.4 seconds (VW claimed 7.8 seconds).
The engine is rough, even by the standards of 30 years ago. Hitting the power peak of 5800 rpm sounds abusive, and hitting the 6300 rpm redline isn’t much of a celebration either. Shifts are light and positive, and the transmission is short. On the freeway, the four settle into a steady 4000-rpm hum at 80 mph. The best part of the late GTI 16V is simply the handling. Ride quality is harsh and structure is lacking, but plenty of information flows from the 195/50R-15 tires to the four-spoke steering wheel. Originally the 16V would have worn Pirelli P600; the auctioned example wears much more grippy full-size Michelin Pilot Sport 3 summer tyres.
The cornering is classic GTI, since the rear wheel on the inside of the corner lifts off the ground. The tricycle motion isn’t something you notice behind the wheel; You simply marvel at the joy of pushing this relatively light machine to its limits.
In addition to the Recaro chairs, you will also receive torches. Front fender flares, the black trim coming off the fenders is wider to cover the big rubber and 6.5 inch wide wheels – that was heady stuff for a Golf. Behind these wheels are ventilated front rotors with solid rotors at the rear. Anti-lock brakes weren’t on the menu; Neither were airbags. No airbags meant federally mandated door belts with separate lap belts. At least they are fixed and not motorized. Fortunately, this example never appears to have been in any action involving an airbag.
This GTI is hard to fault and much cleaner than the second GTI 16V I bought in 2002 – I’ve tried going back before. I sold it a few years later when someone left a note on it on the internet CD Parking spot. Even in the early ’90s, these were rare cars and cost about $15,000, or about $33,000 in today’s money. Today they are even harder to find as most have given up their lives for hard miles and fun. In a recent column I wrote about how the spirit and the joy of the Toyota GR Corolla reminded me of my first 16V GTI. I believe this GTI will cost around $45,000, which is about the price of a well-appointed GR Corolla.
Back or forward? I would say you can’t go wrong with either option.