In many ways the Mk2 Golf GTI was the difficult second album. Heavier than the first GTI and with softer looks, many fans of the original were left cold when it was first unveiled in 1983. This ill-feeling has faded and over the years the difficult second album has become a legend in its own lifetime and the last of the ‘true’ GTI’s until the triumphant Mk5 revived the badge in 2005. While the Mk2 is celebrated for its blend of everyday usability, subtly aggressive looks and backroad balance, values have not yet bloated to match. Buy now and you can have a piece of hot hatch history for under £10,000.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The mk2 built and improved upon the mk1’s foundations, increasing in size and power to keep ahead of the pretenders from Vauxhall, Renault and Peugeot, among others. This had mixed results. While the new GTI had improved upon its forebear, the competition had overtaken it. The GTI was heavier and the power hike wasn’t enough. In customers eyes it had gone from hot to lukewarm. Volkswagen responded by introducing the twin-cam 16-valve with more power, lower suspension and fat front brakes. It did the trick but some still preferred the superior torque delivery of the earlier 8-valve cars. The GTI was face-lifted in 1989, introducing the famous big bumpers, smoked light clusters and fog lamps. It is widely acknowledged to be the most attractive of the Mk2 GTIs and signalled a return to the striking styling of the original.
As with any classic, check for signs of rust. On the GTI, rust often originates around the holes used for wipers, number plates and plastic body trim (anywhere moisture can seep through). Rust can also appear on the sub-frames, sills, at the base of the front bulkhead and front chassis legs. Have a good look in the wheel arches, the filler flap, the bottoms of the doors, the sunroof surround if necessary and the front scuttle. The Golf is an Eighties hot hatch and many have been a victim of car theft and joy rides. Check for accident damage, taking particular care to inspect panel gaps and the front chassis legs. Be sure to compare the V5 with the VIN plate and engine number, checking for any irregularities.
Both the 8-valve and 16-valve engines are bulletproof. Any mechanical gremlins stem from poor maintenance, patchy servicing and a general lack of care, so be sure to check the car’s history and any signs of modification or track work. Find out when the most recent cambelt change was and study the oil and coolant condition as well. Regardless of any previous cambelt change, it’s recommended that you change it anyway. The hydraulic tappets fitted from 1985 onward are noisy on start-up but should disappear when the engine warms up. If the tick over is uneven then it could well be the idle control valve.
The Golf’s gearbox is strong, but as with any transmission the gear changes can become loose and sloppy over time thanks to worn linkages. Don’t worry too much because this can be easily rectified. Also have a feel for any signs of a worn synchromesh on second, and check if fifth gear jumps out on the overrun.
The mk2 GTI is a favourite of aftermarket tuners, so watch out for any dodgy ride height alterations and stiff suspension settings. Many cheap, off-the-shelf parts don’t last, and an overly harsh ride will wreck not just the handling but rattle the cabin (and your teeth) to death. Check for broken springs, wallowing dampers and uneven tread wear.
Make sure all the usual electrics are working, including the rev counter, heater blower, trip computer and rear wipers. There’s nothing to worry about if the car has been properly maintained.
A pristine cabin is difficult to find. These were never luxury cars and expect cabins to be treated as such. Look for signs of abnormal wear and tear. Don’t settle for an interior that’s too ripped and scratched because it always requires more money than you think to put right.
A well-sorted mk2 GTI should have torquey acceleration and precise handling. As with all GTIs, it was never as exciting or raw as some of its rivals (such as the Peugeot 205 GTi) but it was arguably the fastest all weather eighties hatch. If it doesn’t feel sharp or eager then something is wrong. Either haggle on the price or walk away. The engines are both peaches, with the early 8-valve known for its wide torque band and the 16-valve all about high end punch. If the car smokes on start-up then it’s probably the valve stem seals and on the overrun it's the valve guides. If it smokes under acceleration then it's the bores. This usually means an engine rebuild and isn’t worth your time or money. If the suspension is groaning and clicking when you take a corner it's most likely a worn CV joint, while a knocking from the front end points towards a top strut mount issue.
You can pick up a tidy mk2 GTI for under £10,000. The later 16-valve cars with the big bumpers and fog lamps are the most sought after, but more humble early 8-valves are rising in value thanks to overall scarcity. It is increasingly tricky to find a GTI in great condition and the right spec, so you may be searching for a long time. Unsurprisingly, cars in showroom condition are far more valuable, often commanding upwards of £10,000. Mechanically reliable and unmodified cars start at around £2,000, with many scruffy runners advertised for considerably less. The mk2 hasn’t crossed over into the realm of ‘all time great’ in the eyes of many punters, even if enthusiasts are beginning to recognise its worth, so cars can hang around on the classifieds for a while. Bear this in mind and don’t be afraid to haggle on the right car.
Spares are two a penny on the GTI, as many cars are still being broken down for parts. The online community is very helpful and the car boasts a passionate owner’s community and support network. Instead it is rust that is the biggest enemy, so make doubly sure there isn’t any you can’t fix before you buy. Like any used car, regular servicing is valuable, so don’t be afraid to fork out more for a car with a great service history. The GTI needs a cambelt change every four years or 40,000 miles. The tensioner also needs replacing every 80,000 miles.
While values are appreciating, tidy examples remain more than attainable. Just be sure to avoid one of the many modified or neglected GTIs out there. They are not worth your time and only equal big bills and no fun. Improving in every way on the revolutionary original, the mk2 offers a superb opportunity to own one of the greatest everyday performance cars ever built and a fine, inexpensive run around.
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