Buying guide Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2

Buying guide Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2

As residual values finally start to rocket for the Mk2 Golf GTI, there’s still time to get in on the action if you’re in the market… but you need to act quick! Our comprehensive Mk2 Golf GTI Buying Guide should help you find the retro hot hatch of your dreams.


VOLKSWAGEN MKII GOLF GTIBUYING GUIDE

The Mk2 Golf GTI had some pretty big shoes to fill when it was launched back in 1983. While it was slightly larger and heavier than the Mk1 GTI it replaced, thankfully, it still offered the same magic mix of fun and practicality that made the original Hot Hatch such a smash hit.


Buying guide Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2

While it may also have been a financial success for Volkswagen, for a long time the Mk2 GTI didn’t hold quite the same kudos as the Mk1 — perhaps because it simply wasn’t the ‘original’ or it hadn’t been ‘styled by Giugiaro’. Some might argue, however, that it was actually the better car…

It’s quite astonishing to think that, even today, you’ll still occasionally see Mk2 Golf GTIs being daily driven — especially when you consider early cars are now over 40 years old. While this longevity has been great for those owners using these cars purely as a regular mode of transport, the popularity hasn’t been fantastic for those collectors looking to cash-in on their investment. Well, not until recently, at least…

Due to its bomb-proof build quality and huge production run (6.3 million examples were produced in total) the Mk2 Golf was hugely popular, but it’s also been one of the last modern classics to see residual values significantly rise. Thankfully, as numbers finally start to dwindle (and parts are becoming increasing hard to come by) the car’s iconic status — especially in the GTI — has increased, and so have second-hand prices. Don’t worry, though, there’s still time to get in on the action, but you need to act fast…


Mk2 Golf GTI History

Unlike the original Mk1 Golf, the GTI version of the Mk2 launched in the same year the second generation car was released — 1983. Volkswagen had cracked the ‘sporting Golf’ formula with the first generation car, so wanted to hit the ground running with the Mk2 and that’s exactly what it did. There were obvious styling links to its predecessor, albeit with a much bigger, roomier interior and a more mature character. If it an’t broke, don’t fix it, was clearly the thinking in many respects. And, in fact, when the car rolled off the product line back in 1983 (it hit UK shores the following year) it was actually powered by the same 1.8-litre 8v engine that was fitted to the run-out Mk1 GTI model. While its 110PS was slightly underwhelming, the car’s chassis still meant the car was great fun to drive, especially on B-roads.

Come 1985, the 1.8-litre 8v gained hydraulic tappets (which were famous for chatting when the engine is cold) and the following year a 137PS (139bhp) 16v was also added to the ‘GTI’ line up to keep up with the competition. While this car (distinguishably by its roof-mounted, bee-sting aerial and subtle 16v badge) was faster, lower, stiffer and higher-revving than the 8v — so appealed more to those casing numbers, many purist still favoured the 8v, claiming it was easier to drive and more fun.

In 1987 the car received a very subtle facelift, with the front quarter lights being dropped, a five-bar grille fitted and some switchgear was changed inside. While many enthusiasts called the pre-87 cars ‘Type 19’, in fact, all Mk2s are technically Type 19s!

The biggest transformation came in 1989 (often referred to as 90s-spec in the UK), when Volkswagen fitted the car with bodycoloured ‘big bumpers’, smoked lenses, fog lights and integral spoilers. It wasn’t until 1990 that the car got power steering as standard, while the 8v model (which was still available to buy) received the 16v’s suspension and electric windows the following year.

It’s worth noting that it was the Mk2 that introduced the catalytic converter (1984), anti-lock brakes (1986) and power-steering to the Golf class, plus all-wheel-drive in the Syncro. Production of the Mk2 finally ended in 1991 after 6.3 million examples had been made; it was replaced by the Mk3 Golf which was launched on the UK market in early 1992.


Built to last

The reason the Mk2 Golf — and VWs of that generation in general — have been some of the last modern classics to creep up in value is pretty simple — they were built so well in the first place, resulting in numbers remaining high compared to the competition. This is why models such as the Renault 5 GT Turbo, Nova GTE and Peugeot 205 GTI — which all suffered from heavy corrosion — have demanded a premium. When was the last time you saw a Mk2 Vauxhall Astra GTE or MG Montego Turbo out on the open road?


Over engineered

Back in the early 80s, Volkswagen was on a mission to prove it built arguably the most durable cars around, which is why models such as the Mk2 are often referred to as being ‘over engineered’. They were built to last and last they jolly-well did, but thankfully resale values have finally started to soar over the past few years as even basic parts for these iconic cars become harder to source and more costly to buy.


BUYING SECOND-HAND

Which model to opt for?

While the base model Mk2s were great daily cars, they would hardly set your world on fire. This is why the GTI model ticked all the boxes, as it was practical and fun, so it was an instant hit. It’s also why the sporty models are demanding a premium these days — even if they don’t feel quite as electric as they perhaps did first time around. Be it the early, small bumper cars or later, big bumper examples, the GTI really is the car to have if you’re after something that’s both reliable and fun. It could well be the ultimate modern classic.

Choosing between an 8v or 16v model (and small or big bumpers) really is down to own personal preference. Three-door cars have always been more desirable over five-door versions and, as a result, still demand a premium. Rare models, such as the GTI G60, Edition One, Rallye and super-exclusive ‘Limited’ have already rocketed on the second-hand market so, unless you’ve got really deep pockets to pay for the unique, hard-to-find cars, we’d suggest you opt for a clean GTI model instead. The most important thing to remember is that the engines and mechanics on these cars are pretty robust, so rather than worrying about the mileage, you’re far better looking for a car with clean bodywork and a rust free chassis. Cars that have been garaged most of their lives really are the ones to look out for…

Most common problems

Accident damage. Many of these cars will have been driven ‘enthusiastically’ at some stage of their lives, so check the panel gaps to make sure they line up and look for any odd coloured panels, which might hint at accident damage. Roof lining sagging. As many of these cars are approaching 40 years old, one common problem is the original roof linings failing, meaning they may sag or drop down in places. While new material is available to fi x this, it’s a quite a tricky job to do.

Corrosion/rust. While the mechanics on these cars are very robust and easy to repair, rotten shells can be timely and expensive to fi x. Look for cars that have been garaged — the less rust you can find the better. Do check sills and behind the GTI arch trims.

pros & cons

Pros:

  • Smiles per mile
  • Great investment properties
  • Excellent build quality

Cons:

  • Be quick — prices are on the up
  • Parts becoming harder to find
  • Five-door models less desirable

Model timeline

  • 1983 (1984 UK) — Mk2 GTI 8v launched
  • 1986 — Mk2 GTI 16v launched
  • 1987 — Subtle facelift (see above)
  • 1989 (1990 UK) — Big-bumper facelift (90-spec)
  • 1991 — Production ends

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Bodywork

The main thing to look out for when viewing any Mk2 is corrosion. While Volkswagen upped its game over the Mk1 where rust was concerned, meaning the Mk2 is much better at fending it off, it’s by no means immune. So, like we said, it’s important to buy on condition and not mileage.

Thankfully, the original paint itself is very good on these cars. A quick initial walk around the car will soon reveal any differences in paint tones, so check whether all panel colours match and also check the panel gaps to see whether the car has been invoiced in any accidents.

Where corrosion is concerned, the inner wings in particular are a problem area and unfortunately, it’s not something you can realistically check until home, as the plastic liners make it a very difficult task. Shine the torch around the front suspension sub frame to find any areas of rust there. Around the filler cap is another hotspot. Some modified cars won’t have any arch liners, so with these you’re at least able to check.

Other areas to check include scuttle panel, sills, the bottom of doors and the rear valance – all of which are easy to access. Also, there’s a hidden area to examine for corrosion in the ledge on the bulkhead that supports the brake servo. Dirt and debris can accumulate here, especially if brake fluid has been leaking, which can cause the metal below to rot. If the model you’re eyeing up has a sunroof then the metal surround can often attract rust due to blocked drainage systems, so be sure to double check this, too. Check the door handles all work, too, and the rear hatch lock works.

It’s also wise to check out the quality of any work performed; if it’s obviously noticeable that it’s had a previous shunt of some description, then it’ll need putting right, adding to the overall cost. Mention this when haggling. Although, if you can do this work yourself or know someone who can put it right, it could be a quick win.

Engine

While on paper the Mk2 came with the choice of two engines (8v and 16v), effectively both had the same block and it was just the head that changed. No matter which engine you’re looking at, each unit should last well and worst case scenario, replacements are still easy to find second-hand, if you’re not worried about a matching numbers car.

They are renowned for having a long lifespan, providing they’ve been sufficiently cared for with regular servicing. Always check for oil leaks on these either from the rocker cover or camshaft seals. Also, check inside the header tank cap for any sign of oil emulsifying (mayonnaise like substance), which may mean a blown head gasket.

As with any car, look out for black or blue smoke. If you see blue smoke, you could be looking at worn valves or valve stem oil seals. Either way, the result could mean a complete cylinder head rebuild – not a cheap task.

Upon test-driving any Golf Mk2, sit with the engine idling for a while before engaging gear. Listen out for any misfires or the engine simply acting out of the ordinary: erratic movements, strong vibrations etc. If these issues occur, you may just need new ignition components. An uneven idle may hint at a faulty idea control valve. Remember, the ‘tappety’ noise on early cars should go away once the engine warms up and this is perfectly normal.

Often, it’s prudent to have a look on forums and internet auction sites for good condition used ones. If the K-Jetronic injected GTI feels leaden then there may be a problem with an injector. These can be hard to come by new.

If the injector isn’t the issue, it could be a possible leak to one of the vacuum hoses or either a seized metering head or stuck flap to the inside of the air-flow meter. All of these are simple to sort; use them to your advantage when conducting any negotiations. Oh, and always ask when the cam belt was last changed, too, as this needs doing every 25k miles. You might be surprised to hear the Mk2 GTI is actually pretty economical, too, especially the later cars. A well looked after 16v, even driven enthusiastically, could deliver up to 30mpg!

Transmission

The Mk2 GTI five-speed boxes are generally strong and smooth, but watch for loss of synchromesh in second gear and the possibility of differential pins exiting the side. You could have it re-built for a small fee to get them bolted in, if required. Also, fifth gear sits high inside the gearbox casing, so if the oil level drops, the gear can run dry and eventually fail! A sloppy change might hint at worn gear linkage rods, too. Again, second-hand units are still readily available, but we’d suggest a rebuild if you’re going down this route. Some firms still offer reconditioned units on an exchange basis.

Interior

While interiors won’t set your world on fire in terms of design, they are equally as robust as the engines, forty-year-old plastic trims have become fragile over the years. Try to avoid cars with sagging roof linings, cracked dashboards and seats with too many rips, unless you’re looking at a project. eBay is still full of second-hand parts for these, while Heritage Parts Centre offers plenty of new replacement options — even interior material!

Chassis

If you’ve not yet driven a Mk2, you’ll be surprised at just how familiar it is, despite some examples being almost 40 years old. The steering should be precise and the seating should be firm, with a firm ride yet not one of discomfort. It should feel solid and planted on the road. Be aware that with early Golf Mk2 models the power steering was optional at the time; a lot of buyers decided not to spend the extra £567 and went without, so a lot of the early Mk2s on the road don’t have it. Not a deal breaker but it may put you off if you do a fair bit of urban driving.

Brakes

The Mk2 GTI brakes are generally pretty good with discs (vented on the 16v) all round. Replacement discs and pads are readily available. We’d actually recommend a decent performance disc and pad upgrade if yours need changing as they will look identical but offer improved stopping power. The rear calipers can be prone to seizing, which usually means your rear brakes are worn.

Suspension

Mk2 GTIs came with adjustable camber for the front suspension, which could lead to front tyres with uneven wear. Look out for leaking dampers and worn (knocking) top mounts. Also, tread carefully when buying any modified example. If it has previously run – or is running – coilover suspension you don’t know if, or how long, the car has been run on the bump stops, or even if it was driven with them in at all. You may find a well-looked after one in the modifying scene, however, and taking the modifications off to put it back to stock shouldn’t be too difficult a task.

What to pay

Trying to find an unmolested car that hasn’t been modified is very hard these days. We’ve heard stories of people spending a fortune putting their modified Mk2 GTIs back to standard to increase collectability and value. In terms of what to pay, it’s really hard to say. There are still plenty of projects around from £2000 upwards, and we’ve seen high-end cars go for silly money, especially in America. Below is a very rough scale of what to pay, but a lot comes down to the exact spec and condition of the individual car in question.

Prices

£2000+ Projects

£5000+ Clean

£10000+ Very good

£15000+ Excellent

£25000+ Concours

Where to buy

4starclassics.com

collectingcars.com

kgfclassics.co.uk

carandclassic.com

pistonheads.com

ebay.co.uk

Contacts

Good source for parts;

Heritage Parts CentreDubstockMk2 Spares UK
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