- This rare and original 1992 Volkswagen GTI with 53,000 miles is a close match for our editor-in-chief’s first car.
- The last second-generation GTI 16V, this 2505-pound hatchback is powered by a ravenous 134-hp 2.0-liter four.
- Complete with factory fitted BBS tires and Recaro seats, this original example is currently being auctioned until Saturday, January 28th.
It’s said you can’t go back, but then you see your first car up for auction on Bring a Trailer and you start to question that saying. Staring at me on my laptop screen is a boxy piece of my past: a 1992 Volkswagen GTI 16V with 52,000 miles. It matches my first car down to the Tornado Red paint—other paint colors include white, black, and Montana Metallic, a teal-like shade.
Okay, it’s not like me. My 1990 model does not have the integrated third brake light and has black trim around the rear window. But I have the same big bolstered Recaro seats with electronic height control and two-piece BBS RMII cross-spoke wheels that have the look of the much more expensive BBS RS three-piece wheels.
The last second-generation GTI, the US-spec model was assembled at VW’s plant in Mexico. The previous second-generation Golf and GTI rolled out of the company’s Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, plant, which closed in 1988. The initial 16V arrived in 1987 and featured a 1.8-liter four with 123 horsepower. In 1990, the engine grew to 1984 cc or 2.0 liters, and horsepower increased to 134, with 133 pound-feet of torque at standby. VW added a four-light grille and a large bumper that helped modernize the car. A very high 10.8:1 compression ratio means that four people are thirsty for premium, a suggestion that our sister publication Road & Track missed when it tested one in 1991; C/D never tested a single one. Running on 87 and with R&T tester on wheels, the 2505-pound 16V hit 60 in 8.4 seconds (VW claims 7.8 seconds).
The engine is rough, even by the standards of 30 years ago. Hitting a power peak of 5800 rpm sounds abusive, and punching the 6300 rpm redline isn’t much fun either. Shifts are light and positive, and gearing is short. On the highway, all four settle into a steady 4000 rpm buzz at 80 mph. Easily the best part of the late 16V GTI is its 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 wear Pirelli P600s; the auctioned example wears grippier Michelin Pilot Sport 3 summer tires in the original size.
The cornering attitude is classic GTI as the inside rear wheel lifts off the ground. Three-wheel movement isn’t something you notice from behind the wheel; you are simply amazed at the joy of pushing this relatively light machine to its limits.
Besides Recaro seats, you also get flares. The front fender flares, black trim that juts out from the fenders, are wider to cover the big rubber and 6.5-inch-wide wheels—this is heady stuff for a Golf. Behind those wheels is a cast front rotor with a solid rear rotor. Antilock brakes are not on the menu; so are the airbags. No airbags mean seat belts are federally mandated doors with separate lap belts. At least they are stationary and not motorized. Fortunately, this example does not appear to have ever been involved 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 to go back before. I sold it a few years later when someone left a note on it at C/D parking lot. Even in the early 90s, this was a rare car and cost about $15,000, or about $33,000 in today’s money. Today, they are harder to find because most give their lives for the difficult and fun journey. In a recent column, I wrote about how the spirit and joy of the Toyota GR Corolla reminded me of my first 16V GTI. I believe that this GTI will fetch up to about $45,000, which is about the price of a well-equipped GR Corolla.
Go backwards or forwards? I’d say you can’t go wrong with either option.