The Mark I Golf hit the market in 1974 and within a couple of years coachbuilder Karmann presented a proposal to VW for a convertible version. VW eventually accepted and sales kicked off in 1980 with production handled throughout its life by Karmann. Slightly unusually, it didn’t follow the model cycle of the rest of the range, retaining the Mark I body shell right up until 1994, well into Mark III territory for the hatchback but adopting some of the refinements of the later models as it went.
This meant that by 1993 when VW had introduced the ‘Rivage’ run out special, the GTI Cabrio had the 8 valve 1.8 litre engine driving the front wheels through a five speed manual gearbox, heated Recaro seats and, of all things, heated washer jets. It was essentially a ‘posh’ GTI Cabriolet. They’re a rare beast these days, highly sought after among the VW cognoscenti and values are definitely on the up.
First registered in Cornwall on 24 May 1993, this example seems to have lived most of its life in the South of England. It was innocently resting on a driveway in Plymouth when the current owner, who was in the area on business, took a shine to it and made a cheeky offer. To his surprise it was accepted and he added it to his small collection which comprises an eclectic mix of modern classics. That was around seven years ago and since then it’s been a high days and holidays car, covering fewer than a thousand miles but being maintained on a no expense spared basis. This approach has seen the car treated to a new hood, reconditioned gearbox, a cambelt and new tyres just last year, a new starter motor, cooling pipes and a heater blower motor.
More recently, the owner’s collection has been growing again and now exceeds the space available to store it. That means that he’s had to prioritise and with not enough use to justify its place, the Golf is the one that’s been selected to find a new home.
The car is accompanied by the original owner’s manual, a selection of old MOT certificates and a sheaf of invoices from throughout the car’s history with a full set in the current ownership. This includes the invoice for the new roof for £550 and the gearbox reconditioning at over £1000.
Sadly, the original service book has gone astray but looking at the condition of the car and a sampling of the invoices, it’s clear that it has always been looked after. The current MOT has no advisories and is valid to 8 July 2022.
The cloth trimmed, heated Recaro seats are every bit as comfortable as they look and hold you firmly in place for more spirited driving. They have worn well with just a little creasing around the edges although the driver’s seat may have been changed for a passenger seat at some point as the currently inoperative tilt handle is on the incorrect side. The passenger seat, however, tilts forward just fine to allow access to the rear seats which look not to have seen much service.
The steering wheel is showing some patina on the leather but the dashboard is unmarked and has a recently installed Pioneer head unit which links to a smart phone for integrated sat nav, DAB and Bluetooth phone with a mic installed neatly in the console. All of the buttons and switches operate as intended as do the dials although at the time of our visit the water temperature light came on intermittently despite no evidence of overheating. The vendor has since advised us of the following "I’m pleased to say that following today’s visit by the specialist when new sensor was fitted the light operates as it should and only comes on as part of the ignition process"
The electrically-powered roof operates by unclipping the catches from the windscreen header rail and then pressing a button on the dashboard when it smoothly lowers. There is a fabric tonneau though it’s not seen much use as it isn’t necessary when using the car day to day. In the surprisingly spacious boot is a space saver spare and original tool kit. In short, it’s all very usable.
The combination of Classic Blue Metallic paint and the 15 inch polished Le Castellet alloy wheels means that this car is a real head turner. Although it is thought to have had some paint at some stage, the panels all appear original and the blue paintwork retains a deep lustre which changes appearance in the sunlight depending on the viewing angle. This, combined with the new matching hood, means that it presents very smartly. On closer inspection the lacquer on the wheels is starting to lift in some areas but they are otherwise unmarked and wearing a set of nearly new tyres.
Having been stored in a domestic garage, there are a couple of small marks on the bodywork: a small scratch on the bootlid and a small dent at the front of the bonnet, both shown in the pictures. The Rivage badges are in great condition, the light lenses are crack-free and have retained their colour and the glass rear screen is in fine fettle, meaning that rearward visibility is maintained with the roof up.
Underneath, it’s a similar story with everything in good order and only surface rust in evidence, so much so that it apparently attracted favourable comments from the tester at the last MOT. Overall, while there’s a few jobs to do for the perfectionist, this is a car of which the next owner should be very proud.
Under the bonnet, the engine bay remains in original condition with some fresh belts and hoses and a new oil filter testament to the levels of ongoing maintenance. It starts the first time with a pleasant rasp from the exhaust and, it has to be said, on the road it resolutely does not feel its age. It rides very well, picks up nicely and revs with a lovely engine note.
If you’ve ever seen the contemporary Volkswagen squeaky earring advert, then we’re pleased to report that the build quality that it espouses is very much still in evidence here with no untoward noises at all. It’s quite remarkable really.
In all, while chopping the roof off ultimately means that it isn’t quite like a Mark 1 Golf GTI, much of the charm is still there and it can be hustled along with confidence with the added bonus of the wind in your hair.
If you’re in the market for a classic convertible then to some degree you’re spoilt for choice but if you want one that’s usable on a regular basis then that narrows the field considerably. Combining the practicality, reliability and quality of VW’s of the time, it’s easy to see a place for the GTI convertible in many collections. Although we can surely agree that heated washer jets are surely something of niche appeal on a convertible, if you factor in the added draw of the limited edition Rivage trimmings then it’s a very attractive package.
This particular example has had a very easy life over the last decade, covering a few miles and being continually pampered. If you wanted to show it then there’s a few small jobs to take care of but it’s very usable in the meantime and, with any luck, there should be plenty more opportunities to get the roof down before the year is out. What are you waiting for?
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