The Mk3 Volkswagen Golf GTi – The Time is Now

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By Chris Pollitt

The Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTi was something of a legend, given that it kick-started the whole hot hatch revolution. The Mk2 Golf GTi was a little fatter, but it still held onto the essence that made the Mk1 so special, and as such, it was still a true GTi. Then the Mk3 happened, and despite the fact it drove well, it boasted enough power and it wasn’t too hard on the eye, we just didn’t take to it. We are strange, strange people, us car lot. There was nothing inherently wrong with the Mk3. It was a bit softer to look at, perhaps, with its liberal use of curves in the design. But fundamentally it was a decent bit of kit. But decent wasn’t good enough. Many complained it wasn’t as sharp or focused as its predecessors, and because of that, the Mk3 GTi was nowhere near as popular as its peers. Ford, Vauxhall and plenty of others were, by 1991, well established in the hot hatch market, and as such, the Mk3 just wasn’t working hard enough to maintain its crown.

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That all sounds pretty damning, and begs the question of why should you buy one? Well, there are a few reasons. Sitting here in 2019, we can see that the Mk3 Golf GTi wasn’t as bad as we initially first thought. It packed, in 16-valve guise, 150bhp. It was fun to drive, it was and still is infinitely tuneable, it’s actually not a bad-looking old thing and most crucially of all, it was nowhere near as bad as the Mk4 Golf GTi. Yes, there was the 1.8 20V turbo model, which was good. But the 2.0i, and more common version, man alive, it was an affront to the GTi name. It was slow, and wet, and uninspiring to drive. When we got that, we realised the Mk3 GTi wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought.

An introduction to the Mk3 Golf GTi

The Mk3 Golf arrived in 1991. The Mk2 was still a hugely popular machine, but the pressures of rival cars meant Volkswagen had to update it if it wanted to remain competitive. As such, Volkswagen went all out with the the Mk3. Again, it would be offered in hatch and ‘Vento’ saloon form. But for the first time, Volkswagen would also offer it as an estate and as a cabriolet. VW wanted the Mk3 to be all things to all men. And as a car, it was. It was hugely popular, the new softer and more curvaceous design was popular for the time. It was exceptionally well built, especially when compared to rivals, and it drove brilliantly. However, when the Mk3 was pushed into the performance arena, things fell apart.

The GTi 16-valve was the model to have, and on paper it should have been a worthy successor of the GTi badge. The engine grew from 1.8 to 2.0, the 16-valve head mated to electronic fuel injection was one of the best setups of the era and the power output of 150bhp should have been more than enough to shunt the Mk3 along. Sadly though, it wasn’t. The car was too heavy, and as such, it felt slow and sluggish compared to the Mk2. The handling was compromised too, due to the weight. The Mk3 GTi just wasn’t as good as the Mk2, and that turned people off in a big way.

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It was a shame for the Mk3 GTi, because in reality it was a good car. Had it been reviewed on its individual merits rather than always being compared to its forebear, it would have been a different story. Only the the most keen and engaged of drivers were able to heavily criticise the Mk3 in comparison to the Mk2. To the average man on the street, the Mk3 GTi was actually a brilliant car. Fast, agile for its size, comfortable and with a feel that was most definitely GTi. And over the years, we started to understand that. The Mk2 aged quickly, whereas the Mk3 seemed solid throughout the entirety of its life. It was Volkswagen doing what it does best, it just took us a long time to realise it.

What are prices like? 

At the moment, they’re low. You can get a rough and ready Mk3 Golf GTi for a grand. Double that and you’ll get something that’s really tidy. Double that again and give yourself four grand and you’ll be able to buy the best of the best. They really are at the bottom of the depreciation curve at the moment. That said, mint, low mile cars are clawing their way out and setting the tone for future sales. The Mk3 is a car we took a long time to rise to, but we’re switched onto it now, and people are willing to spend the money.

Three-door models are arguably the most desirable, because three-door cars are faster, right? As such, they can be anywhere from £500 to £750 more than a five-door version. You can look to add another £300 on the price if you’re looking at a Colour Concept version. If you’re not familiar, the Colour Concept cars were built in bright colours, but limited numbers. You could have blue, black, red, yellow or green. Though remember, that meant the leather inside was the same colour as the body. A bit sudden on a yellow Colour Concept!

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Modified cars used to be worth more than the standard ones, but that has long since changed. The market wants standard and original cars, so bass tubes and TSW Venoms are not welcome here. But do consider that this trend will see people turning cars back to standard, and in doing so, the build quality may have been compromised by someone who wants a hasty sale. If you’re handy on the spanners, it might be worth looking at a modified car, with a view to restoring it to standard yourself. That way you know it’s been done properly. Plus, with parts availability being excellent, it shouldn’t be too expensive to do.

Why should I buy one?

So it wasn’t as sharp as the Mk2 or the Mk1. Who cares? The fact remains that the the Mk3 Golf GTi is an important evolutionary step in the Golf’s timeline. And numbers are dwindling now, as many were simply ignored, or modified into oblivion. Buy one now and you’d get yourself a usable, reliable, cool modern classic that celebrates an invested and passionate following. For many, it’s the perfect classic car, one that you can pick up and put down as and when you see fit. But because it’s modern, it’s not going to be upset with you if you leave it in the garage for three months.

You should also buy one because of the size of the Volkswagen scene. And by scene, we don’t mean after hours Tesco car parks. We mean the dealer network that can still supply parts for the Mk3, the myriad specialists out there who will make ownership a breeze, and of course, the events and clubs that you can get involved in. Volkswagen ownership is as big as you wish to make it.

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How long until I see a return? 

It’s a tricky one. The Mk3 Golf GTi is very much at the bottom of the price curve at the moment, but it’s difficult to say how soon the prices will go up. The crucial motivator is that Mk2 Golfs are rapidly hitting serious collector money, so naturally buyers will start looking for the next best thing, namely the Mk3. Buy a nice one, make it even nicer and in as little as twelve months you could be in profit. But given this is a Volkswagen, the sky really is the limit if you’re willing to hold onto the car for a few years and see how the market pans out.

 

 

 

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