Depending on your age, the idea of a big-bumper, oak green Golf GTI 16v Mk2 of 1990 will either raise your pulse or go over your head.
It might not have been the quickest or sexiest hot hatch of its day, but it was easily the classiest and most rounded, and there’s a generation of drivers who lusted after one then but couldn’t afford it at the time. Well, if they’re quick, now’s their chance.
For years the Mk2 has lived in the shadow of the Mk1. When its moment appeared to have arrived, along came that other great GTI, the Mk5, plus a strong revival of interest in the Peugeot 205 GTi. The Mk2 was promptly forgotten.
In recent times, though, as prices for the Mk1 and 205 have moved ever higher, attention has turned back to the Golf GTI Mk2. Prices have been climbing for the best cars, which have long since been snapped up. What’s left are largely scruffy but still decent high-milers. Prices for reliable, unmodified runners with little rust start at around £1800, although you’ll see them advertised for £500 more. Just haggle politely but determinedly. You and I may know the Mk2 is a classic but a lot of people aren’t so sure, so the cars can hang around and sellers start to sweat.
Incidentally, so long as the car has been regularly serviced, high mileages aren’t an issue. Instead, despite being well protected at the factory, rust is the thing you should be most concerned about.
The Mk2 was launched in 1984, powered by a 1.8-litre eight-valve engine making a fairly underwhelming 110bhp. In 1985, the model gained hydraulic tappets (they can chatter from cold but should quieten down as the oil circulates). The 137bhp 16-valve GTI followed a year later. Faster, lower, stiffer and higher-revving, it ought to be the one to have, but the eight-valve version is easier to drive and, in any case, condition trumps everything.
There was a facelift in 1987 when the front side quarterlights were dropped, some of the controls and switches were repositioned and the grille became a five-bar item. Fans talk of pre-1987 Mk2s as Type 19 Golfs, as if so distinguishing them makes them seem more desirable. In fact, all Mk2s are Type 19 Golfs.
In any case, a more important change came in 1989 with the adoption of big bumpers. You laugh, but they were joined by smoked lenses, integral spoilers and front foglights. Finished in oak green or black and wearing BBS alloys, a big-bumper Mk2 looks the real deal. Incredibly, power steering only became standard in 1990. The following year, the eight-valve model got the 16-valve’s suspension and electric front windows.
Today, little of this matters. As already said, condition and service history are king. The Mk2 may have suffered for not being the first Golf GTI, but in many ways it’s a better car: faster, more comfortable and more modern. Grab one before they’re all gone
How to get one in your garage
An owner's view
Ryan Jones: “I’ve just sold my Golf GTI after six months of trying. It was a 1989-reg with 118,000 miles. I originally asked £3000, then dropped it to £2300 and finally accepted £1800. It wasn’t the tidiest example but, except for a fuel pump packing up, it was reliable. The internal drains from the sunroof that are meant to channel water out of the rear of the car had rotted through, allowing it to soak the headlining and footwells. The car was easy to work on, the only difficulty being seized bolts. If I was buying one, I’d check the MOTs to make sure it’s been driven regularly.”