- This rare and pristine 53,000 mile 1992 Volkswagen GTI is almost a match for our editor-in-chief’s first car.
- The last of the second-generation GTI 16Vs, this 2505-pound hatchback is powered by a whopping 134-hp 2.0-liter four.
- Complete with the factory-installed BBS wheels and Recaro seats, this original example is currently being auctioned until Saturday, January 28th.
They say you can’t go back, but then you see your first car being auctioned off 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 exactly like mine. My 1990 model did not have the integrated third brake light and had black trim around the rear window. But mine had the same big-bolstered Recaro seats with electronic height control and two-piece BBS RMII cross-spoke wheels that had the look of the much more expensive three-piece BBS RS wheels.
The last of the second-generation GTIs, the US-spec models, were assembled in VW’s plant in Mexico. Earlier second-gen Golfs and GTIs came out of the company’s Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, plant, which closed in 1988. Early 16Vs 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 rose to 134, with 133 pound-feet of torque at the ready. VW added the quad-headlight grille and large bumpers that helped modernize the car. A very high compression ratio of 10.8:1 meant the four was thirsty for premium, a recommendation that our sister publication Road & Lane missed when it tested one in 1991; C/D never tested one. Running at 87 and with a R&T tester at the wheel, the 2505-pound 16V hit 60 in 8.4 seconds (VW claimed 7.8 seconds).
The engine is rough, even by the standards of 30 years ago. Hitting the 5800-rpm power peak sounds insulting, and hitting the 6300-rpm redline isn’t much of a celebration either. Shifts are light and positive, and the gearbox is short. On the highway, the four sits in a steady 4000-rpm hum at 80 mph. Easily the best part of the late-GTI 16V is the 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 have worn Pirelli P600s; the example being auctioned wears very gripper Michelin Pilot Sport 3 summer tires in the original size.
The turning stance is classic GTI as the inside rear wheel lifts off the ground. The tricycle movement is not something you notice behind the wheel; you simply marvel at the joy of driving this relatively light machine to its limits.
In addition to the Recaro seats, you also get flares. Front fender flares, the black trim coming off the fenders, are wider to cover the big rubber and 6.5-inch-wide wheels—that was loaded stuff for a Golf. Behind those wheels are vented front rotors with solid rear rotors. Anti-lock brakes were not on the menu; nor airbags. No airbags means federally mandated door-mounted belts with separate lap belt. At least they are fixed and not motorized. Fortunately, this example does not appear to have ever been in any sort of 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 going back before. I sold it a few years later when someone posted a note about it in the C/D parking lot. Even in the early ’90s, these were rare cars and cost around $15,000, or about $33,000 in today’s money. Today it is even harder to find them, as most have given up their lives to hard and fun miles. 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 this GTI will fetch up to about $45,000, which is about the price of a nicely equipped GR Corolla.
Go back or go forward? I’d say you can’t go wrong with either choice.