Thursday 12th July 2012


Riggers investigates the history of a very unusual Golf

"The strange thing is that this car doesn't really belong to anybody," quips VW product communication chap Martin Hube of the magnificent Golf A59 prototype sitting in the car park of VW's Stiftung museum in Wolfsburg. "Sure, Volkswagen paid for the development of the car but, as far as we understand it, not for the car itself."

And you thought the Mk3 Golf was boring?
And you thought the Mk3 Golf was boring?
Having no official owner is just the tip of the iceberg of weird when it comes to the A59, which we first saw a few months back at the Techno Classica Show in Essen. Created for VW by Schmidt Motorsport (SMS), the same concern behind the all-conquering Audi V8 DTM cars that decimated all opposition in 1990 and 1991, the A59 piles mystery upon mystery when you start to delve into its story.

Originally conceived as a Group A/Group N contender for the World Rally Championship in the early 1990s, the A59 ought to have spawned a production run of 2,500 road cars in order to homologate it for WRC competition. But the project was canned with only two prototypes built. So what happened? Rumour has it that the axe was wielded by none other than Dr Piech himself, but the precise reasons why will perhaps forever remain a mystery.

Big wings, four-wheel drive, bonnet vents...
Big wings, four-wheel drive, bonnet vents...
Could have been a contender
There were certainly no half measures when it came to the car's specification - possibly one of the reasons the project met its end in the wobbly financial climate of the early 1990s. For example, instead of using VW's existing 1,984cc 16-valve unit (an undersquare engine and thus unsuited to the rev-hungry demands of motorsport), SMS came up with an entirely fresh-from-the-cylinders-up 1,998cc design with a dead-on-square 86mm bore and 86mm stroke. Then there was the four-wheel-drive system that was an entirely different one to the then-current Syncro set-up and more like the Haldex system VW later adopted.

And we haven't yet mentioned the unique carbon-Kevlar bodywork, nor the integral roll cage, nor the expensively crafted bucket seats. For a near-as-dammit unique prototype it is an astonishingly well-finished product in places - a clear indication about how serious VW must have been, at least at one point.

Looking forward to the drive that never was
Looking forward to the drive that never was
Not everything is super-slick, mind you. SMS obviously struggled to get the Garrett T3 turbo (same as you get in a Sierra Cosworth) enough air to breathe properly - two of the three bonnet vents are beautifully finished, while the third has clearly been chopped out as an afterthought.

It's at this point that we'd start to tell you what this very special Golf is like to drive. Except we didn't get to go anywhere in the driving seat, as the car popped a left-rear driveshaft during a spirited spot of acceleration (and if you're wondering just how spirited, think 0-60mph in the low fives or possibly even high fours), leaving us with a distinctly ill-sounding museum exhibit.

2.0-litre turbo was unique to this car
2.0-litre turbo was unique to this car
What I can tell you from the few kilometres or so I experienced from the passenger seat is that, had it made production, the street version of this Golf would have utterly saved the Mk3 Golf from its reputation as being the least sporty of all Golf generations. Brutally fast, far nimbler than you'd expect from a Golf of this vintage and seriously grippy, the A59 could quite clearly have been a fine rival for the likes of the Escort Cosworth Lancia Delta Integrale Evo and early Mitsubishi Lancer Evos. Especially given its 275hp at 6,000rpm, and 273lb ft of torque at 3,500rpm.

What might have been
Sadly, of course, it was not to be. Whatever the cause of its death, the axing of the rally programme meant that this particular car spent a little time as a Nurburgring hack (quite for what purpose we're not sure) and then sat in the corner of a museum, pretty much unknown and disregarded for the best part of 15 years.

The GTI story might have been very different
The GTI story might have been very different
In many ways, the tale of the A59 is a sad one of might-have-beens and missed opportunities. But now, with the Polo WRC programme finally looking like it'll put Volkswagen firmly at the forefront of the international rallying scene, the A59 is being given a second chance. Sure, it's never going to be the sire of a European answer to the Mitsubishi Evo - that particular boat sailed well over a decade ago, but it can rightly take its place as part of the VW Group's rallying history. Still, you can't help but think on what might have been...

: 1,998cc four-cylinder, turbocharged
Power: 275hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 273lb ft @ 3,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.0 seconds (est)
Top speed: na
Weight: na
MPG: na
CO2: na
Price: ...and another na...

Author: Riggers