PH Heroes: VW Golf Rallye

The VW Golf Mk2. Solid, classless and, with the arguable exception of the GTI, just a little bit staid, right? Only this particular car doesn't quite fit that mould, because good ol' conservative Volkswagen wanted to go rallying. Well, more to the point it wanted to get back on the pace of the competition. So it created this, the four-wheel drive, supercharged Golf Rallye.

VW got its museum car out for us
VW got its museum car out for us
And different the Golf Rallye most certainly is. A quick glance at that boxy bodykit and the oh-so-80s rectangular headlamps tells you that. OK, so the interior is rather more predictable 80s VW with plenty of sombre black plastic and doesn’t match the drama of the exterior. But every time you catch its reflection in a shop window you’re reminded just how special this car is. Then there's the cachet of owning a handbuilt homologation special. It's easy to see exactly why you would have paid almost twice the price of a standard Golf GTI for one back in 1989.

Hip to be square
In fact, the Golf Rallye really is something quite special. Just 5,000 were built to satisfy FIA homologation requirements for the 1990 World Rally Championship and although the best VW had to show for its efforts was a solitary third place the legacy is a thoroughly fascinating vehicle. Back in 1986, Kenneth Eriksson won the inaugural Group A World Rally championship in a Golf GTI 16V but, with the banning of Group B, the likes of Lancia, Ford and Toyota switched their full attention to Group A and VW suddenly found itself dealing with Sierra Cosworths, Lancia Delta Integrales and Toyota Celica GT4s. The Golf Rallye was its riposte.

Many have been modded but not this one
Many have been modded but not this one
Instead of the usual 1,781cc of displacement, WRC rules meant that the engine was downsized to 1,763cc, but the G-Lader supercharger (yes, German speakers, I know I've just written 'supercharger supercharger' but it still kind of makes sense) gave the Rallye a respectable 160hp at 5,600 rpm. It was enough to haul the Golf Rallye to 62mph from rest in 8.6 seconds and hit a top speed a whisker under 130mph. Not supersonic figures, but enough to make the Rallye feel reasonably beefy. Of course, if you want a properly fast Mk2 Golf you would need to find one of the super-rare G60 Limited models, which used the GTI's 16-valve head to give a thoroughly impressive 210hp. But VW only made 71 of those...

Making the most of that 160hp was the Syncro four-wheel-drive system, a fairly simple viscous coupling affair that had the advantage of being around 100kg lighter than equivalent contemporary systems.

Old tech, made new
That supercharger, which also saw service in the G40 Polo, G60 Corrado and, after the Rallye was done with, a version of the 'ordinary' two-wheel-drive Golf GTI, was a bit of a march into the unknown for VW's engineers. It resurrected a concept patented way back in 1905 by a Frenchman called L Creux that proved impossible to manufacture at that time due to the super fine tolerances required. Modern techniques finally made it a viable solution but the G-Lader was still a finely balanced device and not the maintenance free solution VW wanted. Failures were not uncommon on the G-Lader cars and VW eventually gave up on the technology.

Riggers gets into the late 80s vibe
Riggers gets into the late 80s vibe
History records VW's G models as a bit of a blip, a technological cul-de-sac, if you will. But at a time when every other manufacturer was busy bolting on lairy turbos and saying to hell with the lag, VW should be commended for thinking a little bit differently, for considering the importance to usability - both on the rally stage and on the road - of lag-free forced induction and low-down torque. And the Golf Rallye should be celebrated as the apogee of this concept.

On the road
The pedigree of the Golf Rallye's hardware is undeniable, then, but what does it actually feel like on the road? If we're being picky, the gearshift (the first time an all-new cable-operated five-speed unit had been fitted to a Mk2 Golf) is slick enough, but it has a long throw and occasionally feels ponderous. But the whole point of that supercharger is that you don't have to be constantly flinging the gearstick back and forth between ratios. There's enough mid-range shove, available from surprisingly low revs, to give you overtakeability on a par with a modern hot hatch.

Dig a little deeper and you start to really appreciate the Rallye's subtle charms. No it's not as balls-out fast as a Sierra Cosworth or Lancia Delta Integrale, but it's less brash and more polished than both of them. That unusual supercharger, for example, overlays a purposeful mechanical gurgle on top of the otherwise humdrum thrum of the eight-valve engine. That extra low-down torque, meanwhile, lends the car a sense of mid-range urgency that exceeds the expectations suggested by the modest-ish power and performance figures.

Homologation specials are always cool
Homologation specials are always cool
The chassis also benefits from the four-wheel drive, too. Push hard out of a slow, tight corner, for example, and you can feel that viscous coupling shifting drive to the rear wheels, giving you both a security and an adjustability that's missing from fast two-wheel-drive Mk2 Golfs.

Top class
It’s perhaps not as fire-breathing as other Group A homologation specials, and its competition cousin’s career was hardly a glorious one. But there’s a depth to both its engineering and its manifest quality that typifies Golfs of the 1980s. You’ll have to pay a handsome price to get hold of one, too. Only around 100 were imported into the UK initially, and many of those have been extensively modified. So to find a relatively original one you’ll have to pay for the privilege, as the near five-figure sum being asked for one featured last year on PH attests.

Is it worth it? That depends on how rapidly you discover its charms. But once you do see them, they are thoroughly beguiling. The Golf Rallye definitely deserves its place in the pantheon of PH Heroes. And driving one that remains pretty much as VW intended is a real and rare privilege.

1,763cc supercharged four-cylinder
Transmission:5-speed manual
Power (hp):160@5,600rpm
Torque (lb ft):166@4,000rpm
Top speed:130mph
Weight: 1,195kg (approx)
On sale: 1989-1991
Price now: c.£8,000-10,000


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Comments (108) Join the discussion on the forum

  • number1nesta 30 May 2012

    Just such a shame VW didn't widen the track to fill the bodywork, particularly at the rear...

  • escortwagon 30 May 2012

    looks like an mg maestro at the front rotate

  • Ecurie Ecosse 30 May 2012

    Fantastic cars, my friend has just bought one.

    Pretty sure the GTIs had 5 speed boxes before the Rallye, though smile

  • DanDC5 30 May 2012

    I saw one of these yesterday. They look cool, just always surprises me how slow they are. Be better with a Supercharged VR6 lump under the bonnet.

  • Krikkit 30 May 2012

    Love these cars, I think one would make its way into my top-10 realistic garage. Along with a Delta...

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