"The car goes well enough and is never short of grip, but I was left feeling strangely unfulfilled... this chassis can definitely take a lot more power."
We've all read this type of self-regarding Queefery in road tests. Thankfully there's less of it about these days, now that 200hp has pretty much given way to 400hp as a commonly-accepted definition of decent power in production cars. Even Troy would struggle to whine about the insufficiency of 400hp when his delicate dab of oppo turns into a tyre-vapourising, slacks-soiling, full-locking powerslide.
Before the new power revolution, pre-Mk5 Golfs featured high up in the dud parade of cars that needed a lot more power than they had. VW's huge success with the GTI genre was very much despite rather than because of those early sub-115hp GTI engines. Yes, you could get a 150hp 16-valve version of the Mk3 and Mk4, and by the time we got to 2001 the most powerful GTI was up to a respectable sounding 177hp - but even that wasn't a very brave shout for a turbocharged motor.
Some might have seen VAG's philosophy of institutionalised understressing as a useful reliability buffer, but less charitable folk were wondering about the conglomerate's confidence in its own powertrains. The Mk4 was arguably the least popular GTI of all, as it appeared to prolong VW's gradual vanilla-ising of the model, with too much weight offset by not enough grunt.
Enter stage left, in an unusually well-preserved coat of Tornado Red, this week's Shed. With a remap to 198hp, is this the Mk4 GTI that should have muscled its way into VW showrooms in the early 2000s?
The vendor tells us that his car has the later AUM engine. The earlier AGU has a certain mythology about it, suggesting it was the better lump for big tuning, but as the vendor also says the AUM has the bigger K03s turbo and is more amenable to modern, software-generated power hikes.
At this stage in the proceedings, some of you will be mentally assembling your lists of all the things that can go wrong with a Mk4 Golf with a view to sharing them on the forum for the benefit of the two or three people in the western world who cut themselves off from normal life 20 years ago.
Save your mental sweat, because the seller is not one of those three people. He has invested smartly in all the usual suspects so you don't have to, up to and including the turbo unit. Of course, that doesn't mean any or all of these parts won't go phut again at some point, but if we regard ownership of VWs and Audis as a game of snakes and ladders, the list of parts bought and fitted surely means you're getting one free lap around the board, as it were.
On top of the consumables, he's added an adjustable rear ARB, another worthwhile enhancement. The alloys look smart and Shed is fairly certain that the thing that looks like a smudge of mud on the nearside passenger door is actually a sticker for Awesome GTI, Jim Cotton's well regarded Irlam-based tuning shop. They were responsible for the remap. Naturally, nothing is guaranteed in today's dog eat dog world, but a quick glimmer at Jim's website should reassure you that Awesome GTI is some way from being an 'a'it bruv' type of setup.
The Shed ad looks genuine too. Yer man is selling his Vee-Dub to finance some work on the 944 Porsche that is visible on his drive. The Golf's MOT lasts until next January and the only advisories on it were for a minor exhaust leak and non-excessive wear to the front lower arm bushes. The tester did also mention baked pads, but he may have been thinking of his lunch at the time.
Shed has said it before and will say it again: good examples of the first four Golf GTIs will eventually all be worth money. It's just a matter of time and condition. This car presents really well in pictures, especially bearing in mind that it's painted in such a famously fading shade. If the peeled lacquer on the door mirror upsets you, a quick look online will uncover lacquer-intact replacements at around £35 a pop.
If we switch our GTI metaphor from board games to wine collecting, this one looks like a very acceptable candidate for laying down. That's not an especially good metaphor, as it means you wouldn't be able to drive it, and that would be a bit silly. There'll be a better metaphor to describe something worth keeping, but not in mothballs. Something to do with cheese perhaps. You'll have to think of your own unfortunately, as it's deadline time.