'Beginning of the end' might sound a slightly fatalistic way to describe the Mk3 Golf GTI, but there's no escaping the lukewarm reception that greeted it at launch. Compared to the Mk1 and Mk2, this was a heavier, plainer, clumsier GTI - and immediately deemed responsible for tarnishing the Golf's established hot hatch reputation.
That said, it was probably the Mk4 that really did the most damage to the GTI's image, it being plusher and less exciting again, and sufficiently wide of the mark that a replacement wasn't guaranteed. Then the Mk5 arrived, and the rest is history. Moreover, time can often be kind to cars; different generations have different memories of certain models, and those priced out of 'icon' level stuff often want the next best thing. It happened with E30 3 Series, and E28 5 Series, as prices climbed, so why not Golfs?
While it's never going to be a Clio Williams, a Golf GTI like today's Spotted will be eligible in 2019 for all the benefits that classic car status bestows, while also being a relatively simple, 1,100kg, naturally aspirated almost-hot-hatch. It still looks quite smart, it's comparatively rare, and the classic VW community is well known for its knowledge and enthusiasm.
Need further convincing? Thought so. This GTI is £1,800, and reasonable examples surely can't get much cheaper as the years continue to pass and numbers dwindle further. As proof of the fact, see the Mk3 GTIs that are also for sale on PH with fewer miles: £4k is the next most affordable, with anything up to £12,000 being asked for the most lightly used examples.
While this Golf is the less desirable eight-valve, it is at least in Tornado Red and 107,000 miles on the clock accounts for less than 5,000 annually. With main dealer maintenance up to 99,000, specialist services after that and a recent cambelt change, there shouldn't be too much to worry about mechanically. Being from a simpler ought to further reduce the fret factor, as well.
True enough, even the slow passing of a quarter of a millennium won't see it lauded as a hot hatch legend, let along 25 years - but as a 90s throwback, as a piece of Golf history and, yes, as a cheap classic, there is something to be said for a Mk3 GTI. Alternatively, you could have a low mileage VR6, which would be even better.
SPECIFICATION - VW GOLF GTI (MK3)
Engine: 1,984cc, four-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 115@5,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 122@3,200rpm
First registered: 1994
Recorded mileage: 107,000
Price new: £N/A
Yours for: £1,895