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MK2 VW GOLF BUYER’S GUIDE

MK2 VW GOLF BUYER’S GUIDE

Posted by Matt Bell on 20th April 2018

Looking at buying a Mk2 VW Golf? Check our guide for the best tips, advice and all you need to know.

Now seeing a rise in values, the Volkswagen Golf Mk2’s popularity is creeping up, making it a great time to buy. But what do you need to know before making the jump?

A time of leg warmers, leotards, leggings and the tightest of perms… well, we’re not sure what you get up to on the weekend, but we’re talking about the 80s! The very same era that saw the introduction of the increasingly-popular Volkswagen Mk2 Golf.

Despite what seems a never-ending controversy following ‘Dieselgate’ back in 2015, the Volkswagen Group (the core Volkswagen range, along with its mainstream sister companies such as Audi, Skoda and Seat) continues to be one of the world’s most successful car makers. I’m certain, in fact, that the younger generation (such as myself) would struggle to recall a time where they weren’t so dominant in the car market.

It’s thought that original plans for a Mk2 revamp of the Golf date back to 1979, but due to design and manufacture issues its launch was postponed. Designed in house – much like the Mk2 Scirocco – as opposed to Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro like the original, the first of the Mk2s rolled off the Wolfsburg production lines in late 1983. Upon arrival, there were certainly obvious styling links to its predecessor, but with a much bigger, roomier interior and updates inside and out.

Certainly, as far as the classic car market is concerned, the Golf Mk2 is arguably not as popular as the Mk1. However, it is a great deal popular than the Mk3. So, a great middle-ground for the leap into a classic German hatchback, then.

When it comes to options, the Mk2 features a range of engine options: a 1.1, 1.3, 1.6 and 1.8-litre, as well as the more powerful GTI model which was introduced two years into its life. If it’s the GTI you’re wanting then you have a choice between the 8-valve and 16-valve unit. The 8v offers 112bhp, while the 16v will give you 137bhp. Be advised, though, that the 16v is renowned for being rev happy, whereas the 8v is a little more relaxed while still having sufficient get-up-and-go.

MK2 VW GOLF BUYING GUIDE

MK2 VW GOLF HISTORY
The Mk2 was launched in the UK in March 1984, with the initial line-up being the basic C, the slightly less spartan CL, the up-spec GL and the GTI. Engines ranged from the 1043cc unit shared with the Polo in the C, plus the 1272cc, 1595cc and 1781cc four-cylinders, the latter available with Bosch K-Jetronic in the GTI. Alongside these there was also a 1.6-litre diesel in normally aspirated and turbo spec.

In 1986 the GTI 16v was introduced, the twin-cam head endowing the GTI with 139 bhp and the pace to keep up with rivals like the Escort RS Turbo. The Golf received a facelift the same year, losing the front door quarterlight windows and gaining larger grille slats. In 1990 the four-wheel drive Syncro was added to the range, only offered with the carb-fed 1.8 engine for the UK market and in four-door form with anonymous styling and plain steel wheels.

From 1990 the left-hand drive limited-edition Golf Rallye was also offered in the UK as a special order, combining VW’s ‘G60’ supercharged engine with the Syncro drivetrain.

The GTI meanwhile, received colour-coded plastic bumpers for the 1989 model year, the sought-after late-model cars being referred to as the ‘big bumper’ models.

Production of the Mk2 ended in 1991 after 6.3 million examples when it was replaced by the Mk3 which was launched on the UK market in early 1992.

MK2 VW GOLF BUYING GUIDE

MK2 VW GOLF ENGINE
If you’ve not yet driven a Mk2, you’ll be surprised at just how familiar it is, despite some examples being more than 30 years old. The steering should be precise and the seating should be firm, with a firm ride yet not one of discomfort. It should feel solid and planted on the road. Be aware with early Mk2s that power steering was but an option at the time; a lot of buyers decided not to spend the extra £567 and went without, so a lot of the early Mk2s on the road don’t have it. Not a deal breaker, but it may put you off if you do a fair bit of urban driving.

No matter which engine you’re looking at though, each unit should last well. They are renowned for having a long lifespan, providing they’ve been sufficiently cared for, with regular servicing. As with buying any car, look out for black or blue smoke. If you see blue smoke, you could be looking at worn valves or valve stem oil seals. Either way, the result could mean a complete cylinder head rebuild – not a cheap task.

Upon test driving any Mk2 Golf, sit with the engine idling for a while before engaging gear. Listen out for any misfires or the engine simply acting out of the ordinary: erratic movements, strong vibrations etc. If these issues occur, you may just need new ignition components or be looking at problems with the complex and unreliable factory-fitted Pierburg carburettor.

A repair can often be conducted, or you can simply retrofit progressive Weber 32/34 carbs with manual choke – which will set you back around £300 new. Often, it’s prudent to have a look on forums and internet auction sites for good condition used ones.

If it’s the K-Jetronic injected GTI you fancy, adopt hawk-like abilities on the test drive. If it feels leaden then there may be a problem with an injector. These can be hard to come by new – there’s currently seven (at time of writing) on the VWHeritage website for £52.60 each.

If the injector isn’t the issue, it could be a possible leak to one of the vacuum hoses or either a seized metering head or stuck flap to the inside of the air-flow meter. All of these are simple to sort, but use them to your advantage when conducting any negotiations.

If it’s a diesel you’re after, the one to look out for is the 70 bhp turbo variant or the 80bhp GTD which benefited from the addition of an intercooler. However, the 54bhp non-turbo is an extremely reliable option, but can be pretty slow. If it’s an about-towner you want, though, this shouldn’t be a problem.

If you happen upon one of the rare supercharged 1781cc G60 models – buy it! The G-Lader supercharger can be fragile so do make sure it’s been maintained well, with history to prove.

MK2 VW GOLF BUYING GUIDE

MK2 VW GOLF TRANSMISSION
In terms of transmission, that VW build-quality is again apparent. Earlier Mk2s may feature a four-speed box which, despite providing good acceleration have little in the way of top end, resulting in high revs if travelling at high-speed.

Later five-speed boxes are strong, but watch for loss of synchromesh in second gear and possible differential pins exiting the side. You could have it re-built for a small-ish fee to get them bolted in, if required.

The best options are going to be the ones that are unmolested, but these are rare nowadays with the modifying market as buoyant as it is, resulting in an unreasonable costly premium for those that’re untouched. Tread carefully when buying any modified example. If it’s previously ran or is running coilover suspension you don’t know if or how long it’s been run on the bump stops, or even if it was driven with them in at all – apparently, removing them is a thing these days. You may find a well-looked after one in the modifying scene, though, and taking the modifications off to put it back to stock shouldn’t be too difficult a task.

MK2 VW GOLF BUYING GUIDE

MK2 VW GOLF BODYWORK
Volkswagen upped its game over the Mk1 where tinworm was concerned, meaning the Mk2 is much better at fending it off – but it’s by no means immune to rust, so it’s important to buy on condition and not mileage. Mk2s are renowned for being mechanically pretty sound, but where rust is concerned not so much so take a torch to any viewings.

The inner wings in particular are a problem and unfortunately, it’s not something you can realistically check until home, as the plastic liners make it a very difficult task. Shine the torch around the front suspension sub frame to find any areas of rust there. Around the filler cap is another hotspot. Some modified cars won’t have any arch liners, so with these you’re at least able to check. Other areas to check include sills, the bottom of doors and the rear valance – all of which are easy to access. If the model you’re eyeing up has a sunroof then the metal surround can often attract rust, so be sure to double check this, too.

It’s also wise to check out the quality of any work performed; if it’s obviously noticeable that it’s had a previous shunt of some description, then it’ll need putting right, adding to the overall cost. Mention this when haggling. Although, if you can do this work yourself or know someone who can put it right, it could be a quick win.

MK2 VW GOLF BUYING GUIDE

MK2 VW GOLF INTERIOR AND ELECTRICS
The Mk2’s interior is well ahead of its predecessor, with chunky controls and dials – all of good quality. However, not-so-thanks to the modifying scene, interior trim parts such as door cards, plastics, original steering wheels and roof lining prices are all on the rise. Therefore, it’s wise to ensure whichever model you buy has all this intact and in good condition. Modified versions may be missing the parcel shelf, or feature holes where speakers have been employed. Also watch that door cards are free of speaker holes. If not, make sure you have these parts already sourced, or it could cost you time and money to get your Mk2 how you want it.

MK2 VW GOLF BUYING GUIDE

MK2 VW GOLF – WHAT TO PAY?
Mk2 prices have been on the up for a while. Modifiers have jumped on the VAG bandwagon and one of their favourites is the Mk2. Don’t let that put you off, though. Some modified cars have been more looked after than most, but there are the odd few that (unfortunately) do things by halves.

Mk2s can still be found for around £1500, but we’d expect some work to be required. It will pay to have a good look around! Luckily, though, the Mk2 is DIY friendly, with a number of odd jobs easily done on the driveway. Servicing and maintenance costs are relatively low, allowing for the tightest of budgets.

Aftermarket and OEM VW Classic parts are available from suppliers such as VW Heritage and they do offer a wide selection.

GTIs are well sought after so command a slightly higher price, with 16v being the more popular of the two options. Expect to pay anything from £6k and upwards for a GTI in good order with lots of history; with the 8v variant coming in slightly less. The very special last-of-the-line GTIs with rainbow cloth sets and central locking are super rare with prices reaching around £15,000 for a good one, especially if its doused in Oak Green or bright Helios Blue. If you’re looking for a starter restoration project, you can expect to pay between several hundred and £1500. From £1500-£2500 you’re looking at good runners, while £2500-£6000 will get you a good one with no work required. Expect to pay more than that top end for an excellent one.

Early ‘small bumper’ models are in higher demand at the moment than later ‘big bumper’ models, largely put down to so few surviving. However, that could change in the not-too-distant future, so, if you’re not fussed in terms of bumper style, it may be prudent to purchase a big bumper variant at a lower price. Three doors also come with a premium over five-door variants.

If you happen across one that’s had an engine transplant, such as a VR6 or 2-litre, check out the price – you may be getting an absolute bargain for the work that’s gone into it. Again, this will depend if you’re averse to non-original cars.

MK2 VW GOLF BUYING GUIDE

MK2 VW GOLF VERDICT
There’s no question that the Mk2 is a great all-rounder and a great classic option; perfect for show-worthy status as well as daily duties; it’s even a great car to track if that’s what you’re into. It’s important to know what you want, though, before going shopping. So, whether it’s a totally restored car, a project or something completely original. Each may come with issues, issues that have the potential to make quite the dent on your pocket.

Having not yet hit the same level of want as its older, original sibling, it’s a great time to buy, too. Not only that, the Mk2 is becoming ever more popular, so should result in a fairly decent investment if you buy right in the first place. Naturally, the bigger the pile of history that comes with the car the better

One of the best things about buying a Volkswagen, and specifically the Mk2 Golf model is that the parts support is pretty good. That and the fact that the Mk2 is also fairly DIY friendly means you could save a fortune if you’re the hands-on type.

The car also has a huge following in the UK and there a lot of people out there willing to help their fellow enthusiast. You’d do well to get friendly with scrap yards, clubs, forums, attend VAG-specific shows featuring autojumbles, as well as attending local meets that take place in your area.

Words Danni Bagnall