Introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1983, right-hand drive Golf MKIIs wouldn’t be with British buyers until March the following year. Wider, longer and heavier than its 1974 forebear, over six million were produced in a career that cemented Volkswagen’s reputation as a ‘semi-premium’ marque. Sturdily built, famed for its reliability and less rust-prone than its contemporaries, the MKII built up quite a following.

Can the rest of the range be separated from the GTI, though? Like most German cars, Golf MKIIs are incredibly specification sensitive. The GTI was held in the highest regard, and mangled Yeats’ quote aside, it was something of an ‘Eighties icon, still recognised today as a potent front-wheel drive hot hatch.

Most upgrades you can buy today are performance-oriented, aimed at improving the handling that made the Golf MKII a media darling. Many of the parts are interchangeable and can be fitted to lesser models, enabling you to recreate the GTI driving experience on the cheap.

The Golf MKII had a variety of four-cylinder engines throughout its life. In its heyday, tuners concentrated on the 1.8-litre fuel-injected engines fitted to the GTIs (in eight- and 16-valve forms), with a wealth of cams, head and bottom-end options available depending on the sturdiness of your wallet. Sports exhausts are also easy to find, although many aftermarket suppliers have moved on to newer cars. Powerflow and Jetex still have larger bore performance systems on their books, in single and twin pipe forms. The latter’s twin-pipe, two-inch system for the GTI eight-valve clocks in at £262.50 from VW Heritage.

It’s also worth mentioning that the carburetted 1.6-litre and 1.8-litre engines can be made to perform better with an eight-valve GTI camshaft and a Weber 32/34 (with appropriate manifold) in place of the factory fitted Pierburg 2E2 (£249.50 excluding VAT from Webcon) – although it’s worth mentioning that smaller-engined Golfs lack the appropriate running gear (uprated suspension and disc brakes) fitted to GTIs.

If you want to go further, that 1.8-litre (1781cc) block was retained by the Volkswagen Audi Group (VAG) long after the MKII ceased production in 1992, finding its way into various group cars well into the ‘Noughties. Known as the ‘AGU’, this turbocharged 1.8-litre unit was used in cars such as the Golf GTI MKIV, Audi TT and Seat Leon Cupra. Engine transplants into Golf MKIIs are not uncommon, using a donor example as a basis. Basic chip tuning can net you in excess of 200bhp.

Engine swaps are facilitated by the design of the Golf MKII’s shell. The front subframe which carries the suspension, gearbox and engine comes undone with four bolts and a removable front ‘slam panel’ aids access for major engine work.

Well supported by the likes of Bilstein, Eibach, Gaz and KW, the Golf MKII’s suspension is easily upgraded depending on your plans – everything from firmer shocks and springs to the likes of full-race coil overs are available – and not just for the GTI. Bilstein Suspension Direct’s B12 Pro kit (comprising of height-adjustable, stiffer shock absorbers and lowering springs) retails for £644.35 and is a ‘fast road’ compromise between standard GTI suspension and a more specialised track-day setup.

A couple of GTI-specific problems to consider are the front suspension strut top mounts and rear handbrake calipers. In the case of the former, the 1990 G60 used a stronger design which can be used as a direct replacement. They’re £10.20 each from VW Heritage.

The GTIs (and other performance variants like the G60 and Rallye) used discs at the back, and the handbrake mechanism, exposed on the outside of the caliper, can seize if left standing for any amount of time. A common modification is to use aluminium MKIV Golf equivalents – £201 buys VW Heritage’s kit which can also be used on smaller-engined MKIIs. 

Extremely hard-wearing, the only main area of concern is the driver’s seat lower bolster, which can be replaced by an equivalent from a scrapped car. Breaker’s yards are probably your best bet for these. G60 Limiteds had full black leather interiors which could be easily swapped into any five-door Golf MKII – although their extreme scarcity makes finding a full set rather unlikely.

August 1987 saw the Golf MKII lose its front quarter lights and gain a larger-slatted front grille. A more noticeable change came two years later, when the so called ‘big-bumper’ cars arrived in Europe, reflecting changes in American crash legislation. These cars looked bulkier as a result – but you can fit earlier bumpers to a post-August-1989 MKII GTI using parts from VW Heritage. Certain lower-specification Golfs had smaller bumpers right up until the end of production, so on-line auction sites, breakers’ yards and marque forums may be your best bet for the fixings and brackets.

The Golf MKII’s 4x100mm stud pattern means that an enormous variety of alloy wheels and performance tyres are available from the likes of ATS, BBS, Borbet, Compomotive, Gotti and others.