Volkswagen’s Golf Mk II was launched in 1983 and was a larger, slightly more curved version of the Giugiaro-designed 1974 best seller. It was seven inches longer and two inches wider, while the wheelbase was three inches longer. The Golf Mk I set the trend for front-wheel drive hot hatchbacks, so all the competition had one by the time the Mk II was introduced.
Competition included Austin, Fiat, Ford, Opel, Peugeot and Renault in Europe, and Toyota, Nissan and Subaru in America and Japan. Even so, the Golf Mk II was a huge success, and by the time the last one was built in 1992, 6.3 million had been sold.
The first Golf had been marketed as the Rabbit in the U.S., but after American division president Carl Hahn took over the company, the Golf name was standardized worldwide. The VW Golf Mk II was sold as a three-door and five-door hatchback, while the two- and four-door sedans were named Jetta. Oddly, the square Mk I cabriolet version continued in production.
The Golf was sold in several trim levels, some of which started and stopped, and even just looking at the performance models is a bit confusing. In 1987, a Golf GT arrived to replace the eight-valve version of the GTI as soon as the 16-valve version of the GTI was available. Then, two years later, GTI badging returned to both models on American market cars. The eight-valve model was offered from 1985-87, then 1990-92, while the 16-valve GTI was built from 1987-92.
In the rest of the world, engines included 1.0, 1.3, 1.6 and 1.8 liter gasoline engines and 1.6 liter diesels, which were available with a turbocharger until 1987. American models had 1.8-liter gasoline engines or 1.6-liter diesels. The GTI was sold in the U.S. as a three- or five-door hatchback with a 1.8 liter engine developing 110 bhp. In 1987, a twin-cam 16-valve GTI was launched with a 123 bhp four cylinder engine. “Big bumper” cars were fitted with a 2-liter engine from 1990, and the rare supercharged GTI G60 produced 158 bhp. American VW Golf Mk II’s were built in the old Rabbit plant in Pennsylvania until 1988, when slow sales and increasing costs moved production to Puebla in Mexico.
The Golf GT model offered the GTI look (red stripe and fender flares) but was fitted with the base engine and available with an automatic transmission and five doors. The eight-valve GTI was built alongside the 16-valve model from 1990, but gradually became more and more like the base car.
A four-wheel drive Golf Synchro was offered from 1986-89 but since it cost a third more than the two-wheel drive model, sales were slow and only 26,000 were built. A Rallye Golf was offered in 1989, homologated for competition, but it cost double the price of the street car and only 5,000 were built. None were sold in the U.S.
With excellent, peppy performance and easy parts availability, the Mk II GTI has great potential as a fun collectible and there’s a reason the GTI has become the quintessential “hot hatch.” Both the eight and 16-valve engines can go 200,000 miles with proper maintenance and the principal issues to look for are crash damage, rust (pretty much everywhere) and electrical maladies. The best cars will have complete records, including timing belt replacement every 40,000 miles and oil pump at 100,000 miles.