2500 mile adventure in a Mk2 Golf

In my early teens my Dad had a white MK2 Golf GTi. We worked on the car together maintaining and upgrading various parts. It was a great little car, many a family trip out thrashing round the country roads of Kent.

Since that car I always wanted my own.  Eventually at 18 I managed to acquire an 8valve GTi. It needed a few bits tidying up, as always, over the next 4 years I tinkered around with various parts getting it back to its former glory. I kept it throughout my university life, eventually upgrading the  bottom end of the engine to a 2litre 8valve from a mk3 Golf; the torque produced was insane, in a traffic light grand prix this thing was punching way above its weight, but as the mileage increased the oil consumption did too, so I sold it in favour of an Audi Quattro, (another story for another time).


The Car

Determined to relive the joy of mk2 golf ownership, we bagged ourselves a bit of a high mileage, “Dub Scene”, 16v GTI, with a complementary smell of cigarettes and damp. This particular car was adorned with some horrendous modifications and a questionable MOT, but the engine was tuned to produce a dyno proved 150BHP and it came at the right price. Why a questionable MOT? Well, I let my brother loose behind the wheel for a “quick spin up the road” and the rear brake lines burst, luckily the handbrake still functioned and no harm came to anyone or anything. Among the list of offensive modifications were RONAL Turbo alloys, single headlight conversion, Golf CL interior (who knows why), a dodgy button start which just switched the starter motor on and, worst of all, cheap ebay coilovers wound so low it couldn’t get over white lines in the road. Don’t get me wrong I like a low golf but not that low and cheap coilovers are junk if you want to drive fast.


Part of the reason for this insane purchase was that we had a trip planned; the scenic route down the west coast of France, a blast round the Pyrenees, a cruise around Montpellier, then home. Ten days, a small budget and 2500 miles driving, what could go wrong? Clearly a 150,000 mile 1989 Golf with clear signs of a hard life would be perfect for the job. Preparation was going to be key, but that’s dull so we spent the time replacing the interior for GTI seats, fitting some BBS alloys, reinstating a twin headlight grill and cleaning the smell of cigarettes out. Obviously the rear brake lines were replaced, a quick service and the suspension wound up to a more sensible height. With a toolbox full of tools and a boot full of spare parts we headed for Dover.


A number of hilarious niggles presented themselves within the first few miles of French motorway. The wipers stopped working, the washer jets didn’t work to start with and with the sun out a black car with no air conditioning was like an oven. The trip was going smoothly, stunning views, hot beaches and some long straight roads had the Golfy cruising along happily.

I don’t know if it was the hot weather or just pure luck but the approach to the Pyrenees saw some torrential rain come our way and at that exact moment the wipers fixed themselves and even the washer jets decided to function. Happy days. However, with the rain, the sunroof which had tanned one of Gill’s shoulders now produced a waterfall for passengers, hilarious until I realised that braking produced a waterfall on the drivers lap also.

Thankfully the rain didn’t last and the sweeping mountain passes came into view. This was the part of the trip we took a Golf GTI for, this was what the 10 days was all about for the little 80s hatch. Was it worth it? Of course it was. Just for the sound of a tuned straight four, with a sports exhaust system and a modified airbox howling through the tunnels. Despite the ebay special coilovers with all the damping quality of a desert, the agile but predictable handling of the Golf made for some care free, tyre squealing fun through the hairpins and the adequate power output carried enough punch to raise the pulse through the sweeping faster bends. Even a tired old example of one of these 80s icons can put a smile on your face. There’s something about the mechanical feel of this era of car that just isn’t found in a modern version, certainly the modern Golfs are aimed a very different audience, but even the Fiesta ST, I have praised so much for its driving feel, doesn’t quite match up to the old Golf. Yes, the modern cars will run rings round the old Golf but that isn’t always the most important thing on a road trip.

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Our time in the mountains, surprisingly, finished without drama. I had expected some overheating or oil consumption, but checking the vitals the following morning and the only evidence of hooliganism was the layer of brake dust on the wheels.

Just a day at the beach followed by a long drive back through the middle of France left on our journey and thing were going well. Interestingly the French up until this point didn’t take much note of the car, drive anywhere in England in the same car and people wave, try and race you, shout at you or just walk up for a chat. Only when we got to Montpellier did the car attract some attention, another couple driving a Golf clipper waved at us, said some stuff in French, and then got beaten in a drag race.

Disaster struck on the final leg of the journey, during a fuel stop at one of the few open petrol garages in France because it was a Monday, Wednesday, lunch time or whatever reason the French came up with not to sell fuel, Gill kindly pointed out an ominous puddle under the front of the Golf. Like an excited puppy the little hatchback had sprung a leak. Luckily we had prepared for such an issue. With some Radweld, carefully applied bandages round an oil heat exchanger coolant hose and some bandages on my burnt hands I figured we would probably make it home. And home we did get to. Neglecting the smell of some melted French cheese rolling around the car, our high mileage and well used Golf survived the baking heat, 40C at one point and the punishing driving of a boy racer at heart. What a car. More like this one please.

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