Sweaty Spice, the other Spice Girl

What would I look for? What would be the criteria? What would my goal be? All excellent questions, and I will use this as a thought exercise.

Volkswagen pretty much defined the category that we call the Hot Hatch. Their first foray into that realm was by creating the original GTI, which was a performance enhanced Rabbit. Way back, in 1976, the badge first appeared, and it was much more pastoral back then.

But that is ancient history, and VW followed up with many variants, the Scirocco, the Corrado, Golf GTI, Golf R32, and lately, every few years, a single year run of the Golf R.

Which Vintage

One thing I believe I will want is one of the VR6 versions, and that means a Mk III, or a MK IV. But I am pretty sure that I would prefer the older, MK III version, as that has the 12 valve variant. Later VR6s have a 24 valve head, and is a bit more complex. In general, I would prefer the freer flowing 4 valve per cylinder version, but the 2 valve engines are pretty much bullet proof, and a good foundation for a build. So I would be looking for a 94 - 98 version, with the 2.8 liter VR6.

The fly in that ointment? It will be at least 22 years old.

Why is that a problem?

There are several issues. The fundamentals of the mechanics are likely fine. As I have mentioned before, VW makes some bullet-proof motors. At least the bottom ends are good for 300+K miles, as long as maintenance is kept up. The valve trains on the 12 valve VR6s are also pretty solid, as long as the cam chains have been serviced on time.

But a lot of the other items will need a lot of attention. The interiors are likely to be shabby.

If it has been in an accident and repaired, there will likely be some mis-matched items, and weirdness.

And, frankly, while the GTI and its manifold variants sold well, and many are on the road today, a testament to VW’s engineering prowess, parts availability for common items (think fuel injectors) can be problematic.

I have a step brother who lovingly kept an early 1970’s vintage Chevrolet Vega (not even a Cosworth engined one) alive for almost 40 years, and in the end, it essentially disintegrated around him, and start parts were just unobtainable.

So, what next?

Again, the last VR6 vintage of GTI was the MkIV, that went end of sales in 2005, even with one of the less preferred 24 valve variants, would be at least 16 years old at this point (2021).

If a hot hatch is in my future, then it will likely be a Mk5 or Mk6 (leaning towards the Mk5, even though the style isn’t my cuppa, because it has less electronic foofoorah). Of course, I could be edgy and look for a grey market imported Audi variant. But, if parts availability is important, well, fuhgettaboutit.

There are other hot hatches out there, but the interesting ones don’t make it to the US market (Renault and Peugeot are strong players). Nope, the GTI, or a Honda Civic hatchback are the choices. Well, there is the Mazda 3 series. In a Mazdaspeed 3 package it is quite nice.

The late VW Golf R, a modern variant of the iconic R32 is interesting, but 2019 variants sell for nearly $30K used, and the 2022 release (they only build them every few years) will be well north of $40K new, gulp. To get that HiPerf motor, all wheel drive, and killer double clutch transmission - admittedly sweet - that is a hefty tab. And I don’t drive my Acura RDX enough to add a car to my stable - at least at that price point.


So, for the foreseeable future, the hot-hatch will remain a thought exercise. All while I keep a close eye on Craigslist for a project car, a Mk5 with a lunched head (common failure was the cam chain tensioner going blooey, and slipping its timing, and a new head required. Expensive, but not prohibitive) for a couple of grand, and then breathing on it as it is rebuilt.

Still, that is a low probability event.

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