Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

From the iconic Golf GTI to lesser-known rarities such as the Passat W8, Polo WRC and Scirocco Bimotor, these are the fastest VWs ever made

Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Even if it wasn’t strictly the first, Volkswagen is synonymous with creating the hot hatchback. Its legendary GTI badge has been associated with warmed-over Golfs for over four decades, and has also graced other Volkswagen models, too. But GTIs aren’t the only performance cars the Wolfsburg carmaker is famous for. A slew of racing- and luxury-inspired models have been launched in recent years. Here are a few of the more notable – and not quite so notable – hot VWs.

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1976 Volkswagen Golf GTIGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Let’s start with the grandad of them all, the Mk1 Golf GTI. Conceived as an undercover and out-of-hours project, the ‘Sport Golf’ finally received factory blessing for a 5,000-unit limited production run in 1975. The first hot Golf arrived a year later and married the Audi 80 (B1) GTE’s 110bhp fuel-injected 1.6-litre engine to a stiffened chassis and instantly became a cult hit. Offering sports-car-like performance with saloon practicality, the early 810kg Golf GTI sprinted to 60mph in around nine seconds, and introduced the world to hot hatch chequered seat patterns, golf ball gear knobs and wheel-in-the-air attitude. A 1.8-litre 112bhp version arrived in 1982, and the car is now a bona-fide legend.

1972 Volkswagen GT BeetleGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Rarely do the original Beetle and performance go together. But in 1972, 2,500 GT Beetles were produced to celebrate 300,000 UK Beetle imports. Based on the European 1300S, the sportiest Beetle yet had a 1584cc engine, 4.5J ‘Lemmerz’ GT steel wheels, front disc brakes, and only came in three fruity colours: Apple Green, Lemon Yellow and Tomato Red. A very heady (for a Beetle) top speed of 85mph and a power output of 50bhp meant the GT Beetle could show a clean pair of tyre tracks to a contemporary 1302 S.

1997 Volkswagen W12 CoupéGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Sometimes referred to as the Volkswagen Nardo, the W12 Coupé was perhaps the most extreme Volkswagen yet. A low-slung supercar powered by a 414bhp, 5.6-litre W12 engine, the W12 Coupé was styled by Mk1 Golf and Scirocco designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. Mid-engined and four-wheel drive, the car remained a concept, but a further two W12 sports cars were made: a roadster in 1998 and a monstrous 3.5-seconds-to-62mph 591bhp coupé in 2001. In 2002, a W12 coupé took the world record for all speed classes over 24 hours at the Nardo Ring: the car covered a distance of 7,740.576 kilometres (4,809.8 miles) at an average speed of 322.891kph (200.6mph). The W12 coupé is also a gaming star, having appeared in several racing games – including the legendary Gran Turismo series.

1989 Volkswagen Golf G60 LimitedGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Undoubtedly the rarest of all the Mk2 Golf GTI variants, the Golf G60 Limited was hand-built and designed by Volkswagen Motorsport. Only 71 were ever made, almost exclusively with five doors – only two three-door models are reported to exist. The 210bhp supercharged engine was mated to Syncro four-wheel drive for a 7.2-second 0-62mph time. Basically a Golf Rallye without the striking party frock, equipment was generous, but the car was much more subtle. Blue bumper piping replaced the standard GTI’s red trim, and a ‘Volkswagen Motorsport’ badge adorned a single-headlamp grille. BBS RM012 15-inch alloy wheels helped mark out the stealthiest of Golfs, while a numbered plaque proclaimed its limited status. At a price of DM68,500, most G60 Limiteds were originally sold to Volkswagen management and employees.

1998 Volkswagen Polo GTIGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

The first Polo GTI was a limited production car, launched in the autumn of 1998. Based on the original Mk3 Polo from 1994, the 3,000-run GTI was marked out by its 15-inch BBS alloys, Golf GTI-style badges and bright red brake calipers and seatbelts. A new 1.6-litre 16v engine was good for 120bhp and 0-60mph in 9.1 seconds. Even though it was lowered by 15mm and had a wider track, it wasn’t as agile as many rivals. But, it was more fun than the Golf GTI of the same period and, at £11,000, German drivers got a bit of a bargain. When the proper full-scale series production car arrived a year later, the price was nearer to £14,000.

2001 Volkswagen Lupo GTIGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Just as the first Volkswagen Polo GTI was nearing the end of its life, Volkswagen dropped its 125bhp 16v 1.6-litre engine into the baby Lupo. A price tag of around £13,000 meant the hot Lupo was undeniably expensive, but extensive use of aluminium meant that, at 978kg, it was also very light. A striking body kit, a pair of central exhausts and a fake allen-bolted instrument cluster meant the baby GTI was stylish as well as fast – plus a six-speed gearbox was standard from 2002. A 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds and 127mph top speed made for a proper rabid and rapid little wolf.

2001 Volkswagen Passat W8Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Its near-£30,000 asking price may have been more Mercedes territory, but the oft-forgotten 4.0-litre Passat W8 was aiming for the big boys. Like the Golf VR6 from almost 10 years earlier, the 275bhp all-wheel-drive Passat was more of an executive express than an extreme performance car. A 6.3-second 0-60mph time meant it was as hot as the curry from which its ‘Madras’ alloy wheels took their name, while grippy handling and a fully-loaded kit list ensured the big-engined Passat could hold its head up high, even if sales were low.

2001 Volkswagen New Beetle RSiGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

There was undoubtedly something in the water in Wolfsburg during the early 2000s. Along with the outlandish W12 Coupé and intriguing Passat W8, Volkwagen also introduced the New Beetle RSi. Conceived as a testing platform for the upcoming Golf R32 – the new Beetle was based on Mk4 Golf running gear – the RSi featured a 225bhp 3.2-litre V6 up front. Even though weight was around the 1,500kg mark thanks to VW’s 4Motion four-wheel-drive system, the cartoon-winged and skirted Bug dispatched the 0-62mph dash in 6.4 seconds. The 9Jx18 OZ Superturismo rims were a defining highlight, along with the bright terracotta leather Recaro seats and extensive use of carbonfibre and billet aluminium in the interior. Only 250 were made, at an asking price of almost £45,000.

1992 Volkswagen Golf VR6Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

The arrival of the Mk3 Golf in 1991 saw the GTI lose its way, becoming overweight and underpowered. Even a 150bhp 16v model couldn’t re-ignite the hot Golf’s vim. Not to worry, though, as Volkswagen had a solution: the 174bhp Golf VR6. The world’s first six-cylinder compact car, the VR6 was marketed as more of a luxury express than a hot hatchback. A 7.2-second to 62mph time comfortably beat that of the multi-valve GTI, while the silky smooth delivery from its 2.8-litre V6 engine and top speed of 150mph ensured it was quite special. High-end fixtures and fittings meant the six-pot had a very different feel to its GTI siblings.

1983 Volkswagen Scirocco BimotorGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

In the 1990s, there was a trend on the VW scene to put another engine in the back of your performance Volkswagen to create a storming powerhouse. But guess what? Volkswagen had officially got there itself a decade earlier. The Scirocco Bimotor was based on the second-generation of VW’s curvy coupé and had a pair of non-production 1.8-litre engines plumbed into either end. Each motor produced 180bhp, and all 360bhp was put down to the road by a limited-slip differential at either end. The twin-engined ’Rocco would sprint to 60mph from rest in 4.1 seconds and beat a Porsche 911 Turbo to 110mph. Also faster than a Audi Sport Quattro, the eight-cylinder, four-wheel-drive Scirocco experiment was repeated with a better-finished 282bhp car. Preceding both, however, was a VW Motorsport-created 220bhp Twin-Jet Jetta.

1983 Volkswagen Polo SprintGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

The Polo was the last of Volkswagen’s new-fangled water-cooled front-wheel-drive models to arrive in the 1970s, but here’s a rear-wheel-drive version of VW’s baby hatchback. Built in 1983 to evaluate vehicle handling, the one-off wild-looking Polo featured a 1.9-litre Caravelle flat-four engine under the rear boot floor, with an early development of Volkswagen’s ‘G-Läder’ supercharger. Power was up from 90 to 155bhp, while top speed was 125mph, a whole 20mph faster than the 75bhp Polo Coupé of the time. The Polo Sprint knocked 3.5 seconds off the coupé’s 0-60mph time, and equally as wild was the orange metalflake paint job – similar to the second Scirocco Bimotor – blistered wheel arches, and purple velvetex dashboard.

1992 Volkswagen Vento VR6Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

For the third generation of its booted-Golf, Volkswagen dropped the Jetta name in Europe (it remained in the US) and rechristened its family-sized notchback ‘Vento’. Broadly similar to the Mk3 Golf in terms of its engines and trim, the most powerful Vento also adopted VW’s new 2.8-litre, narrow-angle six-pot unit to create a luxurious range-topper. Rated at 174bhp, power was the same as the six-cylinder Golf, but the Vento’s extra weight meant that performance was slightly down, with 0 to 62mph coming up 0.6 seconds slower than its hatchback brother. The Vento VR6 can trace its roots back to the 1979 Jetta VR6, built to evaluate Volkswagen’s range of new in-line compact cylinder-bank engines.

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport SGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Posting a seven minute, 47 second lap around the fearsome Nürburgring circuit in December 2016, and smashing the record time for a front-wheel-drive car in the process, the Golf GTI Clubsport S, like its Porsche 968 namesake, ditched its rear seats in an ultimate diet regime. Launched to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Golf GTI in 2016, the track-focused Clubsport S was produced in a strict 400-unit run, with 150 of those bound for the UK. The hottest Golf at the time, the 306bhp Clubsport S scampered to 62mph from rest in 5.8 seconds, while the more extreme front and rear spoilers produced a small amount of downforce to aid handling.

2013 Volkswagen Polo R WRCGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

No, sadly not all the all-conquering, four-time world champion rally car, but the road-going car it inspired. Unveiled in Monaco ahead of the rally machine’s first competitive outing on the 2013 Monte-Carlo Rally, the blue and grey Polo R WRC used a unique 2.0-litre TSI engine based on that from the Mk 6 Golf GTI. Good for 217bhp and 258lb ft of torque – a whole 39bhp and 74lb ft more than the high-performance Polo GTI of the time – the hottest Polo scorched from 0 to 62mph in 6.4 seconds and romped on to 151mph. Only available in white, notable Polo R WRC features included 18-inch ‘Cagliari’ alloy wheels, bespoke bumpers and blue brake calipers. Only 2,500 examples of the €33,900 Polo R WRC were ever made, and all were left-hand drive.

2002 Volkswagen Golf R32Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

With a lowly 125bhp, the Mk4 Golf GTI was all but a European-spec 2.0 Highline in spirit, and by the time more powerful 150bhp and 180bhp versions were available, the fourth-generation GTI’s reputation had been tarnished. Step up the R32. Featuring the New Beetle RSi’s VR6 engine, the most powerful production Golf yet produced 240bhp at 6250rpm. A six-speed manual gearbox transferred power to the road – VW’s dual-clutch DSG gearbox also made its debut on the R32, a world production first – and 0-60mph was delivered in just 6.3 seconds. VW’s ubiquitous 4Motion four-wheel-drive system ensured traction and grip was limpet-like and an imposing gaping-grille bodykit and 18-inch OZ Aristo alloy wheels with blue brake calipers made sure the R32 couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.

1986 Volkswagen Scirocco GTX 16vGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Launched in March 1981, the second-generation Scirocco eschewed Giorgetto Giugiaro’s folded paper style for a curvier in-house design. The GTI had the original Golf GTI’s 110bhp engine under its bonnet, but in 1986, the GTX 16V arrived, fitted with Volkswagen’s new 139bhp 1.8-litre 16v engine. Uprated suspension, rear disc brakes and a lower strut brace ensured the chassis could deal with the increased performance, while twin exhausts and discreet ‘16V’ badging – even on the glovebox – marked out the multi-valve coupé. Only 10 examples of the left-hand-drive GTX 16V were officially imported to the UK.

2018 Volkswagen Up GTIGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

OK, we’ve cheated a little here, as the Up GTI isn’t actually available yet. Due for launch early next year, the diminutive hot hatch has been a long time coming. Announced at this year’s infamous Woerthersee GTI meet in Austria, the Up GTI has all the hallmarks of that very first Golf GTI. At 997kg, it’s relatively light for a modern car, and its 113bhp from a diddy 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged engine is near-identical to the later 1.8-litre incarnation of VW’s performance icon. The benchmark 0-62mph sprint is over in 8.8 seconds, while the Up GTI maxes out at 122mph. The standard version of VW’s tiny tot handles well, so the omens are good for the hotter city car. Prices are expected to start at £14,000.

1977 Volkswagen Passat GTIGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Yep, you read that right. A Passat GTI. An experimental car built in 1977 to evaluate possible future versions of Volkswagen’s big family saloon, the Passat GTI featured the original Golf GTI’s 110bhp, 1.6-litre fuel-injected engine, front and rear spoilers, red trim stripes, plastic wheel arch spats, ‘Bahama Blue’ paintwork, a ‘spittoon’ steering wheel, and GTI seat covers. Based on the three-door ‘coupe’ facelifted version of Volkswagen’s first-generation Audi 80-inspired saloon, the Passat GTI perhaps wisely remained a concept, and can now be seen in the AutoMuseum Volkswagen in Wolfsburg.

2008 Volkswagen Touareg R50Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Ahead of the current luxury performance off-roader game, Volkswagen produced its most outrageous – and some would say pointless – sports utility vehicle in 2008. Based on its first luxury SUV, the Touareg, the R50 married a 347bhp 5.0-litre V10 TDI diesel engine to a four-wheel-drive system and six-speed automatic gearbox that could handle a monumental 627lb ft (850Nm) of torque. The Touareg R50 really did dash to 62mph from a standing start, its 6.7-second time breathtaking for something weighing more than 2.5 tonnes. Volkswagen famously staged a publicity stunt with a standard 750Nm Touareg V10 TDI pulling a Boeing 747, but with even more torque, we’d like to see the Touareg R50 repeat the exercise, perhaps with an Airbus A380…

1989 Volkswagen Golf RallyeGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Developed predominantly for competition, the box-arched Golf Rallye of 1989 is almost unrecognisable. Produced in a limited run of 5,000 units for homologation into the 1990 World Rally Championship, the usual Golf GTI’s 1,781cc four-cylinder engine was downsized to 1,763cc to satisfy the FIA regulations. But, when fitted with the G60 version of VW’s G-Läder supercharger, power was upped to 160bhp, which punted the Rallye to 62mph in 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 130mph. A Syncro four-wheel-drive system ensured traction was up to handling gravel tracks as well as winding tarmac, and even though the Rallye was exclusively left-hand drive, the car was sold in the UK.

1992 Volkswagen Corrado VR6Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Volkswagen was nothing if not resourceful with the use of its new compact six-cylinder engine during the early 1990s. As well as the Golf, Vento, and Passat, the VR6 unit was also dropped into the largely Mk2 Golf-based Corrado coupé to create a sporting flagship. Here, though, displacement was 2.9 litres and power was upped to 190bhp. Top speed was 145mph, while 0 to 62mph was dealt with in 6.4 seconds. On sale in August 1992, the £19,895 Corrado VR6 was a rare thing at the time: a properly-sorted hot Volkswagen. Now seen as a modern classic due to its smooth engine and vice-free handling, prices are on the up.

1986 Volkswagen Jetta GT SpecialGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Not an official model from the factory, the Jetta GT Special was unique to the UK. Based on the 112bhp 1.8-litre Jetta GT, which shared its engine with the contemporary Mk2 Golf GTI, the GT Special was a ‘designer car’ sold by tuning company GTI Engineering. Special equipment on the Special included a steel sliding sunroof, tinted glass, and a very striking GTI Engineering body kit consisting of front and rear under-bumper valances, side skirts and a two-tone white/grey finish. A set of 15-inch white alloy wheels finished off the Jetta GT Special, along with a GTI Engineering steering wheel.

2007 Volkswagen Golf GTI W12-650Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

Thirty years after Volkswagen launched the GTI in the UK, it produced the most wild version it has ever made. The Golf GTI W12-650 referred to the car’s power output: yes, that’s right, 642bhp (the ‘650’ refers to the metric output of 650ps) in a Golf! The monstrous bi-turbo W12 engine sent power to the rear wheels through a six-speed Tiptronic gearbox. Around 70mm lower than the standard Mk5 GTI on which it was based, the W12-650 was a massive 160mm broader, and featured stunning wider-than-wide bodywork with cartoon-like enlarged sills, faired-in rear windows, as well as front grilles that made the W12-650 look like it could eat Lamborghinis for breakfast. The trademark 0-62mph dash was dispensed with in the blink of an eye – OK, 3.7 seconds – and the car’s top speed was a stratospheric 201mph. Sadly, the hottest Golf of them all remained a concept.

2006 Volkswagen Passat R36Go-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

The second Volkswagen to wear the ‘R’ badge, the Passat R36 of 2006 was the fastest version of the large saloon and estate the company had yet produced. A 3.6-litre, 296bhp V6 engine sat under the hot Passat’s bonnet, while a six-speed DSG gearbox channeled the power through all four wheels. Uprated suspension and brakes completed the mechanical makeover, while externally, 18-inch wheels and a Golf R32-like front end with a chrome ‘V’ grille and gaping ducts added menace to the normally humdrum big VW. Top speed was electronically limited to 155mph, while the 0-62mph dash took just 5.6 seconds.

1991 Volkswagen Gol GTIGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

In Brazil, the Gol is one of Volkswagen’s most popular cars. Sitting between the Polo and Golf in size, the hatchback is named after the Portuguese word for goal and was launched in 1981. Originally powered by a flat-four air-cooled engine – but resolutely not a Beetle engine – the small Brazilian VW married modern European water-cooled Volkswagen safety features with an older engine suited to the tropical climate it was to serve. It even ran on alcohol! But in 1988, the first Gol GTI arrived with its 112bhp 2.0-litre engine and top speed of 119mph. The car seen here is a facelifted model, produced in 1991.

2013 Volkswagen Golf R CabrioletGo-faster stripes: a history of hot Volkswagens

After the success of the Golf GTI Cabriolet in 2012, a year later Volkswagen introduced an even hotter open-top: the Golf R Cabriolet. Like the soft-roof GTI, the R version was based on the Mk6 version of its best-seller, and instantly became the fastest production open-top Golf. A 261bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine was connected to the latest six-speed DSG gearbox, driving the front wheels. The £38,770 range-topping R Cabriolet was capable of ruffling bouffants up to 155mph, and would blow them out of shape with its 6.4-second 0 to 62mph time. Outside, bespoke bumpers, a gloss black front grille and brake calipers, smoked tail lights and 18 or 19-inch ‘Talladega’ alloy wheels made the R one of the coolest cabriolets on the block.

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