Continuing A Family Legacy With A 450,000km Volkswagen Golf GTI
Story by Fabio Landi
Photography by Alessio Giovinazzo
My name is Fabio Landi. I grew up in Italy, and unlike many young boys with an interest in cars, exotic Lamborghinis or Ferraris weren’t the ones I idolized. Looking back on my childhood I think I was lucky: my uncle had a Celica ST185 back then, and the turbocharged Japanese import seemed to my young sensibilities like something from space. I loved that car, it’s retractable headlights, its crystal white paint, the abundance of curves and scoops, the sound… Its rival on the rally stage in the ‘90s was the Lancia Delta Integrale, but I didn’t mind rooting for the foreigner in this case.
Another car that made an impression on me was the BMW 320is, the “Italian M3.” It was my cousin’s car, and though it didn’t have the same box-flared bodywork as the real M3, the silhouette cut into the anonymous traffic of Fiat hatchbacks was still quite striking. The fact that the Bimmer was black on black, lowered, and all around mean-looking meant it was just about the coolest car in my mind at the time, especially when my cousin would occasionally drop me off at or pick me up from elementary school. I remember looking out the window at my friends’ cars, not being able to help myself “You’re riding along in an Ibiza, but check this thing out!”
I’m not sure where that car is today, but I’ll never forget how it smelled in the cabin, how it felt to see it coming down the street and then from the passenger seat. My family appreciates all sorts of cars from all sorts of places, but I’ve always been smitten with the VWs. My uncle with the Celica also had a 16-valve GTI in Verde Jada, and though there were many other examples of the second-generation Golf in the family it was this one that I can attribute my lasting interest to. It had checkered cloth seats, the red “mustache” around the lights and grille, the Digifiz readout on the instrument panel… I told myself I had to have the same thing. In due time.
I gave my dad a hard time I think, being as it was he had the standard GL model Golf when all I cared about was my uncle’s GTI: “Where are the red details? Where are the badges? Why isn’t the dashboard digital?” It’s always the uncles with the fun cars isn’t it? My dad was a good sport though, and I have to say his Royal Blue GL wasn’t all that bad either!
Sadly my uncle passed away in 2013, and this gave me the impetus to realize my dream of owning a GTI like the one he had. So a year later, in November of 2014, I take my thousand euros of Golf money and start to look at Italian sites to find a miracle.
The one I found was not the same as my uncle’s old one, but it was, in a way, a mix of all the Golfs I’d grown up with, not just my favorite of the bunch. It is a “Special” like another uncle had, it’s a 16V like the green one was, and it has five doors like the GL of my father and the “Memphis” of my grandfather. A little VW stew.
I found my car in Padua, in northern Italy. It had been sitting for years, so I brought my best friend with me to inspect the car. It was as honest a car as we could determine from its current immobile state, so I “paid the man,” went back home, and greeted the new-to-me GTI a few days later when it showed up in our wake on a car transporter.
It was time to get going on the restoration. It wouldn’t be a rotisserie reworking of the car, but still, there’s always something that needs correcting on cars this old. Various fluids and filters and other wear and tear times were swapped out first, and it was given an intensive cleaning in addition to the little trim pieces and clips and whatnot that required some attention. It’s almost fully original again, and it took some time tracking parts down, but one thing I’m especially proud of is the radio. It required much hunting to find it (and I eventually located one in Bulgaria), but this is the same one used in the brochures for this car, and its these little details that count most to me.
It’s not the fastest nor most exotic car in my country, but I am very proud of my GTI. Especially because it’s a tribute to my uncle every time I turn the key and I go to a new world or just a short drive.
I love going up the mountain passes and taking pictures, alone or in the company of my girlfriend, of my best friend and his camera, or even my younger brother, who’s also a big GTI fan. But since the GTI is already in the family stable again, he hopes to be the owner of a Celica 185, perhaps in the limited Carlos Sainz version.
Despite the 450,000km (yes, you read that right!) the GTI still stretches its legs eagerly, especially in second and third gear pulls. in my opinion it is still undervalued in the automotive world, especially in Italy where people only talk about Delta, Uno Turbo, Punto GT, and R5 Turbo when it comes to everyone’s favorite “hot hatch.” Of course I know the GTI following is larger than all of those put together when you look at the wider world, but we tend to find influence from our surroundings right? And in Italy, the Golf is not viewed as it is in the countries to the north of us.