Reader Submissions: Continuing A Family Legacy With A 450,000km Volkswagen Golf GTI

Continuing A Family Legacy With A 450,000km Volkswagen Golf GTI

By Petrolicious Productions
July 13, 2018

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.

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Miki Vaver
Miki Vaver(@miki_vaver)
7 months ago

Měl jsem toto auto v červené barvě. Jsem z České republiky Ostravy. Bylo mi v roce 2013 ukradeno. je mi to velmi líto, přes veškerou snahu jsem ho nenašel. I s digi.

3 years ago

Great article and a nice car. Reminds me of the 8V Mk2 GTI that I had when I lived in Rome in the early 90s. Before then I always thought VWs were boring, but I soon figured out that a GTI was the perfect machine for Italian driving conditions – equally at home in city traffic, mountain roads and the Autostrada. Huge fun!

3 years ago

I live in the US and had an ’88 Jetta GLI with the 1.8L 16V DOHC. Over here at that time, the GTI’s were only available in a 2 dr. hatchback, not the 4 door hatchback. Our cars also had black vinyl bolsters on the seats with cloth inserts and analog gauges. We got the tear drop rims and mine came with a Blaupunkt stereo standard. Mine had all the options that were available. I loved that car. I drove the snot out of it and put 165,000 miles (about 265,500 km) on it between 1988 and 1994 when I sold it. Pics of the same year/color attached. Enjoy your new toy!

2 years ago
Reply to  pdq

Doubt it’ll ever reach another 165,000. Besides that, you really couldn’t afford better when you bought it?????

Russ Wollman
Russ Wollman(@twincamfiat)
3 years ago

I had one, too. Wonderful chassis and bigger inside than out. But my first love was Italian. Nice to read your words and emotions. Simple cars are the best.

3 years ago

The mk2 GTI is still one of my favorite cars. And as many of these as I have owned, I’ve never seen or heard of the digital cluster. I might have to work on a new project.

Javier Berrocal
Javier Berrocal(@fb_10156177264505481)
3 years ago

I love reading stories like this one. Longing for exotic cars is simple, but loving everyday classics is a different story. I never knew about the digital cluster option either!

3 years ago

Someone, please tell me about the digital dash on Mk2 GTI. I never even knew it existed. Was it a special add-on on Euro model?

Matthew Kirk
Matthew Kirk
3 years ago
Reply to  JB21

It’s commonly referred to as “Digifizz”. No Idea if it was OEM or a dealer add on. If you google that name you may find some used systems for sale. Not cheap.