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Our Cars – 1986 Volkswagen Polo Classic rescued from an uncertain fate


The cars, they keep on coming. The tally stands at four right now, and I’d like it to stay that way for just a little while. Joining my youngtimer Euro fleet is a 1986 Volkswagen Polo “86c”, called a Polo Classic for some reason and badged as Polo C for some other reason. It’s technically quite close to a Fox of sorts, but features a humble 1272cc, 53-horsepower four hooked up to a four-speed manual gearbox.

It’s probably the least rusty car I have ever owned. There is a pimple-sized rust speck in the corner of the windshield, and nowhere else is there any rust to be seen – except for some minor surface rust on some suspension components. The body is unmarked, the paint all original.

Naturally, there are caveats…



The car was bought new by an elderly lady, who daily-drove it until 2012 except for storing it every winter. It was maintained at a local garage, and used sparingly. The odometer reading stands at 83000 km and change, and there is very little wear anywhere. It wouldn’t be out of the question that the car would’ve done 3000 slow kilometres per year within the city limits.

However, it is a restoration project of sorts. After giving up driving, the elderly lady had given the VW to a relative of hers, who ran into some engine trouble and pretty much abandoned it at a garage nearby. It stood there on the forecourt for six months, during which it changed hands but didn’t move an inch – an another guy considered fixing it up, but didn’t have anywhere to put it and no time to invest in it. The fault remained unrectified, as no labor costs were wanted to be put in it, despite the car sitting five metres from the garage’s door. The ever-present hand of the crusher came nearer the car than ever before.


I got the phone call last week, informing me about the car. A local, Polo-driving enthusiast acquaintance had been tipped off about the car, but as he already drives a mint 1.1-litre ’82 Polo he was more eager to pass the info on. And the price was good, even for a paperweight with a VW badge. I just had to save it, no matter what.

Soon enough, I signed the title at the MOT station and received the keys from the seller along with a handshake. With the other Polo guy, we trailered the car to where the Saab currently sleeps, and I soon started cleaning the thing up and assessing the issues. A good hoovering was the first thing I did to it, as it was definitely overdue.


Initially, it was assumed the headgasket was a goner. It had been replaced once before, and it would make sense a gasket replacement without skimming the head would cause the problem to reappear. This was the info with which I bought the car, and it still makes sense.



Opening the air filter cover, I noticed the entire airbox along with the carb was swimming in black oil, with the air filter soaked. I was at first adviced this could possibly be due to stuck piston rings, which does kick up the intensity of the project a notch.


But it’s not all that bad. In any case, what we’re dealing here is a completely original, low-km, rust free grandmamobile that is getting rarer, even if it’s not an uncommon sight on our roads. The interior, while still needing some cleaning, is all there – it’s hilariously basic to begin with, of course. No radio, no tach, no clock, nothing. Just hard plastic.

I didn’t talk money yet, did I? I got the car for 60 euros, 60! That is 85 of your good bucks. The car has about a hundred’s worth of overdue tax due to sitting unused without being declared off the road, and it does need some repair funds put into it. But a worst-case scenario, however unlikely, is a replacement engine and I could source one for just 100 eur.


The first step once I had rolled my sleeves was to drain the engine of the oil gone bad, and out came quite a bit more than was strictly necessary. The over-filled oil, especially with some water that had ended up in the bottom of the oilpan, will have easily boosted the oil to such level that it had to get out no matter what outlet. That would mean I wouldn’t need to worry about the piston rings just yet.

With fresh oils, a new filter and the engine hand-turned for a while, the Volkswagen didn’t quite yet start when I first attempted it yesterday; it took until I replaced the plugs tonight and sprayed a bit of starter pilot into the carb that it actually sprang to life. It doesn’t really like to idle, there’s white smoke from the exhaust along with water, mayo forms into the oil cap and whatnot – but it does run and move under its own power. It didn’t do that for six months.

For all it’s worth, that’s a good start. I’ll have a nice winter season fixing the car up.

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]

  • Vavon

    You need just one more car to have the 3 best small cars of the 80's.
    According to the German Autobild magazine of April 1989 that is!
    First: Peugeot 205, second: VW Polo and third: Nissan Micra.
    So you would even be getting them in the right order! 😉

    <img src="http://www.autotest24.de/dynbilder/bericht20176_norm.jpg"&gt;

    • My parents used to have a '86 Micra, which I did like. It also had some head issues, leaking oil into the coolant, and rusted so eagerly we traded it in for a B12 Sunny Coupe. I wouldn't kick a Micra Super S out of the bed (the one with a bodykit, bucket seats and a sports steering wheel).

  • You lucky son of a gun. I like and own many unloved things … postwar ranch homes, fat slobbery english bullies, early 20 century Sears catalogue furniture needing refurbishment, Chryslers. I'm totally envious, enjoy it.

  • Jay_Ramey

    Excellent purchase (like how's this even possible for 60 euros?) And its in refrigerator white too! Excellence!

    If you could get it over here on the cheap, I could see the DOKA/Westfalia crowd fighting for it.

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      For sure. Personally, I'd like to show up to a VW show with it to see everyone's confused expressions.

    • Sjalabais

      I second that. Is there no scrapping scheme in Finland? This is so cheap, it almost makes me weep. If I wanted such a Polo, I'd easily pay 10x as much and feel it was a bargain.

      • Well, there's no official Clunkers money scheme. You get a small sum of money that probably varies, but currently the idea is that you won't need to *pay* anything for them to take your disposable vehicle.

        The original asking price was 200, which for a non-running Polo taking space is sort of fair, in any condition. But the overdue tax status worked as a negotiation piece, with good results. The most important thing is that the car wasn't scrapped.

  • lilpoindexter

    What a cute little VW.

  • dukeisduke

    I love Polos!

  • Neat little car. Hopefully it doesn't need rings.

    What's that in the garage next to it?

    • Some old Chevy that's sat outdoors rusting for 40 years or so.

  • MattC

    Congratulations. I love the basic simplicity of the car and the fact that the VW is really in great shape for its age. All the car needed was someone who would properly care for it.

  • MrHowser

    I think the price floor here is around $400, thanks to the price of scrap, and the relative ease of taking a dead car to the junkyard. At that price range, the cars you'll find are almost always trashed. A whole car for $85 is awesome, even if in need of some fixing.

  • Preludacris

    Looks like a really fun project. I wonder if any bigger VW engines would bolt in…

    • At the very least a 1.6-litre unit from a Golf Mk2 will drop right in. Of course, that's no ball of fire either.

      You could get the Polo in G40 supercharger guise in Germany, with 115 hp. That would actually make it move quite quickly.

      • monkey_tennis

        It would move quickly for a short time; until the G-Lader chokes on its own innards.

        The G40 was a minor object of lust for me when I first looked at buying a (second hand) car in the mid-90s — but there were already very few around that still worked

  • Fritz66

    Thats only the crankcase ventilation!!!

    A common error on small VW engines when they didn´t get warmed up.
    Just fix this for another 60 bucks and thats ist.

    • cruisintime

      My first thought ! I have seen this before.

    • It definitely needs at least a head gasket, but that's not a major deal.

      • Sjalabais

        Head gasket attached to SBC or LS1 engine? Muhaha. Just the friday evening beer kicking in.

      • fritz66

        I think first of all it needs a new timing belt.
        And maybe a catalysator as the old one was possibly ruined by oil.

        oh and not to forget this is an example the busted part: http://tinyurl.com/polo86C-Oilc

        ( I had the same problem with my old VW Derby 86C. I had even removed the engine only to find out that engine was in perfect condition and the problem was an absolute trifle for € 40.-)

        • It does not have a catalysator most likely, and yeah: if and when I take anything apart a new water pump and cambelt are a necessity since I don't know when they have been changed last.

  • duurtlang_

    My mk2 Golf has almost the same drive train. 1.3L, 54 hp with a 4-speed manual. Mine is fuel injected though. Earlier this year I decided to park the car after 290k km in a barn as a future restoration project. It was still running fine but I wanted something more comfortable and cheaper to run (fuel) on high speed runs. These things will run forever with minor and very cheap maintenance.

    A way to improve power is to install a hotter cam shaft. Look for the NZ from the (at the top of my head) Polo GT or the cam from the early mk3 Golf 1.6.