Home » Finnish Line » Currently Reading:

Our Cars: The Project Polo opens up its secrets

Antti Kautonen November 15, 2013 Finnish Line 32 Comments


Quite recently, I acquired a 1986 Volkswagen Polo Classic for little more than what rummaging the sofa’s insides along with returning a few empty bottles would yield. The car was seriously cheap, but for a reason: it had been abandoned at a garage forecourt for six months and didn’t start. Gradually fixing up the Polo and rectifying its maladies is a good reason why I have been spending more time getting my hands dirty than producing ‘Verse material. It happens.

After trailering it to the shared garage, I set into work. Draining the engine of bad watery oil, topping it up and replacing the spark plugs resulted in getting it running: it didn’t sound too good at first, but at least it ran. The headgasket is clearly gone, so right now I’m tearing into the engine to pull the head and replace the gasket.


This is where we left off in the initial post. The engine bay is reasonably nice and clean, and actually not a major hassle for working. And the cam cover is probably the first 25-30-year-old VAG cam cover that hasn’t rusted beyond salvation. In actuality, it’s as-new.


Off it came. Whoever poured milky tea inside my engine, I hate you.

The headgasket failure is pretty apparent at this point. If it wasn’t for the XZN triple square head bolts, I would have pulled the head already by now; every single bolt and screw I encountered under the hood took precious little persuasion to come off. Together with the unworn cam lobes, it was easy to determine the car hadn’t seen too much use. It’s dodged the big salty bullet.



I removed the camshaft pulley and inspected the cambelt. It was actually surprisingly slack even before loosening, which was kind of unnerving; the teeth looked fine and the belt probably had some distance still ahead of it. Of course, I’ll be replacing it.


As recommended, I pulled the PCV catchtank (kurbelwellengehäuseentluftung). It leaked sludge and looked quite miserable. Probably not a bad idea to replace it, too – provided I can get another one that does its work any better. Whatever said job even is. Maybe I should just duct-tape a hollowed out potato in there.


At this point, it was time for a well-deserved coffee break already. How do you like my work setting? Cozy, huh?

It also has to be said – even if it means handing in my laminated man card – that this is the absolutely first time I’m covering any work to this extent. I’ve done some oil changes and relatively easy wrenching in my time, but a cylinder head removal together with a head gasket and cambelt replacement is something I’ve never yet done. It’s very comforting I’ve only paid 60 euros for the entire car, even if it’s worth somewhat more when I’ve finished. Hopefully. For the record, I do have a team of 40-50-something-year-old car dudes hovering behind my back and seeing how far I can get before spouting expletives or skinning knuckles. At least it’s a roomy engine bay.

And don’t think I’ll be flipping this for easy profit when I’m done fixing it: I’m bound to form a bond to this car, definitely. Remember: if it turns out to be a complete lemon, it’s old enough to be imported to the States for LeMons racing some Volkswagen aficionado grown tired of all the Foxes.


It also sprang into my mind that I hadn’t really provided any proper interior shots yet. Here is the Polo’s super-basic interior in all its glory. You see some wear on the passenger seat, which is kind of weird. Perhaps there was a stain that just wouldn’t come off?


Just look at that austerity. You don’t get a whole lot of buttons to press, and under that speaker grille is just a hole that shows you the HVAC levers in detail. There’s no radio readiness, no wiring going anywhere and the antenna hole just has a rubber cap in it.


83 800 believable kilometres. And you don’t even get a clock, anywhere, but just the temperature and fuel gauges.


Four forward speeds! One reverse!


Gloriously unworn steering wheel, finger thin and hard as anything.


The door card shows some patina, but it’s still rectifiable. As mentioned, no speaker holes hacked into it.


It doesn’t look like there’s been too much travelling done in the back seat. Or anything else, for that matter.



A look in the trunk reveals some need for tidying up, but absolutely zero rust, even on the shock towers.



When the head comes off next week (pending the acquiring of some XZN tools), I’ll be providing more photos from the engine’s innards. I can’t wait to get it all opened up.

Stay tuned. I know I’ll be.

  • Preludacris

    If they're interchangeable, the worn passenger seat might have started life as the driver seat.

    Still really impressed with how stinkin' clean this thing is!

    • I kind of thought about that, but the tipping lever would've been on the wrong side of the seat. And it's not the kind of car that would have the owner disassemble the entire seat just to have a less worn one on the driver side for a change.

  • Dominic

    Nice car !!

    It seems to be a basic model. I sold a couple of years ago my 1990 GT , and i wished i could have kept it. It had 80 cv, and around 600 kilos weight . Went like stink in the right conditions. Reached 180 on the motorway, and did several memorable trips in it. Plenty of VW Polo forums around. Great car to modify on a budget. The speedometer was a problem, and i remember loosing the alternator belt on the motorway, and getting home with dim headlights, just before dark. Took 3 minutes flat to put a new one. Mine had bucket seats, audio, double headlamps, and plenty little red badges saying it was the 'GT' !!

    • That sounds awesome. I've been considering replacing the super-basic steering wheel with a Polo GT one. It doesn't fit the style of the rest of the car, but I want to hold a more substantial three-spoke wheel.

      • duurtlang_

        While you're at it, replace the cam with the one from the Polo GT (engine code: 3F) as well. Instant power increase! I believe cams from other (later) VW engines would fit and increase power as well.

  • "…this is the absolutely first time I’m covering any work to this extent.."
    "I’m bound to form a bond to this car…"
    Yes, you most assuredly will.

  • JayP2112

    I'd love to come across an old Fox. The base US spec was as your Polo. No radio, bare bones.

  • I had a zero-option base '81 Tercel 2-door sedan, and the interior was similarly stark, which is its own kind of purity. I love strippers.

    Hey, get your head out of the gutter.

    • Dean BIgglesworth

      Sadly there are not many strippers available anymore…

      Over here in Uurop it's pretty much either this:
      <img src="http://www.dacia.co.uk/img/carc/52b1/color4/vnmcfg152b1ov369.png&quot; width="300" </img>

      or something like this: <img src="http://3d-car-shows.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Ford-Ranger-07.jpg&quot; width="300" </img>

      • They even look alike.

        • Dean BIgglesworth

          They DOOOO!

          Buying a base model Sandero in white and then just beating the everloving shit out of it could be fun. The base model has no AC, no radio, no central locking, and crank windows.. 75hp and about 1000kg. Even the Ranger has more standard equipment.

          • You know I would be absolutely impossible with even the most appliance-like Sandero. I'd treat it like a prized possession.

            • Dean BIgglesworth

              Oh I don't mean neglect it, just don't change gears until there's valves bouncing on the hood and make every turn seem like a -70´s movie with screaming tyres and flying hubcaps.

              • TurboBrick

                What the hell kind of Sandero are you guys buying?

                • Bean Burritosworth

                  The Dacia kind. What else?

                  • Vavon

                    The Renault kind…

                • Bean Burritosworth

                  I'm told it's actually a pretty good drive. Not sure if you can switch off the ESC or TC, though.

                  Join us in Last Call. By us I mean me. and the last of my Jalovään

                  • TurboBrick

                    I was just asking about the tires screaming and all. I'm sure it's more likely to happen on that than my cousin's old W123, former taxicab with the two liter (world's slowest) diesel.

                    Mmmm…. Good old one star Jallu. My short list of things worth importing whenever I'm in that part of the world: 1-star Jallu, Kossu, Ritarin Ryyppy or those Lignell & Pispanen liquors, cloudberry and the red one, mesimarja.

                    • Bean Burritosworth

                      one star Jallu, of course.. none of that three star porvari-Jallu. Sadly it's all gone by now.

                      The tires on my Focus are screaming on most motorway ramps with the summer tires. Not so much with the winter tires, don't want to ruin the studs on my Hakkapeliitta's.

                    • HSA❄

                      Two bulletproof ways to make tires scream under ANY car:
                      1) Dayton summer tires. Brand new. Like a wet bar of soap on Teflon.
                      2) A set of 6 years old Nokian non-studded winter tires. Add one drop of water on asphalt and you'll realize the Daytons were pretty decent, after all.

  • mac350

    Very clean vee-dub you have there. I like basic, bare bones cars myself – less to go wrong. Don't be intimidated by the head removal – it really isn't that hard and you'll be rewarded with a neat little run about. I like your work lamp – most unusual, but homey.

  • Maymar

    For what it's worth, I haven't even gotten close to that level of work (I've done basic maintenance – oil changes, brake jobs, and such), so your man card is safer than mine.

    Also, jealous of how clean it is. And also, 60 Euro. No way anything here is going for that price, let alone that clean.

  • My Alfa's equivalent of the PVC catchtank is made of unobtanium. It's not uncommon to fashion a replacement from ABS pipe and some plumbing fittings, stuffing the pipe with a wad of coarse steel wool.

    • dukeisduke

      What's the purpose of the catchtank? It seems crude, and like a band-aid for a poorly designed engine.

      • It's an element of emission control. May be different in the VW, in the Alfa it separates crankcase fumes – combustibles are sent to the intake, oil is returned to liquid and sent to the sump.

      • Rover1

        It's part of the engine tuning too, crankcase pressure comes through int o the intake manifold.They're pretty easy to clean out with degreaser (I just used neat petrol, and left it to dry out for two days before reinstall.)

        • I filled mine with carb cleaner but I doubt the paper element is still intact.

  • This brings two post ideas to mind:

    1 – The other inhabitants of that garage. I see two old cars and an engine on a cart.

    2 – A Hooniverse Asks on what the most extensive work that you've taken on. I don't recall that being done, but perhaps it already has been.

    Neat little VW, fabulously perserved. I'd love to see it kept as an example of what basic transportation once meant.

  • Rover1

    Start off with a head gasket and then build up to this.If they fit in a Lupo the Polo should be no problem.Yes, there is a VR6 in the middle as well,that's why there's two radiators.
    <img src="http://content.worldcarfans.co/2009/3/medium/twin-engined-vw-polo-vr6_13.jpg"width=500

    And link. .http://www.worldcarfans.com/109032018014/video-vw-lupo-with-twin-vr6-engines-launches/lowphotos

  • Rover1