Today, I did the sensible thing and handed over my 1986 Volkswagen Polo to the local school’s auto shop. They, in turn, will mount the cylinder head, time the belt, adjust the carb and generally pay attention to turning the white VW into something other than a paperweight. Make no mistake, I haven’t given up on it; I just want to pass the bottleneck so I can continue at another save point when it actually runs.
This meant I did a little parts run earlier today, and happened upon this 1982 Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet for sale. It’s very similar to my Polo in a lot of respects, even if it’s a droptop. The dealer was more than happy to throw me the keys, so I took it for a little drive around the town.

The values of little Karmann baskets like this have gone up in recent years, as the poor examples have been vanishing and simple, enjoyable ’80s droptops are excellent summertime city cars. This very car has only covered 77500 km in the hands of a couple owners, and it’s all-original, not a hackjob by any means.
Of course, it wears rather redundant 15-inch TSW wheels that poke out from under the tidy arches, but those aren’t exactly complicated to sort out. 14-inch BBS basketweaves with a correct offset would suit the image so much better – and the wheels here are a straight fit for a Miata.
I was happy to see the interior mostly intact and with very little wear anywhere. In a cheap-ish cabrio, that’s all-important, as it shows the top hasn’t leaked and let the mold set in. No ripped seats here, no musty smell. It does need a new door pull, but those are somewhat available.
The steering wheel seemed enormous in the narrow cabin, but with unassisted steering, it felt like a necessity to have a big tiller. This is one of my favorite wheel designs.
And yes, it’s an automatic with three speeds. But in a car like this, I think it’s a saving grace. Being a slushbox, it’s likely to have been saved from unsympathetic use. The 1500 cc, 70-horsepower engine isn’t a ball of fire, but it fits the package just as well.
No Digifant here, but a carb setup. At first try, it died on me, but more sure-footed throttle use got it going and it displayed no idle problems later on. Some powerwashing and a service wouldn’t go amiss, but the Golf has just passed inspection, which should mean there would be no terrible issues present.
There’s something about the initial driveability of the classic, first generation Golf that just made me chuckle. This was the first Mk1 I had ever driven, and the feel of the car was so light, yet sturdy; basic, but still humorous. The steering lightened up on the go, and with more appropriate wheels it would probably handle a little different still. And the Golf felt surprisingly stiff despite having the top cut off, with the doors closing with a satisfying thud. Detecting scuttle shake was a little difficult, however, because the rear view mirror was so loose it almost dangled.
I didn’t expect much from the transmission, but it shifted effortlessly enough, without banging or thumping. I did have to push it to N in the traffic lights to keep it from vibrating – a memento from days gone by. Kickdown had to be dug from the carpet, but I found it.
The roof isn’t Miata-easy to fold, but there are no electrics to complicate things. With an assertive hand, the top folds down to a characteristic pile. Getting it back up, however, took a while until I took the time to leaf through the handbook.
No water here, just a tidy boot with the tonneau cover for the top. The opening is about the size of a pizza oven, but it’ll hold your shopping.
Some more European flair! The Golf had started its life in Belgium, having been imported to Finland early on. It had been with the same family for a long time, and it does look like it hasn’t seen the salty winter too much. The plate declares it as the Typ 155, which is correct for the Cabriolet.
The Mercedes dealer currently selling the Golf is asking a little under four grand for it at their website. I don’t think that’s too far off; for a car with a certifiable low km reading such as this, you could ask more in Continental Europe, where you can see five-figure prices for pristine cars. This isn’t one yet, but it doesn’t take much attention to become a lot cleaner still. The top is fine, there’s a couple very small bubbles on the bodywork that need catching up, and that’s about it – provided you have a set of nice Volkswagen wheels available.
The days are getting wetter and colder, so the timing is impeccable for convertible purchases. I wouldn’t trade my MX-5 for this, but for someone looking a very easy historic plate project for next summer’s drives, this is spot on.
[Images: Copyright 2015 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]