In the late 90´s I needed a new transportation. The idea was to get something really economical to drive and to own. I decided not to take any chances buying a car which could get me expensive future repair bills and/or too many visits to mechanic shops. So the decision process guidelines was basically the old adage “the less things it has, less things can be broken”. Back in the time when somebody in Brazil thought about a reliable automobile the most common choice was a VW and its cheaper car available at the time was the Gol. Here it goes the story of my second VW in a row, this time a 1997 Gol 1000 Mi.
Since I was a kid I’ve been reading automobile magazines. The more I drive and the more I pay insurance, gas and maintenance costs, the more I disagree with many magazines/auto journalists in at least one critical point: on their tests they generally tend to rank technical novelties and comfort amenities over reliability. Worse, in my opinion, they also tend to jump in bandwagons, like for example judging as worse cars that don’t have more modern characteristics like certain engine specifications or new design trends. it’s not that I’m against innovation. In my point of view the problem is that with these editorial positions, they tend to reinforce convergence of design and technical/mechanical aspects of the vehicles, and for me that’s not necessarily good. Of course it’s just my personal opinion and everybody is welcome to disagree with me. But I digress.
Anyway, at certain point in the late 90’s I owned a battered 1985 VW Gol Bx (COAL here) and had to work in the day and go to college at night. That implied extensive commuting five days a week from morning to late night, plus quite a few miles of highway trips to visit relatives and friends. Clearly I needed another car, and it had to be cheap to run and to own.
Since at least the 60’s well in to the 90’s (maybe even today) most Brazilian drivers thought VW built the most rugged passenger cars available. After all it was the company that built Beetles and Buses (respectively known as Fusca and Kombi in Brazil) for decades with almost zero changes. If you thought about Honda and Toyota as a reliability benchmarks, unfortunately none used to sell small or subcompact cars in Brazil at the time. The main players in this market segment were the VW Gol, Chevrolet Corsa, Ford Fiesta and Fiat Uno and Palio. For the bottom end of the price ladder the choices consisted of 1.0 liter engines with 5 speed manual transmission and none to few comfort equipment choices.
Not that the other choices were bad, but even though I liked a lot the Fiat Uno and Palio when I had to make a decision I made a conservative choice picking a VW. For the same price I could have decided for an older generation Gol with a 1.6l or 1.8l engine. Or it could have been its 2 door sedan sibling, the VW Fox sold in North America known as Voyage in Brazil, the non-antique daily usable car I really wanted to own if wasn’t for rational reasons. But both of then were somewhat out of the game because of the high risk of theft and high insurance costs, not to mention higher consumption and higher repair costs prospects.
So eventually I bought a 1997 VW Gol 1000 Mi. Yes, I entered the 1.0 liter engine world like many many Brazilian car buyers at the time. I must say I somewhat resisted to buy a car with an engine that small, but at that price range there was no choice with a bigger engine. I’ll give some fast facts on the so called Gol Generation 2 (G2) under the project coded AB9, launched in 1994 in Brazil and built until 2003. It was made on the same platform as the original 1980 Gol but with a totally new body. Due to the rounded design this G2 Gol are nicknamed “bola” (ball) in Brazil.
I advise you to check Rubens CC covering the whole history of the Gol. The car measured 3,8m (149,6in) long, 1,65m (65,0in) width, 1,41m (55,5in) height with a 2,47m (97,2in) wheelbase, and weighted 930 kg. Just for the sake of comparison, a 1996 Fiat Palio covered on my previous COAL had 3,73m (146,8in) long, 1,61m (63,4in) width, 1,44m (56,7in) height with a 2,36m (92,9in) wheelbase, and weighted 890 kg (1962 pounds).
I should stress that the Gol had the most traditional construction concepts of the competition. A longitudinal engine with front wheel drive whilst the others all used transverse engines. Besides the 1.6l, 1.8l and 2.0l of higher trim levels, which were too expensive for me, VW offered two choices of 1.0l engines: an 8 valve with 54 hp and 9,1 kgfm of torque at 3800 rpm and a 16 valve with 69 hp and 9,4 kgfm torque at 4500 rpm, both with multi point fuel injection. I looked for an 8v car because of its lower price and higher low end torque and better reliability prospects. I thought the 16v ones were odd to drive and seemed too weak especially to get off the line in a way the data show above don’t properly indicate. Of course the 8v was no rocket but could be driven “normally”. I used to make trips maintaining 120km/h speeds, the limit on some good flat or lightly hilly highways that I often rode.
As a corollary of my buying decision, the car was an almost total stripper. Crank windows, no mirror regulators, no assisted steering, no air condition, no radio, non painted bumpers and many other “no’s”. But it had a few very basic equipment which meant important improvements over my previous car: rear glass defogger and washer and cold/hot forced ventilation. The bigger difference was on the driveline, because the 1.0l water cooled engine and 5 speed transmission allowed much more comfortable (less NVH) and higher speed driving than the old 1985 Gol. The fold down rear seats made room for carrying small to medium size furniture, plants, tools, and many other stuff a number of times.
Oh, yes, the color. On purpose I picked the most beautiful I found that was outside the white-silver-gray-black palette that probably accounts for some 95% of Brazilian cars since early 90’s. Unfortunately that was the only time I had a chance to choose a car with a color I liked. Ok, green is not everyone cup of tea but it reminds me of the 60’s and 70’s when many cars had real colors like red, green, blue, etc. I made only a few and cheap modifications.
Right away after buying the car I painted the original gray steel wheels with a black spray, the same thing I did on my previous and on my next car. I put some dark film on the windows (except windshield). These things are widely used in Brazil, especially to deter excessive heat and to improve security on big cities. I also swapped the original shift knob for a nicer one from a first generation Gol. I also had some trim outside details painted of the same color of the body (a “gift” the VW dealer gave me when they repainted the fenders and hood on warranty).
I had a few minor annoyances related to built/assembly quality. Me and my friends used to wash our cars (a good excuse to listen to music and drink beer) on saturday evenings at one of the guys garage/driveway. Some months after buying the car I notice that the paint started to peel at the front fenders and hood. I had to take it twice to the VW dealer for warranty repaint. Some other problems were the muffler that rusted (a typical problem on that year model Gol). It had to be swapped three times. There were few other problems of finish and trim but in the end the car never broke down, never let me on the road.
After a couple years of ownership I became aware that some people had more comfortable cars that were at least as reliable as the Gol, but anyway I didn’t care and I couldn’t blame VW for lack of comfort because it was an intrinsic attribute of that car. The main cause was its terrible ergonomics, seats that were somewhat hard and also the suspension. Maybe that’s what many people see as “sportiness” or maybe I’m more on the comfort side, a point which will be clearer on the next COALs.
I drove that Gol until 103 thousand km (64 thousand miles) and in the end it accomplished its main task of basic trouble free and relatively cheap transportation. As I concluded college and the car was showing some signs of future intense maintenance bills I started seeking for another car. That’s to be seen on my next COAL.
Disclaimer: although being the best seller in Brazilian market at the time, it’s very hard to find a good picture of a stock G2 Gol. Most of these cars have been mistreated, tuned, lowered or suffered many kinds of aftermarket modifications. Finding a picture of one on the same green color as mine was even more challenging.