COAL: 1988 VW GTI 16v – Must. Stop. Browsing. Craigslist.

Digital StillCamera

(First Posted October 20, 2013)  I used to play a game on Craigslist.  Ok, OK, I’ll be honest, I still do.  I will search “Cars For Sale – By Owner” and put in a price range from $10-$1000.  Then I will see what pops up that is interesting.  Then repeat for $1001-$2000 and so on.  It’s a good way to keep up on top of the used market but every once in a while you see something you didn’t want to see…

And so it went with me.  Back when I had my 1986 VW GTI, the next step up was the 16v version of the same car.  (Actually, at that time, VR6 swaps were getting press, but I digress).  Anyway, even though I loved my GTI, I would always stare hard at any 16v that drove by.  More power is always better, right?


So one day, many years later, I saw an ad for a 1988 VW GTI 16v for around $1,400.  The miles were under 100k, the car seemed OK in the ad.  I called my buddy Jim for his opinion.  As always he said to go for it (that’s why I like calling him for advice), weirdly enough, he was looking for a project GTI of his own, but an older 8v like the one I had.  So I drove to where the seller was and took a look and a drive.

You all know where this is going, I rarely see a car I don’t like, so some money (less than asking) changed hands and the car was mine.  The next day I got my wife to drive me back and I picked it up.  I have no pictures of my car, everything here is from the ‘net, it is almost impossible to find good pix of a stock one of these!  (Funny though that my other GTI kept popping up on Google from the old COAL a few months back).


When VW introduced the Mk2 GTI in 1985, they only offered it in 8v guise over here.  However, the Scirocco was already available as a 16v and it was an obvious upgrade path.  Sure enough, in 1987 VW dropped the 16v engine into the GTI and now had a 2-model range with the older GTI getting decontented into a VW GT (no “I” in the title, but the same old 8v engine but losing its rear discs along with some other changes).


The engine was a DOHC 1.8l four-cylinder with a 16-valve head.  It produced 123hp at 5800rpm (a gain of 21, which sounds ludicrous today), 120lb-ft of torque at 4250rpm and still had the somewhat notchy but close-ratio 5-speed manual transmission, no automatic available at any price.

The additional power was nice but in reality the 8v’s torque curve was better, so people are torn as to which they prefer. With just under 2300 pounds to haul around, both these engines do just fine, and the handling is superb to boot.

The 16v got more changes than just the engine.  The antenna became one of those cool at the time stingers at the rear of the roof, and the area under the bumpers was painted black.  The wheels were the “teardrop” alloys and the tires were wider (205/55-14).  Two new colors debuted, a Blue Mica as well as a Dark Red Mica.  Mine, however was the ubiquitous Tornado Red.


Inside, the seats were a different pattern with a velour cloth seating area reminiscent of the original US GTI (’83-’84) but with black vinyl bolsters.  The steering wheel was a retrograde change, replacing the very nice older 4-spoke with the four round horn buttons was a different 4-spoke with a hideous center portion, the texture of which did not match the surrounding texture one whit  (VW had the same issue in many of its models in the late 80’s and early 90’s).  At least it was leather-wrapped.


Options included AC, sunroof, cruise control (rare), a couple of radio choices, a power window/lock/mirror package (extremely rare), metallic paint and that dealer favorite, floor mats.

Other than that, pretty much the same.  Even the headlights were still the square ones, the double-rounds would not be installed for several more years, but was always a popular upgrade.


So what did I do with mine?  Mainly just drove it around for fun and enjoyed the nostalgia of owning a car very similar to one I’d already had but supposedly improved upon.  It did need a few things – as with my old one, the seat bolster was worn out on the driver’s side.  Back on Craigslist I found a guy about an hour away that was unloading a set of seats the same as mine.

Of course his had the same issue on the driver’s side but the passenger’s was good.  So I met him halfway (literally and figuratively) and took the passenger seat off his hands.  Back at home I disassembled my driver’s seat and the new seat and mix and matched the best of both to create a much better seat for myself.


This MAY have been an easier way to get to the waterpump…

The temperature gauge would get to reading higher than it should as well and I noticed some coolant loss. Eventually I traced it to the waterpump so I ordered a new one.  That was a job and a half – since my car had AC, the compressor had to be moved and various other items removed leaving still almost no access to replace the waterpump.  It took me a couple of days in my garage but eventually I managed it.  Problem solved.


The smallest problem was one that occurs on many of these VW’s (and Audi’s too, same part) – the locator clip for the hood rod was broken.  At the dealer I looked at one and decided I was not going to pay the $4 charge he wanted for a tiny piece of plastic.  I found a place online that had them for about 25c each.  Along with oil filters and a couple of other maintenance parts I needed another couple of dollars of parts to get the free shipping.  So I just ordered about ten of the clips. Then at work I posted one on eBay for $3, shipping included.  It sold within minutes.  So I posted the rest and sold them, sticking them in an envelope with first-class letter postage.


I then contacted the vendor and asked him how many he had and would a volume discount be possible.  In the end I bought several hundred for about a dime each and sold about a hundred on eBay before getting bored of the whole thing.  The money went into my daughter’s college fund.  I actually still have a couple of bags full of clips, if anyone wants one (or a dozen) let me know!  (I know, I must stop hoarding this stuff, I can’t believe I moved it halfway across the country a few years ago) – Update 3/18/18:  I still have them, in fact a bag is on my desk right now as you read this.  I’m well in the money on them at this point, so getting rid of them is a low priority.  Then again, college is looming for my oldest so maybe I need to reactivate that ebay account after all.


Anyway, the GTI was a nice diversion away from the “grown-up” cars we currently had in the stable but with work, a house and a family, it eventually got less and less use.  One day while moving the cars around in the driveway again I realized I’d gotten out of it what I wanted and placed an ad, it sold fairly quickly and is a fun footnote on my car list…