My Pug GTi was beginning to begin to deteriorate. It was a great example, not one to abuse and commute with really. Looking at it as a whole, id had a ball in it for a whole year, i'd now owned a 1.9 and it was time for a change. I ebayed the 205 for a tidy sum; 2 late arrivals who'd never seen the car showed up in the last 5 minutes and did vicious battle up to the eventual sale price of £3,350 !
My first ideas were to replace the Peugeot with another one, a 106 rallye series 2. Too small though, too much of a tin can for the odd times the wife has to use it. Then there's the 306 gti-6. No doubt about it, this is a fantastic car with a great engine and box but when i test drove it the second time somehow it just felt too capable for what i was looking for, somehow not enough 'shittyness' in the mix. I guess I just didn't like it enough to be bothered to shelve out 6k for it.
Lucky though , a mate had a mk2 golf going for just 1k.... a trusted friend who is a bit of a spanner monkey so i knew i could count on his word that the car was fully roadworthy and sorted. Also, it came with exactly a years MOT and tax which is half the battle at this price level.
Well I picked the Mk2 up without even having seen a picture. That was a first I can tell you. Steel wheels, acid-attacked paintwork and bits of trim missing inside and out ! Without doubt, at least visually, it was the worst car I was ever about to own. Said friend took me for a run in it and to be fair it seemed stable enough and quite quick. We swapped seats and it did indeed feel surprisingly quite solid and the engine quite gutsy. "1k, that'll do........", I thought, and pretty soon I was on my way back home giving it some boot. With every mile of that journey, as the Golf revealed more and more of itself, overall impressions just got better and better.
In GPL-speak the 205 is the Lotus and the Golf the BRM ! The gearchange is more robust, mechanical and solid feeling, the whole ride more cosseted and compliant, the nose considerably less neurotic and slower but more importantly the whole experience is more solid and better built. The VW engine appears more torquey and although you are aware of some extra weight compared to the French car, somehow the 8v seems to pull harder especially up beyond motorway speeds. Where the little Pug starts losing headlight housings and passenger doors beyond the 100mph mark, the golf is steady as a rock and happy to cruise that way for mile after mile.
There is a penalty though for this German grown-up hatch stability though, namely a slightly ponderous lurching personality. Flick that square jaw in with the same deftness as you're accustomed to pugwise and the Wolfwagon is jellying all over the shop. But this needn't be seen as a downside; the car rolls fathoms, a beautifully soft curtsey and then the front tyres start to howl, attracting the horrified gaze of all those nearby. Whip the car in even more violently and the back will swing out and the whole vehicle does a wonderful hip shuffle on its way in. In the wet lift off violently mid-bend and where the 205 is a little snappy and needs quick input the Golf feels drunk and soporific, lazily sliding its rear wheels out and keeping you generally informed while it slowly goes about its business. This is incompetent hooliganism, a real respite from all those super grippy, ultra stable and horridly precise machines that you think you so dearly love.
Seriously, on my first two journeys to work this car had me really scared. In high speed bends and over bumps the suspension is just so soft that the the whole chassis continuously skews and pivots about the centre point. Before you get used to it its a sickening, precarious sensation and on initial acquaintance terms you're certain that this mushy peas stance could at any instant have you barreling straight over the edge of the Hammersmith flyover ! But it's really not as bad as all that; Once you learn to trust and read the suspension and those 125k mile, 1975 sell-by-date springs and dampers, it really is quite safe and confidence inspiring.
In fact, its just huge huge fun. I was expecting the Golf to be a grown up alternative, a dynamically dulled distant relative to the late great 205 but as it stands I actually now prefer it overall in terms of a daily fuss-free drive. You see all that bodyroll is such a scream; instead of precision you have un-non-Kart-like, off-rails brashness. Yes, "Stodgy" is the new improved fun version of "telepathic". If you're fed up with cereberal cars that offer nothing more than stupidly rapid progress and a high level of user smugness then this is the perfect medicine. The Wolfwagon slushes into every turn, it will comically lift its inside rear at the very slightest provocation, its always way beyond its capabilities and it screeches its rubber even if you jiggle the wheel in a straight line. I seriously think my first ever car a 1988 309 style 1.6 had more grip than this thing. Not only will it lock up braking for the Langley pelican crossing from 20mph but turning into pinewood studios at 12mph it will 4 wheel drift, screech the howl of a thousand rabid dogs and take out the security man square on at the timekeepers gate.
You see you can rag a pug but its too good to ever let you feel like your waging war against it (and winning !). Its much neater, far more precise and adept. No doubt the French hatch is more rewarding and more of a drivers car and for me its iconoclastic and desirable in a way the Golf will never remotely was. But make no mistake, for that feeling of physically transcending a car, the feeling of wringing its neck and working it to near death, brutally assaulting the car in a way in which goes beyond what is acceptable and just, the Golf holds all the aces.