Volkswagen tried its best to generate some excitement at the SEMA 2022 show a few days ago. The trouble is, we’ve been distracted by a prototype the German manufacturer created almost 30 years ago: a homologation special of the Mk3 Volkswagen Golf called the ‘Rallye’ it brought along to showcase alongside the newer stuff. Can you blame us for looking at the much older car when one of the brand’s highlights of the SEMA show was an ID.4 drone-launching platform?
But back in 1993, when Volkswagen created the Golf ‘Rallye’ A59, which served as the testbed for an electronically-controlled four-wheel drive system. It was intended as a potential Group A rally car for the brand’s return to WRC.
It’s an unmistakably extreme hot hatch rally car, with an impressively wide stance and bodykit to match. The side vents, ducts and bulges on the bodywork, plus asymmetrical bonnet vents immediately suggest this thing means business, as does the roof spoiler that flicks up at the back.
Striking, too, would have been the 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels the little Golf sits on. Even the lairiest of 90s sportscars had pretty small wheels by modern standards - we’re looking at you Mk4 Supra…
The A59 had the performance credentials to match at the time, too. Its 2.0-litre four-pot turbocharged engine was capable of 271bhp – a terrifying figure for an early 90s Golf. The upshot, though, was that all this power went through a computer-controlled four-wheel drive system and a hydraulically controlled limited-slip differential which would have kept the whole thing more planted.
The A59 Golf Rallye was designed to be as light as possible, with a plastic tailgate, rear windscreen, rear side windows and lightweight GRP bonnet - even the engine block underneath it was remade in aluminium to keep its weight down. The car was fitted with a roll-bar, state-of-the-art digital instrument cluster with various displays, and built-in extinguishing system, so it was ready for the rally stage.
Unfortunately, the small-scale production of the Mk3 Golf Rallye A59 never came to fruition. Just two prototypes were made, with just one driveable model (pictured at SEMA and a few years back at Classic Cars at Schloss Dyck).
Although it never made it to production, this A59 Golf is the remnant of a truly bygone era, when rally cars were made to race on a Sunday and sell on a Monday. We can’t help but imagine what could have been, had the Rallye made it into the hands of customers.
As for the newer metal, cars included the Atlas Basecamp Camping Concept, Taos Basecamp Active Concept, the original Golf R32 alongside the latest Golf R, and a Jetta GLI Performance Concept. That’s an interesting mix, admittedly, but none quite as cool as that old Golf.