It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon at work. My inbox was empty, and the shop deserted. What harm could come by firing up Facebook marketplace for one quick perusal? I should know by now that I’d just made a rookie mistake. Never use downtime to look for cars you don’t need.
The object of my affection this time was a third-generation Volkswagen Golf. A five-door example in glistening Dragon Green. It had all the key points I look for: a valid MOT, a price well under a thousand pounds and a great backstory. It wasn’t even too far away. Much too tempting for me to let pass.
Early one frosty morning, my brother-in-law Robert (the one with the Mitsubishi Delica) and I set out in Miles the High-Mileage Skoda. Pulling up outside, it was clear that we had the right house; no fewer than three VW badged cars graced the driveway. Chatting to the owner, Alex, we learnt the family had always felt a strong connection with the German marque, so much so that he’d never owned a car from any other brand. Over the years he had owned everything from early split screen vans to various Beetles and of course a number of Golfs.
This Golf actually belonged to his mother, having bought it almost new in the late ‘90s. Her heart had desired the GTi, but the head had won and plumped for the 1.4 petrol. Alex had later treated her to a GTi badge from eBay. It’s the thought that counts.
The MK3 is exactly regarded as the crowning jewel in the Golf crown, but my first impressions were favourable. The engine purred into life and settled to an unobtrusive idle. The seats were still supportive and comfortable. Even the radio still worked, a rare treat when dealing in cars costing so little. The windows were ‘keep fit’ handles so for once I had fully operational glass all round.
Barreling homewards, the Golf carried me along with a level of comfort that took me completely by surprise. The suspension has a subtlety and softness translating into the cabin as one of the comfiest cars I’ve owned. A characteristic backed up by small wheels and chunky tyres. The trend for big alloys and low profile tyres look the part, but for ride quality, you want to go small.
The courageous little 1.4 manages to propel you along adequately enough. You won’t be winning many traffic light Grand Prix, but it will keep up with modern traffic without a fuss. With 140,000 miles on the clock, and still pulling through the rev range smoothly, the mechanicals are an advert for German engineering.
The bodywork, on the other hand, looks every one of its 24 years. Digging through the history folder I found a brilliant receipt which described various repairs and then on one line it read: “Welding - lots of!”. It’s seen 24 years of service as a family car and is all the more brilliant for it.
Having got it home it quickly dawned on me - I did not need another daily driver. I briefly toyed with the idea of sourcing a cheap GTi engine, stripping the interior out and making a somewhat fast hatch on the cheap. It got as far as the planning stage before being binned as I realised I didn’t have enough time, money or mechanical knowledge to complete the project properly.
The only time the spanners did come out was one, very rainy day. Refusing to fire up several times, the tired old starter motor was identified as the culprit. A lean-to shelter was erected and the job got done, not without copious muttering and moaning though.
I considered selling it but it just didn’t feel right. There had to be a way for it to earn its keep. Thankfully, there was. The Golf found a new home with my sister, Hannah, and her young daughter, Emmie. It seems fitting that the Golf, which features in so many of Alex’s memories of growing up now, is now the transport for another young family. Every day trip generating new experiences and recollections which, one day, will be looked back on with great fondness. As much as we all love the oily engineering underneath the skin of a car, it’s the adventures they allow us to have that cements a relationship.