The third generation Golf was not the model line’s finest hour – not by a long shot. So what have we here?
Former Volkswagen design supremo, Herbert Schäfer once proclaimed that only two people on this little garden planet of ours were endowed with the necessary skill, judgement and stylistic nous to create a VW Golf – those being originator, Giorgetto Giugiaro and a certain Herbert Schäfer.
Now, whatever one’s view about Volkswagen’s heartland model from a stylistic perspective, we can probably say without fear of dissent that Giugiaro’s original (Typ 17) design was pitch perfect, even if VW’s own styling team (of which Herr. Schäfer would undoubtedly have been part) most likely lent considerable detail finesse to the finished product.
Nevertheless, Mr. Schäfer’s vainglorious statement might have proven a tad less difficult to swallow had Herbie not presided over a design heritage which was notable primarily for the advent of what became known in its homeland as Heidedesign – a soubriquet which encapsulated a drearily provincial form of ‘Keeping Up Appearances’.
Schäfer’s tenure as VW’s stylistic overlord and tastemaker encompassed amongst its highlights the second-generation Golf – a car which despite its undoubted competence maintains a frankly mystifying level of affection and regard. Certainly, as a stylistic sequel to the original, it was a rather (ahem) underpar, and distinctly bloated-looking one.
Also attributed to Schäfer’s leadership is the car which formed the basis for what confronts us here. The somewhat overdue 1992 Golf Mark 3 proved a rather troubled programme for VW, both stylistically (subject, it’s said to significant fiddling quite late in its gestation) not to mention in engineering and build terms. Styling credit it appears can be laid at the door of J. Mays, although if indeed this is accurate, I somewhat doubt he dines out on the fact. Certainly one of the more frangible of the Golf generations, the Golf 3 remains undoubtedly amongst the least regarded.
Marrying the first and second generation’s angular silhouette to the softer surfacing of the 1990s was never going to be an easy transition to master, but Schafer’s design team cannot be said to have made a success of the task – although how much of this can be attributed to political meddling versus stylistic myopia is difficult to accurately pinpoint. Certainly, Golf 3 was an unhappy looking device – one to which old father time has not been especially kind.
Least attractive of all perhaps being the cabriolet. An in-house design which supplanted the original (Typ 155) Karmann-engineered and built version which remained in production throughout the Mark 2 model’s career. VW either couldn’t (or wouldn’t) justify its replacement in 1983 (the Cabriolet being a fairly low-volume and expensive to build product). By its April 1993 demise, the first-gen Cabriolet had been subjected to a series of unfortunate facelifts, before finally bowing to the inevitable with close to 400,000 examples emerging from Osnabruck.
The Mark 3 Golf Cabriolet was introduced in 1994. The conversion and folding roof remained Karmann’s responsibility, the facility even allegedly opening a department in VW’s Pueblo plant in Mexico where the US market Mark 3 Golfs were built. In 1998, following the introduction of the return to form Mark 4 model, the Cabriolet received a nose and tail-lift to bring it into line with the new-generation body design – unofficially known as the Mark 3.5 Cabriolet – no Mark 4 Cabriolet being sanctioned.
Whether in pre or post-facelift guise, the Mark 3 Cabriolet remains a rather plump looking device, entirely lacking the clean surfacing and relative litheness of the original car, especially from the rear three-quarters. Here the bulk of the bodysides (despite the wedge profiling of the rear deck which attempted to inject some much needed dynamism to proceedings), lent the Cabrio a distinct perambulatory appearance, not helped by the Mark 4-inspired sheer bootlid – all that’s really missing is a handle, a pair of pram irons and perhaps an infant.
The Mark 4 revisions are better handled at the nose, where headlamps, grille and bumper are quite neatly integrated, although like most facelifts, it cannot be said to be a significant improvement upon the earlier iteration. Different, rather than better.
Cars such as these require a high degree of commitment from their owners in this part of the world, so one really ought to commend the keeper of this one for (a) putting up with the inevitable compromises such a vehicle would entail for the annual half hour or so when the sun can be counted upon to reliably shine and (b) for maintaining it in such robust condition (the odd scuff and scratch notwithstanding).
That said, while an earlier Golf Cabrio might now be deemed a classic worth preserving, it’s difficult to imagine a following emerging for this iteration, handicapped as it is by its dowdy appearance which never quite lent the requisite fascination. Surely a convertible lives or dies by its style. What’s that you were saying, Herr. Schäfer?
Driven to Write wishes a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all our readers.