French Polo

The 1981 Volkswagen Polo Mk2 hatchback was more French than Germanic in character with its functionality-led design.

VW Polo and Polo Classic. Image: polodriver.com

The original 1974 Polo was not a Volkswagen at all, but a repurposed Audi 50. Designed in Ingolstadt with some input from Bertone, the 50 was a pert and pretty supermini, intended as the ideal second car for an Audi-driving household. Volkswagen upended Audi’s plans by requisitioning the design for itself as a junior sibling to the Golf.

This was an expedient move for Volkswagen, but it stymied any prospect the 50 had of establishing itself as the first premium supermini, selling on style and badge-appeal rather than practicality. The Polo was obviously identical to the 50 and undercut it on price, hence the baby Audi remained in production for only four years.

When Volkswagen set about designing a replacement Polo in 1977, it decided to prioritise space and practicality. The new model would retain the 2,335mm (92”) wheelbase of its predecessor, but the overall length of the hatchback version would grow by 145mm (5¾”) to 3,655mm (144”). Moreover, the new model’s most distinctive feature would be its almost vertical tailgate. This, and the long rear side window behind a broad B-pillar, gave the new Polo quite unusual proportions and would earn it the nickname, breadvan. Despite its boxy shape, the Cd was better than the superseded model, 0.39(1) vs 0.41.

Another distinctive aspect of the in-house styling was the treatment of the rear wheel arches: instead of the usual semi-circular design, the flattened top of the wheel arch was stretched rearward to the tail above the rear bumper, where it formed the base for the rear light cluster. This detail was more French than Germanic in character and would not be reprised on any other Volkswagen. Overall, the Polo Mk2 hatchback could more easily have passed as a new Citroën or Renault design.

A saloon version, which debuted in the autumn of 1982, had a more traditional profile with a sloping rear window and round rear wheel arches. It also had rectangular rather than the Polo’s round headlamps. The Derby name used on the saloon version of the Polo Mk1 was discarded in favour of Polo Classic(2).

1983 VW Polo C. Image: carandclassic.co.uk

Inside, the trim was neatly finished, although the dashboard was a hard and hollow one-piece black plastic moulding. The door and rear side trim panels were neatly sculpted to liberate additional elbow room. The folding rear seat backrest could be fixed in two positions, the normal one and a more upright setting, which increased boot space marginally(3). Although legroom was still not generous in the rear, the extended roof and long rear side windows gave a greatly increased sense of space and airiness over the superseded model. The Polo was initially offered in three trim levels, C, CL and GL.

The new Polo was based on the superseded model’s floorpan and shared its wholly conventional mechanical layout: transverse engine and end-on four-speed gearbox, front-wheel-drive, MacPherson strut front and rear trailing arm and torsion beam rear suspension, with front disc and rear drum brakes.

There were three engine options for the new model: a 1,043cc 40bhp (29kW) unit, a 1,093cc 50bhp (37kW) unit and a 1,272cc unit developing 55bhp (41kW). There was also a high-compression version of the 1,093cc engine, which developed the same power but greater torque, both achieved at lower revs than the standard unit. This was fitted to the Formel E model and allowed higher gearing for improved fuel economy.

Volkswagen claimed a 0 to 100km/h (62mph) time of 21.2 seconds and a maximum speed of 135km/h (84mph) for the smallest engined version. UK prices started at around £3,500 for the 1,043cc hatchback in C trim. The Formel E model added another £300 to the list price, while the Polo Classic saloon was priced at about £500 over the equivalent hatchback model.

1983 VW Polo CL interior. Image: ranwhenparked.net

Car magazine reviewed the new Polo hatchback in December 1981. The reviewer felt it necessary to remark that “…it looks a lot better in the metal than most photographs suggest.” He praised the car’s “…sweet-running refinement and excellent road manners”. While the mechanical package was evolutionary, the improvement in refinement was such that the Polo was adjudged to be class-leading and “emphasises just how much many rivals, notably BL’s Metro, are lagging in this respect”.

The Polo was a delight to drive, “…with a gearchange that’s quick and precise, steering that’s sharp and accurate [and] pedals that work easily and fluidly.” Handling was described as “not just safe and predictable, it’s also great fun.” The reviewer’s only significant criticism was reserved for the Formel E model, where the widely spaced ratios in the 3+E gearbox were far from ideal on the twisty, hilly test route.

While the Polo hatchback was undoubtedly practical, its looks were too utilitarian for some tastes, so Volkswagen hedged its bets by launching a coupé version in 1983. This was still a hatchback, but it had a more typical sloping tailgate, semi-circular rear wheel arches and  narrower B-pillars similar to those on the saloon. This gave it an altogether more conventional side profile. Initially, the coupé was marketed as a sporting derivative, with black plastic wheel arch extensions, a thicker rimmed steering wheel, rev counter, and red and black striped seat upholstery reminiscent of that in the contemporary Golf GTI.

1985 VW Polo Coupé. Image: drive2.ru

In 1984 the Formel E models were given the larger 1,272cc engine and an automated stop-start system. The Classic suffix was dropped from the saloon in 1985, when it received the circular headlamps from the hatchback in place of the rectangular originals. There were some further mechanical upgrades, notably new engines with a five-bearing crankshaft, hydraulic tappets and, on the largest engined models, optional fuel injection and a catalytic converter.

The Polo Mk2 received its only significant facelift in October 1990, when all models received a new front end with flush rectangular headlamps and outboard front indicators, wider tail lights on the hatchback and coupé, and full-depth semi-integrated bumper shields front and rear.

A subtle change to improve airflow was made to the trailing edge of the bonnet, which was no longer flush with the base of the windscreen but sat slightly higher, partly concealing the windscreen wipers. This change also necessitated a revision to the base of the A-pillars, which were now concealed by the revised front wings. The windscreen and rear window were bonded in place, rather than fixed with rubber seals. Together, these measures reduced the Cd of the facelifted model by about 10%.

Inside, the Polo was given a new and much improved dashboard, which was more solid and substantial both in look and feel compared to the original. New trim and upholstery fabrics and full-depth(4) door cards completed the cosmetic makeover. Servo assisted brakes became a standard fit across the range as did catalytic converters. Most models were now fuel injected, although a carburettor fed model remained for some export markets. The range now comprised Fox, CL and GT.

1990 VW Polo GT. Image: polodriver.com

One curio in the Polo Mk2 range was the supercharged G40 version. This featured the 1,272cc engine with a G-Lader supercharger, which produced 111bhp (83kW). This gave the G40 a 0 to 100km/h (62km/h) time of 8.1 seconds and a top speed of 196km/h (122mph). The G40 was originally introduced as a limited edition of 500 cars in 1987 but became a regular production model following the 1990 facelift.

The Mk2 Polo then continued largely unchanged apart from some special edition models to stimulate sales in its twilight years. Production of the saloon was discontinued in 1992, with the hatchback and coupé bowing out two years later.

oo00O00oo

A 1982 Mk2 Polo breadvan was my first new car. It was the basic C version, in white with blue and white cloth upholstery, and cost £4,200(5). It was a pleasant car to drive, and the vertical tailgate made it quite capacious. Mechanically, it was completely reliable, but the rear side window rubbers allowed water by in heavy rain. The dealer fix for this was to squeeze something like black gutter sealant in under the rubbers!

My 1982 VW Polo C. Image: the author

I had an aftermarket pop-up glass sunroof fitted to it, which was a bit of an extravagance. It was fine when closed or with the rear edge popped up, but the wind noise was intolerable with the glass removed. I also fitted a nice Pioneer radio-cassette player, which was stolen within weeks. The attempted theft of a (cheaper) replacement was frustrated by the alarm I had fitted, but the car required a second replacement front quarter window. The Polo was sold when I moved to the UK and was given a company car in 1984.

(1) The Formel E variant improved this to 0.37 with the addition of a spoiler surrounding the rear window.

(2) The Derby name would remain in use in some markets for a further two years.

(3) The more upright position moved the top (only) of the backrest forward by about 50mm (2”).

(4) The new door cards concealed the previously exposed painted metal along the top and bottom of the doors.

(5) Price in Ireland.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

47 thoughts on “French Polo”

  1. My experience of this car was to drive one from Bad Bellingen to Ulm which took a heck of a long time; I also took the same car to Interlaken for a day´s hiking on the Faulhorn. The gear change stood out as being quite smooth and easy to use and the seats were rather good. This was a useful car rather than one strong on character yet that meant it wormed its way into my affections, much like the Passat B2 that replaced the Polo eventually. Both cars had a laid back style, feeling comfy-relaxed and ready to do any job without complaint. This formula is not especially sexy or hot yet the end result was that I have fond regards for these uncomplaining servants and a warm memory of my time with them.
    About breadvans: when did they last appear regularly on streets?

    1. Good morning Richard. Assuming you mean vans that sold bread in the street, as opposed to those that delivered to shops, I would say it’s a very long time ago now. I remember as a child in the 1960’s and early 70’s the mobile greengrocer from which my mother would buy fruit and vegetables, but not any mobile bread sellers.

  2. Hi Daniel. Thanks for the article! Brings back memories. I remember thinking at the time that VW had pulled off a marvellous smoke and mirrors act with the Polo, convincing everyone that what was clearly an estate car was an “innovatively shaped hatchback”, and that the later vanilla hatchback was actually a “coupé”. Ha ha, I don’t know how they managed it, but their comms department did a fine job pulling the wool over the automotive press’s eyes, presumably to inject some excitement into an otherwise extremely conventional range – 3 door hatch, 3 door estate, and 4 door saloon. Or possibly to somehow spin the fact that the estate car was ready for release before the hatchback, maybe? I don’t know. I still find it amusing. There was a time during the 70s and early 80s when the VW comms and advertising department was the best in the business. Their cars were pretty good too – my mum had an Audi 50 and I got access to it when I passed my test. Lovely little thing! I always thought the first iteration’s design was the best in its class, and preferred it to the Mk2.

  3. Hi there Daniel. Thanks for the article! Brings back memories. I remember thinking at the time that VW had pulled off a marvellous smoke and mirrors act with the Polo, convincing everyone that what was clearly an estate car was an “innovatively shaped hatchback”, and that the later vanilla hatchback was actually a “coupé”. Ha ha, I don’t know how they managed it, but their comms department did a fine job pulling the wool over the automotive press’s eyes, presumably to inject some excitement into an otherwise extremely conventional range – 3 door hatch, 3 door estate, and 4 door saloon. Or possibly to somehow spin the fact that the estate car was ready for release before the hatchback, maybe? I don’t know. I still find it amusing. There was a time during the 70s and early 80s when the VW comms and advertising department was the best in the business. Their cars were pretty good too – my mum had an Audi 50 and I got access to it when I passed my test. Lovely little thing! I always thought the first iteration’s design was the best in its class, and preferred it to the Mk2.

    1. Good morning Ric. Yes, the Audi 50 / Polo Mk1 really was a sweet looking car:

      I remember renting one in London back in 1981 and enjoying how well it drove. That’s what made me decide to buy the Polo in preference to a Fiesta, which was rather crude by comparison, albeit cheaper (or better equipped for the same budget) than the Polo. My dad had an affection for (air-cooled) Volkswagens which was also influential in my choice

  4. I’ve never been in a Polo of this generation but remember seeing plenty of them around and retain an impression of a car that was very durable and long-lived; your article reminds me that there was an ancient, very tatty, but serviceable example still smoking around my old neighbourhood in Haarlem at the beginning of this year (and probably still today).

    The ‘Coupé’ version of this Polo is a very neat design and the G40 was splendidly bonkers.

  5. Ah, the second-generation Polo, that brings back memories for me too.

    In 1983 I drove a Polo Coupe (in red, as shown in the photo) as a company car for half a year. The car was quite fun to drive, but the job that came with it was not for me, so I left the company and returned the vehicle.

    When I joined a commercial production company in Munich in 1985, they had two blue “Breadvan” cars in the most basic configuration as vehicles for the production crew. The vehicles were actually used by everyone and had the nickname “Muli” (Mule).
    I can’t remember for the following years that these vehicles – except for compulsory MOT and oil changes – ever saw the inside of a workshop.

    (The two Polo were later replaced by Opel Corsa A, how these vehicles were named – apart from the word “car“ – would violate the rules of this site).

  6. Good morning, Daniel. I have never been in this generation Polo. I do remember it, though. There was a yellow bread van with silver and black striping that I walked past on my way to school and back. Even then there was something I liked about the not quite a hatchback, not quite an estate kind of design.

  7. Daniel and team : I’d just like to point out that for some reason if I try to log onto this site via WordPress.com, when I send my comments they seem to disappear into some kind of limbo, and never appear on the page. I go to my WP account page but can’t seem to find them there. If I try and repost, it tells me that I’m making a duplicate comment and refuses do allow it. For now, I’ve found the only way that I can post here is if I log on via Facebook. When I do, my post appears immediately. Is there some kind of glitch in WordPress.com? Perhaps I’m the only one affected this way?

    1. Hi Ric. That’s an odd one. I’ve just checked and there are no comments from you awaiting approval. Normally, comments from new commenters (and comments from existing commenters that have more than two photos embedded) require approval before they appear.

      What happens if you go directly to http://www.driventowrite.com, click on the ‘continue reading’ link, then try to post a comment on the piece there? Once you’re signed into WordPress, you shouldn’t have to go through it to view DTW pieces or post a comment.

  8. I had a couple of these in my student years; the first was a 1.1 in base spec and I always coveted the higher trim models with four round headlights rather than the two headlamps of shame mine sported.

    My wishes were granted a short while later when I acquired a 1989 1.3 CL for free, which always felt very strong for the paper figures and served both myself and my brother well. The red paint had faded to a milky pink, the sunroof was sealed with gaffa tape, and if you drove it flat out on the motorway for a bit the poor car would overheat and need a rest, but we loved it.

    It was an excellent car, far superior to the Metro, Fiesta, Nova, and other contemporary shopping cars I ran. I find it hard to imagine that anyone with cash to spend in the 80s bought a Metro or Fiesta in preference to the well-made, refined, and reliable Polo. It was quite telling that my completely unmaintained Polo was still running in around 2009, long after an ’89 Fiesta, Nova, or Metro had become a very rare sight indeed. These 80s VWs earned a reputation for quality and durability that VW have been able to eat out on for a long time now, despite the poorly engineered and short lived rubbish they’ve been making for the last couple of decades.

    1. Hi David. The generation of Volkswagens that the Polo Mk2 was part of were the first to have decent rustproofing. This included the Golf Mk2, Scirocco Mk2 and the Passat B2. Hence, their survival rate was much better than their contemporaries. I remember taking off the door trims to fit speakers for my radio-cassette and noticing how thick the layer of wax was on the inner side of the door skin.

    2. Another excellent article that brings back happy memories of the 90’s. I had two of these – both saloons. A 1987 Polo C then a 1983 Polo classic 1.3 GL with headlamp washers and remote adjustment for the drivers door mirror – oh the luxury! They both had a feeling of solidity wholly lacking in the Fiat Uno’s and Peugeot 205’s that I also considered and served me faithfully until 1998 when I splashed out on a three year old Golf Match which again was an excellent run about until the mid 2000’s

  9. Did Volkswagen ever investigate a 5-door hatchback / 4-door saloon version of the mk1 and mk2 Polo / Derby, similar to Ford with the mk1-mk2 Ford Fiesta?

    1. Hi Bob. Not that I’m aware of. The five-door polo only arrived with the Mk3. It’s interesting how manufacturers are now abandoning three-door superminis in favour of five-door (only) models. Škoda was ahead of the curve here with the Fabia, which has only ever been offered in five-door form.

  10. Did VW intend this car to have a twelve-year lifespan, or is there an abandoned 1988-ish replacement lurking in the shadows of Wolfsburg?

    1. Good question, Jonathan, especially as the facelift didn’t arrive until October 1990, less than four years before the car was replaced. I must look into it.

  11. I always liked the somewhat different Polo II which was spoiled by the face-lift. I used to see one regularly outside the public swimming pool in Banbury and thought how useful it looked, as well as simple and attractive with those naive circular ‘lamps. The interiors always seemed cold and hard and bereft of character … which probably made them quite nice and simple to live with. One of the key traits of VWs at that time was the under-stressed nature of their engines with low power outputs for the displacement on offer – it made you think that they would likely go on forever.

    I’ll admit that I never, ever thought that it could have been a Renault or Citroën, though, although now you mention it I can see your point.

    1. Hi S.V. ‘Naive’ is a good word to describe those headlamps or, more specifically, the slightly crude way they were incorporated into the grille, with those somewhat random cutouts in the leading edge of the bonnet to accommodate them. The circular headlamps always looked to be something of an afterthought, as though the car had been designed for the custom rectangular(ish) units on the Polo Classic:

      Apart from the poundshop quality dashboard moulding, the interior was ok, with rather cheerful (if slightly impractical) cloth upholstery. Really annoyingly, when I got home in my brand new car, I noticed that the driver’s seat was already quite grubby. I can only assume that a mechanic in oily overalls had sat in it without any plastic cover to protect it.

      Such was our low expectations of customer service (and my timidity as a 21 year-old) back then that, instead of bringing the car back and demanding that they have the seat professionally cleaned or replaced, I shrugged my shoulders and got out the 1001 carpet cleaning solution. It was better afterwards, but never perfect.

  12. A couple of observations:

    Breadvans: I recall the breadman calling to the small housing estate where we lived in the early 1970s and the smell of the bread in trays as he pulled them out for the housewives’ delectation/perusal. It was a branded van – the name (and make of van) escapes me, but I can still picture it in my mind’s eye. From mid-decade on, breadvans became less of a feature, especially as supermarkets proliferated. We did have a milkman until well into the ’80s though. (I don’t think his name was Pat Mustard however…)

    The Polo silhouette: I recall reading that Herbert Schafer, VW Design Director at the time, favoured this shooting brake/ estate shape, even proposing it for the Corrado model later on. It may have been his influence that led to the Polo being sanctioned in this form, but others may have better knowledge or insight on this.

    Odd how our perceptions alter. Back in the day, a car with exposed metal on the doors or interior pillars screamed either ‘cheap’ or ‘penitential’ and was a matter of acute embarrassment. Now it would be viewed as ‘truth to material’ and lacking in needless frippery. We’re all in a constant state of shifting perceptions, even at times without knowing it.

    1. I always thought the way the original Ford Ka handled the painted metal was quite jolly. Somehow breaking it up with a curve made it seem more of a feature and less utilitarian.

    2. The Corrado shooting brake was rather nice, if unconventional:

      Pat Mustard? I guess that would be a reference to an ecumenical matter…

  13. These were the bread vans of my childhood

    They sadly disappeared years ago but Eóin’s references hold true.

    As to the Polo version, there used to a work colleague had one. He painted the car a Matt black, making it sinister and I also seem to remember him swopping in a more powerful engine for some obscure reason. The car didn’t show up much, thereafter. This sort of trickery always seems to happen to the coupé, a darling of the tune-up brigade.

    I still see a red Polo Breadvan locally every now and then, E reg so around twenty three years old, now. And, with the Sheffield sunshine not much in season, the red paintwork appears from a distance at least to be fade free.

    Simpler times

    1. Hi Andrew. At the risk of being the smart-alec in the class, I think your maths is letting you down. An ‘E’ prefix is 1987/88, so that would be 33 years old, not 23! 😁

    2. Thanks for posting the breadvan. It reminds that as late as 2004 a firm called Whife & Sloper were delivering milk in the Greys area of Essex where I had the singular displeasure of residing. Parallel with this was the fact that sometime around 2008 there was still a shop in Bern selling just dairy products; apparently such specialists were very common until the supermarkets delivered more and less choice simultaneously. My own area of Aarhus was once home to at least 60 shops on the corners and basements; after 1975 they gradually closed (a supermarket was built around then).

  14. One detail of the Polo I had never noticed before, despite owning one for a couple of years, is how large the fixed quarter-light in the door is and how square this makes the moveable glass look. It’s evident in the side-profile photo above and creates an optical illusion whereby the moveable glass looks wider at the top than at the bottom. Very odd!

  15. I have very happy memories of my and my family’s mk2 Polos. I like the “Porsche tribute” checked seats, above. Early ones with black hubcaps with what I would describe as a ‘splayed’ pattern always looked eye-catching to me, too, and some smart colours were available.

    There were some memorable adverts for them, but I think this one with strong-man Geoff Capes is very clever. Peter Jones does the voiceover, I believe. I bet the wing mirrors were made of foam, though.

    I never really noticed the B-pillar size difference, Daniel – funny what one doesn’t consciously register. The “bread van” look was one idea for the original Fiesta, of course.

    1. Hi Charles. That photo of the Bobcat prototype reminded me that it did eventually make production…as the third-generation Honda Civic:

      The Civic was a neat take on the breadvan theme, although space was limited by its low build. For those who needed more space, there was the Accord Aerodeck:

    2. Is it plausible that Honda were influenced to some degree by the BL ADO88 prototype below for the neat more aerodynamic-looking variation of the Breadvan theme?

      Reputedly it was this particular form of the ADO88 prototype or one of a few proposals, alongside the more familiar ADO88 in the second image below that had poor clinic results and quickly led to ADO88 becoming LC8 / Metro.

      While it can be said the rear in the first image does not suit the car, actually quite like it whereas the more familiar pre- Cinquecento-meets-Mini utilitarian rear in the second image seems to be of a time during ADO88’s development when it was conceived as a direct Mini replacement.

      The first image also brings to mind the rear of both the second generation Honda City, first generation Honda Today and third generation Daihatsu Charade.


    3. Bob, the top image ADO88 prototype does resemble a Charade. However my eye, and attention seem to be magnetically drawn to the right side of the image. Coincident with the topic at hand, it was a proposed Metro replacement which surely would have affected the course of the Polo along with the rest of the B segment.

      Although it isn’t mentioned in the article linked below, I see a bit of it in the subsequent Honda Concerto (which would be built at Longbridge).

      https://www.aronline.co.uk/concepts-and-prototypes/austin-ar6/

    4. gooddog

      It is fairly easy to imagine the production AR6 prototype ultimately featuring very similar styling cues as Rover’s other Honda derived models albeit with a less quirky more conventional Roy Axe touch.

      However even though the styling would have probably turned out much better then the direction it was going in before its cancellation, my attention is drawn towards the Fiat Punto-esque proposal by Stephen Harper nicknamed ‘the Mouse’ as well as the 1983 “one-box” proposal had the latter been paired with the styling touches of the later Rover R6X prototype – both of which appear to have been made by David Saddington given their styling similarities.

  16. After months of entertainment reading DTW, it seems odd that the humble Polo brings me to my first comment but such is the pull of nostalgia for cars of on ones youth.

    My first ‘modern’ car was a 1982 Polo C, bought for £350 I recall, to give my 1970 Beetle a bit of a break from Edinburgh’s winter roads. It would have been 1997 I think. These cars were easy to find but sought after by students and budget conscious then. Easy to maintain for what felt like pennies when you could walk into a ‘pick your own parts’ scrap yard and find a row or them to choose from every time. Those 4 lamp grilles were a rare find even then though.

    I have fond memories of long A and B road blasts in the car as I weekend commuted to the family farm down the A701. I don’t recall being held back by the willing, if somewhat flat little engine. It was very capable in snow too. The relatively modest grip from those 145 section tyres and undoubtedly tired suspension was the limitation, teaching me about the power of weight transfer and throttle control in an honest, small front wheel drive car after coming from the beetle.

    In later years I employed a 1982 Scirocco CL, a 1987 Golf GTI 16v and then my favourite, a 1987 B2 Passat Topic, with 2.0 5 cylinder engine for the same route. The willing little Polo, for the year or so I had it was influential in confirming me as a VW enthusiast with horizons beyond the air cooled era.

    I have to take this opportunity to thank you all, contributors to this great blog. Sorry it’s taken so long to say it.

    1. Hi Gasquolet. Thank you For your kind words about DTW, and for sharing your own recollections of 1980’s Volkswagens. It’s interesting how seemingly mundane and everyday cars often prompt a greater response from our readership than more exotic machinery.

  17. My brother posted earlier about a 1.3 CL we both had in the late 2000. It was a good looking car, especially with the 4 headlights, despite it also looking like it had been rescued from a scrap heap. It is one of the most enjoyable cars I have owned. It was reasonably quick and handled well, my wife calling it The Red Rocket. I suspect that one of the reasons it felt like quite a fast car was the knowledge that you didn’t have to look after it and if you careened into a tree you wouldn’t really mind – she thought it was because so much had fallen off.

    One of the most impressive aspects of the car is just how durable it was. After 15 or so years it suffered another 5 of the sort of treatment that would kill most new cars whilest having no care whatsoever. My brother treated it like it had slept with his girlfriend and in the time I had it I regularly overladened it with building materials and rubble, took it off-roading over a mountain (and I don’t mean a grassy hillock), pushed it 36 miles at full throttle until it misfired and I had to let it cool before finishing the journey and it was generally driven like it was stolen.

    It went on to be a car of last resort at the garage I worked in and died after an MOT failure. It required discs, pads, four tyres and something minor I can’t recall. With the tax to pay, insurance chucked in and the general health of the business taken into account it was sent to the scrappy, a decision over which I still feel regret. Note it was not mechanical failure or structural rust that did for it but simple economics.

    I would buy one now but they seem to have almost all been turned into comedy VWs by enthusiasts.

    1. Hi Chris. Thanks for adding to David’s recollections about a car that you both clearly enjoyed a lot! There is something to be said for running cars that are of almost no residual value, not least that one doesn’t have to worry about where you park it!

    2. True: many decent, ordinary cars like this are viewed as blank canvasses for self-expression (which looks a lot like other people´s self-expression such as decals, low-profile tires, lowered suspension and Recaros plus a million watt speaker system).

  18. Thank you for this great article, which is very endearing to me.
    My first car was a 1977 green Mk1 Polo.

    Despite its 900cc engine, it was a very reliable car during the 10 years or so I used it as my daily driver.

    1. Good morning Cristóvão. What a fun car! Thanks for sharing the photo.

  19. Good morning Daniel. What a great item this one has been – thank you to you and to all who have contributed. DTW is particularly good at celebrating the mundane. Not that I consider the original Polo to be mundane; viewed from now, it is one of those cars which was just right in all respects and remains an example of the best of its era. To my regret, I never had one – but Chris Edney’s tale reminds me of a similarly indestructible Citroen AX diesel acquired from a friend in exchange for a Fiat Doblo. Like the Polo, it just did everything it was supposed to, every time. Good to have a place where such devices are celebrated.

  20. Wow. Thank you for the trip down memory lane Daniel. My brother owned a basic orange breadvan model. E-reg if I recall. One memorable journey I recall was to a surf competition in Cornwall with the Polo fully loaded, surf boards fixed to the roof rack and a battery powered Saisho ghetto blaster for music. My over riding memory from the passenger seat is the smell of petrol and of being fixated on a single green indicator dash light that indicated you were indicating but would not reveal the direction chosen by the driver.

    In 2002 I purchased one for a friend who needed a car. It was a part exchange a customer had parted with at the dealer I worked in so I had it cheap. It was the supposedly ‘posh’ Ranger model in metallic blue with roof rails. Single green indicator dash light – check. I drove it from Wales to Cheltenham to proudly gift it but unknown to me the passenger side was covered in expletives written large in pink dealer crayon by the mechanics as a joke. Gloucestershire constabulary didn’t find it amusing one bit and made me clean it off in a petrol station.

    Our friendship was sorely tested when said car dumped the contents of its fuel tank on his parents steep driveway. To make matters worse the handbrake cable snapped a few days later and the Polo smashed ‘gently-ish’ into their garage door at 3am causing some damage.

    We’re still friends…

  21. Wasn’t Anders Ditlev Clausager involved in the styling of the 86C Polo, before his career path led him to be an automotive historian and writer? When our paths have crossed, I’ve always thought better of asking him about the ‘breadvan’ matter. An ’83 Formel E was the first, and so far only car I’ve bought new with my own money, and it was such a generally satisfactory car that the styling quirk never concerned me.

    Definitely not French-inspired though. It replaced a knackered R5 and felt more like a Mercedes by comparison. Except that neither Daimler-Benz nor any French maker [1] would sign off such bloody awful brakes. In those days you just worked round such things. It was my imaginary Golf GTI and I drove it that way – I had to wait another six years for the proper item.

    Also, the 1994 6N Polo was even more breadvan than the 86C hatch, but got away with it, arriving at a time when the Uno, Honda City, Fiat Cinquecento and the first White Hen were well established.

    [1] Except Ettore Bugatti, according to popular legend.

  22. Hello. I remember seeing one in mid 90s. Here in Athens, a red Polo, the long-back-glass one, the breadvan style. With UK registration numbers, in very good condition. It seems that a tourist, or some Greek guy studying in England at the time, had come all this distance in this small car. Very good! It was popular here, but not so much as the Fiat Uno, the Peugeot 205, the Seat Ibiza, the Nissan Micra. I remember seeing a white breadvan style, a light blue coupe style, all with Greek registration numbers. I think that red and blue suited the car well. I remember a black coupe style, sport with a g-something red inscription and beautiful alloys, a handsome car.

  23. A bit late to the party here, but thank you Daniel for a lovely blast from the past. My first new car was a black Polo Fox, which was immediately called a bread van by my brother-in-law.

    I knew the top speed was 84mph and tried to argue this fact with a policeman who clocked me doing 90mph on a motorway. He wasn’t persuaded, or impressed, and I got a ticket anyway. Great little car to drive though!

    1. Good morning vwmeister and Thank you for sharing your recollections of the VW Polo ‘breadvan’.

      If anyone could squeeze an extra 6mph out of the Polo, that would be you. 😁

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