An unfamiliar wind from afar.
What in the name of Piëch has been blown in on the Mediterranean breeze today? Something from the Adriatic, or maybe even further afield? Taken at first glance it’s simply a well preserved example of the underappreciated and increasingly rare Volkswagen Bora, but take a closer look and… now hold on a second! It certainly had me scratching my head in perplexity during my afternoon stroll last Sunday.
For all appearances, it seemed to be a curious hybrid of Bora and successor-Jetta. Once successfully pinned and mounted, it then became a matter of establishing exactly what I had. The results of this, I’m forced to admit, remain inconclusive. But I’ll come back to that. Beforehand, we really ought to briefly review the genealogy of the Bora, and by default, the three-volume Golf subspecies.
Within most families, there is usually one individual who hogs the limelight; the extrovert, the attention-seeker. This character is often bookended by its inverse, what euphemistically is termed ‘the quiet one’. Frequently overlooked in favour of its louder sibling, they tend to stick to the peripheries, uncomfortable with centre stage.
Volkswagen’s Golf requires no fanfare. Known everywhere, the Golf’s easy demeanour, and wholesale lack of surprise has made it a sales powerhouse for almost a half century. Arguably (perhaps) its most eloquent exponent being the fourth iteration, a design so finely honed that it would become the model line’s definitive design statement, one successive iterations have struggled to match, let alone better.
But while Golf confidently bestrode the European car market, its more self effacing sibling hugged the sidelines. First offered in 1979 as the Jetta, the three-volume saloon version of the original Golf appeared as something of an afterthought, arriving some five years after its hatchback stablemate. The second generation appeared in 1984, and while it did so in a more timely manner, its exterior style certainly wasn’t what could be described as lithe. Matters were not improved upon with its third iteration — now dubbed Vento and based upon Golf III — itself amongst the least convincing of the breed, from a visual standpoint at least.
All this changed in 1999, with the advent of the Bora, the first booted Golf to appear as though designed from first principles. Created by the same design team under the leadership, respectively, of Hartmut Warkuss and Peter Schreyer, the Bora, while cleaving to a similar highly refined style to that of its hatchback (Mark IV Golf) sibling, was if anything, an ever better balanced shape — the assured management of surfaces and overhangs lending the car an element of grace some considered lacking from the more abrupt Golf silhouette.
While the booted Golf, in all of its many forms (and names) remained something of a left-of-centre choice in Europe, the three-volume shape proved a more palatable sales proposition in the United States (where Bora outsold Golf), and in those Southern European markets where three-volume saloons tended to be favoured over hatchbacks.
In the UK market, the Bora was pitched as a more upmarket car, and in its larger-engined forms, as a rival to the BMW 3 Series and its ilk, which in retrospect was probably something of a stretch. While a fine handling car (the saloon’s improved torsional rigidity over the hatch probably helped), it was never considered a dynamic paragon, but for those seeking a swift, elegant, well-appointed saloon with handily compact dimensions, one could certainly have done worse.
Unlike later Golf-based saloons, European market Boras were built in Wolfsburg, production ending there in 2005, with the introduction of the 5th generation Golf. US market cars were sourced from VW’s plant in Mexico, where the Bora’s successor would also hail from. However, it does appear that the Bora was retained in production for the local market (and certain other Latin American countries) alongside the newer model, as a cheaper, more compact alternative.
Further to this, Chinese production of the Bora was also retained beyond 2005, and in 2008, the model was facelifted front and rear to align the car with VW’s contemporary styling themes. Hence, the front end gained wrap-around headlamp/ indicator units inspired by the Jetta/Passat and larger tail lamps with the rather showy rounded motif favoured at Wolfsburg at the time. This latter change also necessitated a new boot pressing, with provision for the licence plate now below the (revised) bumper. All of which brings us back to the example seen in these pictures.
But while we have at least one possible source for this example, it nevertheless fails to adequately explain not only what it is doing here but also how it got here. From the (limited) sources available to me, I can find no reference to these cars being offered for sale in Spanish (or Southern European) markets beyond the nominal cut-off point of 2005, when European sales of the Bora model are believed to have ceased.
All of which leaves me (and by default, you dear reader) with a vague sense of dissatisfaction. We have the what (or think we do at least), but lack both the why and how. But this is often the way with the quiet ones — you never quite know what they’re going to get up to.
The term, ‘Blow-In’ is used by Corkmen to describe a person who is resident, but is not a native.
 I wouldn’t describe it as the worst example of the facelifter’s art I’ve ever seen, but I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to suggest that it marked an improvement.
 It seems unlikely any will now.
 The first generation Jetta was primarily aimed at the US market, but additionally to a (then) growing European demand for hatch-based compact saloons.
 US market Boras were badged as Jettas, as the nameplate enjoyed better buyer recognition.
 Nor any Mark IV Golf version, for that matter. But then nor was every 3 Series ever made.
 And a massive boot.
 The Jetta name made a definitive European comeback with the advent of this Mexican-built model.
 Canada too allegedly. The revised version was dubbed the Clásico in certain Latin American markets.
 This necessitated new front wings, bonnet and front apron, in addition to lighting units.
 Could it be possible that a job-lot of late-era Boras were diverted for sale in Spain? Or perhaps it’s a former embassy staff car?
 Maybe our Spanish friends can cast some further light.
56 thoughts on “Blow-In”
Good morning Eóin. Thanks for the nice reminder of the Bora and what a good looking car it was, the equal of its Golf IV stablemate. The latter was, happily, never tinkered with, and this makeover shows how difficult it can be to improve upon a ‘perfect’ design.
In similar vein, was never a fan of the rather chintzy detailing that was imposed on the 1997 B5 Passat, another ‘perfect’ design, in the 2001 facelift. Here’s the original and facelifted versions for comparison:
The post-facelift deeper grille and slimmer headlamps were no longer aligned horizontally and looked less neat than the original. The facelift also made the front end look overly long, unbalancing the proportions of the car somewhat. The changes were apparently demanded by VW Group CEO Ferdinand Piëch, who was attempting to push VW upmarket to challenge Mercedes-Benz, hence the added garnish that spoilt the lovely rationalism of the original design.
When the Bora was presented I found it a bit ridiculous to call it a BMW competitor. I just looked up the numbers and was astonished to see that it has nearly the same length as an E36 four door saloon. The BMW of course has a much longer wheelbase, a result of Mr. Reitzle’s desire to demonstrate to the world the BMW had RWD by pushing the front wheels as far forward as possible.
The Bora might not have been a master of cornering dynamics but since more than two out of three E36s were of the 316 or 318 variety these weren’t particularly dynamic longitudinally, either.
Where the VW clearly was worlds apart from the BMW was product quality. The BMW had an interior that was nastily built from cheap materials and its bodywork was of shoddy production quality with large tolerances and wide panel gaps.
The Bora was even better in this respect than the Golf IV and it had lots of lovely details to set it apart from its lower sibling like ventilation outlets that closed to a shutter blind effect when not in use.
VW even got the transition from trailing edge of the one piece door to roof and C post perfect, something that was properly matched on no E36 saloon I ever saw.
Let us forgive designers – no small proportion of their ‘errors’ are marketing-led, others are engineering-led, others are cash-starving led, others are rush jobs, others…
…must be their own, of course!
I think it was reported at the time that the facelift had something to do with US crash safety regs. I guess changes to the Passat to fit the W8 required changes to the front end. Still no reason to uglify it.
Also reported at the time was that VW and Fiat/Ferrari were in discussions about the Germans using the Quattroporte V platform to give their upper echelon offerings a more premium base, probably as warm up to a more serious tie-up. I can’t imagine a more bonkers idea; as nice as it was, the QPV was hardly a mainstream, cost-rationalized component set that could underpin tens of thousands of A8s, Continentals and Phaetons.
Why would you compare the Bora to an E36? The Bora is from ’98 and should be compared to an E46. Having spend considerable time in both I prefer the E46 by a huge margin.
The current influx of Ukrainian vehicles into Ireland can also produce some ‘what am I looking at’ moments. In Cork yesterday I saw what looked like a first gen Kia Forte ( looking like a booted Pro-ceed) which Kia built for the Americans – hence they called it a ‘Koup’. This one was badged ‘Cerato’, which according to Wiki makes sense for some markets, but not Ukraine.
Isn’t it strange, Mervyn, how some companies change the name of their cars from one market to another? Kia couldn’t use Forte in Australia as Ford had used that for a trim level on the local Falcon. So we got Cerato – along with Russia, Costa Rica and South Africa. Maybe your Cerato was Russian?
About the E36 rear doors meeting C pillar: I will be at 6 a.m. tomorrow behind the church, pistols at 30 yards distance
Isn’t it strange that VW was spending quite a lot of money for a new name for the Jetta.
At that time changing the name of a car was usually a reaction in order to help the customers forget the unpopular predecessor.
So VW tried Vento and Bora without success and then returns to Jetta – VW accepts how senseless these new names were.
The most senseless version of all these cars was the VW Bora Variant, a car completely developped by some marketing guys….
I find it particularly strange that they chose the name Bora for the fourth generation. It had already been used by Maserati, and one would assume that they had some copyright to the name. Or maybe VW bought themselves out of it to make buyers think they had bought a Maserati!
I own a Bora Variant — or, as it is known in the U.S., a Jetta Wagon. Not senseless at all to me. It carries more than a Golf just as efficiently and it’s more useful than the sedan version. It’s been a fine car for 20 years despite being treated like a pickup truck with a cap/tonneau.
Steveinmn: I don’t know how the situation was in North America, but we in Europe got a Bora as well as a Golf Variant – with exactly the same body, just differentiated by the front end (and most probably some interior details). Maybe this double effort was what Markus thought senseless. (I must admit that I’m thinking along the same lines here, especially considering that the Golf always had a much better image and market presence than its booted counterparts.)
simonstahel: “a Bora as well as a Golf Variant – with exactly the same body, just differentiated by the front end (and most probably some interior details)”
I will grant that that kind of badge engineering rivals General Motors for pointless expenditures. In the U.S. that model’s name has fluctuated between Golf and Jetta depending on the model year (never Bora though some owners will buy the letters from Europe to apply to their deck lid to exhibit their affectation). But it’s always been “the wagon” until it was “replaced” by CUVs.
With the Golf and Bora Variant I always had the idea it was designed as the Bora/Jetta first, with the Golf front grafted on later. The more angular lines of the rear are similar to those of the Bora saloon but don’t gel with the rounded off Golf front entirely.
In general it seems VW was always rather reluctant about the Golf variant.
For me the problem with the Bora is that the wheelbase is too short so the rear wheels jut into the rear doors too much.
An anecdote: While in the US I used to visit car dealerships just for fun and one time at a VW showroom I opened the rear door on a Bora and hit myself with its rear edge because it’s so far back. I guess they were trying to make the greenhouse look longer by pushing the front edge of the C-pillar as far as possible, but instead of doing it like the Passat in the pics shared by Daniel, that is, by keeping the rearmost glass fixed on the body, they fixed it instead on the rear door, which forced back its rear edge.
Speaking of odd front ends on VW products, at that time in the US there was a sort of fad consisting in putting the Golf Mk4 front end on the Jetta (in the US it never got the Bora name) and viceversa. They called such contraptions “Gettas” and “Jolfs” 🙂
Here’s one of them:
Thise kind of mix-up remembers me the Nissan Sileighty; I prefer the standard 200 SX (and even more, the Silvia)
I accidentaly came upon a coupe concept using the Bora design. Probably meant to be an alternative or a competitor to other German cars in this class.
I didn´t know “blow in” was a term confined to Cork. It´s part of my vocabulary and I am from Dublin. Then again, my father´s from Cork. I liked the third Golf saloon – I think it was called Vento precisely because it had that huge Cadillac Eldorado C-pillar monument. It looked even more formal than the Passat of the time, the B3 which had three panes on the side glass.
Hi Richard and Eóin. My late father was also from Cork, so does that save me from being referred to as a ‘blow-in’ here?
There´s a marked Corkonian undercurrent at this site, isn´t there?
I’m from Wicklow. That makes me a blow in…
Up the Rebel County!
I’ve heard it in Australia. Of course many of our early involuntary settlers were of Irish stock.
Interesting – some detective work via Wikipedia says that ‘The model available in Mexico, Canada, Brazil and Argentina from 2008 was likewise facelifted with the same design found in China.’. I suspect it’s one of those, as some of the details look slightly off for the Chinese version (badging, repeater lights, etc).
Always thought the Bora was a good looking car, especially – dare I say it – on the bigger alloy wheels. I’m not usually a proponent of oversized alloys, but they work well on this era of VWs, even the Mk4 Caddy small van introduced in 2003. Something about the foursquare stances and flared but relatively geometric wheelarches.
Regarding the Mk 4 Golf being that model’s definitive statement, I am in broad agreement but would argue that its spiritual successor, the Mk 7, runs it very close. Whenever I see a Mk 7 I’m impressed by just how taut the side surfaces are. The Mk 8 (the shoulderline of which instead echoes the Mk 6) is much less lithe and already looks older to my eyes.
How could we forgot another long gone darling, a wind-blowing name?
“Scirocco” made a comeback on the rear bootlid (at the back of the car) of a recent VW product. It ought to have made more of an impression than it did. What was so wrong with it?
Time and place, I’d argue, Richard. The market wasn’t much interested in small-ish coupés anymore and that was even before the SUV boom really got going. There are a few examples around where I live (too poor for newer SUVs but *very* eager to make in impression with their car). I like them.
A note to the moderator: the earlier reply to the above comment with my email address was also from me. “T” should read “Tom V”.
Hi Tom. Fixed! Apologies for the delay.
Of the last Scirocco they sold more than 270,000 – that’s on par with the Audi TT Mk1 or Scirocco Mk2. Only the Scirocco Mk1 sold more with 500,000 examples.
The Scirocco Mk3 put many potential buyers off because its interior was not on the same quality level as a Golf Mk4 or Mk6. It also had some crude solutions like the bulges in the roof covering the hinges of the hatch. I know a couple of people who disliked this particular detail.
It also had a strange selection of engines and some options clearly targeted at a kindergarten audience.
With a K license plate (2017), that car has been most probably imported and licensed in Spain. It may have come from anywhere, although is hard and expensive to license vehicles sold out of the EU/European Economic Space. The Bora was very expensive in Spain and not many were sold back in the day; today is hard to see one in the wild
Gorka Luis: Thanks for the clarification. At least we now know that it was imported. On my wanderings, I have attempted (and largely failed) to grasp the logic of licence plates here; there appears to be quite an array of them. I get the impression that the Bora was an expensive car everywhere (not sure about the USA) and was never a big seller by consequence. Although price wasn’t the only rationale. It didn’t sell well in Ireland for that reason, admittedly, but in the UK it was more because the market didn’t like compact saloons, for example. But you are correct, Boras are thin on the ground (in any form) here – which makes this one even more of a unicorn.
Richard: I think the last-gen Scirocco’s problem was one of timing. The market for such cars was contracting and VW arrived to it too late. Nowt’ wrong with the product.
There’s one around where I live. It’s very neat but gets little running (it’s from an elderly gentleman). It’s one of those designs that I never tire of, like the Up (with or without exclamation mark).
I haven’t been to Spain much, but my impression when I was there was that there were quite a few South Americans working in the – with all due respect – more menial jobs. Like Poles in Northern Europe. I’d imagine it probable that connection might be how the Bora arrived in Spain, although it seems a little expensive for that.
Are they expensive to license if the owner was formerly an imigant in another country?
In Portugal, in that case, they are cheap to licence
The current Spanish license plate system is actually quite simple, once you understand how it works:
1. The 1234-XXX format was introduced in 2000, together with the blue stripe with the “E” on the left of the plate. Some plates with the old XX-1234-XX format were issued with the blue “E” stripe, but let’s keep it simple.
2. The 1234-XXX format excludes vowels and the letter Q (to avoid confusion with the number 0), so the very first plate with this format was 0000-BBB.
3. Every 10000 registrations the letter on the far right changes up, so in the example above, the change happened like this: 9999-BBB changed to 0000-BBC. Keep doing that (excluding vowels and Q) and you end up with this change: 9999-BBZ changes to 0000-BCB, and on until we reach 9999-BZZ, which will change to 0000-CBB.
4. The key here is to look at the first two letters because they can tell you roughly which year and even month the car was registered. For example, last September we changed to the letter M, as in 0000-MBB, so any car that you see with an M plate is less than a year old. The current registrations are in the 1234-MG(letter) range.
This plate format is used for all types of vehicles except under 50cc motorcycles and non license urban cars, which both use smaller yellow plates. This format is also non-regional, meaning it’s independent of the region where the vehicle was registered.
cesargrauf: Many thanks for that. I’ll try to keep it all in my head. (Good luck with that, Eóin)…
Gustavo, if the car doesn’t comply with EU standards is difficult and expensive to license. For example, the Jeep Compass is sold in the EU and the USA. An EU Compass can be legalized fairly easily: pay tax and pass the ITV (the technical inspection). A US Compass would need to be surveyed by a licensed engineer and demonstrate it complies with EU standards. In some cases, they may refuse to issue a license plate even after a positive assessment. There are some companies which specialize in getting the paperwork for this kind of “exotic” vehicles but it may be expensive/time consuming. A common problem are Polish cars which were originally sold in the US, resold in Poland and licensed there. Even being licensed in a EU country doesn’t save you from getting the paperwork as a foreign car. Unfortunately, law in Spain is quite car averse and every year they make it tougher
Cars from the US that are resold in Poland or Baltic states are a big problem.
A guy I know is an insurance company expert and regularly sees such cars. He told me that one and a half million(!) of these cars in 2022 were listed in the US as write-offs after terminal accidents, meaning that they cannot be re-registered in the US and can only be used for spares.
Some European ‘repair’ specialists from said countries buy these cars, transfer them to the EU and after some bodged repairs sell
In the US there’s an official database where dealers (and police) can check whether a car is legal for re-registration but there’s no such service in the EU yet.
VAG itself had some worthy competitors: SEAT’s Toledo II had a hatchback and a lower price around here; Skoda’s first Octavia had an even lower price and an even bigger hatchbacked boot.
Of course, having the money, the Bora would of course be the superior choice.
But I guess it was meant to be primarily an USA targeted product, not an european one: it was shown first time as a prototype on some american car show as a two door sporting VW. And mediterranean interest on saloons was fading, I guess
While the 2nd gen Jetta sold reasonably well (even being quite expensive), the Bora was priced well over its segment and sold rather poorly. At the time I would guess any Mediterranean penchant for three box cars was mostly lost and hatchbacks reigned supreme. The Golf was more practical and cheaper (but still more expensive than other cars in the same market segment at the time)
Thank you for the explanation on foreign imports.
Around here foreign cars are also very expensive to import, exception made if you had been an imigrant in another country. In that case, you may bring home wathever you own (and resale it after a few years, I guess).
That’s why my mechanic has a client with an USA Renault Alliance. I once also owned a Canadian Mazda MX6, until I saw the body parts price (mirrors, lamps, bumpers all between 500 and 1000€)
I still see these around here in Canada. They were called the City Jetta to distinguish them from the MK5 Jettas that were sold concurrently. There was also a MK4 City Golf which after a year or two received a similar facelift.
I enjoy these little mysteries. I’m thinking (inconclusively):
Ex US Forces? Morón de la Frontera Air Base is about 80km from Marbella. But why would the car be a Bora, and not a Jetta?
Privately imported to Portugal from Brazil, then re-registered in Spain? There used to be quite a few Brasilias and Voyages in Portugal, but those would have arrived before EU accession in 1986. There are lots of Brazilian nationals in Portugal, but would any go to the bother of bringing their car over?
Or as Eóin suggests, one of a job-lot of parallel imports. We know that this sort of thing happens – perhaps an 0ver-order, or a version caught out by a legislative change in its original intended market.
It’s a puzzling mistery, after reading Gorka’s explanation.
Regarding Brazilians importing their cars when coming to Portugal, I’ve never seen one. That makes sense since you can buy here something roadworthy for a thousand euros (eg. a very good low mileage Punto 1, Clio 1, etc)
Regarding Brazilian VW, as the story goes the Portuguese importer Guerin lost in the mid seventies the right to sell German models… but reached an agreement with VW do Brasil to import their products.
So, we almost never saw the original Golf (bar the GTI!), Scirocco, Passat, Polo… I missed them a lot.
But we saw Brasilia’s in droves, and later just a few Voyages and Paratis
German VW only returned after 1986, I guess, with all their power.
Gustavo, thanks for your insight.
I was in Portugal last week and noted that Guerin are still a major force in the rental car market.
Those Brasilias, 181s, Voyages, and Paratis seem to be properly extinct but I did spot two IMA Minis, and two UMMs. Disappointingly, a very tidy looking Moke turned out to be an electric impostor, rather than the proper Vendas Novas item.
The Algarve carscape reminded me of Tasmania in the early ’90s – timewarp cars from 30 years ago still looking solid and doing daily duty. Also a pleasing absence of suvs. I suspect that the owners of those ancient Corsas, Fiestas, and Polos weren’t hard-up – they just didn’t subscribe to the northern European “car as a boast” culture.
The Brazilian personal import idea is a long shot. It’s like an Australian shipping their Holden to the UK. Also Mercosur Zone emissions and safety standards were far behind just about everyone else. As far as I can work out, Boras for Brazil were sourced from Mexico, it’s not clear whether specifications were downgraded for export to the Mercosur nations.
A friend had a Bora in silver with the aluminium wheels like the one in the picture. I never liked the single front lights, they were too simple for the rest of the car. The panels had a gentle curve to the outside, and nice details. I liked the details around the rear. A good looking car of an era with money to spend on cars. It didn’t sell big numbers, the serious families were choosing the Passat. You could see it as a taxi also. The older Jetta cars were quite popular as taxis. I remember many times to have been in them. Especially the light blue one, which I affectionately call ‘slimmy’, as it is slimmer than the later Jetta. Riding it in the 80s was nice, the German alternative to Japanese taxis of the time. German quality Vs Japanese reliability. In our eyes, european cars would always be better designed while all cars would become bluebird taxi reliable sometime in the future and japancars would lose their advantage. That’s how naively we were thinking then. Being a car enthusiast, I thought of each taxi ride as a test drive and asked the driver about the car. To my astonishment, some of them were ignorant and indifferent. They were just spending their working day in the car, nothing more.
I guess those who have the money to buy new cars are also turning to CUVs, unfotunately.
But for the rest of us, there is a lucky circunstance: although in most populated areas it may rain a lot during winter, ice on roads is a rare sight, and salt is not used. Cars don’t get old around here if they were not negleted. A neighbour as a nice Bora, other owns a Xantia, several pristine E36 live around, etc. All sleeping under the stars. So, anything less than 30 years old may be perfectly serviceable as long as it has been a large seller (parts availability, new or used).
Mysteries occur though: how a 1986 Escort SW and a 1988 Renault 5 keep surviving on their original paint (and decals) beats me
But of course poor people must stand with what they have.
Among those who are well off, though, there seems to be two diferent aproaches: those who show their wealth unashamedly and those who find all this new, big car frivolity a bit tasteless and a waste of money (heavily taxed new cars) .
A cousin of mine, wine producer, drives his Mitsubishi Strakar, bought new, since 1999. But, to visit his daughters on Lisbon, he strangely bought three years ago a 2001 Audi A4 1.8T, not an obvious choice…
A 1988 Renault 5 – I can beat that!
And to end my extensive speech with a very pleasant (for me) observation: since the beginning of the month, everyday I see a pristine classic being daily driven. Yesterdays sights comprised a blue Mini Clubman and a red Alfa 33 Imola. I feel less lonely 🙂
Indeed you did, Robertas!
Daniel, in your first comment you say about the Golf IV: “The latter was, happily, never tinkered with”.
I really wish I could agree with you, but alas, I’ve seen the following on a visit to Canada:
(Golf City Mk 4.5, Canada/Latin America)
And there even seems to be a Golf version of the design shown here, called “Bora HS”:
The Costa del Sol is a different place from the rest of Spain in some aspects; a lot of expatriates live here, so it´s not too strange to see cars that weren´t sold new in the EU. But it seems a lot of hassle to bring a City Bora from Argentina, Mexico or Canada; perhaps it was sold new in Morocco and imported here?