10th GTI-International 1997
Crowthorne, England

By Bernd Felsche
Red Mk1 GTI Red Mk2 GTI
Mk1 GTI - What started it all. Mk2 GTI - Just in case you didn't know.
The GTI International is a meeting of GTI enthusiasts held at the Transport Research Laboratories (TRL) in Crowthorne near Reading in England, in mid-May when the weather is supposed to be pleasant. Electronic correspondence alerted me to this and an invitation was extended for me to attend.

I changed my holiday plans to suit and made it an agenda item. A quick 90-mile run from Bristol to Bracknell on the Friday evening brought me to the hotel.

The first day started sunny but cool. A 10-minute drive from Bracknell to Crowthorne took me to the end of the early-bird queue. The car park was only about two rows deep at the time; some 500 cars. I converted my 10 entry fee to a press pass at the GTI International desk in the main display tent, thanks to Paul Harris of Volkswagen Audi Magazine who kindly sent me a fax for that purpose.

Apricot Abt Polo Spoilered Mk2 Golf
Abt-Kit on Polo Mk2 Golf kits abound
I met David Pipes, a motoring journalist and GTI enthusiast, as pre-arranged at 8:30. David's guided tour of the day included background information on the TRL grounds which are used for crash, tyre, driver and road hardware testing. Anything to do with roads gets tested here from time to time.

The middle of the display grounds was fenced off to provide two lanes for quarter-mile drag races - well, sprints actually. For a few pounds, the driver could see how well his pride and joy did against the clock; and for a little more money, a graph of speed against distance could be supplied. Unfortunately, occasional showers kept the ground damp so the quarter mile sprints were rather slow. This didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the punters once the sun made a showing; they were lined up for about 400 metres waiting for their turn.

Drag Strip
Quarter-mile setup for acceleration testing
Yokohama provided new A520 tyres so that anybody who wished could compare them on the special slalom course in another corner of the grounds. Long queues throughout the day proved this to be a more popular diversion, not the least reason being that it was free.

Of course; the main reason for being at the International for most was to meet other GTI enthusiasts, exchange ideas, look at the cars on display (and those just parked!) and perhaps pick up a bargain at one of the many trade stands.

You could even buy a car, with prices ranging from about 1500 to 12,000. There were certainly some interesting cars on offer, with respectable ones ready to drive away at around 3000. At the bottom end of the range, some sad-looking Mk 1's and neglected Mk 2's were on offer, desperately looking for well-funded enthusiasts to give them a second or third lease of life. Of course, Sciroccos, Corrados, other Volkswagens and Audis were also on sale and display.

5-Valve Heads for Sale Mini-Sale-Yard
5-valve heads already availble Trick and stock cars for sale
Amongst the special vehicles on show were a VR6 powered Polo and a twin-VR6 powered Golf. Both of these put on a good show at the sprints with the latter covering the distance in a little over 12 seconds in the dry, even with noticeable less than optimal matching of its 2.8 and 2.9 litre engines.

VR6 fits in Polo VR6 in Mk2 Golf
Yes, a VR6 will fit in a Polo VR6 upgrades for the power-hungry Mk2
As the day developed, more and more cars arrived, mostly GTIs, with the car park filling with about 4000 cars by 2 p.m.; and more kept arriving until quite late in the afternoon. This is an amazing sight to behold for an Australian. All those GTIs, Volkswagen and Audi cars crammed into one place!

GTI-filled Car Park More arrivals at gate
GTIs as far as the eyes can see Saturday arvo, and still more arrivals
The weather worsened as the day progressed, though that did not discourage busy hands at the show-and-shine which seemed to be fighting a losing battle against the drizzle and occasional showers. Spectators seemed to find adequate shelter amongst the commercial display tents (even tolerating loud music not to their taste in one), in the main pavilion and the dining tent.

Hunger pangs could be fended off with quantities of burgers and various other snacks available from several stands; lubricated by hot and cold drinks; all available at quite reasonable prices.

At about 5 p.m., my weary feet carried me to the car park so that I could join one of the queues leading out of Crowthorne. Traffic was smooth, thanks to the local constabulary regulating flow.

Rare Oettinger 16V Golf Polo Harlequin
Rare original Oettinger 16-valve Golf Polo Harelquin Officials' Car
I spent the evening at the hotel wondering what had happened to my change of clothes, until a very apologetic night-manager showed up with a bag of clothes, explaining that an over-zealous house-keeper had placed them in lost-property, in the belief that I'd vacated the room. That was certainly enough of a day for me, so I called it a night and went to bed early, around sunset at 9:30 pm.

Breakfasting was essential to sustain me through the second day. With my bags packed, I checked out of the hotel and and hit the road around 8:45, arriving at the TRL at the opening time of 9 am. The bright orange SPECIAL VEHICLE sticker on the windscreen caused me to be diverted to a special car park close to the action. Bewdy!

I started the day with a shopping trip around the vendors; taking advantage of special offers to stock up on those bits and pieces which are hard to find down under, having spent part of the previous day scouting around the various stands. Unfortunately, I had to consider the baggage limit for the remainder of my holidays, as well as possibly overstepping the bounds of what Australian Customs would consider to be exempt. So the pearlescent Audi S2 coupe was out of the question!

Audi Qauttro-Sport Pretend-Quattro
Rare Quattro Sport Coupé Scirocco pretending to be a Quattro
As the grounds filled with more and more cars and people; the 1/4-mile sprints started and the tyre testing attracted more rev-heads. One even displayed the anti-social ability to convert rubber to smoke. An act which was frowned upon; especially those downwind, in the Concourse

Mk2 Scirocco
Scirocco Mk2 happy being a Scirocco
The main difference in the format of the day to the previous one was the Concourse d'Elegance instead of a show-and-shine as centrepiece. Unfortunately, the weather didn't co-operate, providing only brief periods of sunshine between gusty winds, occasional rain and drizzle. The English, Scots, Welsh, as well as the French, Belgians, Germans and other Europeans all did their best. At times the Concourse was a hive of activity with dozens of polishing cloths and towels flashing in the sun.

I met some Germans from the Mönchengladbach GTI Club who invited me to their meeting on the following Friday (which I was unfortunately unable to attend due to bad weather and the steering wheel being on the wrong side of the car).

Corrado Lineup Red Corrado
Loads of lovely VW Corrado coupés Corrado Style
Around noon, the pace of the day had settled and people wandered around the Concourse between showers, chatting to owners and enthusiasts alike. The tyre testing continued unabated, attracting crowds of spectators around its perimeter, often aghast at the capabilities of the cars and tyres, and sometimes the lack of ability of the drivers.

The end of the day drew near and a trickle of visitors began to leave around 3pm often with booty from on-site vendors in hand.

As I still had a long drive back to Bristol ahead of me, I did a final circuit around the grounds, departing just before 5pm, after watching the presentation of trophies.

Cool Passat
Lime-green, lowered Passat drew loads of attention
Looking back at the whole event; it would have been much nicer if the weather had been cooperative, and I for one would have appreciated something other than tarmac for at least some on the display (though grass would have been turned to mud by spectator pedestrian traffic in some areas). Although it didn't turn out to be everything I'd expected it to be, it did present quite a few things which were unexpected. It was certainly enjoyable to be there, to absorb the enveloping GTI atmosphere. I'd go again, given the chance, preferably with my own GTI.

Email: bernie@innovative.iinet.net.au
Copyright © 1997,1999 Bernd Felsche.