Copyright © 1999 Bernd Felsche, Perth, Western Australia
All Rights Reserved
This Document may not be copied without the author's written permission.

European Drive Report

Volkswagen Golf GTI 16V

By Bernd Felsche

First Impressions

It has almost 261,000 km on the clock and looks rather neglected some 11 to 12 years after leaving the Wolfsburg factory in 1987. Rescued from the wreckers just before the onset of the last northern winter, there are a few things to put right before serious application of this oak-green Golf GTI 16V's power.

Most evident when driving is the badly-aligned exhaust system which makes itself heard when one tries to extract too much power from the engine. It sounds like the engine mounts are broken! Front wheel bearings become audible when cornering hard and maybe even the driveshafts need an overhaul. The dampers have seen better days and the strut mounts probably need replacement.

Bumpers have a few war scars and the front left wing has been re-profiled. The odd dent in the doors, coupled with a maintenance sticker indicating that the next VAG service is due at 136,000km, or August 1992, whichever is sooner; shows years of negligence which the car has withstood remarkably well.
GTI in the Alps
Made it to the Alps
And just maybe the less-than-clean state contributes to it being worth just 2000 DM ($1700) in a private sale. That and the lack of a roadworthiness certificate which lists amongst the significant faults, the lack of a rubber on the clutch pedal. Admittedly, the rust in the headlights is not ideal and the torn CV joint boot will lead to premature replacement of the joint. Some rust on one of the rear disks looks like being rectified by several repeated applications of ABS stopping power. The tow-ball installation had not been certified.

In Western Australia, the car would be considered in good nick and well worth the asking price. And it's "mine" for two months while on the European continent. Its current owner, Erik Meltzer, is active in the VW Kombi scene, promoting the T2, notably by means of a Museum near Salzgitter in Germany. The GTI is his winter car which he bought for the parts but when he found it better than the Golf he was going to fix with cannibalsed parts, he kept the GTI instead and sold the ordinary Golf, mainly to pay for the parts needed to get the GTI on the road.

From the list of defects, you can see that it's still some way off and Erik's spending priorities are biased in the air-cooled direction at this time of year; consumed by his private fleet of Kombis (including a jet-powered one) and a Karmann Beetle Cabriolet. When I return the GTI it's doomed to be sold in favour of his first love, though for more than the 2000 DM recently offered. Cars such as this will fetch between 4000 and 5500 DM in Germany.

But it's early days yet as I chat with Erik on the way from the Brunswick railway station to "his" museum on the southern edge of nearby Salzgitter. I'm at the wheel so Erik is at my mercy as I sort out the controls "on the wrong side" and try to find the width of the car by Braille. The poor man is so amused by my sticking to the 30 kmh limit through a village, that he muses it'll be the talk of the pub for months to come: "a 16-valve GTI doing just 30 through the village, incredible but true".

I noted that the engine didn't seem as highly-strung as expected, with useful pulling power available from just over 1000 rpm once the engine had warmed. ABS brakes feel a bit odd; the brake pedal has about one centimetre of total travel. Doesn't sound like much but the pedal effort increases fairly steeply once the brakes start to bite.

We finally make it to the museum and although it's around 8 in the evening and a little wet, there's still daylight for me to find digs by about 10 at night. It's been a long day, starting out from the B&B in Maidenhead, England with 75 miles to Stansted (London) Airport, a flight to Frankfurt, 3 hours of InterCity Express (ICE) train to Brunswick, then 200km of driving. I'd have been glad to drop into bed straight away but catching up with the relatives drags on past midnight.

Der See Ruft The Lake Calls

Up at the crack of dawn. Not for me, especially when it cracks around 4:30 a.m.. After breakfast I pack my stuff into the GTI for the first continental leg of the Grand Tour; the 1000 km journey to Maria Wörth on the Wörthersee in Austria for the GTI-Treffen. My estimate is for this to take about 10 hours including 3 rest stops of half an hour each.

The GTI turns over easily at about quarter to nine in the morning, perhaps sensing that it's going to get a good workout. I ease out the clutch and a groan resonates through the car as the exhaust moves and drums against the body. Good morning!

With not even enough time to properly warm up the engine, I'm on the B1 Bundesstraße (national Highway), headed for the Autobahn, southbound. Gradually, I become accustomed to Autobahn traffic flow and steadily increase cruising speed above the recommended 130 kmh to a comfortable base of around two and a half kilometres a minute.

Now, the concentration required to do this safely can be taxing. After just an hour and a half, I decide to take a break to change CD, have a drink, a stretch and clear the mind. FM radio stations don't have much range in hilly or mountainous terrain, given that the antenna amplifier seems like it's stuffed, so reception is limited to about 20 minutes before another needs to be chosen. At 2 to 3 kilometres a minute, it's a fair range but inconvenient and distracting. So the CDs get a good workout until the unit remembers it's got a problem spitting out some discs.

The German Autobahn network is dotted with places where you can stop for a rest break and you shouldn't be ashamed to avail yourself of them, even if it's just to stop to take off a jacket or to beat the CD player into obedientsubmssion. Rest stops have varying facilities, from just a place to pull off the road with bins and perhaps picnic tables, to the fully serviced type with fuel, accommodation and shops.

Back on the Autobahn, I get a chance to give the GTI a bit more speed, sometimes exceeding 50 metres a second between platoons of cars. Although the engine is willing to pull harder than this, the engine mounts submit to the torque requirements at greater speeds, allowing the exhaust to bob against the firewall. Up to that point, the car is comfortably quiet though tyre and wind noises compete for dominance.

At the next fuel stop, almost 500 km from the start I decide to fill up on "Super PLUS" unleaded which is rated as 98 octane instead of the Super unleaded's 95 octane. Barely a minute on the Autobahn and the knock-sensing engine management system has unleashed smoother and more effortless cruising. Up to that point, fuel consumption had averaged in excess of 8.6 l/100km indicated by both the trip computer and the actual fuel consumed for the distance covered.

Now the trip computer is reporting between 7.5 and 8.5 l/100km cruising at between 120 and 180 kmh respectively. I wasn't going to fall for the computer becoming confused so made a mental note to fill up and to check the figures after another 500km.

As I head further south, the organic nature of the Autobahn network is evident. It's constantly under repair and extension especially in spring with seldom more than 10 minutes of unrestricted speed between roadworks where the limits are as low as 30 kmh, though more often 60 or 80 kmh.

Most days, the right-hand lane (slow lane) is jammed full of trucks, caravan-towing cars and all manner of slower vehicles from all over Europe. Occasionally, trucks will pull out with little notice because their drivers think their 100 kmh is faster than the 100 kmh of the vehicle in front. (They are only supposed to do 80 kmh, but the fine for up to 20 kmh over is only 75 DM.) This usually happens on inclines and not infrequently when one is travelling in excess of 130 kmh in the adjacent lane. The truck drivers are obviously skilled in the art of detecting cars with good brakes because they picked out my GTI for braking exercises on numerous occasions.

In the mountains

As one approaches the crinkly bits of Europe (the Alps) more speed restrictions come into force and there are long stretches of Autobahn in Bavaria where 120 is the limit. Pretending to be an obedient Bürger has its rewards as one is able to disappoint/surprise the traffic police with a 16V GTI sticking to the limit.

Just before Salzburg and the Austrian border, it's time to refuel and to pay the toll for using Austria's Autobahn network. It costs about a dollar a day (on a weekly basis) to use the Autobahn in Austria and you get a sticker to put on your windscreen. There are automated checks on the roads and if the sticker is not visible, then you'll get the bill for the toll and a hefty fine in the mail. A "weekly" sticker for the current day plus the 9 following filled my needs and found pride of place in the top centre of the windscreen.

The fuel bill was less than expected, confirming a fuel consumption of 7.5 l/100km. The Motometer fuel gauge in the GTI had pessimistically indicated near-empty, though there was still almost 20 litres left in the 55 litre fuel tank, judging by the 37 litres required to fill.

The border turns out to be almost undetectable. European Union means that routine "internal" border controls have been lifted so it's only a matter of adjusting your speed to the posted limit and cruising past the vacant border posts on the multi-lane road.

Although Austria enjoys speed limits on their Autobahn, many drivers don't like to share the enjoyment but it's best to stick to the right hand lane and out of harm's way. The towering landscape is all the more enjoyable for occasional visitors without having to watch for speed-traps. Rugged peaks are exaggerated by snow-filled ravines even in May.

There are few vantage points where one can stop on the Autobahn. Before I left Australia, I had planned to take in one of the alpine passes, not only to avoid the toll required to use one of the longer tunnels through the landscape. However, it was getting late in the afternoon and I still had to find the hotel in a strange town. So I deferred the alpine pass until the return journey and paid the 145 Austrian Schilling (about $18) toll.

Claustrophobes should take the high (alpine) road instead. Tunnels are often long (up to 9 km) and comparatively dark. There are a few short tunnels on the alpine passes too, but they are much shorter. Speed limits within the Autobahn tunnels are almost uniformly 100 kmh. As it was, spring cleaning and refurbishment called for closure of one of a pair of tunnels on the Autobahn so both traffic directions were temporarily funnelled into the one tunnel with reduced speed limits.

Delays at the toll gate resulted in almost no saving in time by staying on the Autobahn. Still it was interesting. Once.

Approaching the Wörthersee region in the Austrian state of Kärnten (Carinthia) from the north is comparatively unspectacular after passing through the Hohe Tauern south of Salzburg. Picture-book villages nestle in deep, grassed valleys and cling to the wooded slopes. The Autobahn passes far above valleys on road bridges and curves along the side of the mountain, sometimes within a metre of small waterfalls. Valley floors feature not only villages and hamlets but also winding streams and rivers which are in flow from the spring melt. It's often tempting to take the next Autobahn exit for a break in the valley below the Autobahn, taking in the sound of water splashing over the rocks and the smells of the countryside.

I pointed my GTI down the exit to Velden and wended my way through the local road network to Maria Wörth. I located the hotel after a few minutes within a cluster of similar establishment, still largely vacant in anticipation of the GTI-Treffen about to descend upon the holiday resort in sleepy preseason. The trip computer showed an average speed of 111 kmh over about eight and a half hours of driving for the day. A Grand Tour Indeed,

It was still daylight so after checking in and unpacking, there was time to do a reconnaissance of local facilities and to sample some of the regional specialty foods. That, for those expecting Austrians to be Sauerkraut and Strudel-munchers, includes pizza and a large variety of pasta dishes. Prices vary widely depending upon your choice of meal and the place where you eat. The equivalent of $20 to $25 will usually be enough to feed a hungry adult. Drinks are extra and alcohol attracts a premium, especially in a restaurant.

For those interested in sampling wines and ales, a trip to the local supermarket is advised to allow you to sample more at the same cost. Europeans, unlike the English, consider the measured consumption of alcoholic beverages to be a civilised activity, so it's readily available even in roadhouses. This is quite a change in culture for those coming from Australia or the UK.

My recommendation is to do as the Romans.

I also heartily recommend that intending travellers familiarise themselves with the places they are about to visit. The Internet provides a good resource as do the more traditional travel guide books; the one I chose being the Rough Guide. It proved to be worth the price, not only informing about places to see, but also on the history and culture of the place.

The best time to become informed is before you leave home. You'll pack appropriate clothes, you'll enjoy your valuable holiday time because you'll know what to look for as soon as you get there and best of all, you probably won't be mistaken for an ignorant American tourist.

Amongst the string of villages from Velden to Klagenfurt on the southern shore of the lake is Reifnitz, the centre of interest of those making up the GTI-Treffen.

But more of that in another report.

Copyright © 1999 Bernd Felsche.