Wide arches, plenty of aerodynamic grip, and a very courageous driver behind the wheel make this first-generation Golf a perfect fit for tight hill climbs. Squarish proportions make it willing to change direction almost like a kart, and with less than 1,750 pounds to push around, it doesn’t have to brake much to make a corner.
All of those assets would make it the ideal momentum car, but owner/driver Jurgen Halbartschlager felt it deserved more than just cornering speed. The 2.0-liter engine from an Audi STW engine is a bonafide racing product once used in Supertouring racing. In addition to that incredible induction noise at 9,500 rpm, it produces 300 horsepower—most of which is available at the tippy-top of the rev range. To keep the engine howling in its sweet spot, Halbartschlager attached a six-speed sequential. As a result, the Golf rockets away from corner exit in a way few naturally-aspirated four-cylinder cars can.
Even with impressive straight-line speed, the Golf’s strong suit is its mid-corner speed. The way Halbartschlager can roll speed into corners and keep it pointed in the right direction. It’s an incredibly well-sorted, incisive car that needs to be treated with some respect. It’s also clear that it doesn’t forgive once the rear end steps out in a big way. See the footage below for how quickly this Volkswagen wants to swap ends—and how quickly things can go awry.
Despite the occasional mistake — and even monkeys falling from trees — it’s clear he’s grown with this car over the years. After witnessing his performances from a few years ago, we can see just how much more nervous and unsettled the car was. Twitching under braking, pivoting mid-corner, and dropping the occasional wheel shows a) he was fearless, and b) the car wasn’t set up as well in their early years. It seems adding the big wing and the rear diffuser helped with stability at speed.
There’s no doubt the car’s handling has been refined over the years, but it’s Halbartschlager’s skill which really steals the spotlight. Smooth, accurate, and always in search of entry speed, which is quite courageous with the guardrails so close. He wrings the neck of this little buzzing monster with a subtle touch and shows us exactly how one should drive a short-wheel-based Golf when there’s no margin for error.