The second-generation Golf moved Volkswagen's front-wheel drive hatch from second car status in the family to the number one spot in many households.
At the time, the space, quality and drivability ensured strong sales success. South Africans have had easy access to the Golf 1 (Citi Golf), but Golf 2 elevated the VW brand to a different level.
Two years ago I had the opportunity to acquire a reasonably well looked-after original, accident-free '88 Golf GTI 16V non-exec with leather as the only extra fitted. Its original owner - then 83 years old - could no longer drive it due to its lack of power steering.
Up until the time I bought it, the car had done around 10 000 km per year and was used as a shopping trolley. Apart from the parking dents, it was still in good external condition and a quick test drive showed its gearbox and motor were still good too - it just needed general maintenance.
I was "happy" with my 1998 Golf 3 GTS and wasn't looking specifically for a new car, but after owning a Golf 2 2.0 8V GTI before I really felt the GTS was a good car in every way albeit a little too bland.
Some adjustment needed
A week long service at a German VW specialist was booked and included everything except taking out the motor.
A new Sachs clutch and shocks (gas riders) were fitted. A full stainless steel Bosal exhaust (with three silencers) replaced the original item. The steering knuckle and gear linkages were replaced.
After the changes were made, the car ran faster and cooler, handled better, displayed more direct steering and precise gear changes were also possible.
My car is in daily use over about 80km a day. Fuel consumption is always around the 8.5l/100km mark running on 95 unleaded. Acceleration is still strong and the car revs cleanly to the red line (7 200 r/min) - which I don't do too often.
The 16-valve is quicker than the 1992 Golf 2 2.0 8V GTI Digifant I owned a while back, but it's not as drivable and I often have to drop a gear to overtake safely. But once over the 4 000 r/min mark the car pulls strongly in any gear.
Still fun to drive
In my opinion the 2.0 8V GTI Digifant was nicer overall - but then again it was launched at the end of the Golf 2's model cycle, so it should have been...
48 000 km later my car is still fun to drive every day. I still have not tired of the drivability, handling, direct steering, sound (or "noise", according to my wife), and character of my Golf 2 GTI.
The only thing I would change on my car is to fit the standard air-conditioning as the combination of black interior and summer heat makes the car uncomfortable during the mid-day.
To conclude, my car is a good example of the drivable everyday classic and until I replace it, I will continue to enjoy driving a car that once was King of the performance hatchbacks.