Rewind Assessment: 1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin

No different model of the Volkswagen Golf is extra emblematic of Nineteen Nineties model and hues than the Harlequin, a automotive with a backstory as wild as its quad-color paint job. Diehard VW followers and retro automotive fanatics are acquainted with the Harlequin, however the wacky hatchback solely lately has loved renewed appreciation.

Volkswagen originated the concept for a multicolored automotive in a 1964 print commercial. The advert confirmed off the model’s year-to-year interchangeable elements, represented by a Beetle with mismatching physique panels and fenders. The imaginative and prescient was actualized as a manufacturing automotive within the type of the Europe-only 1995 Mk3 Polo Harlequin hatchback, which wore mishmashed physique panels painted Twister Pink, Chagall Blue, Ginster Yellow, and Pistachio Inexperienced. Meant as a small batch of 20 vehicles, shoppers expressed enthusiasm for the quirky design. VW finally produced greater than 3,000 Polo Harlequins.

The Golf model was met with preliminary pleasure because it hit the 1995 auto present circuit, so VW North America produced 264 items at its Puebla, Mexico plant. Painted the identical colours because the Polo Harlequin, the vehicles destined to grow to be Golf Harlequins have been monochromatic once they rolled off the meeting line. VW North America then scrambled the panels round in accordance with pointers laid out by the model’s European headquarters. Each grille matches the entrance fenders, the entrance doorways match, and the rear doorways match. The unique physique shade is detectable by the rear quarter panels, roof, and rocker panels. Inside, fabric seats function the 4 exterior colours within the material’s sample.

Nonetheless, when the manufacturing model got here to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico later that yr, the funky hatchback wasn’t embraced in the identical manner as its subcompact sibling. The Golfs lingered on dealership heaps—patrons did not wish to be seen driving what appeared like a clown automotive.

Pricing started at $13,775, $150 greater than an ordinary Golf GL, which is corresponding to about $27,600 in the present day. The Golf has historically represented class-agnostic ambiguity, however the Harlequin’s shade scheme turned an nameless commuter automotive right into a daring model assertion.

Jaime Orr is a Volkswagen customizer, collector, and the proprietor of the Golf seen right here. His enthusiasm for these limited-production vehicles runs deep; he owns three and even personalized a contemporary Atlas SUV by giving it an analogous cheerful paint scheme. Regardless of his fandom, Orr acknowledges the design would have been a bit a lot for most folk to purchase as their every day driver. “It is a huge dedication to showcase that [design] on the surface of your self, on a regular basis,” Orr says. Displaying up in a quad-color automotive does not really feel acceptable in each situation.

So the Golf Harlequin proved too extraverted for American tastes. VW sellers resorted to swapping their Harlequins again to monochromatic shade schemes to unload stock, because the multicolor fashions turned much more tough to unload as their novelty wore off. Whilst some homeowners treasured their vehicles and handed them on to different passionate VW fanatics, most Golf Harlequins have disappeared. Solely about 100 are reported to nonetheless exist, making it one of many rarest Golfs ever produced.

As for the drive? The third-generation Golf can moderately be known as the primary trendy model of the model’s reasonably priced hatchback. VW moved away from the boxy Giugiaro-penned physique model and adopted a extra aerodynamic search for its exterior design. The driving dynamics are extra refined than the second-generation mannequin’s, and inside ergonomics are noticeably improved. There are even two cupholders within the entrance row.

The Golf Harlequin relies on what was the entry-level GL, so it has a 2.0-liter fuel-injected four-cylinder with 115 hp and 122 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed handbook with an overdrive gear was customary, however a four-speed computerized was obtainable. Orr’s automotive options the previous, which helps benefit from the engine’s output.

The Harlequin is remarkably livable by trendy requirements. It is no scorching hatch, however the engine has ample grunt to scoot away from a stoplight. The straightforward, skinny steering wheel appears alien in a world of thick tillers with tons of buttons. Orr’s Harlequin does not ask a lot of the motive force—the steering is mild, brake suggestions is great, and the four-banger revs fortunately. The five-speed makes on a regular basis driving entertaining because of well-spaced gearing for around-town utilization. In comparison with in the present day’s manuals, the clutch engages on the very prime of the pedal’s journey, however the Golf continues to be a pleasure to drive.

Curious onlookers could not get sufficient of the colourful compact as we navigated the streets of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. People appeared to grasp what a Harlequin is and wished to know if this one was real. One excited passerby even requested if he may purchase it, however Orr is not able to half methods with this traditional. It is simple to understand its attraction; a Golf Harlequin has supercar magnetism with out the compromises and costly maintenance.

Regardless of its business failure, the Harlequin succeeds as an emblem of optimism and cheer. Orr thinks it has loved a resurgence because of the growth in ’90s nostalgia. “A pair years in the past, shade blocking turned an enormous factor in trend,” he says. In style manufacturers like Nike and Adidas have embraced the usage of panels of brilliant colours of their attire, a return to the neon apparel popularly worn three many years in the past.

Throughout the automotive neighborhood, retro car-show recognition has resurrected curiosity in off-beat classics from a time when in the present day’s know-how was merely conceptual. There aren’t many Harlequins buying and selling arms, however those who do now fetch spectacular sums. In 2021, a well-preserved Harlequin bought for extra $25,000 on Convey A Trailer. A yr later, a VR6-engine-swapped instance bought on Vehicles and Bids for about the identical value. Nicely-kept classics like Orr’s function an affirmation that VW’s creativity within the Nineteen Nineties wasn’t a complete write-off. The truth is, their preliminary lack of attraction has solely contributed to their particular aura in the present day.

1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin Specs
BASE PRICE $13,775 ($27,600 in 2023)
LAYOUT Entrance-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 2.0L/115-hp/122-lb-ft port-injected SOHC 8-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 5-speed handbook
CURB WEIGHT 2,700 lb
WHEELBASE 101.2 in
L x W x H 172.4 x 66.7 x 51.9 in
0-60 MPH 9.1 sec
EPA RANGE, COMB 348 miles

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