The golf harlequin has always been an unusual piece of Volkswagen history. The idea sprang from a successful special harlequin model Polo in Europe, but its translation to the US market seemed to be somewhat lost. It was never as popular in the US as the Polo Harlequin was in Europe, and for that reason only 264 were ever made, making it one of the rarest US-only special models in VW’s history.
This particular car, born in 1996 as number 80 of the original 200 produced, and sent to Jim Ellis VW in Atlanta, where in part of the fervor for the 1996 Olympic Games it was sold to its original and only previously titled owner. It lived ostensibly a typical life for a 1996 golf, eventually falling into disrepair, and hiding in a shed for the better part of the last decade, until its 3rd (second officially) owner Jamie Orr decided to bestow upon it a higher purpose. Restore it to its original knick, ship it to Europe and drive it around 7 different countries en route to driving it to the largest VW show in the world – The GTI Treffen at Reifntiz, and its surrounding activities generally referred to as “Worthersee”.
Jamie and I had discussed making a trip to Worthersee in the past, but schedules and commitments always seemed to get in the way. So when he contacted me just 3 months before the start of the show with an idea to build a car quickly, ship it to Europe and drive it to Worthersee I told him that I was “in”, as crazy as the proposition sounded. None of us knew how much effort and help from others it would take to make this a reality.
We supplied quite a few parts for the otherwise stock 2.0 ABA engine and some suspension upgrades to help the Harlequin navigate the Autobahn, byroads and the Nurburgring effectively. The picture above illustrates some of those parts, but a more complete list:
BFI Stage 1 ABA PEM
BFI 020 Lightweight flywheel (removing 5.5 lbs of rotating mass)
BFI Stealth Series Engine Mounts
BFI MSD Ignition Coil upgrade
Manually Adjustable Clutch Cable
Control Arms with R32 Bushings
BFI 4×100 Wheel Spacers
BFI GBSH custom painted Harlequin Shift knob with Alcantara boot.
As is often the case with projects that are on tight deadlines, this one was finished at the last minute, just in time to make it on a shipping vessel, or so Jamie thought. It turned out that the ship was a week behind schedule, and it meant that there was no way for the harlequin to make it in time for our planned trip.
After quite a bit of research of other, sometimes ridiculously more expensive methods of transport, help came from an unexpected source – Volkswagen themselves. Through the help of friends in multiple departments, VWoA Logistics offered to take the harlequin on their ship to the factory in Emden Germany. It is a curious thing, shipping a 20 year old car back to the manufacturer, but the car was loaded onto the transport ship on a snowy day in Rhode Island, and off it went, not to be seen until we met up with it, mid-way through our own Journey.
As I’ve chronicled in our other post, the harlequin got to see a good portion of its fatherland, including some important spots like the Nurburgring.
The harlequin was right at home on the curves and elevation changes of the Nurburgring, and as Jamie pointed out, the Pwrhaus coilovers performed beautifully on the track, handling everything the ring could throw at it. For reference, this is not the preferred line at Adenauer Forst.
And slinging out of the second of two carousels, the slightly less famous of the two.
But beyond track time, the car saw all conditions – sun, rain, sleet, snow (7 inches), and made it though without a scratch. It is a testament to the build goals Jamie had, the craftsmanship employed, the parts provided and of course the engineering of the vehicle itself – though they may be economy cars at heart, the MK3 can handle most things thrown its way.
Being that the car was from the USA and on top of that, a Pennsylvania car that had no front plate, getting pulled over by the Polizei was a common occurrence. We had a running bet as to how many times the harlequin would be pulled over. In the end, it was Jamie who one with, I believe, 9 Polizei interventions.
Even though it was on a different continent than its intended use, it was right at home with its brethren at the 40th anniversary of the GTI and the 35th anniversary of the Worthersee treffen.
Volkswagen even saw fit for the GTI to be featured on stage during the show, which was an honor that none of us will forget. We thought it looked great next to a German Playboy model. Jamie was cool too.