There are few cars that reach the status of “legendary” without some kind of claim on an extreme—performance, looks, whatever it may be. The majority of the world’s most revered and coveted automobiles are viewed as such because of their capabilities, their striking aesthetics, or the marriage of the two. Whether it set a new performance benchmark, was the first to incorporate or perfect a new technological feat, or its design redefined what it meant to be radical or beautiful, the list of legends is mostly populated by unobtainable machines. But not entirely so.
There are a few outliers that manage to become pop culture favorites despite not appearing all that incredible on the surface. Perhaps no other car embodies this theory better than the Golf GTI. It’s a seemingly ordinary car that’s genuinely far greater than the sum of its components, and what the GTI might lack in visual braggadocio compared to other ’80s icons, it more than makes up for in useable real world performance and functionality. While many have followed in its footsteps, the Golf GTI is the hot hatch that not only rewrote what an economy hatchback could turn into, it led the way into that new market and hasn’t left the top of the pile yet.
Andrew Tucker, the owner of this 1990 Volkswagen Golf GTI, knows a thing or two about the “People’s Hatchback.” Andrew fondly recalls riding in the back of his father’s GTI as an impressionable youngster gearhead; “It harkens back to my childhood, but it’s also a very usable car,” adding that, “It’s not perfect, but it’s perfectly usable, and I think that’s what I love about these cars most of all.”
Naturally, after spending so much time in his father’s Volkswagens over the years, it was only fitting that Andrew’s first car would be a Golf—a Mk2 to be exact. Unfortunately, his first GTI fell victim to fire, deeming the car unsalvageable. No real bother though, as Andrew isn’t the kind of enthusiast to let a carbecue extinguish his passion.
However, the Golf GTI is the Civic Si of Europe in a sense, meaning that sourcing an original, unmodified, clean example is nearing impossible after decades of deprecation yielded to adolescent abominations—the kind of owners who tend to place more emphasis on questionable modifications rather than routine maintenance. But Andrew was determined to find a suitable replacement, and in 2012, after years of searching, he found a squared-away 16-valve Mk2 GTI, which you’ll find him driving through the back roads outside of Bristol, England.
“The car is completely original minus the suspension rebuild—original interior, original 15-inch BBS RA alloys, still running the original clutch, engine, and gearbox,” and aside from running a modern Eibach and Bilstein suspension setup, Andrew plans to keep it this way. “Part of the beauty of this car is that it’s been preserved, not modified,” Andrew believes it’s his duty to keep that going.
It is a car packed with nostalgia for a ’90s kid, and Andrew’s favorite aspect of driving his GTI is “The memories it brings back of being a small kid sat in the back seat.” While it’s not particularly powerful, the 140 ponies under hood are easily extracted, and the suspension refresh and inherent poise of the car make the most out of the modest power. “It’s a very easy car to drive somewhat close to the limit without scaring yourself,” Andrew claims, “But it’s just a fun car to spend time in.”
In honest driver’s condition, Andrew is just fine with his GTI’s presentation. It’s been quite reliable too, giving its caretaker all the confidence needed for taking long distance jaunts without worry. “I like the fact that it’s a really usable classic as opposed to a show pony. It reminds me of my childhood and I hope to keep it in this condition and hand it down to my son when he’s my age.”
Whether it’s loading up the family dog, strapping his son in a car seat in the back, or his personal sports car, the GTI can do it all—that’s why Andrew has always had one in the garage. It’s the one car to do it all without compromise. How many legends can do that?