The Mk3 Golf Buyers Guide
The Mk3 Golf is considered by some to be the black sheep of the VW Golf range, but we’re not sure why; they are a brilliant little car that won multiple awards during the course of its production.
When buying a Mk3 there are a number of areas that you need to look at;
Check for rust and rot and then look again for some more rust, and then again for rust. Mk3s rust, rather a lot. The only parts of the Mk3 that don’t rust are bits made for anything except for metal. Like any car, they’re made from metal and metal tends to rust. Due to the poor quality of steel used my many manufacturers during the 1990’s used it tends to be more prevalent in the Mk3 Golf. Luckily, many of the places were thy rust are easily seen and accessible. If you’re looking at a non-GTI the arches are the first port of call. Check the inner lip too as what you see on the outset may not be a clear indicator as to what is going underneath. Even a feel with your hand will make you aware of any rot, just watch out for sharp edges. Check the sills and jacking points too as they’re much the same. You will find that on a GTI there are plastic arch and sill covers that are great at hiding the inner goings on. Pull back any plastic, were you can, to get a look in behind them. Make sure to check the bottom of the front wings too for bubbling and rot and well as the bottom of the rear quarter for the same.
Next, get a look in around the bottom of the doors. There are drain holes here that are prone to getting a little ‘crunchy’ so make sure to open the door and get a look under the door on the bottom lip. Make sure you check all four doors, if it’s a four door your looking at, and check the door seals too. Your looking for splits in the rubber or even holes in it as the inside is hollow and can hold water.
So, everything seems to ok so far. While the doors are open get a good feel around the foot wells for damp. If you feel damp in the foot wells it could mean a worn out seal, a leaking door membrane, or worse so make sure to check the very tops of the foot wells in the front too. If there damp in there it likely means that there is a small hole at the top of the bulkhead were the windscreen meets it. That can be expensive but it’s all down to what the car is going to cost you to buy. While were mentioning the windscreen its wise to check around the top for rust too. If the seal is wrecked then you could have a very nice water feature running down the inside of your windscreen.
Next, check the boot lid. You need to check the lip for signs of bubbling as well as around the number plate lights themselves. There is a particular part that is very good at retaining water and this only encourages the tin worm into the bodywork. If the rust is up beyond the plastic, the lid may be beyond saving, unless you want to smooth out the recess.
Finally, floors. If your getting a damp carpet and you know the doors are all ok, as are the seals then you may have rot in the floor. This might be bad enough to be spotted from the underside of the car, but just take it into consideration. It could be expensive. It could be worth lifting carpets to have a look, but this will only be if you’ve bought the car already. The fella selling it might be a little funny about it if you start lifting out his carpets before you’ve agreed to buy his car!
Don’t forget to get a look around the car the rest of the car. Mk3s are prone to rust but that said, don’t let it put you off. They are a fun car to drive, more so than a mk4 and they feel much like a Mk2 in how they handle.
When it comes down to parts and restoration, many are still available from either third party suppliers, breakers and clubs or VW Classic Parts in Germany. Many of the jobs on the Mk3 can be carried out with in the driveway as the Mk3 is very DIY friendly, the worse part will be rusted or stuck bolts! When it comes to servicing and maintenance costs are low allowing even the tightest of budgets to run a Mk3.
So were can I buy one?
There are a few different places that can be source of a good Mk3. Ebay can be great place to browse and buy as can clubs such as ourselves and forums. When it comes to choosing a car you should decide whether you a restored car, an on going project or some totally original to make your own. Each has their own pitfalls and potential problems with pound signs attached to boot. The bigger the history folder with the car the better, its nice to know not only what has been done but also what still needs doing as this could effect your choice. It also worth noting that the quality of the workmanship also needs taken into account. If its had paintwork matched by Stevie Wonder’s guide dog or the floor made from old road signs then its going to need putting right and it could be expensive. On the other side though if your looking at a meticulously restored Mk3 or 1.8T engine swap then you could save a fortune compared to the initial cost spent by the last owner. This is were a trusty history folder full of old invoices comes in handy!
Generally not the reason you decide to buy what is considered a classic car, however, with the rising cost of petrol its worth mentioning. A well tuned Mk3 should see anywhere between 30 and 40 mpg in a mix of urban and extra urban, depending on the model.
What to look for
No matter which engine your looking at; 1.4, 1.6 or 1.8 or a diesel – all Mk3 engines should prove to have a long life span if they have been looked after and serviced on a regular basis. Look out for clouds of blue smoke on start up. This is bad. It could mean worn out valve guides or a failed valve stem oil seal. These in turn could mean a cylinder head rebuild is on the cards, which won’t be cheap.
The renowned VW build quality comes into play here and the running gear fitted to the Mk3, which is base don the Mk2, is strong with a long life span. At this point check that history folder again for receipts proving clutch changes, new exhausts and brakes have all been replaced recently. The best one to go for, generally speaking, is the original untouched one. Be wary of the one that has been ‘slammed’ on cheap coilovers and had a huge exhaust fitted. If you get one like this though and it is not what you want then its not hard to lift out the unwanted parts and return it to OEM or replace with better quality parts.
So what’s it really worth?
The age old saying of ‘its worth as much as someone is willing to pay’ might apply somewhat but so stop you paying over the odds we’ve put together some pointers. The Mk3 hasn’t reached the same level of desirability as the earlier Mk1 or Mk2 yet, but prices are as low as they ever will be for some now might be the perfect time to buy. Starting with the GTI range, the 16v commands the highest price when compared with the 8v. Expect to pay around the £800 mark at the lower end and right up to £2.5k for an absolutely immaculate example with full history with the 8v coming in at slightly less.
As for the non GTIs, they are becoming more and more desirable, in particular, the earlier small bumper models with three door models being more desirable over the five door models. In the non GTI, band, the Driver would be a good model to look for. These can be found in very good condition for under £1,000. You can find others that have had engine swaps carried out but this is where you need to get that history folder out and check everything been done properly.