Check out all the VWs that descended on Wolfsburg for the Coming Home Festival
“It’s like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance except every car here is a Volkswagen,” an enthusiast shouted from behind the wheel of a dark red late-model GTI carrying its underbody an inch or two off the ground. He sped off, followed by a white GTI that somehow sat even lower than the first.
I couldn’t have asked for a better – or a more accurate – introduction to the GTI Coming Home event Volkswagen organizes a stone’s throw from its historic factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. The firm welcomes every type of GTI, and there are a lot of branches on that family tree. We only see the tip of the iceberg in America: the Golf. In Europe, Volkswagen also GTI-ifies the pocket-sized up! and the Polo. Historically, it has also put the badge on the Scirocco, the Lupo, and several generations of the Polo.
The second-annual GTI Coming Home event drew fans from all over Europe. Volkswagen recorded 16,000 show-goers in no less than 4,000 cars. And yet, I struggled to find two identical ones. Nearly every GTI there boasted a robust set of modifications that made it unique. Some were lower than when they left the factory, some were a lot more colorful, some rode on considerably bigger wheels, and a few had more cylinders under the hood than what’s written in the original sales brochure. Almost none were left fully stock. It was a tuner’s paradise and a purist’s worst nightmare.
Every generation of the Golf GTI sent representatives to the event, though fourth- and fifth-generation cars were thin on the ground. For purists, the highlights included a second-generation GTI with the more powerful 16-valve engine. It was painted in an eye-catching shade of metallic green and it looked like it had rolled out of the nearby factory five minutes before driving to the event. Volkswagen’s very own third- and fourth-generation GTIs turned heads, too, while the Golf Limited plucked from the company’s collection flew right under the radar. Nearly 30 years after its market launch, this uber-rare super-hatch remains as low-key as the day it was new.
Those who like their Volkswagens low and wide were in for a treat, too. Dozens of curious fans stopped to check out a purple third-generation Polo which likely didn’t start life as a GTI – only 3,000 of those were made – but ended up with a VR6 engine shoehorned between its fenders. It basked in the late summer sun around the corner from a first-generation Jetta powered by an Audi five-cylinder engine with a gold-plated valve cover. The owner of an early Golf showed off a Bacardi bottle he enigmatically installed in the engine bay under the watchful eye of Volkswagen’s 290-horsepower GTI TCR concept. Two cars down, a Golf Rallye replica did its best impression of the real thing lurking a few rows behind it.
The sound of engines revving began filling the air at 4:30 pm. Participants prepared for one of the highlights of the event: a rare opportunity to parade down the main road that runs through the Wolfsburg factory. The twin-engined Golf driven to victory in the 1987 edition of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb led the convoy with both engines roaring and Jochi Klein – the German pilot who won the race – smiling behind the wheel. It was followed by a rare Golf Rallye, a turquoise third-generation Golf built in a hotel parking lot the night before the event, and a long succession GTIs returning to the nest for the first time.
The GTIs parted ways in the exact same manner they met: by flooding every major street in Wolfsburg. The locals didn’t mind losing a few minutes in traffic; many of them have played a role in developing, building, or preserving the GTI over the past 42 years.