Last month, Volkswagen held a car show called “Coming Home” just outside of the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg. Though the show was meant for Volkswagen GTI enthusiasts, people showed up from around Europe with all sorts of VWs, and the show turned out to be a celebration of Vee-Dub glory.
(Full Disclosure: Volkswagen wanted to show me their car show, so the company sent me to Wolfsburg, housed me in a nice hotel, and fed me food much fancier than the Volkswagen Currywurst I was lusting after.)
I’m not sure Americans really appreciate the Volkswagen GTI quite as much as Europeans do. Over here in the states, gas is cheap, room is plentiful, and inexpensive V8 sports cars abound.
But in Europe, if you want something practical and fun that you can actually afford to drive, and that you can actually park in a dense city designed for horse traffic, hot hatches make a lot of sense. And the car that popularized the hot hatch segment in the late 1970s—and that’s arguably still the hot-hatch king—is the Volkswagen GTI. (Heck, even Jeremy Clarkson daily drives one).
The GTI is woven into the fabric of car culture in Europe, which is why tens of thousands of folks show up to the famous Wörthersee car show in Austria every year, and also why over 5,000 owners showed up to VW’s first “Coming Home” event this year after the company was urged by fans to organize something near the corporate headquarters.
On the day of the show, it seemed like every vehicle on the road was either a Golf or some other classic VW show-car. Enthusiasts—excited to be at a VW-organized car show held at the “birthplace” of their beloved vehicles—lined up by the hundreds to enter the Volkswagen Arena soccer stadium parking lot where the show was held.
Volkswagen even had a stage set up with an emcee, who introduced Wolfsburg’s major, the mayor of Reifnitz (where the Woerthersee show takes place each year), and Volkswagen’s global marketing chief Jochen Sengpiehl.
And in case the presence of a VW executive, the Wolfsburg mayor, and a mayor from Austria wasn’t enough to convince you how important this show was, Volkswagen brought the famous granite “Stein Golf” GTI monument 621 miles from Reifnitz up to Wolfsburg just for the show. Yes, VW went big for this event.
After Volkswagen’s emcee introduced the event, the rest of the day was just a giant fest. There was beer, there was Currywurst, and there were cars. Amazing cars. Even the D.J. had a cool one.
Perhaps the greatest vehicle of the lot was this rear-engine, air-cooled Golf:
Look at this madness! The tank is under the hood, and the engine is in the trunk under a custom false-floor:
And then there was this red Volkswagen Golf Country, a four-wheel drive, Spare Tire On The Hatch-having lifted Golf that was only built for the 1990 and 1991 model years, with a total of less than 8,000 ever making it off the assembly line.
I actually interviewed the owner, whose decent English—combined with my broken German—made for a nice insightful discussion wherein I learned how VW achieved its additional ride height:
And then there were the Things. No, I don’t mean “inanimate material objects as distinct from living sentient beings,” I mean actual Things of the Volkswagen variety—Type 181s. Look at these wonderful slammed civilianized Kuebelwagens:
Here’s another angle:
Naturally, there were also some Beetles—VW’s first civilian car. Here are two slammed ones with awesome fender-mounted mirrors and flip-up windshields. The front one even has a “swamp cooler” aftermarket AC system and French-market yellow headlights.
Here’s a closer look at the green bug with its Berlin coat of arms on the front:
There were also a couple of Karmann Ghias, which is good, because they’re glorious machines:
And here’s a beautiful Rabbit pickup:
Among the most wonderful machines at the show were the droves of Sciroccos (which Volkswagen definitely needs to bring stateside).
There were also some Supercharged Polo G40s like this one:
And every now and then, I’d catch a glimpse of a beautiful Corrado:
Or a not so beautiful one:
And of course, the GTI car show was filled to the brim with Golfs. Volkswagen had MK1 through MK6 GTIs all lined up:
Here’s a look at a couple of MK1s I saw at the show:
Now for some MK2 goodness, starting with an electric one:
You can see the battery pack under the rear fascia:
There were lots of Volkswagen Golfs with the same fascia as the Rallye Golf (an all-wheel drive homologation special from 1989).
More MK2 goodness, but sans the Rallye fascia:
Now for the first of the two consecutive generations of unloved GTIs, the MK3:
And the last of the “lesser” GTI generations, the MK4 (let the record state that I’m a fan of the MK4 GTI—at least, in terms of looks):
Now for some MK5s:
Here are some Golf MK6s, starting with a slammed yellow two-door with ridiculous wheels:
And finally, here are some shots of some current-gen GTIs:
Perhaps the most exciting part of the show was when hundreds of VW enthusiasts lined up to drive through the corporate manufacturing grounds just outside of the assembly plant—grounds that are normally off-limits.
There was a giant crowd watching the parade:
Here we are about to enter the gates into VW’s manufacturing grounds:
And here’s a picture of the hundreds of GTIs driving through hallowed streets:
The show ended with Volkswagen naming the three “Most Beautiful Cars,” the owners of which went home with big trophies. In third place was this gorgeous black MK1:
This MK4 owner managed to take home the second place trophy:
And the winner of it all was this slammed gray MK6 GTI:
Though I’m far from a VW enthusiast, I had a great time at the show. Between my broken German and their broken English, I was able to have deeply technical conversations with genuine car enthusiasts. People from all over Europe showed me their suspensions, engines, and even their giant TÜV binders filled with all the modifications that they, by law, had to have approved by inspectors.
I’ll admit that, after speaking with all the enthusiastic owners from sun-up to sun-down, I couldn’t help but grow a fondness for Europe’s best selling car.