The final days of December are upon us and soon it will be time to ring in the new year. While we better start getting ready to write“2020" on our checks and assignments and paperwork, the arrival of January First doesn’t have me looking forward, but rather back to 1995. Why? The Volkswagen Polo Harlekin is finally old enough to import to the United States. That’s why.
But you’re probably asking what the Polo Harlekin, or Harlequin in English, even is. Why would you want a random trim level of a generally unremarkable generation of small German hatchback? Well, here’s some detail.
Back in 1995, Volkswagen, the one major German automaker to have a real sense of humor, decided it would be a good idea to build a thousand of its bread-and-butter B-segment hatch and just mix up the paint scheme. I don’t mean just a few fun colors beyond the slate of greys, silvers, blues, and blacks you’re allowed to pick from these days at your local VW dealer. I’m talking a psychedelic look made up of body panels painted in four different colors, of which there were four configurations.
According to Doug DeMuro, one of the foremost experts of goofy cars, the idea comes from an old VW commercial where the car was painted similarly to demonstrate that the, um, design continuity of the Beetle as a feature, not a bug (sorry), at least as far as parts commonality is concerned. Though the Polo didn’t share that feature with the Beetle, the look was still eye-catching and exciting and Volkswagen went for it.
And, the ‘90s being the ‘90s, people snatched them up right away. Though the run only ever got one of the engine options available across the rest of the Polo range (the 1.6 four), demand was so high that the original thousand-car run was more than tripled to 3100 units. Indeed, the run was so successful that for 1996, Volkswagen decided to give the Golf the Harlekin treatment too. America got that car, but it didn’t get the Polo. Well, America didn’t get any Polos at all, really.
The American-market Golf Harlequin (as it was known over here) didn’t sell anywhere near as well as the Polo did in Europe, but the car still has a kind of cult following for some. I think that has to do with how the car captures something about VW that few water-cooled Volkswagens are capable of. Like the Beetle, a Harlekin Golf or Polo draws in everyone. It’s impossible not to notice one as it drives by even if you know nothing about cars and if you do notice it, you’re almost guaranteed to smile. For 2020, after the 2019 we all just had, we need some more cars like that out there that just make you smile, so it’s awful lucky that the first ones are now 25 years old and allowed on our roads.
The 3100 Harlekins ever sold might be a drop in the bucket for a generation of Polo that would sell hundreds of thousands worldwide each year it was in production, but compared to the Golf Harlequin market in the US, there are loads more of these available. And now that they’re eligible for import to the states, it’s time to start seeing what’s out there. I found a few that will be importable this coming year but I picked one that particularly stands out.
This 1995 Polo Harlekin is for sale in Germany €4500. Though 189,172 km sounds like a lot, the car looks to be in pretty nice shape, and it comes with the Golf wheels fitted as well as the stock ones and it’s got a little tow hitch too. The seller says he has a lot of the original literature as well, which is always cool with a car like this. People at Radwood love to see that stuff. Like all Polo Harlekins, this car has a 1.6 liter four-cylinder and manual transmission and aside from the paint and the upholstery the car is the same as almost any Polo out there. That should mean that even if some parts aren’t necessarily available at your local VW dealer, they should be out there somewhere.
If you do decide to heed my advice and ring in 2020 with your very own Polo Harlekin, here are some instructions to help you from running afoul along the way. It seems more or less doable, if a little bit of a hassle but remember, you’re not just bringing it for yourself. You’re bringing it for everyone who sees you drive past too.