Friday, 5 October 2007

Classic - Volkswagen Polo G40

In the vast and irritating wake of 2001’s 'The Fast and the Furious' it’s been amusing to observe the extent to which young chavs have scraped together their pennies to buy tacky tat from Halfords to glue all over their grotty little motors. While it would, of course, be immeasurably cool to own an ori-mental Supra or S2000 with forty or fifty grand under the bonnet, it’s hard to make the leap from these behemoths to the shagged-out Nova feebly trying to pull a noticeable burnout in the McDonald’s drive-thru on a Friday night. Some Jap-style graphics and a whacking great aluminium spoiler do not a sports car make. (The general reasoning, incidentally, for fixing huge spoilers to the roof of your mum’s shopping hatchback? Daaaaahnforce, innit? Seriously, bolting fifty quid’s worth of Ripspeed sheet metal to a small front wheel drive car will definitely create rear-end downforce. Definitely. No question.)

Now, a flashy-looking car is all well and good if it has the balls to back it up, but there’s something rather futile about making a slow car look fast. You will be caught out time and time again by people with proper cars. You only need to scout eBay for a few minutes to unearth countless Saxos, 106s, Clios and so forth that have phenomenally extravagant bodykits, huge wheels and immaculate spangly paintwork but are still propelled by a wheezy, asthmatic little 1200cc lawn mower. This is precisely the opposite of what should happen: if your budget stretches to either looks or performance, go for performance every time. There’s nothing cooler than having a ratty little grotbox with a secret weapon under the bonnet – it irritates the hell out of Porsche drivers at the traffic lights. The key here is stealth.

Some manufacturers have a knack of building secretive little machines like this. It’s something that Volkswagen in particular have always been good at – look at the mkIII Golf VR6, for example, or the Passat W8, or the mkII Golf GTI 16v. Ordinary looking cars with weapons-grade plutonium under the skin. A very interesting example of this behaviour is the mkII Polo G40.

No, wait, come back. It’s actually pretty good.

The mkII Polo, you see, is quite a drab little car. It serves its natural function well enough; it’s a reliable and compact city car, economical, easy to park, cheap to run, everything you’d expect of a car in this sector. It’s not a car that anyone would aspire to own, it’s just something to get you about. It’s motoring without passion. All the more reason, then, to spice it up a little.

Not a sexy car to look at, is it? It’s not exactly ugly, just wholly unremarkable. Anonymous, almost. You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s a 1.3, and you certainly wouldn’t have had your interest piqued by that info. Ah, but the G40 has a clandestine surprise… bolted onto that little 1.3 is a supercharger. The drabness suddenly starts to feel like an asset.

The wonderful thing about a stealthy car is that it will put a broad smile on your face on a daily basis – you’ll be constantly aware that you and you alone have a secret. Every Punto you see with a shopping list of aftermarket Japanese brands plastered over the doors (come on, what’s that about?) will seem all the more ludicrous because you simply don’t have to show off. You don’t need to force an illusion of speed in people’s faces. The sight of your taillights disappearing into the night will tell them all they need to know.

OK, the handling’s a bit woolly, the steering’s a little imprecise, the electrics are surprisingly temperamental for a VW, but none of this is really the point. If anything, the general holistic mundanity of the car serves to highlight and accentuate its most important trait: it has a supercharger. And nobody knows about it.

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