Three Box – 1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

If you had to pick the top affordable sport sedan or coupe of the early 1990s, where would you land? Despite the general feeling that 1990 was on the tail end of the malaise era, with affordable cars like Toyota’s Tercel doing nothing to dispel that notion, there were good choices from each major region – America with cars like the Ford Probe GT and various captive imports, Asia (mostly Japan at this point) with Nissan’s 240SX and Toyota’s 4AGE-powered cars, and Europe with, uh, Yugo’s GVX? Well, the one that probably really stands out for most of you is the Nissan Sentra SE-R, widely compared to the BMW 2002 and by extension, the Datsun 510. But that’s a shame, because it meant the excellent VW Jetta GLI was in its shadow, with a sweet 16-valve engine, sure-footed handling, and period-typical design cues like BBS wheels, Recaro seats, and a body kit with spoilers and fender flares. Let’s have a look at this 1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI for sale for $2350 in San Jose, CA.

1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI left rear

Said to have a relatively low 145,000 miles (trust but verify!), this car looks largely stock with just a lowered suspension on the modifications list. The car wears mid-1990s California license plates, so it’s been there for most of its life, and you can see those little armored plates around the ends of the door handles, meant to be an anti-theft device. Other questionable modifications include poorly applied window tint and blacked out tail lights, and for some reason the front wheel is gold in color.

1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI left front

And here we can probably see why it’s gold – the lower bumper section is still black instead of the white it would have been from the factory, so it’s probably good to ask if the car’s been run into something like a curb, which could have damaged the lower bumper section and wheel. It’s interesting to note how its body shares some of the design cues of the Alfa Romeo 75/Milano, specifically the low-nose, high rear deck line.

1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI interior

The interior, including the Recaro front and matching rear seats, looks to be in decent condition, though there is some light fraying on the driver’s bolster, while the passenger bolster is not shown. Given the pink audio input wire coming out of the stereo, it’s likely been replaced, but factory VW audio of the time was far from top shelf, and yet they were known to be prone to radio theft. Unfortunately, this car is lumbered with the mouse-on-a-track shoulder belt system, which is even more annoying than the A1-generation’s shoulder belt, which was permanently fixed to the upper rear corner of the front doors.

1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI engine

Here’s the engine. With a bit of polishing, this 16-valve intake manifold is one of the nicer ones on a modern-ish car, and just predates the time when it started being cool to hide your messy engine behind a plastic cover. An air conditioning line right up front gives hope for a complete system, hopefully functioning, and while the image is a little blurry, things look pretty clean underhood, which suggests it’s been looked after well. Would you pick this relatively untouched GLI over an SE-R?


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