No motorsports event carries quite the challenge or history of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. First completed in 1916, and run nearly every year since, Pikes Peak has become synonymous with masterful drivers and brutal machines able to speed up the 12-mile, 156-curve route, where one mistake can lead to a dangerous lesson in gravity.
In the 1980s, Pikes Peak was the second home of the Group B rally cars – turbocharged monsters of road and gravel rallying. And it was a top target for Volkswagen Motorsports and rally driver Jochi Kleint, who finished third in 1985 and fourth in 1986, close calls that had given the team insights into what kind of monster they needed to breed.
Unlike today, the route up Pikes Peak was still partially gravel, meaning traction was at a premium. The thin air at high altitudes meant engines would suffer great losses of power without forced induction. Those challenges led the team to build a Golf unique in the history of VW – one with an engine in front, and another engine out back.
Both engines were based on the 16-valve, 1.8-liter four-cylinder units then offered in the GTI. Each carried a turbocharger, and had a mechanical throttle system that would link their outputs as necessary; the driver could choose rear, front or four-wheel drive. And that output was massive – 652 hp, enough even with the weight of two motors to catapult the Golf from rest to 62 mph in 3.4 seconds.
The design proved itself from the start, with Kleint having the fastest time by the halfway point. Yet just three turns and a quarter-mile from the finish line, Kleint had to stop; a suspension ball joint failed, making it too risky for him to finish.
“Competing in this race is an unbelievable honor,” says Kleint today. “Even if it didn’t ultimately end with a victory, the three Pikes Peak races were some of the best experiences in my motorsport career.”
It would be the last time Volkswagen officially competed at Pikes Peak, until this June, when it returns with an all-electric race car. More on that coming soon.