When Steve Smith was growing up in 1980s England, the Mk1 Golf GTI was at the peak of its popularity. At age 17, his older brother purchased the family’s first Volkswagen — a 1983 drivers-edition MK1 Golf — igniting Smith’s lifelong love for the compact car.
“It became a bit of an obsession,” he said. “My brother and I would save up to buy a GTI, drive it around, learn about the mechanics, and visit car shows.”
Their collection slowly grew. Smith graduated college with an electrical and mechanical engineering degree, and by the time his career moved him to the U.S. in 1999, he and his brother owned five GTI models between them.
“I didn’t have much with me when I moved, but I knew I wanted a GTI,” Smith said. He soon purchased a 1989 sixteen-valve MK2 GTI — the first Volkswagen in his stateside collection. By his accounts, the opportunity to buy more Golfs “just seemed to crop up” as he became involved in a community of automotive enthusiasts and mechanics.
Today, his collection includes 17 Volkswagens, many of which are Golfs. He stores his most valuable models indoors in his garage and home workshop, and the others sit in his driveway in North Carolina.
His most treasured model? A dark blue 1989 Volkswagen Golf Rallye.
In the late 1980s, Volkswagen created the Golf Rallye to compete at a 1990 motorsport competition in Brussels, Belgium. The model was distinct from other Golf models due to its box-flared wheel arches and rectangular projector headlamps. Its four-wheel drive, cable-shifted transmission and G60-supercharged engine making about 160 hp made it an ideal vehicle for rally racing.
World-class rally racing consists of three-day events where vehicles race on gravel, dirt and pavement under the various conditions the weather chose to present. Under the Group A rules at the time, manufacturers had to race “production” vehicles — those with at least 5,000 copies sold.
“Volkswagen made just enough to make the cut,” said Smith. “I believe they made 5,071 models in total to meet the requirements of the competition.”
With a price double that of a GTI, the model was only sold in Europe, with just two officially sent to the United States for testing and five for evaluation. Outside of those seven models, any Golf Rallye now in the Americas would have had to be imported as an antique, decades after it was manufactured.
“They’re extremely difficult to find in the U.S.,” said Smith, who had been searching for a Golf Rallye for years before purchasing one in Florida. Smith’s model is one of only about 15 models known outside of Europe.
“I had to add it to my collection. It’s the rarest Volkswagen I own by far.”
While Smith enjoys owning one of the rarest Volkswagen Golf models in the U.S., he says that owning the Golf Rallye is about more than exclusivity.
“I love showing it to people who may not have heard of the Rallye but can immediately tell it’s a Golf and are curious,” he said. “And the people who do realize how rare it is always come up to talk to me about it. It creates a great connection between us Volkswagen fans.”
With 17 vehicles all stored at home, most people would consider their collections complete. But Smith already has his eyes on another Golf model: The Golf Limited, a limited-edition MK2 variant that also has a G60-supercharged engine. There are only 71 of these models in the world, but Smith is up for the challenge.
“I’ll always have a soft spot for Golfs,” he said.