Unexceptional Classics

Unexceptional Classifieds: Volkswagen Polo ‘Breadvan’

by Antony Ingram
27 November 2023 3 min read
Unexceptional Classifieds: Volkswagen Polo ‘Breadvan’
Photos courtesy Classic Car Auctions

Price: Auction (estimate £5000–£7000)
Mileage: 71,500
Condition: Ready to struggle in a 1989 group test
Advert: Classic Car Auctions

The first thing that stands out to us about the 1989 Volkswagen Polo C going to auction at the Christmas Sale with Classic Car Auctions isn’t its condition, or its distinctive ‘breadvan’ shape, but a surprisingly punchy guide price between £5000 and £7000.

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The market for tidy old VWs has always been fairly strong. Volkswagen is one of those brands with loyal fans who’ll happily pay more for one of their favourite cars than the average punter might wish to put down on an equivalent 205 or Astra from the era.

The cars don’t necessarily even need to be ‘special’. The Ford scene is the only one in the UK that really gets close, and coincidentally, earlier this year we featured a 1991 Ford Fiesta Popular Plus, also through CCA, with only 17,000 miles, which also had a £5k–£7k estimate and was in even nicer condition than this Polo.

VW Polo

It sold for only £2025 in the end. Oh. So maybe five grand is optimistic for this Polo, too, something we’ll have to wait until December 9th to find out, but in the meantime there’s still a lot more to this bargain-basement Volkswagen than just the price.

There was a time when these ‘breadvan’ Polos – so nicknamed for their unusually upright, estate-like tails – seemed to be absolutely everywhere. At a time when small cars could still be quite flaky (your author has memories of his mum’s Citroën Visa struggling to start on more than one occasion), the Polo was one of only a handful you could basically guarantee would work every time. Only the Japanese equivalents were likely to be as dependable, but then as now, a Nissan Micra didn’t have quite the same badge appeal.

The ‘Type 86C’ Polo, to refer to its internal code, hung around for a while, arriving in 1981 and being replaced in 1990 by what was effectively a comprehensive facelift rather than an all new model – a genuinely new Polo wouldn’t arrive until the ‘6N’ model of 1994.

By the time this auction car hit the road in 1989, it was struggling against fresher competition; only the Austin Metro, also only replaced in 1990 (coincidentally, also by more of a comprehensive revision rather than an all-new car) was as old. The Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205, both launched in 1983, were better packaged, Renault’s 1984 ‘Supercinq’ rode better, and Ford had just launched the Mk3 Fiesta, which got a lot closer to the Polo’s standards of build.

Quality was one thing the Polo still had in hand, but in fairness to the Volkswagen, it really had been impressive in the early 1980s. Car magazine, testing it in 1982 against the older, longitudinally engined Renault 5 TL and the boxy Talbot Samba GL, praised the VW’s sharp handling, its ‘sweet’ single-overhead cam engine, and robust cockpit, even if it was neither as quick nor as economical as its older rivals. It didn’t win the test by a mile, but it did win (with the caveat that, amusingly now with the benefit of hindsight, you should take a ‘fond look’ at… the Citroën Visa).

The auction car is typical of a breadvan Polo: 1043cc engine good for 40bhp (and 0–60mph in 19.8 seconds, as measured by Car), lowly ‘C’ trim (though equipped with the fetching GTI-style extra pair of lights of the later 86N Polos), and charming five-spoke steel wheels with hubcaps.

VW Polo-Classic Car Auctions

It seems in generally good nick, certainly inside, and a quick look at the MOT history reveals a couple of things that may need attention (some subframe corrosion and an oil leak), but not imminently. There’s apparently some good history with the car, too. Whether or not it hits that lofty guide price you’ll have to wait and see, but it’d be a great car to park alongside its contemporary rivals at next year’s Festival of the Unexceptional.

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