As it lined-up at the starting line, it looked ordinary – no gaping air dam, no humongous wing tacked to its rear, even the wheels looked like came straight from the factory. But, once the green flag dropped for its timed run at the 1987 Pikes Peak Hillclimb rally, this Golf 2 proved it was anything but ordinary.
Pikes Peak, also known as "The Race to the Clouds" is an annual event which takes place in Colorado Springs, in the U.S., where seasoned teams and battle-hardened drivers race immensely powerful cars and bikes up a gruelling 20 km stretch of mountain road to the peak of the mountain - climbing 1,440 m from the start on Pikes Peak Highway, to the finish, some 4,300 meters above sea level.
Volkswagen took part in 1985, 1986 and in 1987, with this radical twin-engined Golf 2.
Leading up to the 1987 race, driver Jochi Kleint achieved the fourth best training time having only driven with one of the Golf's two engines.
During the race, however, disaster struck. From the start, the Golf 2 maintained a promising position, and seemed set to achieve the fastest time, when a crack formed next to a lubrication nipple on a swivel joint, leading to suspension failure, just a few corners from the finish line.
The 1987 Pikes Peak Hillclimb was the last year Volkswagen participated in the event, after which the rare and bizarre Golf 2 race car was laid to rest in Volkswagen's Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Some 30 years later, Volkswagen commisioned a full-restoration of the Golf 2, to pay homage to the company's earlier attempts at Pikes Peak Hillclimb and to serve as an ambassador for its renewed attack on the event this year.
Under its rather docile exterior sat two longitudinally-mounted 1.8-litre 16-valve Golf 2 GTi engines (one at the front, another at the rear), force-fed by two KKK turbochargers (one per engine) – synchronised in metallic harmony to produce 652 PS and propel it from a standstill to 100 km/h in just 3.4 seconds.
Each KKK turbocharger developed 1.6 bar of boost pressure
Both engines were also equipped with their own Hewland racing transmissions (operated by one gear lever), which meant the Golf could be driven with four-wheel drive, or with solely front-wheel or rear-wheel drive.
Despite carrying two engines and two gearboxes, the Pikes Peak Golf 2 weighed just 1,020 kgs.
Head mechanic Jörg Rauchmaul is responsible for coordinating the restoration. A task which led him to the race car's constructor Kurt Bergmann, who originally developed this radical machine for the 1987 race in just six months.
During the restoration process – Rauchmaul sought Kurt Bergmann’s advice, to truly understand the engineering design of the vehicle, and data relating to the technology. The objective was to make the car roadworthy again, without altering its originality.
The extremely high thermal loads involved in racing had badly affected the 30-year-old Golf. Adding to that, most of the rubber parts, which had disintegrated over time, had to be custom fabricated. By far the biggest surprise, during the restoration, was finding out safety-relevant foam cladding in the fuel tank had disintegrated, and got sucked into the fuel supply system (which would have destroyed the specially-adapted Digifant fuel injection system) when attempts were made to restart the vehicle.
Finally, both engines had to be tuned to each other in such a way, that they work synchronously to provide power, otherwise the vehicle will be unstable and impossible to control on asphalt.
Rauchmaul is aiming for a more conservative 500 PS from the two engines, in view of planned heritage races for the Golf 2.
For this, the refreshed engine cooling system must work flawlessly. The Golf 2 relies on a sophisticated radiator sprinkler system for the rear engine. During racing, where temperatures would hit 60-degrees, Bergmann originally devised a radiator sprinkler system which would spray water from two little nozzles onto the small radiators as soon as the rear engine’s critical temperatures were reached.
Rauchmaul explains, “The Golf should be reliable and fast, but also durable. That’s why we won’t be pushing the engines to their limit, that would be a crime.”
This June, Volkswagen will return to the iconic Pikes Peak Hillclimb challenge with its carbon-clad Volkswagen I.D. R racer, powered by two electric motors, producing a total of 680 hp.
Though worlds apart - both machines push the boundaries of technical ingenuity and vehicle engineering. From twin-engines in the Golf 2 to twin-motors in the I.D. R race car, the formula for power and progress rings true today, as it did 31 years ago.