Brimming with poke and power, the G40 proved that Volkswagen's diminuitive Polo could fight it out with the hot-hatch greats...
The Polo had long been established as a sensible, reliable and well-made supermini before the G40 was introduced in 1991. The Polo range had received a facelift in 1990 – bringing its looks bang up to date. The G40 took this further, with BBS alloys and a wider body. It looked how hot hatches wanted to look in the 1990s – it was the aspirational Polo, a car people lusted after - and deservedly so. 116bhp powering a three-door body weighing just 830kg was always going to be fun, and the whine from the supercharger is as delightful as it is addictive. The sharp handling cemented its status is hot hatch royalty.
In the late 2000s, when the car was at its lowest price, many were modified and even some were scrapped. Now, an appreciating car, it’s the time to buy the little supercharged bundle of madness and use it how it was intended.
TORQUE 111lb ft@3800rpm
MAXIMUM SPEED 121mph
TRANSMISSION FWD, five-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Super duper charger
A rebuild of the supercharger is recommended every 30-40,000 miles, which costs between £200- 400, worth baring in mind when buying one. Failed bearings are the biggest issue, worn oil seals will leave a lot of oil in the boost hoses (particularly the boost return, which comes out of the top of the throttle body), worn apex seals cause a slight loss of boost but can eventually come out of their grooves and cause a mess.
As rebuilds are a common affair, it's not unusual for the supercharger to be ported for better airflow while it's apart. None of that is problematic, but be wary if the pulley is smaller than 65mm. The supercharger tensions the alternator/charger belt, and it takes a lot of tension to avoid belt slip on a small pulley.
Only fuels and hoses
If the supercharger has been modified, fuel lines need changing accordingly. If it’s recently had a new line fitted, that’s good. If not, then renew it just to be safe – get the injectors checked. Some modified cars require super unleaded fuel – ask the previous owners about this.
Rust – where to look
Rust affects Polos in different ways. Earlier models are more prone to it, with pre-‘94 cars especially bad. They often suffer from rotten battery trays; so don't be surprised if it's had a repair. There's a seam along both sills, which is frequently damaged by careless trolley jacking, so check that. Otherwise, the windscreen frame, bottoms of the wings and the panel behind the filler neck are susceptible too.
G40 gearboxes are weak and most would have had a replacement at some point. There are plenty of cars with the five-speed gearbox from a 1.3 SPI Polo, which has similar ratios. The gearbox code is on the top of the bell housing, on the flat bit of metal next to the plastic bung for the clutch inspection hole. Originality isn’t everything with these cars, but the original ATV gearbox is more desirable – good ‘boxes start from £250.
Has it got the right bits?
The grille (G40) and tailgate (Polo_G40) badges are obsolete and trade for a lot of money, and there's a good market for the black Volkswagen roundels too. View it as desirable if they're all present and correct. The same is true for the gutter trims on each side of the roof. They're obsolete, and get brittle with age so are near impossible to remove neatly from a scrap car. The black roof lining is a nightmare to remove and replace, too, so check that's in good condition. The G40 is the only Polo to have a 160mph speedometer. If you're looking at a car with a 120mph speedometer, then it's worth questioning why.
Air filter nightmares
Foam air filters are a definite no-no on a G40. The foam can lose small pieces, which cause all sorts of damage to the supercharger. Cotton air filters are fine (drop-in, or bolt-on) and are quite common.
Check for twists as a sign of an accident on the chassis legs and look at the area directly under the expansion tank to see if it's cracked. Although this is more common on heavily modified cars, it has been known for standard ones to crack the chassis leg too.
The Volkswagen Polo was a luxury good, an item of want rather than that of necessity. It’s possible the buying public of 1991 wasn’t ready for a supercharged Polo – VW only sold 616 in its first four years in the UK. It’s that rarity, teamed with the overall driving experience that makes it so alluring in 2015. Hot hatches are like fine wines – they get better with age. If you find a G40 that’s been well looked after, has had minor modifications made to it and it’s priced keenly, you’ll be on your way to owning a brilliant, rare and usable every day classic.