VW Polo G40

Last modified on November 12th, 2020 by Martin Sanders

Images thanks to luke_g40.

Call it a “Pocket rocket” or a “Wolf in sheep’s clothing” the mighty but small VW Polo G40 was an unusual chapter in Volkswagen’s history. The VW Polo G40 was in production between 1987 and 1994, powered by the tuneful G-Lader supercharger, with a 40mm displacement giving us the VW Polo G40 (Volkswagen Polo GT G40, Volkswagen Polo G-40, or just Volkswagen Polo G) name.  

Now with these Polo G40s becoming increasingly rarer by the year, we look back at what gives this classic Polo it’s Veedubs appeal.

To appreciate the VW Polo G40, we will need to rewind clocks to 1974 when Volkswagen borrowed the NSU acquired Audi 50 platform. Featuring a compact front-wheel-drive three-door body type the small Volkswagen Polo gained popularity partly due to the fuel crisis at the time. Interesting this was the same year VW released the new Mk1 Golf, a project developed inhouse. Volkswagen predicted that superminis were going to become a vast sector.

Following a mid-life facelift in 1979 Volkwagen released a new sporty Volkswagen Polo GT. The GT featured a 60BHP engine with sporty accessories such as spoiler, wider tyres, and even a rev counter. 

The Mk1 Volkswagen Polo gave way to the Mk2 Polo in 1981; the Mk2 changed the shape of this compact model with a steeply sloping tailgate (commonly nicknamed the ‘bread van’) which increased the practicality. The sporty GT coupe model was to follow within a year with its 1272cc 75bhp (55kW) engine, rear anti-roll bar and integrated fog lamps.

In late 1984 Volkwagen revamped the Polo range with features including an increased fuel tank capacity and sporty lowered suspension. Volkswagen spiced up the 1984 Polo lineup by introducing the desirable coupe ‘S’ model which featured integrated fog lamps, just as before with the GT model, and sports seats matched to a five-speed transmission. Volkswagen had launched a sporty Polo for every budget.

The Volkswagen Polo by 1983 had gained significant sales, with a Volkswagen Polo lineup which included the Darby saloon and even a van option. With such a sales success on their hands, Volkswagen engineers started to exploring opportunities to increase engine power.

Being a small compact car, Volkwagen realised that sticking a larger engine in the Polo would be out of the question. Taking full advantage of their engineering expertise, they decided against using a turbocharger and instead went for a supercharger. 

Competing manufactures such as Renault with their famous ‘Renault 5 Turbo’ had shown Volkwagen that turbochargers could produce exciting vehicles. However, Volkswagen agreed that lag and overheating issues were undesirable characteristics. 

Volkswagen decided to create a new unconventional supercharger for their new class of supercharged sports cars. The G-Lader supercharger was born, and so came the Volkswagen Polo G40. 

G-Lader supercharger

The G-Lader supercharger was an elegant engine, efficient and superior to the turbocharged engines used by less distinguished car makers. 

It may surprise you to know that the concept of the G-lader engine dates back to the early 1900s. But it took Volkswagen with their engineering talents to turn an idea into road-going sports cars.

Without getting overly technical, the G-lader is a scroll-type supercharger which contains two spiral elements. One rotates within and around the other compressing the intake air. The mission is to improve the power output from the internal combustion engine. Being a supercharger, it feeds air into the combustion engine via a crankshaft-driven compressor. 

The significant advantage in using a crankshaft-driven supercharger over an exhaust turbocharger is that there is no lag or related cooling issues.

However, as any G-lader powered Veedub owner will confirm, these engines while conceptionally excellent had their difficulties. The issue with the G-lader supercharger wasn’t that they were mechanically weak, per-say, but a failure with how VW marketed the G-lader engine as low maintenance.  

The G-lader supercharger if maintained, is a robust solution which adapts exceptionally well to being tuned. That is why you will still find many G-lader supercharged Veedubs at shows. Volkswagen replaced G-lader supercharger engines by the more conventional VR6 engine design.

MK2 G40 VW Polo

MK2 Polo G40

The MK2 Volkswagen Polo G40 was first presented to the public in 1985 at the Frankfurt Motor Show and was named the Polo GT G40. 

Soon after the debut, Volkswagen used the Polo G40 85 kW (116 PS; 114 bhp) to set a two world speed endurance records. Capable of an impressive top speed of 195 km/h (121.2 mph) and a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in just 8.1 seconds. The Polo G40 set records for the 1300cc class over 24 hours and a distance of 5,000 km (3,107 mi).

However, it wasn’t until 1987 that the Mk2 Polo G40 went into limited production. VW built just 500 cars which almost solely sold to proud Volkswagen employees. 

Volkswagen’s Polo G40 was only available as a left-hand drive, meaning that this compact “pocket rocket” wasn’t an option in the UK. Those lucky enough to enjoy this desirable Polo could experience features such as uprated disc brakes and stunning 13inch ‘Hockenheim’ alloy wheels which gave the compact Polo G40 sporting road presence.

By anyone’s standard, the road-going Mk2 Polo G40 was an exciting youthful model, which with its sporting pretence stood out among the 1980s germanic Volkswagen range. 

Volkswagen also created race-focused Polo G40 intended for track use, as part of the Polo Cup championship, one-make race series. Volkswagen released a model called the Volkswagen Polo G40 Cup. The G40 Cup included a race-modified engine producing 82 kW (111 PS; 110 bhp) and catalytic converter.

MK2 Polo G40 Buying guide

If you would like to be seated in one of Volkswagen’s limited Mk2 Polo G40’s you will need to search long and wide. From the outset, the Mk2 G40 was an exclusive model with just 500 cars coming off of the Volkswagen production line. 

When buying an early Mk2 VW Polo G40 you will need to check for corrosion, it goes without saying, but any old Volkswagen of this age will love to eat its self. Check the front suspension, steering will be surprisingly weighty, and brakes have an unusual unforgiving feel which will be unfamiliar to those used to driving vehicles with servo brakes.

It is also worth checking when and who replaced the water pump and cambelt. Spend time to check the health of the all-important G-Laden supercharger as these units while strong require regular maintenance and care by an experienced mechanic.

Mk2F VW Polo G40

MK2F Polo G40

The new MK2F (known as the Mk3 in the UK) arrived in 1990. The design was a conservative update. The bodywork had become 10% more aerodynamic with changes such as square headlamps and improved upmarket interior finishes similar to that of the Mk2 Golf. Under the skin, Volkswagen had also reworked the mechanics with the introduction of fuel injection and introduction of catalytic converters.

Initially launched with the GT taking centre stage as the sporty option, it wasn’t until May 1991 that the Mk2F VW Polo G40 became available. The Mk2F Polo G40 was to become the top dog, but unlike the Mk2 Polo G40 before it, this model was developed as an integral model in the new 1991 VW Polo lineup.

Based on the GT Couple model, the Polo G40 had added sugar, featuring the G-lader supercharger with intercooler boosting power to 113bhp (83kW) to compete with the likes of the respected Peugeot 205 GTI and Ford Fiesta XR2i.

Being supercharged the VW Polo G40 had a sense of urgency with its forced induction engine giving a wide spread of torque. Unfortunately, output was slighted down at 113bhp (83kW) on power when compared to the previous Mk2 model due to the fitting of the catalytic convertor. 

The new hot hatch Polo was still entertaining to drive. It featured such modern accessories as 13 x 5.5 BBS alloys, Red striped bumpers, G40 badges front and rear, unique ‘Le Mans’ interior trim, and a roof-mounted ‘bee sting’ aerial finishing the sporty looks.

As with the Mk2 VW Polo G40, Volkswagen updated their popular single model race series by introducing the G40 Cup. This model became liked by racing fans and competed with performance models from Honda, Renault and Rover. 

During its short lifespan, the Mk2F VW Polo saw a few minor revisions. In 1992 clear front indicators, tinted rear lights and audio upgrades were all introduced before being replaced by the all new VW Polo in late 1994.

Sales of the Volkswagen Polo G40 were lacklustre, failing to gain momentum with many buyers opting to purchase the slower and larger hot hatch models. These disappointing sales figures could have been partly due to mixed press reviews at the time. While the motoring press admired the Polo’s G40 engine, publications such as Auto Car wrote that as a fully-fledged hot hatch costing £11,500 the Polo G40 handling just wasn’t good enough.

The VW Polo G40 in later years established cult status, with the tunable G-lader supercharged engine and go-kart-like handling, Volkswagen’s G40 Polo is an offbeat 1980s retro hot hatch favourite.

MK2F Polo G40 Buying guide

With the newest models now over 26 years old, there is a lot to check when buying a retro hot hatch. With limited numbers manufactured, you will need to search far and wide to obtain a classic Polo G40.

When inspecting your dream Polo G40 check fluid under the retro plastic wheel arches, inspect above the rear lights for debris, check for rust around the battery, around the petrol filler neck and plates around fuel pump and in-line fuel filter for corrosion. Old Volkswagen’s love to decay, but Polo’s in metallic paints seem to suffer less.

There have been reports of the boot floor plan bending/rippling and doors dropping coursing shut line issues. While inspecting bodywork check the front wings for the Volkswagen logo and clips on each side.

Mechanically head gaskets have been known to blow as early as 80k miles. If the Polo hesitates on your test drive for no apparent reason when accelerating or just travelling along at a constant speed this may mean throttle body meters are worn.

Check brakes, suspension and if you hear a buzz while driving, wheel bearings may also be worn. Such mechanical issues are not uncommon in the car of this age.

The VW Polo G40 is a unique car which will provide lots of enjoyment, entertaining to drive with a supercharger which pulls with buckets of toque in a sized go-kart package.

Living with the Polo G40

The compact Volkswagen Polo G40 has a retro charm. A design which dates back to 1970s, the Mk2 Polo has a back to basics experience. 

By modern VW standards, the Mk2 Polo G40 feels cramped. However, this all adds to the charm and only helps to build on the sporting character. Modern luxuries such as power steering, electric windows, central locking and servo-brakes are all missing from the Polo G40, adding to the simple rawness.

The Polo G40 is a great, small fun car best enjoyed when driving on your favourite B road. 

The VW G40 legacy

The Polo has become a staple within the Volkswagen range; the VW Polo G40 helped establish a sporting option within the supermini hot hatch range.

The G-lader engine was an exciting chapter in Volkswagen history, used throughout the VW G40 and G60 lineup. With supercharged models available in Polo, Golf, Passat and Corrido varients. All these cars have become true retro classics, loved by the Veedub community.

The current VW Polo feels like driving a calculator when compared to the analogue joys available in the Mk2 Polo. But there can be no forgiving the shared heritage here, without the Mk2 Polo it is doubtful that Volkswagen would have kept the Polo line. The Lupo and Up have all come in various forms. However, the dependable VW Polo has endured. The VW Polo has become the conventional choice, as a safe classy supermini hatchback.

Martin Sanders

A big fan of all things VW, establishing the Veedubs brand and website, sharing his interests in regular blog posts. Martin Sanders also works as a graphic designer, his work can be seen here.

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