Oh dear. Aren’t Volkswagens supposed to be the Car of the People? Yesterday’s $61,950 final price on Bring a Trailer’s sale of a squeaky clean 2004 Volkswagen Golf R32 indicates even the historically thrifty Mk4 Golf is swept up in the ongoing value surge of noteworthy cars from the early 2000s. Even more surprising is we likely haven’t hit the ceiling on first-gen R32s, as this isn’t even a record-setting price for the breed.
That honor (or dishonor, depending on your point of view) goes to last year’s ultra-low mileage R32 that claimed $65,100 on BaT after fees. Impressive, but a few factors need to be considered for both the record setter and this new runner-up lest you think every Mk4 R32 is set to skyrocket. The key “X-Factor” there was the car’s stunning showroom-fresh condition, a byproduct of an odo that logged just 1,800 miles prior to the sale.
It’s a similar story with this $61,950 car. This 20,000-mile, one-owner R32 presents beautifully, with only a few rock chips on the hood and one on the right-rear wheel in the way of visible wear and tear. Interior is flawless, with taut, unworn upholstery and trim pieces that appear immaculate and mar-free.
Really, it’s all about condition. Last summer’s record setting sale failed to set off any major chain reaction in BaT’s rotating R32 stock, with a 35,000-mile silver 2004 R32 claiming a reasonable $27,300 two months later, while a black R32 with 14,000 miles swapped garages for $49,875. Between those two, a driver-condition blue example with 123,000 big ones on the clock sold for a friendly $13,900, and a one-owner, weatherworn silver R32 with 66,000 miles claimed $15,750.
See? There’s a Grand-Canyon-sized gulf between the drivers (Condition #3 in Hagerty Price Guide parlance) and the perfectly preserved (usually Condition #2). A relatively affordable initial purchase price and usable hatchback configuration meant the majority of the 5,000 Mk4 R32s imported to the U.S. were driven long, hard, and fast until those fetching OZ Racing wheels fell right off, leading to low stock of clean, original condition cars with reasonable miles.
We might not have hit peak values for clean R32s quite yet. Consider how close this ultra-clean 20,000-mile example was to the 1,800-mile market leader; imagine what a sub-5,000-mile R32 in similar condition can do with another year of market development under its timing belt.
The gap in values between the best R32s and the rest has gotten so wide that we can’t help but wonder if it is now an exception to the rule, “Buy the nicest example you can afford.” Outside of a few model-specific interior trim pieces, the majority of the Mk4 R32 is either standard-production Golf or hardware pulled from Volkswagen Auto Group’s parts bin, including the 3.2-liter VR6 and Haldex all-wheel drive system that’s simply a detuned recast of the drivetrain already available in the contemporary Audi TT 3.2. You probably won’t get a meaningful return on your investment—especially since online bidders are so fixated on that odometer number—but if the goal is to park a clean R32 in your driveway, it’s a potential way to avoid originality tax.
Of course, there’s no accounting for nostalgia, and much of big bids on the upper end of the R32 market are driven either by speculation or a blend of moneyed millennials and Gen-Xers who never got a crack at their dream car when it was still on dealership showfloors. Indeed, millennials comprise 43-percent and Gen–Xers 46-percent of Hagerty’s insurance quotes on R32s as of last year.
We’ll see you back here after an R32 inevitably breaks the $70,000 barrier.