“What color do you put on the registration?” “Why did you paint your car like that?” These are some of the commonly asked questions for Harlequin owners, but this biggest one being, “What is that thing?”
Regarded by some as Volkswagen’s most underappreciated secret, and others as Volkswagen’s most underpublicized disappointment, there is still just something that makes you say “wow” when you see one of these cars.
The Harlequin first debuted in Germany as the Polo. It was so popular in Europe, VW of America thought it would add some pizazz to the auto shows in the US, and they produced four Golf-based Harlequins. They were created in Mexico by taking four regular Golfs, and simply swapping their body panels.
They debuted at the VW Auto Expo in 1996. They had the standard 2.0-liter inline-four, with FWD, pushing a whopping 115 hp at the crank. They were well received at the expo, and the standing president of VW of America thought it would be a good idea to create more to send to dealerships.
The exact number of Harlequins produced is unknown. There are 14 letters on the record that discuss the production numbers. Ten years ago, the official number from VW was 264, however letters from the customer relations department a few years later say there were 275 Harlequins produced. Most enthusiasts have settled on the 264 as being the “real” count.
Coming in four base colors, Chagall Blue, Ginster Yellow, Tornado Red, and Pistachio Green, you can tell a Harlequin by the last six digits of the VIN, the interior, or usually, just by being blinded by the random rainbow explosion driving by.
At last count on the official VW Harlequin Registry, managed by RossVW.com, there were 118 Harlequins still accounted for. That number has not been updated since 2015, so its accuracy is questionable.
If you are reading this and you are thinking to yourself, “OH MY GOSH HOW DO I GET MY HANDS ON ONE OF THESE GLORIOUS PIECES OF GERMAN MACHINERY?!” Fear not. You can still obtain a fairly rust free Harlequin for between $6k and 8k, making it one of the more affordable “rare” cars to own.
Love it or hate it, the VW Harlequin is here to stay, at least for a while, and if you’re lucky you might get to see one in your lifetime.