Volkswagen Magazine

The Polo turns 40 this year. And there’s been plenty to celebrate over the years: since the car was first presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 1975, over 15 million Polos have been sold. In honour of the anniversary, we decided to visit some true fans in the Ruhr valley.

A short honk of the horn suffices to wake the groggy gatekeeper. When he finally raises the gate, Sebastian Winkler, Günther Ebschke, Ralf Petruck and André and George Kasberger embark on a short journey through time. The convoy rolls into the Landscape Park Duisburg-Nord, five Volkswagen Polos driving through one of the most imposing settings in the Ruhr region. Silent steel giants rise up in defiance of the springtime sun, while the plaster is flaking off of gigantic ladles that used to hold molten steel. Giant engines slumber before the moss-covered iron gates of the production halls. Here, where once massive smokestacks clouded the sky, today we encounter the imposing silence of a monument to industry – as well as a groundbreaking project in modern landscape architecture. It was exactly 30 years ago that the last shift in the smelting works came to an end.
That same year, 1985, Volkswagen presented a model at the International Motor Show (IAA) that would, particularly in the Ruhr valley, become a real cult object – the Polo G40. Its biggest fans get together all around Duisburg. To tinker, talk shop or, like today, celebrate two anniversaries in one go: the 40th anniversary of the Polo and the 30th anniversary of the G40.

The fans

Sebastian Winkler (left), 36, real estate agent, owns a 1987 “Eco-Polo”.
George Kasberger (2nd from left), 63, master mechanic, drives a 1986 Polo hatchback.
Günther Ebschke (3rd from left), 63, master mechanic, drives a 1987 G40, among others.
André Kasberger, 29, (2nd from right), 29, church administrator, drives a black 1993 G40 2F.
Ralf Petruck (right), 46, telecommunications engineer, owns a red 1989 Polo G40.

»The G40 was always a dream car for me.« 

Ralf Petruck

Direct injection of the diesel fuel makes the Eco-Polo’s engine especially efficient.

Valley boys

Ralf Petruck: I still remember exactly when the Polo G40 hit the market. It immediately became my dream car. It was small, agile and the most technologically advanced car in the series at that time. In the late 1980s, it was available in a limited edition; just 1,500 of them were put on sale in Germany.
It was something new, you just had to have that car. But the G40 wasn’t cheap, I could only afford to buy one after I finished my military service. In 1991 I scraped together all my savings and drove 75 kilometres to work every day in the G40. Another car would probably have been more practical, but I enjoyed those drives.

Sebastian Winkler: The Polo has real recognition value. People talk to you so often. Many had a Polo themselves. Every mother, every beginner. When we exhibit at the Techno Classica, we always hear the same thing: ‘that car got me through university’, or ‘I moved house in that car.’ It’s the starter car. The car before the Golf. The Polo was always in the picture there somehow, and mostly with very positive memories.

Ralf Petruck: I’m often over at Sebastian’s; we like to repair our Polos out front. In the Ruhr valley, many young people in the 1990s didn’t have the money to bring their cars to the garage. So we became true grease monkeys ourselves. When I bought my second G40 in 1994, it cost me 12,500 marks and had just under 200,000 kilometres on the clock when I restored it in 2000.
Over three weeks I took the whole thing apart. The only things left were the wiring harness and the axles. I overhauled the engine, cleaned out the interior and re-painted it in the original colour. I always talk with Sebastian about what’s on offer in the auction houses and on eBay. Spare parts are increasingly difficult to find.

Ralf Petruck’s restored 1988 G40: a car equipped with check-patterned seats, a floor mat and a fire extinguisher.

»I inherited my love of the Polo from my father.« 

André Kasberger

Sebastian Winkler: A passion for tinkering and a love of powerful engines are a part of the Ruhr. We still live in an industrial area here, even if many of the mines and plants have been shut down and are now being used for other things.

George Kasberger: I got the bug for the Audi 50, which was basically the predecessor of the Polo. I did my first races with it in 1977, and after that with the Polo 2. I’m a master mechanic and did my apprenticeship, and later my master certification, in a Volkswagen garage. Tuning was my passion; I repaired engines and prepared them for motor racing. I learned it from when I was just a tyke, back in the 1970s. My best races were in the Polo; I had several classic car wins on the Nürburgring. It was simply amazing to mix things there with a compact car. The car’s charm is in its understatement.

André Kasberger and Sebastian Winkler in the Eco-Polo.
George Kasberger (middle) knows a thing or two about engines.

André Kasberger: My father worked in motor racing and definitely passed down to me his fascination for engines and powerful cars. I grew up with the Polo. When I was born, my father bought my mother a Polo hatchback and put in a three-point seat belt for me. In our family, we lovingly refer to the car as “the shoe box” because of its rectangular shape. It had enough room for when my mother went shopping or we went on holiday. When I was looking for a car for myself, I stumbled across a G40 on the internet. This model is the sporty version of the Polo 2F; there are only 900 of them in total.

George Kasberger: We took a look at the G40 and I just knew the car was top-rate. It was privately owned and had very low mileage. It had also been regularly serviced at Volkswagen.

»The Eco-Polo is my favourite.« 

Sebastian Winkler

Sebastian Winkler: The heart of the Polo is the G-Lader. I was fascinated by the engine from day one; I now have several models at home. If you take a closer look at the G-Lader, you see that it has a spiral that propels the air.
The air is sucked in and compressed in the spiral. The contour of the spiral resembles a G. That’s where the G-Lader got its name from. The 40 stands for the width of the displacer, which is 40 millimetres. The direct fuel injector was new; diesel or petrol was injected directly into the engine, which generated more power and was more efficient.

George Kasberger: Back in the day I used to joke that one day I would make classic cars out of all my Polos. Even the Polo hatchback that I bought for my wife and which André grew up with, our old shoe box. Back then everyone just laughed. Today we’re still driving it, it’s been 23 years now. We’ve never had any major problem with it. Today the Polo actually does have a classic car designation. So I can prove to my friends from back then that the joke came true. The Polo hatchback and the G40 are integral parts of the family fleet.

The rarity

Sebastian Winkler, 36, owns an original “Eco-Polo” from 1987. Just three prototypes and 49 models were built. Volkswagen used the cars as concept studies that were modified to be especially fuel-efficient. The fleet was then tested in the Berlin metropolitan area under real everyday conditions. The Eco-Polo’s features included an inertia utilisation system and a forerunner of the particulate filter. On a tour to Marseille it consumed just 1.7 litres at 60 km/h over the course of 1,400 kilometres.

A bobblehead dog graces the rear parcel shelf of the Polo G40.

»I won a lot of races with the Polo G40.« 

Günther Ebschke

 

Günther Ebschke took part in many slalom races.

Günther Ebschke: Although it doesn’t have power steering, the Polo just has this lightness about it. In my opinion, the G40 is the best car that Volkswagen ever produced. It’s especially robust; I never had any problem with my cars.
Change the spark plugs, change the oil, that was all I ever had to do. For decades I drove races with the Polo. Its power was exactly what helped me in slalom racing. When the other drivers’ turbo finally kicked in, I was already long gone. The G-Lader doesn’t have the turbo lag that was common at the time. That always generated a bit of a surprise effect during the races. My G40 would hit top form, with a top speed of 225 km/h with 135 hp. Hardly anyone ever overtook me in those days. I never saw a Porsche driver drive by who didn’t wave when he later overtook me. I drove in the same class as Porsche drivers.

A slide in the luggage compartment of the Polo G40.
The G-Lader is the heart of the Polo G40’s engine.

The anniversary

Polo is celebrating two anniversaries in 2015. It was four decades ago that the first Polo was created by Hartmut Warkuß, with Nuccio Bertone also involved. Exactly ten years later, so 30 years ago, one of the most legendary Polo models, the G40, was presented. Today the Polo is the most-sold model in Germany after the Golf – over ten million of the cars have been registered to date. The compact car was especially noted for its versatility and range of different types: the whimsical mix of colours on the Harlequin of 1994 and the hatchback variants of the Polo are now legendary. 

The club 

The fans of the Polo have been loosely associated with each other since the mid-1990s. They meet regularly in the Ruhr valley, drive to classic car gatherings together and have a stand at the Techno Classica every year. To strengthen their association of like minds, last year they registered the club under the new name VW Polo IG Deutschland e. V. The fan club currently has 21 permanent members. They maintain close contact with fans in the Netherlands, England and Austria.