The VW Polo Breadvan - a practical classic

Featuring my new MK2 VW Polo

The term ‘practical classic’ is bandied around regularly in the classic car press and there is even an excellent magazine with that namesake. I think most classic cars that spend some time on the road can justifiably bear that name, particularly if some of those journeys aren’t just about going to and from car shows or the local garage. Though it’s fair to say some cars offer much more practicality to the owner than others.

Anyway I digress since the main point of this post is to introduce my latest acquisition which is a very tidy MK2 VW Polo Fox hatchback. There were essentially two MK2 Polos available in hatchback form - one called the ‘coupe’ and the other dubbed the ‘breadvan’ which is what this particular model is. The squared-off back gives credence to the car’s practical credentials and has gained it popularity as a quirky classic that resembles a miniature estate car: I like to think of them as the Polo version of the Mini Clubman Estate. Indeed when I was searching for a new classic, a Mini was on the shortlist of cars I was considering. But finding a good one is a challenge. When I saw this restored breadvan advertised by a respected specialist I knew it was a great prospect.

I have a few converging motivations that led to buying this car. First and foremost one of heart and not head: I really wanted to be back behind the wheel of something old enough to have a carburettor. Troublesome as they can be it is the simplicity of cars from this pre fuel-injection era that attracts me. And being essentially a ‘special edition’ base spec car, this one is as simple as they come. With no complex electronics to contend with, I can attempt to repair and maintain pretty much every aspect of the car myself, something I enjoy. Of course there are downsides and with no ABS or airbags, it isn’t a car I plan to rack up a particularly high mileage in. But it will certainly get used.

Another factor is economy: This is a 1 litre petrol car (1043cc) with around 45 bhp. That’s half the power of anything I’ve ever owned before! I’m finding I really don’t need or use all of the potential of the cars I’ve recently owned.

Having driven this Polo a couple of hundred miles already, it confirms my feeling that most of the time you really don’t need that power. It can be quite a pain owning a sporty car with the combination of poor road surfaces and traffic we experience currently in the UK. That’s not to say it’s still not fun, just that it can be also be a chore.

Aside from encountering a single impatient (and very dangerous) driver, the Polo kept up with the traffic on the way home and I didn’t feel I was holding anyone’s journey up. At one point I did have a minor mishap due to my miscalculation of the amount of fuel left in the tank (upon which I managed to limp to a petrol station). The accuracy of the fuel gauge is something to check, but thankfully in any case other drivers around at the time were sympathetic.

The ownership costs of this car promise to be quite low with added benefit of using less fuel per mile and kicking out less CO2 than most other cars I’ve recently owned. It’s not about absolving me of my guilt of enjoying driving, but being a bit better from an environmental standpoint is an added bonus.

With it’s sizable hatchback boot but diminutive overall size, and space for up to 4 I think the little Polo makes a very worthy ‘practical classic’.

But that’s not the end of the story when it comes to classic cars: Part of the fun is that they ‘speak’ to you and offer something beyond just basic transport. I’ve always liked early VWs: They carried a certain charm through the 60s and 70s right into the early 90s. The round headlights still present in this 1990 model give the car a pleasingly purposeful face, without a hint of ‘aggression’. If they could talk perhaps they would just say “Hello I’m ready and waiting for an adventure when you are”

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Also if you’re a VW fan and fancy owning something like this car, do check out UKD Auto. They carried out a sympathetic restoration to the Polo and as a result the mechanics and paintwork are in excellent order, with the original interior left largely untouched showing only a few signs of its relatively low mileage. I put my faith and my money in their handiwork and so far I’ve not been disappointed. Knowing the margin for profit on these compared to some of the more mainstream VW models is slimmer, I think it was a good buy.