Volkswagen Golf Bi-motor
as Volkswagen claimed a Goodwood hill climb record, Jochi Kleint relived his fateful 1987 Pikes Peak title tilt
While Volkswagen claimed another hill climb record at Goodwood – the new IDR storming up the hill in 43.05 seconds with Romain Dumas at the wheel – it also showcased its hill climb heritage with the unique 1987 Golf Bi-motor.
Restored by VW earlier this year, it was reunited with its original pilot, former works rally driver Jochi Kleint, who recalled the firm’s assault on the greatest hillclimb of all – Pikes Peak in Colorado.
‘Volkswagen was doing well in the US in the Eighties,’ Kleint explained, ‘but it needed something to really build its image in motor sport. An experimental racing Jetta was built, but it was underwhelming. Then someone on the board said “why don’t we build a special Golf for Pikes Peak?” The Golf, known as the Rabbit out there, was the firm’s biggest selling car in the US.
‘The twin-engine configuration was chosen for chassis balance, which is a real problem on Pikes Peak, with its combination of fast straights and extremely tight turns. An in-house rivalry instantly sprung up with Audi, which had different ideas with its Sport Quattro. It made for an odd atmosphere, because many of the mechanics on these rival projects knew each other from their time with Audi’s Group B rally team. However, the Golf’s chief engineer Kurt Beckmann had come to Hanover from Vienna, where he ran his own motor sport tuning business, Kaimann Racing.
‘Both Audi and VW contested Pikes Peak in 1985, 1986 and 1987. In 1985, I came third and won Rookie of the Year while Michèle Mouton won in the Quattro. In 1986, I’d been posting faster times than Walter Röhrl, but Bobby Unser’s Quattro won. It was disappointing but we knew the car could do it – with Hewland F2 gearboxes and a compact wheelbase, it was capable of 180mph.
‘In 1987, we really went for the win. On a 300-metre climb, the engine can’t breathe as well at the top as it can at the bottom, resulting in a 30 percent power drop-off by the time you finish. You have to concentrate so hard.
‘The atmosphere at Pikes Peak is unlike any other motor sport event. We arrived in our specialised rally cars, but there was everything contesting the hill climb – 4x4s, off-road buggies, old NASCARS, even modified open-wheel Indycars on knobbly tyres! Yet at its heart it’s the world’s greatest rally stage. The nearest thing we have in Europe is the Col di Turini, but even that doesn’t come close.
‘And yet, like the Col di Turini, in order to get it right you have to be able to visualise every corner – on Pikes Peak you aren’t allowed a navigator. My first practice run was in a hire car and I took a tape recorder with me to record my own pace notes. That night, I went back to my hotel, played the tape back, closed my eyes, listened and learnt the course in my mind.
‘It paid off. Once again, I posted faster times than Röhrl, but less than a mile from the finish line, a suspension ball joint failed and I lost a wheel. A grease cap had come off, dust had got in and caused something to seize. Röhrl went on to win, but I knew that had that wheel not come off, it would have been this car that set the record.
‘It’s all academic because the following year Peugeot entered with Ari Vatanen and the even more specialised 405 T16, completely obliterating Audi’s times, and a new era of hill climb specials began. I can laugh about it all now, of course!’
Kleint’s twin-engined Golf attacks another famous hill climb – and this time the wheels stay on