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The Volkswagen Golf Harlequin Was a Multicolored Weird-Mobile

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2016

Back in 1996, Volkswagen was a lot more carefree than it is today. Perhaps the most obvious proof of this is the Volkswagen Golf Harlequin, which is a multicolored version of the Volkswagen Golf hatchback. This is not an aftermarket color scheme or something modified later by enthusiasts. Volkswagen actually created this car and sold it as a new vehicle in its dealerships.

Although I don't pretend to know why the Golf Harlequin happened, I know how it happened. Volkswagen manufactured approximately 260 different 4-door 1996 Golfs in one single base color then swapped around the panels like a couple of bored junkyard employees. The result was that each car had four different colors on it: the base color (the color of the C-pillar), plus a series of swapped panel colors that always went in a certain order. To be more precise, the colors weren't totally random -- a car with a certain base color always had a certain-colored front passenger door and a certain-colored hood, for instance. The four colors were Pistachio Green, Ginster Yellow, Tornado Red and Chagall Blue, none of which were offered on a regular 1996 Golf.

Naturally, the Golf Harlequin wasn't especially popular. And that brings us to my favorite story about these cars, which -- I admit -- may just be untrue lore.

As the story goes, a large number of these were in as a Volkswagen promotion for the 1996 Olympic Games, which were held in Atlanta. After the Olympics ended, a local Atlanta Volkswagen dealership was stuck with a handful of Golf Harlequins, and they sold them off, little by little, over time. Eventually, they were left with four -- one from each base color -- all of which had gone completely unsold for months. You can guess what happened next: The dealer brought the cars to its body shop, switched the panels back and sold them as single-color cars.

Interestingly, the impressively comprehensive Volkswagen Golf Harlequin Registry seems to back up this strange tale, as it includes more than a few single-colored cars and a much shorter variation of the story I've told above. But aside from those few all-one-color Golf Harlequins, the rest are out there somewhere, running around in multicolored bliss.

Despite the lack of public enthusiasm for the Golf Harlequin, Volkswagen also made a Polo Harlequin for European buyers, who presumably showed the same lack of enthusiasm. Today, after nearly 20 years, the Golf Harlequin is almost completely forgotten to the annals of automotive history. Nonetheless, every time I see a Mark III Golf, every time I see a car with multicolored panels and every time I hear the word "harlequin," I can't help but think about the weird Golf Harlequin and smile.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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The Volkswagen Golf Harlequin Was a Multicolored Weird-Mobile - Autotrader