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The Volkswagen Golf Harlequin Was a Multicolored Weird-Mobile

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. See the 1996 Volkswagen Golf models for sale near you

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. Find a 1996 Volkswagen Golf for sale

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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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. I live in Croydon, PA (just Northeast of Philadelphia) and there was one of the Harlequin Volkswagens driving around town for several years. To be honest, I never knew that it was a factory car. I just thought that someone did it to be different. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the car in about 3 years. I don’t know if the owner sold it, moved away, or wrecked it.

  2. The thing about the Olympics is a myth, like the many that float around. They did them here because they were a huge hit 1995 with the Polo. They bombed here, so they didn’t produce anymore. Although, Jim Ellis VW did receive more Harlequins than any other dealership in the country, and a small handful were used during the Olympics as loaners for Volkswagen CEOs over from Germany. 

  3. I will tell you that, for a time in the mid to late 1990s, Long Beach, CA was lousy with them. Of course, we also had a Bugatti dealership (selling EB110s), so it wasn’t exactly a normal place. 

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