VW Jetta A1

Germans have a sense of humour. Of course they do. See, they made the Volkswagen Golf, and then they made a pick-up version of it and called it a Caddy. Ho ho. Das ist verr funny. You see? Germans can make jokes too, just like other humans.

Now forget the Golf. This is a completely different car. No, really, it's not a Golf. The headlights are too square. But it's got a VW badge on the front and it's really blocky and angular. Which means it can't be a Beetle, so it must be a Golf. Simple, isn't it?

That's the trouble with the Jetta. When your maker is one of the worlds largest most famous car manufacturers, it can be a hard life not living up to the fame and glory of your siblings. And that name, Jetta? What's that got to do with sport? Is this some sort of joke?

Not really. The Mk I Jetta had a five-year lifespan as Volkswagen's comfortably small four-door, and it was a job it did admirably. The recipe, in typical German design, didn't include much in the way of flair or grace, just an honest earnestness towards its duties that it did without fail. Positioned awkwardly above the sporty little Golf and below the solid saloon of the Volkswagen-owned Audi 80, the Jetta was the mechanical bridge offering a more upmarket and sedate option to its vicious hatchback sister, without robbing any of the *cough* luxury credentials of the larger Audi. There were three trim levels depending on just how much cash you did have (without quite affording the Audi), but I won't bore you to details about which had the chrome strip and which one had the four horn buttons on the steering wheel. That would just be embarassing.

Think, if you like, of the Golf as a leather-jacket tight-jeans street-strutting punk. The Jetta is its science-fiction reading computer-club brother with National Health thick-frame glasses on. Underneath, they're identical; same squirty 8v engines, same suspension, same floorpan, but by adding that boot to the back the Jetta became that little bit more sober, more pragmatic, more unassuming. Which is why I like them.

Your basic line Jetta came with a range of engines, from the bog-standard 1.3 to the mighty injected 16v 1.8. The 1.6 litre engine in this one here would have soldiered on for miles and miles on a full tank. Frugal little beasts were these, and this little unit shows the scars of a long and meaningful life in the hands of someone who wanted all that firm solidity that VWs are famed for, without the brash little upstart attitude that comes with a Golf. After 25 years it's been laid up in a car park, this one now wears its hero badges of seven shades of silver spray paint (including some generous slapdash overspray on the driver's window) and plenty of crumbling flaking body filler, testament to a lifetime of being battered, patched up and sent back out to work some more. And if you take a look at the photos, there's only one wing mirror. Not that one's been ripped off; simply that only one was fitted. Why would it need one?

There's something eager about the Jetta. Something in those square lenses that pleads "Use me, use me! I'm German! I need a function in life!" - a statement that saw the subsequent models become the biggest selling cars in their class in America, and selling strongly too in Europe. It's a shame the original A1 Jetta came along as an afterthought; that boot end is like a tail waiting to be wagged; the obedient servant pleased to see its owner again. Hopefully this one will see a few more hundred miles yet.