This story starts all the way back in February of 2021. My desire to own a car I was passionate about was reaching critical levels, and my lament for my daily driver was parallel to it. I was perusing Facebook and various other places when a former friend suggested I get a Polo Harlekin that Open Air Imports was importing. Asking a very reasonable $11,500 at the time- needed nothing, was good to go. They had restored it to great shape, rocker panel rot and other imperfections being addressed. Also, the second permanently titled one in the US, ever! I had run the numbers and saw that it wasn’t going to happen until I could get rid of my GLI. Plus, this one was a tornado red base- would really take a pistachio base for me to make things happen. I put this idea to the side, and kept paying down the GLI and eventually, I was able to sell both that and my NB2 Miata (great car, just didn’t LOVE it). Fast forward to September of 2021, and a pistachio base Polo Harlekin broke the internet.

https://www.radforsale.com/listing/222/1996-volkswagen-polo

“The Mk3 Golf Harlequin is arguably better known, but the Euro-market-only Mk3 Polo was actually the first production VW to wear rainbow bodywork right from the factory. One of just 3,100 made and estimated to be one of only 3-4 in North America, this Polo Harlekin is a rare and interesting piece of Volkswagen history, and retains its unique OEM multicolor “Joker” interior, complemented by a nice selection of period correct aftermarket accessories like Borbet wheels and Hella Magic Color lenses.

According to the original importer, Open Air Imports, who specialize in importing/exporting rare and unique Euro vehicles to/from the US, this example is believed to be the very first permanently imported Polo Harlekin; this is the German spelling, as the car was sold in Europe. Offered with a clean Florida title, the car was previously in Belgium, and mileage is given as 179k kilometers, or about 111k miles. As with the Mk3 Golf Harlequin, all Polo Harlekins began as solid-colored cars in one of four base hues – Pistachio Green, Ginsberg Yellow, Chagall Blue, and Flash (or Tornado, in the case of the Golf) Red. Note this one’s Pistachio Green roof, C pillars and rockers, which identify its original base color.

Cosmetics are said to be quite good overall, though the seller admits that the car would benefit from a polish and seal to rectify some light swirling, further noting no paint fade. Additionally, the doors have light dents visable from certain angles, and the seller recommends some PDR work. Rust is reportedly limited to a small bubble on a lower corner of the front passenger door, and another spot on the driver’s floor.

We really dig the way the car looks lowered over 16 x 7.5″ Borbet Procast wheels, which were recently mounted with new 165/45 Achilles ATR-K tires. Other mods follow the same period-perfect vibe, including NOS Hella Magic Color corner and taillights as well as a stubby antenna.

Inside, the car retains its factory “Joker” upholstery and Harlekin branded shift knob, and though now fitted with a Renown steering wheel, the original, Harlekin-specific blue rimmed airbag wheel is included separately. Audio upgrades include an Alpine digital media head unit working with Sound Ordinance components.

The car is said to run and drive great, with no known issues. Lowering is achieved with Solowerks coilovers, and recent work reportedly included fitment of new topmounts and bushings. Sale includes a stack of maintenance and TUV records as well as all factory accessories.”

“Wow. Pistachio base…and MINT interior. Hella magic color blue corners and green tails, on coilovers already- and those wheels! Borbets? Procasts? Those are rad!” – My inner monologue. What really killed me, was how the tornado red one I had inquired about was the second one permanently here. Little did I know, the first permenantly imported one was a pistachio base. Little did I know it was THIS very one.

I was certain it would meet reserve. I was certain it would sell. It didn’t. It went to $11,999. I had asked on the seller’s facebook post in a group we were both in what his buyout price was- about $15k. Higher than the tornado red one, sure…but the first one permanently here, AND pistachio base…plus the mods…hm.

Then a raffle thread popped up- the prize? This exact one. It was a low volume entry, with high ticket prices. I bought one. I couldn’t not. This felt like “the one that got away” since the tornado red one in February. I’m not going to live with a “what if” with this one.

In the meanwhile, I’m cross shopping E39 M5’s, 997 911 C2s’, MK4 R32’s, tons of different performance based cars. Naturally, this was during the COVID car boom. This helped me out getting rid of the GLI and Miata, not so much looking for “normal” cars. Even performance/enthusiast oriented cars were effected by the uptick in pricing. No cars were immune. Except…this one? Kind of?

Now here I am being caught with my metaphorical pants down: carless, no reasonable car leads, seemingly no hope; but wait…the raffle ticket!

Then the wheels start turning…”What if I win? I’ll own a Polo Harlekin…wow. That’s…exciting. Like really exciting. Is that…serotonin?!”

Now it’s happened. Now I want it. Now I need it. Now it’s mine. I’m going to make this happen.

So I made it happen. I slid in the DM’s. Then- I got lucky. We struck a deal.

Now I’m going to be a Polo Harlekin owner.

Matt was awesome. He was incredibly communicative about anything the car needed, quirks, mods he had done to it, what he would recommend addressing- couldn’t ask for a better seller. He got crazy lucky and got a Merlin Purple B9 S4 prior to listing this (hence the sale) that you can follow here. I set up transportation to pick the car up in Florida and have it shipped to me in North Carolina, then I got a text that they found a driver to pick up the car.

It was becoming real. I was really doing this. I’m really going to be a Harlekin owner.

Probably the most exciting part was how insanely fast I got the car. I was lucky enough to have the last car on the trailer (which means it’s going to be the first one unloaded).

It was picked up at 6pm on 10/5/21.

I got a phone call at 9:20 or so on 10/6/21.

“This is Montway auto transport. We’re out front with your car.”

Holy cannoli. It’s here.

I walk down the hill to the front of the apartment building and see the nose of the transport truck. I see a B9 on the top rack (ironic given Matt’s purchase of his S4) and then turn the corner and see ginster yellow on the fenders, chagall blue on the front doors, tornado red on the rear doors, and those beautiful pistachio green rocket panels, rear quarter panel, and roof.

Heart flutters, breaths become shallow. Serotonin is over 9000. (a Dragonball Z reference, I’m a nerd, what can I say)

There it is. Here it is. Wow this car is beautiful. It’s in such good shape given the age (25 years and some change), and looks so phenomenally good in person. Like a mk3 Golf that was left in the dryer for too long.

Wait, this is mine!

I still have to remind myself this whenever I see it. It’s surreal.

They back the car off the trailer- using the pieces of wood to make sure nothing hits the ramps, which I appreciated- and its on all fours, right behind it.

One of the two gentleman takes a few pictures of it, hands me the keys and says “It’s very cool, very nice car, you’re very lucky”. I appreciate this guy. This sounds so foreign driving relatively boring cars for the last few years.

I push the clutch in, do the neutral stick toggle side to side a few times (my manual transmission people know what I’m talking about), and turn the ignition all the way.

Doesn’t start.

I panic.

OH RIGHT. It has a push to start installed. Was entirely too caught up in the moment. It starts right up, I put it in reverse, and drive it up the hill. Oh right, no power steering either. With a 320mm steering wheel- those tight turns are gunna be a workout.

I park it. I stare at it, do a once over, go through it top to bottom. Rear hatch lock cylinder seems to have lost the piece retaining the bottom end of it, which makes the hatch not open- disclosed before sale, all good. No lights on the dash, all the lights work, headliner looks brand new, seats look brand new minus one SMALL dent in the foam on the door side of the driver’s seat bolster. This is incredible. It’s like a time machine. I can’t believe the paint is original. No clear coat failure on the ginster yellow or tornado red panels. HOW?!

I tend to get ahead of myself. More often than not. When I had sent payment, I started buying some parts. I bought some awesome NOS (new old stock- never used) parts from a few people in Germany/Belgium before the car was even here- I also registered the car for a show before it had even been here. I got the car 10/6. The date of the show? 10/9/21.

This was at Black Forest Industries (BFI) – a kind of aftermarket staple in the VW/Audi community in terms of parts. The show? Their 10th annual Octoberfest. I scampered over to the DMV with title in hand, ready to register it, insured it in line at the DMV, got my plates and registration, and was good to go.

She was ready for her first show within 72 hours.

I’ve been pretty involved in the VW/Audi enthusiast community for at least the last 10 years. More-so on a local level, but I’d say 90% of my friends stemmed from this subculture.

The day was rainy, but still somewhat warm- not cold as New England would get. The people there were awesome. I made quite a few new friends- one of whom I found out lived in the same apartment complex as me- Ross (shout out to Ross and his MR2/Fiat Abarth) as well as Bill and Jessica (they have an INCREDIBLE rabbit pickup with a supercharged 2.0 ABA, and a few other guys.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Joe, Byron, and a few of the other BFI guys- incredibly down to earth and welcoming. This show was probably one of my favorites of all time. Everyone was a lot of fun to talk to, they had beer vendors there as well as raffles, and you could tour the facility to see the HAAS (yes, like the F1 team!) CNC machines in action as you got a keychain made as well as the warehouse and GORGEOUS storefront they had just added on displaying some of their awesome stuff.

Oh, hello Serotonin, nice to see you again. Stay a while this time why don’t you?

At Octoberfest, I spoke with Joe and Byron who were heavily involved with Jamie Orr’s 2019 SEMA Polo Harlekin build- they used German Enthusiast sourced measurements and made solid billet aluminum engine mounts to swap a 1.8T motor from the MK4 platform into his- I mentioned how painfully slow the 1.6L 8V was and how incredible a 1.8T would be.

Well, let’s just say, their involvement and confidence in the swap with Jamie sparked a lot of interest on my part, and rearranged some plans for me. More on that in a few weeks (hopefully).

Post-Octoberfest encouraged me to keep my plans for modifying it at full steam, but even more so after seeing photos from people that had atttended the show.

THIS is the part that was exceptionally foreign to me. I had never had someone take a picture of my car at a car show before. Ever. This was actually the first time I had ever showed my car as part of a show before. Usually, I was the friend in the passenger seat taking all the photos. (Granted, I still took a lot of photos that day, but being on the other end felt great).

Serotonin, party of one.

Another great association with Harlekin/Harlequins is the appeal to children. It’s awesome seeing kids- even some who may not even necessarily like cars, but are there because mom and/or dad wanted to go and they had to come with, enjoy it.

My wife and I are planning on possibly organizing a show to appeal to such a crowd with cars like this as the centerpiece for them. Being a nurse by profession, altruism comes as second nature at times; and using something I love as a tool to help others…well, there’s just nothing better. More on that in the spring, hopefully!

After Octoberfest, I drove my car everywhere. Groceries, gas station for snacks, going to do errands. Any chance I got.

Could a John Deere S170 V-twin beat me in the 1/4 mile? Probably.

Could a go kart out handle me on some twisties? Absolutely.

Would I look back getting out of (off of?) anything else as much as I do this? Definitely not.

I used to not “get” harlequins. Why not just pistachio? Why not just ginster? Why all four colors?

Then it all made sense. It’s not why, it’s why not.

Then there’s this. When you get a harlequin/harlekin, there’s the excitement to find stuff to match it. To find sneakers, T-shirts, back packs, water bottles, bicycles, phone mounts, floor mats- anything, and everything. That’s something I didn’t understand until I got this. It’s just pure Serotonin. For you, and for everyone else.

I mean seriously, how can you not be happy looking at this? It’s like a toddler sneaker on four wheels. It’s hilariously awesome. It’s jovial. It’s comical. It’s the embodiment of a Harlekin- it’s an entertainer, it’s a comedic, its laughable, it’s happy, it encourages everyone to smile.

Car meets are never the same- especially with how rare these are. Not being offered in the USA, the Polo in itself is exceptionally rare- nevermind the Harlekin. Though not as rare as their mk3 counterparts globally, these are always a conversation piece.

The common questions:
“Why didn’t you paint it all one color?”
“Is it real?”
“Did you buy it like that?”
“Did you get into an accident?”

It’s a very polarizing car, for the purists in the car enthusiast community. Usually those in the VW/Audi community know of them and their prestige and thus, respect them if nothing else.

Either way, someone’s gunna talk to you about it.

Now here I am- almost one month later. A local Cars & Coffee meet (Morrisville, really more like a show, it’s HUGE) is coming up, and it starts at 8AM. I’m on call for the weekend, so I know I have to get there early if I want a good spot.

Luckily the Serotonins have decided to stay for quite a while. My alarm is set for 6:20am. I’m excstatic. I can’t sleep. I get up, put on gloves and a hat, and drive over and am there by 7am. Barely the break of dawn, and I’m the first one in one of the closer lots. Two months ago I wouldn’t have bothered to get out of bed to even show up here. Now I’m going to bed earlier and sacrificing some sleep even to make it happen, and do things I want to do.

Smiling more often, laughing more often, enjoying things more, laughing more; I mean Celexa is great, but have you ever owned a Harlekin?

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