The Polo Harlekin (or Harlequin) is turning 25 years old in 2020
Volkswagen are usually known for being a sensible manufacturer of sensible cars. Even the current era Golf GTI and Golf R are pretty sensible affairs in the ever bloating power figures and ever more complex drivetrains of the hot hatch world. Sometimes, though, they would get a bit silly. This kind of silliness has created quite a few weird cars (the Passat W8, the Touareg and Phaeton V10 TDI, even the Bugatti Veyron to an extent) but there isn't anything that sums up the peak of crazy VW quite like the Polo Harlekin (or Harlequin, if you're from the UK like me).
The story of the Polo Harlekin/Harlequin is an interesting one. According to the god of all things quirky Doug Demuro and the Donut Media video linked above, the Harlekin's unique multi-coloured paint scheme was inspired by an old Beetle ad that was printed in magazines and newspapers. In this ad, a Beetle was shown with body panels that were all different colours.
Why did VW do this? To highlight the Beetle's almost unprecedented levels of design continutity. The panels were supposed to be from all sorts of different Beetles from different model years, yet they would all fit together because of how little the Beetle's design had changed.
Clearly the VW of the early-mid 90s was very taken with the idea of ressurecting the spirit of that old Beetle commercial (even though the Polo has no such incredible parts continuity) and decided to make a 90s version of it in the Harlekin. The body panels were painted in a combination of several VW factory colours of the time (Tornado Red, Ginster Yellow, Pistachio Green and Chagall Blue), as well as having specially patterend "joker" seats and a steering wheel and gear knob design that were exclusive to the Harlekin. It only came with one engine option, that being VW's 1.6 litre 4 cylinder petrol of the time.
Initially the Harlekin was only supposed to have a production run of about a thousand cars, but the demand was so high (we really did make some somewhat questionable choices 25 years ago!) that the production run was increased to a total of 3,800 cars! 2,500 RHD Polos were given the treatement too for the UK market, with the spelling of the car's name being changed to Harlequin for obvious language/branding reasons. VW even transferred the Harlekin/Harlequin concept onto the Golf, making a limited run of Golfs in the same way.
Photo: Analogue Kid/Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]
A brief history of a weird, limited edition small car though probably isn't the entire reason why you would have decided to read this. Because the first LHD Harlekins were made in 1995, that qualifies them for the 25 year rule in the US from next year onwards. What this means is that if you're a Yank and you've always hankered after one of these weird cars that you could never get when they were new (the Golf version was sold in the US but the original Polo version wasn't), you can import one for yourself!
If you want to take the plunge though, you'd better get queing up. The early-mid 90s fast Fords have now cleared the 25 year rule and some of those are absolutely flying out of Europe, so you might want to get your order in before it gets too crazy!