Andy Mcvicker and Travis Rock 1996 Volkswagen Polo Harlekin Mk3

Andy Mcvicker and Travis Rock 1996 Volkswagen Polo Harlekin Mk3

Do not adjust your monitor, remove your rose-tinted glasses, or begin to question your corporeality. You can shelve any existential crises you may be experiencing and just accept your reality. This is not a test. Yes, there is not one, but two multi-coloured Polos on the pages before you.


Words: Bryan McCarthy

Photos: Travis Rock


IN LIVING COLOUR

A brief dive into recent memory serves up the Lego-themed Golf Harlequin on the April 2018 cover, but the forebear of frivolity that is the Polo Harlekin has never had its moment of fame. Until now. A quick housekeeping note — Harlekin and Harlequin are the same thing. One is just the German version. We’ll let you figure out which is which.


Andy Mcvicker and Travis Rock 1996 Volkswagen Polo Harlekin Mk3

But what exactly is a Harlekin? There is an unsubstantiated connection suggesting that VW tapped into a clever Doyle Dane Bernbach ad from the 60s showing a Beetle sedan in a variety of colours to celebrate the introduction of the third-generation Polo. Another referenced how Volkswagen used different color blocks for ordering a new 6N model and how they communicated this new idea to the public by way of the 4-hued hatchback.


Andy Mcvicker and Travis Rock 1996 Volkswagen Polo Harlekin Mk3

Regardless of how it came to be, the Polo Harlekin turned out to be far more popular than VW initially anticipated. Ten were built in 1994 and a further ten in 1995, used by dealers to promote the “building block” concept for ordering the new Polo. The first twenty cars were all identical in having a blue C-pillar and yellow roof, amber corner lights and standard bumpers. But interest went far beyond those rolling brochures. Public captivation surged at the 1995 Frankfurt Autoshow prompting Volkswagen to produce an initial run of 1,000 cars, complete with a certificate and a keyring denoting the serial number. There were four base colours: Chagall Blue, Flash Red, Ginster Yellow, and Pistachio Green. In true VW fashion, cars were painted solid and then disassembled, with their parts being swapped around creating four distinct patterns. Interestingly enough, the first 1,000 buyers weren’t able to choose their preferred paint scheme. Ultimately, over 3,800 cars were produced by 1997.


Travis Rock 1996 Volkswagen Polo Harlekin Mk3

Over the last few years or so, it seems the bud of the import market has blossomed into a massive flowering vine, with businesses to take care of your importation needs sprouting up left and right. In short, it’s a great time for those who fancy the finer things not native to one’s home turf.

Enter the pair of Polos on these pages from protagonists Autrey McVicker and Travis Rock. Neither was originally searching for the four-coloured four door, but still managed to find a piece of VW’s unique history.

“After burning myself out looking for a Pistachio base Harlequin Golf here in the States with zero luck or insanely high prices, Nick with Open Air Imports posted this gem/ barn find Polo Harlekin [located] in Belgium,” Autrey tells us. “At the price point, it was a no brainer!” While it’s no MK3 Golf, Autrey’s car is a Pistachio Green base 1996 model complete with fog lights, AC, crank windows and a slick top. He took delivery of the car in August of 2022. The three-spoke OZ Cygnus wheels hitched a ride across the Atlantic to save on additional freight charges.

Autrey, the owner of BMP Tuning in Dallas, Texas, started his Volkswagen affliction in 2015 with a then-new MK7 GTI. Since then, he’s owned more Wolfsburg metal than he cares to admit, including the Pomelo Yellow shop car that was featured on the cover of the May ’22 issue.

With a journey to Houston that was literally smooth sailing, the three weeks following its arrival were a mad dash to prep and install a hoard of parts Autrey had collected. The exterior benefitted from a Zender front bumper, JE Designs grille and wing, and Hella turn signals and taillights, all new old stock. Additionally, the Hofele-Design headlights came from Travis, further setting the two Polos apart. “Special shoutout to Anthony Michalski for spending hours scouring the dark VW parts web/Instagrams to find me NOS items from Europe for a car no one over there gives a crap about,” jokes Autrey. In fact, save for the headlights and the shift knob and boot, all the parts came from overseas. With the deadline set to make it to the Euro District ball in Kentucky, the cheerful Polo became an all-hands-on-deck affair. The front bumper fitment was on point, although they managed to drill through the Polo’s “impossible to get” radiator while mounting it. A MK3 radiator was retrofitted just two days before departure time. Sometimes these things happen.

“We did all of it ourselves in house outside of paint,” Autrey says proudly. “It was a load of fun, but the entire BMP Tuning crew really stepped up and helped make it happen in time.” The interior is distinguished by the application of some colour-coded bits, including a yellow Blaupunkt CD player, VW Concept Colours e-brake handle, NOS VW blue accessory knobs, BFI Limited shift knob and boot, and that Raid Harlekin steering wheel. The latter was replaced by Travis’ BBS tiller after the photoshoot.

At the end of the day, we understand Volkswagen’s point in creating this partial rainbow Polo, maybe, but what is Autrey’s attraction to it? “This was just a bucket list kind of car,” he tells us. “And not for the handling or speed, because trust me, you won’t get a nosebleed driving this thing… but for the conversations it starts and the friendships it has made.” And while sure, it did collect some hardware from its initial outing at Euro District, it wasn’t built for that purpose. Autrey says it best. “I do not build cars to win trophies or pats on the back though, I build stuff for fun and for me. If others like it then I am happy and will gladly tell them anything they want to know about it and let them drive it around the block. The VW community is the best community I have ever been a part of. There are very few crappy people, and everyone is just excited to be a part of something that while large, feels close knit. I won’t be doing a good job of explaining how this community makes me feel, but just know that there are very few things in my life I’d enjoy more.”

The Polo’s appearance at Euro District in Kentucky was just part of a bigger two week road trip. Afterwards, Autrey hit the tarmac for Black Forest Industries in North Carolina for their Oktoberfest, where he ultimately met up with the other mismatched hatch in this story. Travis has entered the chat… “I was cross shopping 997 911's, Mk4 R32s, and E39 M5s at the time,” Travis mentions, as we ask him the origin story of his 1996 Polo. Wait, what? “I figured if I can't have something that's fast AND cool, I might as well pick one of the two — and I'm very much a «looks» guy, so here we are.”

The Polo isn’t Travis’ first foray into VW ownership. Inspired by his cousin Lauren’s MK5 GLI, he replaced a gas guzzling ’93 Cadillac STS he piloted to high school with a more fuel friendly MK4 Jetta, finished in Spice Red. Following that, he bounced between Dubs and Bimmers, including an E30 and an E21, as well as a MK6 Golf R and Jetta TDI. A M235i was sold on for a MK6.5 GLI. To complement the German, Travis adopted a little Japanese roadster for a short while before both were sold for the Polo. But it wasn’t as simple as turning two cars into one. He originally spotted the car in February 2021, but couldn’t find justification for another car in his fleet. Two’s company, but three’s a crowd, right? Over six months later, the Polo appeared on the “Rad4Sale” website, listed by its owner, Matt Wobbleton. “Matt put Solo-Werks coilovers, Hella Magic Colour green tails, and clear fender markers on after he purchased it,” Travis recalls. Again, timing just wasn’t quite right. Not a month later, the car popped up on the radar for a third time, after failing to meet its reserve previously. “I was added to a raffle group on Facebook by an old friend where this very car was being raffled off! After I entered, I started playing the hypothetical game of «what if I win?» in my head.” This time, Travis understood the universe wasn’t just sending signals, but was stopping short of dropping the Polo on his head. With the raffle looking like it wasn’t going to fill, he and Matt made a deal. The car was shipped from Florida to North Carolina in October 2021, just in time for Black Forest Industries’ Oktoberfest. “It was originally sold on Borbet Procasts (7.5x16” square), but eventually I found a set of NOS BBS BT-011 Benetton wheels in Switzerland via Facebook group 3 Spoke Elitist Jerks (a 3 spoke wheel group on facebook), which it currently sits on.”

Further personalisation came with the installation of a BBS Italvolanti tri-spoke steering wheel.

“[I had it] re-wrapped by a gentleman in Lebanon, to mimic the Momo Benetton wheel,” Travis enthuses. It wasn’t quite the MOMO Bennetton wheel other Harlequin owners tend to gravitate to, and better matched the BBS 3-spoke Bennetton alloys. “To match, Matt sent me one of the few BFI Harlequin Edition GSB knobs he had ordered, and that was installed on the interior as well as a Fischer C-Box which contains one tape: the “Top Gun” soundtrack.”

Travis has a treasure trove of parts stashed in his closet, just waiting for their time to shine. Things like an ABT grille, Cup mirrors, Morette headlights and NOS Votex spoiler, real period-correct gems. “I always prefer an OEM+ look with any car I mod, or a «less is more» approach. Ironic, given the car, I know,” laughs Travis. “But I don't think everyone needs to be too overboard.” Since both Autrey and Travis intend for their Polos to be “forever” cars, future plans for both include plucking the Polos’ paltry power plants and replacing them with modern turbocharged units, a 1.4T and 1.8T, respectively.

But beyond the wacky looks received from other drivers, or the colour-coordinated clothing and cheeky vanity plates, it’s the camaraderie that came from adding a Polo Harlekin in their lives that takes all the chips. “Unrivalled happiness,” beams Travis. “Really, this thing is just so much fun and brings so much happiness wherever it goes.

The people I've met (Autrey being one <3) and the opportunities I've had as a result. This car has been a massive component for my personal growth and has helped me stay happy through some dark times.” Not only has the social aspect of ownership created some solid friendships, but Travis’ enthusiasm for the Harlekin led to his creation of the Polo Harlekin Registry (poloharlekin.com or @ poloharlekinregistry).

“With some major life changes going on currently,” Travis tells us, “it may be difficult to justify keeping it. But if it does go to a new home, I'm going to make sure it's a home I can treat as more of a foster care situation rather than a forever-gone situation.” Whatever the future holds, getting the two of these Polos together in front of the most coincidentally appropriate art sculpture is one for the literal books. Both owners can hang onto those memories long after the colour has faded.

TECH DATA Travis Rock 1996 Volkswagen Polo Harlekin Mk3

CHASSIS: 7x15” BBS BT011 square, 195/45/15 Toyo tyres, Solowerks Coilovers

EXTERIOR: Hella Magic Colour green front turn indicators, clear fender turn indicators and green tail lights, stubby antenna, shaved rear wiper

INTERIOR: BBS Italvolanti steering wheel re-wrapped in Harlequin colours, Black Forest Industries Harlequin Edition GSB shift knob, Fischer cassette box, Alpine UTE-73BT audio interface

SHOUT: Special shout out to Open Air Imports and Robert Smith, fellow Polo Harlekin owner who helped me source a lock cylinder and some other little things after being scammed by someone else. The BFI crew has been instrumental in a lot of ways as well, helping source some stuff and brain storm, as well as Black Forest Technik for being one of the very, very few shops willing to do an alignment on it

«If it goes to a new home, I'm going to make sure it's a home I can treat as more of a foster care situation»

TECH DATA Andy Mcvicker 1996 Volkswagen Polo Harlekin Mk3

ENGINE: Bone stock

CHASSIS: 7.5x16” OZ Cygnus wheels (ET+37 and 4x100) with 195/40 tyres, VW Harlequin limited valve stem caps, Solo Werks coilovers EXTERIOR: Zender front bumper, JE Designs grille, JE Designs rear wing with Hella 3rd brake light, Hella Magic Colours green front indicators, Hella Magic Colours blue rear taillights, Mk3 clear/yellow side repeaters, Hofele Design headlights

INTERIOR: Raid Harlekin steering wheel, NRG Innovations hub and quick release, Blaupunkt Nevada Yellow head unit, VW blue control knobs, Black Forest Industries Harlequin limited gear knob and boot, VW Concept Colours e-brake brake handle in red

SHOUT: The entire BMP Tuning crew with a special shout out to Anthony Michalski

«Save for the headlights and shift knob, all parts came from overseas»

Article type:
Review
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