What Is Volkswagen’s Harlequin Car, and How Did It Start?

You may look at it with a furrowed brow, wondering why Volkswagen would ever build the Harlequin, a multi-colored car. In truth, what started as a small promotional stunt spiraled into an art form that sticks out among today’s drab car colors. But how did this strange color-combo even begin?

1995 Volkswagen Polo Harlequin
1995 Volkswagen Polo Harlequin | Volkswagen

The history of the Volkswagen Harlequin

For starters, Volkswagen never meant for the Harlequin’s influence to reach the states. The idea behind the car came from a 1964 VW Beetle advertisement. The car had multiple colored panels, advertising easily interchangeable parts. In 1995, Volkswagen of Europe celebrated the launch of the Polo city car by giving it a mixed paint scheme using the four base colors.

The four colors used on Harlequin cars were Pistachio Green, Ginster Yellow, Tornado Red, and Chagall Blue. Originally destined for a 1,000 unit production run, Volkswagen managed to make 3,100 units for Europe due to higher than anticipated demand. That gave VW enough of a reason to manufacture some Harlequin Golfs in North America.

That said, while demand for Harlequin Volkswagen Golfs was intense, it was also small. Only 246 Harlequin Golfs were built for the states. But even at over 25 years old, the car still fetches high sales prices due to its rarity.

Fun facts about the VW Harlequin

All Four 1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin Configurations in North America
All Four 1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin Configurations in North America | Volkswagen

The Volkswagen Harlequin is an incredibly quirky car, but there are a few interesting tidbits you may not have known about it. For starters, there is a way to determine the car’s original base color. If you look at the roof, rocker panels, and C-pillar, that’ll tell you whether the car was originally red, yellow, green, or blue.

And whatever base color the Golf had would determine what color the other parts were. The Truth About Cars explains that, if the base color was red, the front doors were yellow, the rear doors were green, and the front grille was blue. However, this was only the case for the 264 cars sold to North America. European VW Polos all came in the same configuration.

There’s even a registry created by a Volkswagen Golf Harlequin enthusiast, Ross Cupples, where you can find these Harlequins in America. VW brought the Harlequin paint job back for 2021 too, though unfortunately, that was a one-of-one example.

Now only one question remains: were these Harlequin cars even successful?

Selling Volkswagen Harlequin’s was nearly impossible

1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin
1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin | Volkswagen

Despite their strange color scheme and fun personality, Volkswagen Harlequins sold rather poorly in the states. Yes, 264 cars were made, which gave every VW dealer zero to two Harlequins a piece. But the dealerships that got zero were lucky.

The Harlequin sold poorly in the states, only known by a select few, Ross included. Even with their use at the 1996 Olympic games, some of the once Harlequins were taken back to a shop, then rearranged to match the original color.

But that doesn’t make these odd cars any less special. After all, it takes gumption to push the boundaries of what a car can be. Volkswagen tried something, and it went okay, leaving us with a surreal and strange little hatchback. One with more character than any new car on the road today.

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