The history of the Harlekin (or Harlequin, for the NA market) is- for a lack of better words- unexpected. The widely accepted origin story is that trainees (or VW’s CEO, Ferdinand Karl Piëch) within Volkswagen used the color scheme with the new “block construction” concept in the soon-to-be announced 6N1 brochure on the car itself (Green symbolized ‘paintwork’, blue stood for ‘engines & chassis’, yellow for ‘interior’ and red for ‘special equipment’.1) in the form of ten polos in 1994, and an additional ten in 1995 to be used for advertising purposes and for dealer launch parties of the new Polo. There is a misconception that the idea was from a 1960’s Beetle ad from Doyle Dane Bernbach2, showing the continuity and modular nature of the Beetle using panels from different model years in- you guessed it- different colors. The colors created/chosen were “Chagallblau” (Chagall Blue, LD5D), “Flashrot” (Flash Red, LP3G), “Ginstergelb” (Ginster Yellow, L132), and “Pistazie-grün” (Pistachio Green, LD6D). These original 20 promotional vehicles (known as the Ur-Harlekin Polos) are rumored to have been sold to the public, identified by their different color combinations, particularly by having a blue C-pillar, with a yellow roof (all 20 of them were painted as such). The molding that holds the front grill is also matched to the hood (as seen below, 3rd photo down) rather than the fenders as the production models did. The idea behind this difference in paint was so all four colors could be seen at any angle. The front corner and fender turn indicators are amber rather than clear, the tail lights are not tinted, and the bumpers are the two piece bumpers instead of the 16v sport bumpers. Both the equipment and interior of the Ur-Harlekin Polos are that of the very early 6N1, as in, without the joker interior. The first one identified under private ownership is thought to the “Nr.0001” as seen below, documented as Nr.0001 by a very thorough historian at http://www.polo-harlekin.de. The first registered date of a Polo Harlekin is thought to be that of a Ur-Harlekin, 8/15/1994.
Regardless of the origin of this now famous -or infamous, depending on who you ask- the newly conceived (and unbeknownst to VW at the time) special edition headed to the IAA Frankfurt Autoshow in 1995. As we now know- it was a hit. So much so, that people were going to their local VW dealers, and even contacting VW themselves to request to order one! An interesting hurdle they hadn’t foreseen.
The masses are demanding you mass produce a car that you’d expect to see in a circus main event- something created solely for advertisement- so how many do you make? In the spring of 1995, Volkswagen performed a market study to assess demand- and the demand was certainly there. Volkswagen announced that if 1000 were ordered, they would mass produce/sell them to the public- Exactly 1000- with key-chains and numbered certificates. The base color couldn’t be picked (the color of the chassis, identified by the color of the roof, C-pillars, rocker panels, and under the plastics/carpet/engine bay- also the color associated with the title/VIN), and engine options were to be announced at a later date. The demand was even higher than VW anticipated, and the Polo Harlekin had proven its demand in the market, turning the “should we mass produce this?” into “how many should we make?”
So onto production they went. In an interestingly inefficient way to assemble them, each Harlekin was painted entirely in their base color and manually disassembled, then reassembled according to the Harlekin color chart (see below) developed to assure no two removable panels of the same color were touching. To make something special a little more special, they dyed the leather on the rim of the four spoke airbag steering wheel a bright blue, gave the sport seats a special upholstery- the “Joker” plaid- which would lead to an eventual “Joker” special edition Polo, a “Harlekin” sticker on the hatch, blue piped floor mats, and a special “Harlekin” shift knob. Regarding options – a sunroof, power front (only) windows, air conditioning, passenger airbag, five doors (four door hatch) with child protection locks in the rear, as well as 13×5.5 steelies w rapped in 175/65 R13 tires on the 1.0L model, or “Indianapolis” alloys in 14×6 wrapped in 185/55 R14 on the 1.4L and 1.6L models. It was outfitted with the 16v sport bumpers as standard, with clear front corner indicators and darkened rear tail lights. In addition to all of these options, it was also offered with other packages from the Open Air model to the ABS model (although most had ABS as standard equipment in Germany), as well as the “alpha” or “beta” stereo units and power side mirros. Regarding power plant- three options were available: a 1.0L (45hp), 1.4L (60hp), and 1.6L (75hp) all mated to a five speed manual transmission. The power…wasn’t a selling point. Four different color variations, and…you didn’t get to choose. That’s right- you didn’t know until delivery which base color you had until you went to pick it up!
For both those who know and don’t know of the Harlekin, one common association unites both- the clown- or more specifically, the Harlequin. A “Harlequin” is best known in Italian commedia dell’arte as the comic servant, it’s origins tracing back to the 16th century and is typically characterized by a person in a multicolored checkered costume, inspiring laughter through light-hearted comedy and entertainment.5 This of course has stood the test of time, and resulted in modern day Harlequins, known as clowns. Semantics of Harlequins vs clowns aside, in modern day advertising, the most well-known clown is unarguably Ronald McDonald. See where this is going?
Yep, you guessed it- Ronald McDonald wanted in on the Harlekin craze as well to celebrate it’s 25th birthday in Germany. Approximately 500 of the Polo Harlekins were raffled off at McDonalds in Germany, through the completion of a card spelling “VWPOLO” with stickers to complete the image of a Polo Harlekin. You deposited the card into a collection box, and were entered into a raffle. If you were lucky enough to be chosen as a winner, you would receive a letter from McDonald’s marketing division stating you had won the competition.6 Similar to the monopoly game McDonalds has had in the past, this was of course, statistically improbable to win. However, some did, including these lucky two pictured above3. Important to note, however, this was NOT a McDonald’s promotional vehicle. These were indeed a part of the second batch of the 3806 (estimated) total mass produced Polo Harlekins from VW themselves.
Alongside the McDonald’s raffle, another notable- and equally awesome- marketing campaign was that associated with the “Carnevale Di Venezia” in 1997, where a Polo Harlekin appeared on the brochures of the festival program and a Polo Harlekin was put in a gondola and ridden around the canals of the city! These two marketing campaigns helped promote the 2nd wave. Second wave, you say?
Yes- shortly after the original first batch of the numbered one thousand, Volkswagen produced an additional 2806 (again, approximately) Polo Harlekins, this time without the certificates and key-chains. Of these 2806 is where McDonald’s pulled their 500 from, for a total of approximately 2306 being sold to the public. Courtesy of the current owner and founder of the Polo Harlekin UK register, David Cott, “The Polo Harlekin was launched in Europe in 1995, but didn’t come to the UK until the summer of 1996. At that time, the registration prefix letter in the UK changed each August so many owners chose to wait until then to have a ‘new’ registration and, although some Harlekins received N-prefix registrations (issued between 8/95-7/96), most are P-prefix registrations (8/96-7/97). The 1997 model Polos have VINs starting WVWZZZ6NZVW while the 1996 models are WVWZZZ6NZTW. Most, but certainly not all, UK Harlekins are ZVW and the final six digits of the VINs range apparently randomly between 019xxx and 045xxx”. It’s estimated- through the UK Polo Harlekin Register and howmanyleft.co.uk7– that approximately 103 Polo Harlekins have been registered in the UK since 1996, of the (eventually) 3806 produced. This indicates that having a RHD Polo Harlekin (RHD Polo Harlekins were offered only in the UK, as Australia and Japan did not receive these) would at the very least, be very rare to have by today’s accounts. David welcomes reports of sightings and inquiries via email@example.com. Thank you David Cott for this info!
After the Polo Harlekin’s initial craze through Europe, VW decided to expand and give North America their own special editions through the mk3 Golf Harlequin (my first exposure to Harlequins), and the much lesser known- and rarest of all- Beetle Harlequin. The Golf Harlequin was produced in very limited numbers and met much resistance throughout the North American market. An estimated total of 264 were produced, and are extensively cataloged to a little under 50% completion (118/264 as of 1/18/2015) over at Rossvw.com, the inspiration behind this registry. It’s estimated of the (approximately) 264, less than 200 are left. These were offered in both automatic and manual transmissions, with the manuals being much rarer of the two. The 2.0L 8v ABA motor was the only engine offered. One small difference between the Polo Harlekin vs. the Golf and Beetle is the use of “Tornadorot” (Tornado Red, LY3D) instead of Flash Red that the Polo Harlekins received.
The Beetle Harlequin was produced exclusively for the Mexico market, who was still mass producing the 1600i beetle in 1996 (last year of production globally ended in Mexico in 2003). Approximately 141 Beetle Harlequins were produced, most- if not all- in Mexico, with some possibly produced in Brazil. It’s suspected that the Beetles were hand painted on Ginster Yellow bases.8
Fast forward to the modern era, and some 6N1 Polo Harlekins have been left to rot and ruin. Presumably, due to the relatively large quantities of production compared to their Golf and Beetle counterparts. VW Holland decided to ressurect the legacy of the Polo Harlekin on it’s 25th anniversary in the form of a modern tribute with a 2021 Polo Harlekin, based on a red base, with the correct color assignments to each body panel as seen below. With it being it’s 25th anniversary, this also makes the car eligible for import and road use in the USA, opening a whole new market (enter, yours truly) and possibly a resurrected love for these, as mk3 Golf Harlequin prices soar, as does their scarcity, resulting in the creation of this registry.
I’d like to thank and give credit to all of the below sources for photos, text, and information – any that I may have missed, or misquoted, please reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will remedy this immediately. If there’s any incorrect information here, you have higher quality photos/scans of documents, or anything anyone would like to add, please also reach out to me. I want to paint as accurate of a picture as possible as to the history of the Harlekin, and certainly couldn’t do it without fellow enthusiasts!
- Jamie Romano, @notfromstock on Instagram, https://www.motorfaq.com/showthread.php?tid=1467