Volkswagen’s Golf in 1974 started the revolution. Designed to replace the Beetle, which had been around for over 35 years, the Golf couldn’t have been more different to its predecessor. Front wheel drive with a sporty folded paper look was the ideas of Giorgetto Giugiaro. The Golf was never intended to be a performance car.
Its main purpose was to be a small, fuel efficient model with hard bold lines. Fortunately, VW engineer Alfons Löwenberg saw the potential and gathered together a small group of like-minded colleagues at Wolfsburg to begin work in their spare time. On what they would call the Sport Golf.
The new and improved Golf made its public debut at the 1975 Frankfurt motor show. Amongst the details that marked it out from the basic Golfs was a chin spoiler, black side stripes, black plastic wheelarch extensions, and a red pinstripe around the grille. Inside there were sports seats with tartan upholstery, black headlining and a gearknob that resembled a golf ball even though the Golf was named not after the sport, but as with many other VWs, a wind, in this case the Golfstrom or Gulf Stream.
The car also wore new badges bearing the initials GTI, ‘GT’ standing for Gran Turismo, ‘I’ for injection referring to the adoption of Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection in place of the carburetor originally fitted to the Audi engine. Along with further mods that included larger inlet valves and a higher compression ratio, this enabled the 1.6-litre engine to produce 108bhp at 6100rpm and 103lb ft at 5000rpm. With a kerb weight of just 810kg, the GTI could get to 60mph in 9 seconds. Top speed was 110mph.
Available only as a three-door, the Golf GTI went on sale in Germany in June 1976. A handful of special-order left-hand-drive cars started to come to the UK the following year, but it wasn’t until July 1979 that the first right-hand-drive GTIs arrived. Combining performance, convenience and affordability, they were an instant hit. By the end of the year more than 1500 had been sold, and as the hot Golf’s popularity continued to grow, a host of imitators soon followed from rivals such as Ford, Peugeot, Renault and Vauxhall. But the VW would remain the benchmark against which all hot hatches would be measured for years to come.