From phantom to phenomenon: Tradition: 40 years of the Volkswagen Golf GTI


Tradition: 40 years of the Volkswagen Golf GTI

From phantom to phenomenon: Tradition: 40 years of the Volkswagen Golf GTI-tradition

Volkswagen Golf GTI generation meeting on the left generation 1 and on the right the current generation

Source: Volkswagen / SPS

In the beginning it haunted the development engineers’ secret deliberations as a sport golf. But then VW needed a blockbuster for the Frankfurt IAA and the Sport-Golf became a red racer called GTI – limited to just 5,000 units. After all, nobody could have guessed that this GTI would give its name to an entire class.

A.Leading German car managers put it in a nutshell at the IAA 1975: "The success of the Golf totally surprised us!" than from the entire Opel range combined. At the Frankfurt Auto Show, however, market analysts even stated "new dimensions of competition", triggered by a bright red power pack called the Golf GTI. Three letters that stood for low weight, a sporty 110 hp and a top speed of 182 km / h. If the 50 or 70 hp Golf base with transversely installed engine, front-wheel drive and hatchback with a large hatch swept away all the standards of the lower middle class from Opel Kadett and Ford Escort, the GTI now triggered a new big bang.
Without any war paint and spoilers like the Ford RS or Opel Rallye, the fastest driver from Wolfsburg democratized the fast lane of the autobahn and became the model for a new class of compact athletes. The red type abbreviation for Gran Turismo Injection became a horror for all established small power packages, but also for large six-cylinder business liners. Because the nimble and long-distance-hungry GTI impressed not only the sports group, but also frequent professional drivers. No wonder that the originally planned edition of 5,000 GTIs twelve months later became 50,000 and up to now around two million fun-makers in seven generations – with a unique position thanks to its own festival on Lake Worthersee.
The fastest kind of golf could probably only emerge in northern Germany, as no other car manufacturer has mastered the art of the classless compact or small car as perfectly as Volkswagen. Not even the legendary BMW 1502 to 2002 tii are therefore real GTI forerunners, as the customers of the 02 series, which are often painted "golf yellow", always bought the lifted BMW image, while the outside of the cannonball called GTI hardly differs from the stingy Golf base 50 hp differentiated. The Golf first took off its sheepskin on racing and rally slopes, here it drove the competition into the ground often enough with extreme widening and wild stickers and won pretty much every conceivable championship title by 1981 at the latest.
With which the GTI fulfilled the original mission of its intellectual fathers, who had devised it as a sports golf. The GTI story began in 1973, of all places. Back then, the Beetle, an aggressively painted special series "yellow-black racer", together with even more cheeky wild animals such as the Ford Escort RS and Simca 1000 Rallye and the daring BMW 2002 turbo caused a stir that even reached the Bundestag. What made the muscular little ones more desirable for customers, however, ultimately changed little in the end because of the oil crisis that began in late autumn with Sunday driving bans and discussions about speed. For the small group of VW test engineers, marketing and communication specialists who are enthusiastic about motorsport and who wanted to put a recreational athlete at the side of the EA 337 project – the future Golf -, this is reason to proceed cautiously. Which is why a first Scirocco-based prototype with an uncompromising sports chassis, roaring racing exhaust and a 1.5-liter unit with a register carburetor that produced over 100 hp was not really suitable for presentation to the board of directors.
In the spring of 1975, however, the test vehicle was approved by the corporate management in a more cautious manner. This combined with the order to develop a sporty version of the Golf that did not lack understatement and efficiency. Now everything had to go really smoothly, after all, the fastest Volkswagen of all time was supposed to be celebrated as a superstar at the Frankfurt IAA in September. So it was a good fit that the group subsidiary Audi was able to provide a new 81 kW / 110 PS 1.6-liter four-cylinder with Bosch K-Jetronic, which had been designed for the 80 GTE under the then Audi development director Ferdinand PiĆ«ch. While the first press release sent out at the end of August spoke awkwardly of the “restrained, usable, compact touring car with high performance and low fuel consumption”, the marketing department immediately addressed “all motorsport fans: The Golf GTI accelerates from 0 to 80 km / h in 6.1 seconds. From 0 to 100 km / h in a full 9.0 seconds ".
What an announcement at a time when a standard Golf still allowed itself 16.5 seconds. Not even sports cars such as the Porsche 924, Renault Alpine A110 or Triumph TR7 were able to stand up to this requirement of the GTI. The just renewed Ford Escort RS 2000 alone took on the Wolfsburg Sturmspitze and the Coupe Kadett GT / E was only marginally slower. In one discipline, the Wolfsburg was even inferior to his old-fashioned Cologne and Russelsheim rivals with rear-wheel drive and rigid axles: in shows through spectacular drift angles in curves on loose ground. In everyday life, however, the modern Golf was the fastest, most economical and most practical athlete of the trio, as the trade press and buyers stated. In terms of economy, the GTI was even good for a sensation: with 8.0 liters of standard consumption, the 110-hp Sprinter consumed no more than the 50-hp Knauser Golf.
Seen in this way, the GTI succeeded in squaring the circle: A practical compact model in optical camouflage that brought the potential of the sporty winner with it. If you were looking for even more performance or more exclusivity for your GTI, the armada of the tuning industry was waiting for you. Artz, Abt, Mahag, Nordstadt, Oettinger or Zender satisfied the desire for luxury or more performance at sometimes exorbitantly high prices. For example, Nordstadt asked for 64,000 marks for a Golf GTI with 92 kW / 125 PS, telephone, television – and allegedly received a whole series of orders from frustrated Porsche 911 drivers who were tired of the question of whether their car was over or under 80,000 marks have cost. Not uncommon in the seventies, characterized by social envy.
The Golf GTI was able to extend its lead over all rivals, especially in the production version, even when the Ford Escort and Opel Kadett were converted to front-wheel drive. In addition, the Volkswagen received a 1.8-liter petrol engine with 82 kW / 112 PS in 1982 and the legendary Golf GTI Pirelli special model followed shortly afterwards with a nimbus similar to the legendary Pirelli calendar. A total of 10,500 Pirelli Golf units were distributed from May to October 1983 at prices starting at 20,282 marks. Young used cars were even often traded above new car prices, especially when they shone in the special colors Lhasametallic and Heliosblaumetallic. A furious finale, with which the first GTI generation, built 462,000 times, paved the way for six other Golf generations to date. And over 100 imitators of other brands who love to use the abbreviation GTI.

Chronicle – The path of the first Golf GTI:
1969: Volkswagen boss Kurt Lotz visits the Turin Motor Show with fellow board members and has a list of the six most interesting vehicles drawn up. Four of them have a body drawn by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Giugiaro was then invited to Wolfsburg to negotiate the design of a new Volkswagen product family
1970: In January, Kurt Lotz and Giugiaro agree on a design for a successor to the Beetle, with the space available in the Beetle. At the same time, VW also orders designs from other designers. On August 12th, however, Giugiaro’s design was selected and implemented
1971: At a board meeting on October 12, Volkswagen approves the market launch of the development order 337 (Golf) for August 1974
1973: In March there are first considerations and plans for a so-called Sport Golf, which later goes into series production as a GTI. The basis for this is an internal communication written on March 18 by test engineer Alfons Lowenberg to colleagues in the Research and Development department. Lowenberg suggests a consistently sporty model based on the EA 337 project (internal code of the future Golf)
1974: The Golf is presented to the press in May. The Golf will initially take over the engines from the Audi 50 (1.1 liter with 50 HP) and Audi 80 (1.5 liter with 70 HP) models
1975: With the exception of 1980, the Golf I now tops the German registration statistics for its entire lifetime. The Sport-Golf project is shown to the Executive Board in spring, and final development will start at the end of May. On August 28, Volkswagen will announce the launch of the GTI in a press release. The GTI will celebrate its world premiere on September 11th at the Frankfurt IAA. The prototype still differs in details from the later production model, the steering wheel does not yet have the iconic, so-called spittoon, the GTI logos are chunkier and the front spoiler is a little smaller. The audience at the fair reacted so euphorically to the GTI that it was decided to build a special series of 5,000 copies
1976: The Golf becomes a production millionaire. Series production of the GTI will begin on June 1, initially only available as a three-door model in the colors Mars red or diamond silver. Later the colors black and alpine white complement the palette. It quickly becomes apparent that 5,000 units are not enough. The 110 PS strong and 182 km / h fast GTI conquered a new clientele and founded the GTI class. In the first five GTI generations, 5,000 units have grown to more than 1.7 million. No other compact sports car in the world is as successful
1979: World premiere of the Golf Cabriolet at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Market launch in June with 1.5-liter petrol engine (51 kW / 70 PS) and 1.6-liter petrol engine (81 kW / 110 PS) from the Golf GTI. A five-speed gearbox is new for the GTI
1980: In the fall of the model year change, modifications for the Golf, visually recognizable by the larger taillights and new dashboard (previously in the Jetta). The GTI can also be ordered as a five-door model with immediate effect
1981: Alfons Stock and Paul Schmuck become German rally champions in a Golf GTI. For the 1982 model year, the GTI will be delivered with a 4 + E gearbox, with the GTI reaching its top speed in fourth gear. The conventional five-speed gearbox is still available as an option. In addition, a new steering wheel with a large, rectangular impact absorber
1982: In March, the Golf GTD with exhaust gas turbocharger makes its debut at the Geneva Motor Show. Visually, this 70 hp diesel is based on the GTI. In July, a 1.8-liter petrol engine with an output of 82 kW / 112 PS replaced the 110 PS engine in the GTI and Golf GLI convertible
1983: In May the special model Golf GTI Pirelli (officially “Special model Golf GTI", e.g. special rims), which quickly achieved cult status. A total of 10,500 Pirelli Golf units will be manufactured from May to October with striking double headlights and 14-inch wheels with Pirelli P6 tires. In addition to the lacquer tones Mars red and alpine white, there are the colors Lhasa metallic and Helios blue metallic. The Golf II will be introduced in August. Over six million units of the Golf I were produced in Germany, including 462,000 GTIs
1984: Production of the Golf II as a GTI starts in January. In addition, the Golf with its 1.8-liter gasoline engine is a pioneer in the introduction of the regulated three-way catalytic converter
1985: The GTI is optically refined with two additional headlights for the high beam and red lines on protective strips and bumpers as well as a new double exhaust. The GTI 16V with 16 valves will be announced in May

Important engines Golf GTI Generation 1:
Volkswagen Golf GTI (from 1976) with 1.6-liter (81 kW / 110 PS) four-cylinder petrol engine, 0-100 km / h: 9.0 s, Vmax: 182 km / h, standard consumption: 8.0 Liters / 100 kilometers;
Volkswagen Golf GTI (from 1981) with 1.6-liter (81 kW / 110 PS) four-cylinder petrol engine, 0-100 km / h: 9.1 s, Vmax: 182 km / h, standard consumption at 90 km / h h: 6.7 liters / 100 kilometers;
Volkswagen Golf GTI (from 1982) with 1.8-liter (82 kW / 112 PS) four-cylinder petrol engine, 0-100 km / h: 9.2 s, Vmax: 183 km / h, standard consumption at 90 km / h h: 6.4 liters / 100 kilometers.

Selected Golf GTI prices:
Volkswagen Golf GTI (1976) from 13,850 marks
Volkswagen Golf GTI (1977) from 14,435 marks
Volkswagen Golf GTI (1979) from 16,132 marks
Volkswagen Golf GTI (1981) from 17,035 marks
Volkswagen Golf GTI (1982) from 18,020 marks
Volkswagen Golf GTI three-door (1983) from 19,725 marks
Volkswagen Golf GTI five-door (1983) from 20,400 marks
Volkswagen Golf GTI Pirelli “Golf GTI special model" (1983) from 20,282 marks

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