Thursday May 11, 2017
Regular readers of Lancaster’s ‘Car of the month’ feature might see a bit of a theme developing. With March’s COTM featuring the Peugeot 205 GTi and April’s looking back at the Escort XR3i, it seems only proper that we now look at the car which started off the whole ‘hot hatch’ movement. Let’s take a step back in time to the 1970’s and review Volkswagen’s iconic and influential Mk1 Golf GTi
The Mk1 Golf GTi was first unveiled in 1975 having been developed in secret as the brainchild of two Volkswagen employees, Anton Konrad and Alfons Löwenberg. The two men gathered a group of like-minded colleagues who spent their spare time designing the car they referred to as the ‘Sport Golf’
In the aftermath of the oil crisis Konrad and Löwenberg knew that VW hierarchy would not agree to consider the development of a sporty golf, so they planned to develop the car in secret in order to present a production ready prototype. Speaking on the 35th anniversary of the GTI in 2011, Konrad admitted that the team needed to work away from the prying eyes of management and the project became the biggest homework task the world had ever seen. Fortunately the car was given the go ahead and only 3 months after VW bosses gave their approval it was first shown to the public at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
It wasn’t until July 1979 that the first right hand drive VW Golf GTI’s came to the UK with a price tag of £3,707. The car was an instant success and by the end of the year, 1500 vehicles had been sold. Weighing just 810kg the 1.6 litre GTi produced 108bhp and could cover a 0-60mph Sprint in just 9 seconds.
The car underwent only a few subtle transformations to differentiate it from the standard Golf, the car featured a chin spoiler, as well as black plastic wheel arches, black side stripes and a thin red stripe that ran around the grill. The interior was also given a facelift adding red and black tartan Recaro seats and that iconic golf-ball gear knob.
It could be argued that the Golf GTi was the ‘Daddy’ of the hot hatch (Renault 5 Gordini owners will hate me for saying that) so we owe an awful lot to Anton Konrad and Alfons Löwenberg. Without their vision and determination to succeed the project might never have happened and we might never have had the ‘hot-hatches’ that we have today.