These days, the letters GTI need not much of an introduction, having sold millions around the World and spawning a multitude of rivals, the pocket rocket from Volkswagen has now come to represent the quintessential hot hatch. It might not have been the first (We’re looking at you Autobianchi!), but it definitely was the spark that lit up the entire genre. That spark is this car, the Mark 1 VW GTI, and the idea for it ignited in the 70s.
The idea from VW engineer Alfons Löwenberg was simple – take a basic, lightweight and economical (plus highly successful) car and stuff a cracking motor inside, topped off with a barely silenced exhaust and race-car-firm suspension. Creating a practical yet sporty vehicle. All done with a small group of like-minded colleagues after office hours of course.
While the race-car-like tune showed what the chassis was capable of, the team decided it was also too extreme to present to management as a potential production model, so when the prototype was eventually showed off to the bosses, it was in a far more civilised state of tune. The “Sport Golf” as it was initially called still greatly impressed the bosses and the green light was given.
This little VW was one of the first small cars to adopt mechanical fuel injection and allowed it to put out around 108-110 horses depending on model year. It was plenty of poke for a car (especially a hatch) back in the mid 70s, and combined with a curb weight of just 810 kilos, enabled this little hot hatch to hit 100km/h in 9 seconds.
This fuel injected engine was also what gave the car its legendary namesake. ‘GT’ for Gran Turismo and ‘I’ for injection. Bonus bit of info, the current Mark 7 GTI, has now straight up doubled the power output and chopped the century run to 6.5 seconds, but at the same time gaining over 500 kilos in the process. Which would you rather have?
And so, in the Frankfurt Motor show of 1975, the “fastest Volkswagen ever” made its public debut and a year later, cars started rolling off the factory floor into the hands of many an excited German customer. By the end of the first production year, more than 1500 units were sold.
Those driving on the other side of the roads though had to contend with left-hand drive grey imports as right-hand drive cars only came about in the Summer of 1979. 3 years later, in 1982, one particular example made its way over to Singapore and 34 years after that, we got to sit in it!
Visually, the details that marked it out from normal Golfs (of which there are probably none left on this island) were a chin spoiler, black side stripes, black plastic wheel arch extensions and that distinctive red pinstripe around the grille. Our car here which once again was generously provided for this feature by the kind folks over at Nostalgic Garage, has had some choice period correct mods tastefully added, all of which are easily reversible of course, if originality is the name of the game for her prospective owner.
Inside, it’s once again as clean as a whistle and for a car that’s over 30 years of age, sure doesn’t show it. We love the seats, we love the steering wheel and we love that little golf ball gear knob. Which sure feels like a cheeky little interior design aspect from VW since the Golf was never named after the sport but, as with many other VWs, a wind, in this case the “Golfstrom” or Gulf Stream. Still, it looks so cool.
With what little time we had sitting in this car, the ride was surprisingly compliant and unlike the “performance” suspension setups on modern hot hatches, the Mk1 in comparison felt really comfortable. We did wonder how a pair of full sized Germans managed to fit in the front seats. Perhaps people were much smaller back in the 70s?
Like the MR2 we featured earlier (and has now sold), it’s such a refreshing feeling to once again be back in a car that while basic, presented an intoxicating package of lightness and agility all wrapped around a core of fun and grins few modern cars can muster. If there’s so many grins around riding in this GTI today, we can only imagine how crazy this would have been like back in the 70s and 80s. If only!
For those who wish to relive this nostalgia on a more long-term basis, this beautiful lady is still for sale, so do give Nostalgic Garage a call.