Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 review: power to the people

VW Golf GTI Mk1

In 1975, Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik patented a new type of puzzle. Within three years of reaching the shops, his Rubik’s Cube had sold 200 million. At the same time, another surprise success was brewing in Germany. A team of Volkswagen engineers had been working weekends on an unofficial project called ‘Sport Golf’. After some arm-twisting, managers sanctioned a run of 5,000 cars to homologate the Golf for racing. But the new model – swiftly renamed Golf GTI – was such a hit with press and public alike, production was immediately ramped up from 50 to 500 cars a day. One of motoring’s few true icons had arrived.

The Rubik’s Cube and the Golf GTI are both simple concepts. The Cube is three layers of coloured plastic, yet it has 42 quintillion possible permutations. The GTI was merely a Golf with a 110hp 1.6-litre engine from the Audi 80 GTE, stiffer suspension, cosmetic tweaks and (slightly) better brakes. Yet it was brilliant to drive, without sacrificing practicality or reliability. It captured the zeitgeist and defined a wholly new type of car: the hot hatchback.

Read more Motoring Research reviews FIRST on City AM

Today, that basic formula has hardly changed. The seventh generation Golf GTI has just been phased out (soon to be replaced by the Mk8, while the original has graduated to bona fide classic status. The car pictured here, owned by GTI enthusiast James Bullen, won the ‘Made in Germany’ class at the prestigious London Concours last summer, seeing off a BMW M1, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 and Porsche 930 Turbo LE. Exalted company indeed.

VW Golf GTI Mk1

This isn’t just any Mk1 GTI, though. One of 1,000 Campaign editions built to round-off production of Das Original, it boasts a punchier 112hp 1.8 engine, 14-inch Pirelli ‘P-slot’ alloys (with Pirelli tyres), a twin-headlamp grille, green-tinted glass and a leather steering wheel. It’s also in breathtaking, better-than-new condition. The first owner paid £6,949 in 1983, but a GTI of this calibre could cost £30,000 now. To think I once bought one for £800…

Those memories of my much-loved Mk1 soon come flooding back. Giugiaro’s ‘folded paper’ styling still looks fresh, while that red go-faster stripe – endlessly imitated – hints at excitement to come. Inside, it’s less evocative: upright, functional and slightly austere. Still, a dimpled golf-ball gear knob lightens the mood, and there’s no faulting the textbook Teutonic build quality. The unassisted steering feels heavy and the Golf’s five-speed ’box is obstinate when cold, but it immediately feels peppy and well-suited to city streets. At 3,725mm long and 1,625 wide, it’s actually smaller than a current VW Polo.

VW Golf GTI Mk1

On open roads, the featherweight 840kg Mk1 is plenty fast enough to be fun. Its fuel-injected engine punches confidently out of corners, revving beyond 6,000rpm with real verve, while a fluid, forgiving chassis helps you maintain momentum, despite the modest grip. Push hard and you can lift an inside rear wheel, or even provoke a slide, yet it never feels edgy or unpredictable like the equally iconic Peugeot 205 GTI. Then as now, Volkswagen has always played it safe.

Driven: the cars that shaped Volkswagen’s past – and future

As for the brakes – the Achilles’ heel of right-hand-drive Mk1s, due to a convoluted cross-linkage – they’re actually better than I remembered. Then again, my Golf GTI was hardly perfectly preserved like this one, and I too am erring on the side of caution. Much as I’ve relished driving James’s pride and joy, I’m quietly glad to hand it back unscathed.

Price: £8,000+

0-62mph: 8.2sec

Top speed: 114mph

Horsepower: 112

MPG combined: 36.7

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1: in pictures

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Deutsch marques: fabulous classic German cars on show

Stanford Hall Volkswagen showThis year marked the 41st anniversary of the Stanford Hall Volkswagen show, set in the grounds of Stanford Hall itself, near Lutterworth in Leicestershire.

The show is organised by the Leicestershire and Warwickshire VW Owner’s Club, and a historic Volkswagen display has been a staple part of the event.

Air-cooled actionStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Stanford Hall brings out some of the best air-cooled Volkswagens, and some of the most unusual. ‘Bertie’ is a 1958 historic rally Beetle and driver Bob Beales drove ‘him’ in events as recent as the 2016 Wales Rally GB.

Beetles aboutStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Beetles have long been a key ingredient at Stanford Hall. Amanda Clampin’s 1972 ‘Marathon’ Beetle is well known in VW circles and on the show circuit. She has owned the car for almost two years.

Marathon milestoneStanford Hall Volkswagen show

A total of 1,500 ‘Marathon’ Beetles were built for the UK and celebrated the small VW overtaking the Ford Model T as the most-produced car in the world on 17 February 1972. Special features such as 10-spoke alloy wheels and the metallic blue body colour set the Marathon apart.

Karmann everybodyStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Of course, it’s not all about Beetles, though. Volkswagen’s other classic air-cooled models such as the Type 2 campervan and Karmann Ghia also have a starring role at Stanford Hall.

Ballistic busStanford Hall Volkswagen show

While the show prides itself on standard models, this Type 2 is anything but original, and packs a fearsome V8 punch. Your cutlery and plates would fly out of the cupboards…

Shaken, not stirredStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Similarly, this Martini-liveried Karmann Ghia has been inspired by Porsche. A lurid black and red 996/Boxster snakeskin interior features inside, while the running gear is taken from a 2004 Boxster.

Metal Ghia solidStanford Hall Volkswagen show

In contrast, this Type 3-based Karman Ghia is as it rolled off the production line at Osnabrück. Introduced in September 1961, the VW 1500 Karmann Ghia is also known as the ‘Razor Edge’.

As Volkswagen intendedStanford Hall Volkswagen show

The Concours d’Elegance at Stanford Hall is considered to be the best in the country, specialising in cars of original specification. Sixteen classes cover all VW, Audi and Porsche models and feature gems such as this very early 1975 Volkswagen Golf.

Clean machinesStanford Hall Volkswagen show

The concours judging is very strict and every car has to be as clean as when it left the factory, with points taken off for dirtiness and non-original accessories. A simpler design means air-cooled engines may be easier to clean than their later water-cooled counterparts. Here, a Mk2 Golf GTI 16V engine is so clean, the proverbial dinner could be eaten off it.

Mars Red Mk1 magicStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Stanford Hall used to be a predominantly air-cooled Volkswagen show, but in recent years there has been a surge in water-cooled cars’ presence. Golf GTIs are popular concours entrants.

Super Class winnerStanford Hall Volkswagen show

The concours ‘Super Class’ features only the previous year’s winners. 2017 Super Class and Best of Show winner was Chris Burt’s Mk 2 1989 Golf GTI 8V.

Derby dayStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Even Volkswagen’s sometimes ‘forgotten’ models get a look in at the Leicestershire gathering. Older Polos are regularly on display, and Vic Kaye’s booted Derby is one of the best Mk1 models.

The 1980s called…Stanford Hall Volkswagen show

David Cross’ super-rare Mk2 Jetta GT Special is a limited edition from 1986. An officially-marketed GTI Engineering conversion, special equipment included 15-inch alloy wheels, a 1.8-litre engine, a bodykit and two-tone paintwork.

There’s a Storm comingStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Volkswagen’s coupés were well represented at the 2017 Stanford Hall event. The later Corrado (background) contrasts nicely with this early Mk1 Scirocco Storm limited edition from 1979.

Audis on showStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Audis of all shapes and sizes are welcomed into the Stanford Hall concours fold, and there’s probably not a more disparate pairing than this 1980s 200 Avant and late 80-based Cabriolet.

Four-cylinder funStanford Hall Volkswagen show

Club stands are an important part of Stanford Hall, and the biggest gathering of Porsche 912s in the UK was aimed for at the 2017 show. We don’t know if that was achieved, but there were certainly more than we’ve ever seen in one place.

Germany’s favourite sports carStanford Hall Volkswagen show

And while the number of four-cylinder 912s may have outnumbered the number of 911s, the 912’s ‘big brother’ was still very much in evidence. 

Ronal Teddy

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?Preparing a list of the coolest alloy wheels ever made is the easy part. Narrowing it down to 10 is more of a challenge. It’s a highly subjective opinion, of course, but we’re pretty sure you’ll appreciate the examples of circular beauty we’re about to roll out.

The emphasis here is on ‘cool’, rather than the most dramatic or extravagant. In the case of alloy wheels, bigger isn’t necessarily better, while bling leaves us cold.

Maserati Boomerang

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Bonhams

Firstly, some ground rules. We’ve chosen to ignore the lure of concept cars, preferring to concentrate on the wheels that have, at the very least, made it into production.

Which means the likes of the Maserati Boomerang have to take a back seat. It might have stolen the show at the 1971 Turin Motor Show, but Giorgetto Giugiaro’s creation – complete with 4.7-litre V8 engine and trick steering wheel – remains an example of one of the best cars that might have been.

Ronal Teddy

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Antti / Flickr

Secondly, we’ve chosen to omit aftermarket alloy wheels. While the likes of the Ronal R10 Turbo and many BBS rims could make the cut, we’re sticking to our guns with the whole production car thing.

Of course, this means the ‘iconic’ Ronal Teddy fails to the make the top 10. You can decide whether or not this is a good thing. Stick with us, as we take you through the wheels that made the cut, presented in no particular order.

BMW M1 ‘Campagnolo’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?


Today, the BMW M1 is – with very good reason – held aloft as one of the greatest supercars of all-time. Famously, it was to be built by Lamborghini, until the Italian firm ran out of lira, with only four prototype models constructed.

BMW, along with designer Giugiaro, rescued the project from the brink of collapse and displayed an M1 at the 1978 Turin Motor Show. The slatted 16-inch Campagnolo alloy wheels were unique to the M1 and so of their time.

BMW M1 Homage ‘sink strainers’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?


Thirty years later, when BMW paid tribute to the M1 with the M1 Homage Concept, the five-stud Campagnolo rims were a major influence on the design of the wheels. It almost seems rude to call them ‘sink strainers’, but they certainly wouldn’t look out of place in a 1970s kitchen.

Lamborghini Countach ‘Campagnolo Bravo’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Lamborghini

Sticking with Campagnolo wheels, you’ll instantly recognise these as the ‘Bravo’ wheels fitted to the Lamborghini Countach. Indeed, they graced the LP 400 Series 1 cars, and are often referred to as ‘telephone dials’ or ‘five cylinder’ designs.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Lamborghini

Lamborghini also used a very similar design on the Silhouette, although the offset and width differed from that on the Countach. Sadly, a fire at the Campagnolo factory left the company unable to continue manufacturing wheels for Lamborghini, which forced the firm into using OZ alloy wheels on the LP 500. The design was similar, but they weren’t quite as evocative as the earlier wheels.

Citroen CX GTi Turbo

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Andrew Bone/Wikipedia

The Citroen CX had the unenviable task of following the legendary Citroen DS, but follow the ‘Goddess’ it did, cementing itself as one of the most technologically advanced and aerodynamic cars of the 1970s.

Indeed the streamlined alloy wheels found on the CX GTi Turbo – launched much later in 1984 – were just one piece in an overall jigsaw designed to make the CX as aerodynamic as possible. CX is the French equivalent abbreviation of Cd, or drag coefficient.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Citroen

Sadly, the trick hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension meant that the glorious simplicity of the CX GTi Turbo wheels were often hidden from full view.

We’ll also give a nod to the carbon-reinforced resin wheels found on the Citroen SM, along with the glorious alloys found on the Citroen BX GTi.

Isuzu Piazza

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Isuzu

The Isuzu Piazza – also known as the Holden Piazza and Isuzu Impulse – is one of the coolest cars you might have forgotten. It was based on the equally alluring Asso di Fiori concept of 1979, a concept we can once again credit to Giorgetto Giugiaro.

The ‘cube’ design, found on some first generation cars, could only have stemmed from the 1980s. The polished effect simply adds to the appeal.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Tokumeigakarinoaoshima/Wikipedia

If you got bored, you could play a game of solitaire at the roadside, or grate some cheese if you got hungry.

The inclusion of the Piazza rims means there’s no place on our list for Ford’s iconic ‘pepper pot’ alloys, commonly found on the likes of the Fiesta, Capri, Sierra and Orion. Don’t worry, Ford fans, there’s room for a blue oval wheel on our list…

Ferrari F40

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Newspress

If fame is measured by the amount of bedroom wall posters sold during the 1980s, the F40 is probably the most famous Ferrari of all time. Built to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the marque, a total of 1,337 F40s were built between 1987 and 1992.

Everything was honed to perfection, right down to the 17-inch Speedline alloy wheels.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Coys

There was a massive five-inch difference between the front and rear wheels: 17-inch x 8-inch at the front and 17-inch x 13-inch at the rear.

The centre-lock design spawned many imitators, but none could match the majesty of the F40.

Porsche 911 ‘Fuchs’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Porsche

For Fuchs sake, what took us so long to get to what is arguably the most famous Porsche wheel in history? The Fuchs wheel dates back to 1966, when a 4.5-inch rim was fitted to the Porsche 911S.

This was a proper form meets function approach, with the wheel designed to aid brake cooling.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Porsche

Throughout the 1970s, the Fuchs wheel grew wider and were still standard fitment during the 1980s. The Fuchs died when the 964 was introduced in 1989, much to the disappointment of Porsche purists.

Fast forward to 2014, when Porsche paid tribute to the Fuchs in the form of the 20-inch alloys found on the 911 50th Anniversary Edition.

Ford Escort ‘Cloverleaf’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Ford

Ford arrived late to the birth of the hot hatch, but the Escort XR3 ensured it could hit the ground running. It might have lacked the precision of the Golf GTi and 205 GTi, but the XR3 wouldn’t be left standing in the sales race.

The ‘Cloverleaf’ alloy wheels – not too dissimilar in style to the Campagnolos seen on the Countach – were set to become one of the most iconic rims of the 1980s.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Ford

It wasn’t long before the XR3 wheels were being fitted to common or garden Escorts, as owners went in search of some added glamour, while Ford fitted ‘Cloverleafs’ to the Escort Cabriolet.

The most famous Escort to wear a set of ‘Cloverleafs’? Probably the one driven by Glynis Barber in Dempsey and Makepeace.

Volkswagen Golf GTi ‘Pirelli’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Volkswagen

The ‘Pirelli’ alloy wheels found on the Mk1 Golf GTi are most commonly associated with the ‘Campaign’, a run-out special edition launched to mark the end of production. But as the Mk1 Golf Owners Club reveals, the ‘Pirelli’ wheels have a history dating back to 1982.

Volkswagen had reworked the Golf GTi in order to keep it fresh in light of new competition from other hot hatches. At the same time a new option appeared on the spec sheet: that of ‘Pirelli P’ wheels.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Volkswagen

In May 1983, Volkswagen launched what was in effect ‘Campaign’ specification, before the arrival of the ‘Campaign’ model. Meanwhile, in Germany, launched the ‘Pirelli Special Edition’, while French buyers were treated to the ‘Plus’. But whatever the history, the ‘Pirelli’ remains the coolest wheel ever to grace a Golf. Discuss…

BMW M5 ‘Turbines’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?


We offer no apology for including a second BMW alloy wheel on our list, because this one is a classic. Between 1988 and 1992, the E34 M5 featured five-spoke M-System wheels with directional bolted-on wheel covers.

These so-called ‘blowers’ were made from magnesium and were designed to increase the airflow to the brakes by 25%.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?


At the time, the covers were criticised for having the appearance of whitewall tyres, but they soon developed a cult following of their own.

As ‘Motoring Con Brio’ says: “They announce performance… the faux whitewall just looks badass. It is the anti 20-inch-rim-riding-on-30-profile-tyres”. Sure, the actual alloys are covered by a slice of magnesium, but a little bending of the rules is permitted, right?

Saab 99 Turbo ‘Inca’

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Saab

And so to the final alloy wheel on our list. Start penning an angry letter if we haven’t included your personal favourite. The ‘Inca’ alloy wheel found on the Saab 99 Turbo was one of the first to the make our shortlist. A case of saving the best ’til last, perhaps?

The ‘Inca turbo-vane’ wheels, to give them their full name, made their debut at the 1977 Frankfurt Motor Show and were shod in Michelin TRX tyres. A classic was born, in more ways than one.

What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?

© Saab

The ‘Inca’ wheels represent the epitome of cool, not least because they were specially made for the 99 Turbo. The design mimics the shape of turbocharger blades, which is so very Saab in its execution.

But what of the alloy wheels that failed to make the cut? The Alfisti will bemoan the absence of ‘Teledials’, while we could have included ‘Minilites’, Saab three-spokes and RX-7 ‘Rotaries’. Then there’s the wheels found on the Peugeot 205 GTi, Alpine A310, Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Mitsubishi Starion, third generation Toyota Celica and Renault Clio Williams. The list goes on…

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

310hp Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S is new king of the Nürburgring

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport SVolkswagen has released a limited edition Golf GTI Clubsport S to mark 40 years of the Golf GTI – and the lightweight 310hp special has already entered the record books by breaking the front-wheel drive production car lap record around the Nürburgring.

Limited to 400 individually-numbered cars, the new GTI Clubsport S is the most radical Golf GTI in four decades: it’s a two-door only, will only be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, has no rear seats, no parcel shelf, less soundproofing, a lighter battery – all to save weight and go after a record lap time.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

German racer Benny Leuchter (and former team-mate of multi-F1 champ Sebastien Vettel) duly delivered: he drove the new GTI Clubsport S around in 7:49.21, beating the reigning hot hatch Nürburgring champ, Honda’s Civic Type R, which set a time of 7:50.63.

Watch the Golf GTI Clubsport S Nürburgring record lap in full

Rather fittingly, what’s now officially the fastest hot hatch around the Nürburgring is fitted with a special setting in the standard Dynamic Chassis Control driving profile selector – the Nurburgring setting in Individual model.

This mode accounts for the bumps of the Nürburgring with special damper settings, and also has dedicated engine, steering and sound settings: a new exhaust with bigger tail pipes adds to the effect with loud backfires under braking…

Golf GTI Clubsport S: the details

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

The Golf GTI Clubsport S sticks to the original colour palette of the original Golf GTI: red, white or black (red and white cars have a black roof). There are lower body decals, mimicking those on the original 1970s GTI. It also has 19-inch alloys with Michelin Sport Cup 2 semi-slick tyres, hiding 17-inch brakes with uprated brake discs and pads. The brake covers are aluminium, as is the front subframe.

The Clubsport S uses the existing Golf Clubsport’s aero-tuned front bumper, larger roof-edge spoiler and black rear diffuser: Volkswagen says the aero pack produces more downforce on the rear axle than the front, improving stability – and allowing chassis engines to tune out understeer.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

There’s a special traction control which both intervenes later and gives less of a cut in pulling power when it does: this helps reduce the ‘wheel hop’ of quick front-wheel drive cars being driven hard around challenging circuits, says Volkswagen. It’s also fitted stiffer engine mounts and engineers have reinforced both the transmission and the connection between gearbox and front axle.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

The individual numbering (001/400 to 400/400) sits on the front centre console there are GTI-branded bucket seats, Alcantara steering wheel with 12-o’clock marking – and, of course, the traditional Golf GTI golf ball gearknob.

The engine produces 310hp and 280lb ft of torque; it’s similar to the 330hp racing engine used in the new TCR touring car racing series. The EA888 engine, also used in both regular Golf GTI and Golf R, has special tuning, those bigger 65mm exhausts and a higher-output fuel pump.

Overall, the Golf GTI Clubsport S is 30kg lighter than a regular Golf GTI, tipping the scales at 1,360kg.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

As for where the idea for the Golf GTI Clubsport S came from, over to head of chassis tuning Karsten Schebsdat: “It was obvious to all of us that this GTI had immense potential, so we decided to get the most performance possible out of this car.

“A small team went through the entire process, from bottom to top, pretty much like it was back when the first Golf GTI came into being.”

The team will now help showcase the new Golf GTI Clubsport S at the world-famous GTI event at Lake Wörthersee between 4-7 May.

Video: Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Video: Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S at the Nürburgring

Volkswagen celebrates 40 years of the Golf GTI with a record-breaking special edition

40 years of the Volkswagen Golf GTI in pictures

01_40_Years_Golf_GTIThe Volkswagen Golf GTI may not have been the first sporty version of a regular small hatchback, but it was the first hot hatch.

Until the arrival of the Mk1 Golf GTI in 1976, the term ‘hot hatch’ simply didn’t exist. Over seven generations and 40 years, the Golf GTI has cemented its reputation as the definitive car of the breed.

We take a brief look at the past four decades, in 40 pictures.

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf

Flying in the face of convention, the Mk1 Golf was launched after the Mk1 Scirocco, with Volkswagen keen to iron-out any potential issues before unleashing its car to conquer the world. It arrived in 1974 and would go on to become one of, if not the greatest, car of the 1970s. It also spawned a proper game-changer…

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Creating a high-performance version of an otherwise humdrum vehicle was nothing new. Witness the likes of the Ford Lotus Cortina and hot versions of the Mk1 Escort. But in the mid-1970s, the hatchback was still a relatively new development, with motorists clinging on to their more conservative saloons and estate cars. What the hatchback needed was a halo product – something like the Mk1 Golf GTI…

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI

It arrived in 1976, but its appearance wasn’t guaranteed. Volkswagen wasn’t planning a performance car and, even if it had, you’d have thought the achingly-beautiful Scirocco would have been the low-hanging fruit. So it was left to a small team of engineers to develop a ‘Sport Golf’ in their spare time.

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Once the concept was presented to the Volkswagen Board, common sense prevailed and the ‘Sport Golf’ was given the go-ahead, with production limited to 5,000 units. The Sport name was dropped, in case the ‘hot’ Golf was a flop, which would have left Volkswagen with egg on its face. Instead, the GTI badge was adopted and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen dealers were inundated with orders and requests for test drives, meaning the plan to build a mere 5,000 units was quickly forgotten. Indeed, VW was soon receiving around 5,000 orders… a month! Volkswagen used an off-the-shelf 1.6-litre engine with Bosch fuel injection (the ‘I’ in ‘GTI’). The car was basic, but it was fun. And it also helped that the Mk1 Golf was such a well-engineered car.

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI

A legend was born. The rise of the hot hatch, with the Mk1 Golf GTI as its ringleader, led to the death of cars such as the MGB and Triumph Spitfire, eventually seeing off the likes of the Ford Capri and Opel Manta. It became the original classless car – as at home on the King’s Road as it was on a B-road.

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Production continued until 1983, by which time the 1.6-litre engine had been replaced by a marginally more powerful 1.8-litre unit, with the new car marked out by its quad headlights. Amazing to think that Britain’s motorists had to wait until 1979 to get their hands on a right-hand drive Golf GTI. Naturally, it was worth the wait.

Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Talk about a tough act to follow. The original Mk1 Golf GTI had caught the world off-guard, meaning the industry was still playing catch-up by the time the Mk2 Golf GTI arrived in 1983. This was an softer approach, but the Mk2 benefited from improved engineering and a more grown-up feel.

Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI

The Mk2 Golf was heavier than the Mk1, with the three-door GTI tipping the scales at 920kg, compared to the 840kg of the original. But it was bigger inside and therefore more practical, helping it to win over a legion of new fans. British motorists in particular took the second coming of the Golf GTI to their hearts, which at one point accounted for around 25% of all Golf sales.

Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI 16v

But not everybody welcomed the new, softer, larger Golf GTI. Some felt it had lost some of its focus, some of the unhinged madness of the Mk1. Many of these criticisms were answered in 1986, when Volkswagen launched the Golf GTI 16v. With a huge increase in power, the Golf felt more alive, especially at the higher reaches of the rev counter.

Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI 8v or 16v?

That said, some Golf GTI owners claimed the 16v lacked the mid-range pull and ride comfort of the 8v, leading to many healthy debates at the trendy wine bars of 80s Britain. Not that any of this mattered, because the Golf GTI was the car of choice for the Yuppies and stockbrokers of London. It was the car to be seen in.

Acceptable in the 80s?

By the end of the 1980s, the Golf GTI had been joined by an increasing number of rivals, most notably the Peugeot 205 GTI, Ford Escort XR3i and Vauxhall Astra GTE. The Golf may not have been the best or the fastest, but it remained the most sought-after. Available in three- or five-door guise, it was the ultimate classless car.

Joyriding and car crime

But by the early 90s, the GTI badge had lost some of its lustre. Faced with joyriding, car crime and spiralling insurance costs, the GTI name was being dropped by carmakers, but Volkswagen stood firm. Indeed, it was one of just a handful of GTIs able to ride the storm.

Volkswagen Golf G60

In Germany, Volkswagen launched a supercharged G60 version, developing 160hp. This output wouldn’t be bettered in a Golf GTI until 2002. Whilst not officially available in the UK, we were able to get our hands on a limited number of Golf Rallyes. This supercharged and wide-arch special was built for homologation purposes.

Mk3 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Bigger, safer, slower, more? No, not the debut album of 4 Non Blondes, but an adequate description of the Mk3 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Introduced in 1992 – a year after the standard Mk3 Golf – the third generation GTI was powered by a new 2.0-litre 8v engine. But 115hp was nowhere near enough to deliver the performance demanded by the fabled Golf GTI badge…

Mk3 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Part of the problem was that the Mk3 Golf was developing a bit of a weight problem. Faced with ever-stringent crash test and emissions legislation, the Golf GTI had piled on the pounds during middle age. The Mk3 Golf GTI 8v is considered to be the least exciting Golf GTi, almost unfit to wear the badge.

Mk3 Volkswagen Golf GTI 16v

The Golf GTI 16v of 1993 improved matters, with power increased to 150hp and torque at a more substantial 133lb ft. The 0-60mph time dropped to 8.3 seconds, while top speed rose to a more autobahn friendly 133mph.

Mk3 Volkswagen Golf VR6

But this wasn’t the best Mk3 Golf, because this accolade was reserved for the Golf VR6. Oh sure, the VR6 was far removed from the Golf GTI recipe, majoring on luxury and lazy performance, rather than B-road thrills, but it was able to take the fight to BMW and more upmarket rivals.

Mk3 Volkswagen Golf VR6

This flagship Golf was a rare beacon of light at the top of a range that had received its fair share of criticism. Powered by a silky-smooth 2.8-litre V6 engine, the Golf VR6 featured electric windows, sunroof, leather-trimmed steering wheel and rode on 15-inch BBS alloy wheels. It also sat 20mm lower than the standard Golf, with leather and air conditioning available as options.

Mk3 Volkswagen Golf GTI Anniversary

Perhaps the greatest Mk3 Golf GTI is the Anniversary model, of which 1,000 units were built. Produced to mark 20 years of the Golf GTI, the Anniversary featured chequered Recaro seats, red seatbelts, half-chrome/half-leather gearknob and red-stitching for the steering wheel and gear gaiter. The exterior was enhanced by red stripes and red brake calipers.

Mk4 Volkswagen Golf

The Mk4 Volkswagen Golf was the result of Ferdinand Piëch’s desire the push the family hatchback further upmarket. Launched in 1997, we already had some idea what the new Golf would be like, because its platform had premiered in the Audi A3 of 1996. Indeed, the Golf was living in different times, with the Skoda Octavia and SEAT Leon set to ‘borrow’ the Golf’s platform.

Mk4 Volkswagen Golf GTI

This was the first Golf GTI to be turbocharged, powered, as it was, by Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 1.8T engine. But thanks to changing market forces, the Golf GTI now faced an enemy from within, in the form of the first diesel-engined GTI.

Mk4 Volkswagen Golf GTI 25th Anniversary

The most desirable Mk4 Golf GTI is arguably the 25th Anniversary edition, available in Reflex Silver. Features included BBS RC alloy wheels, red and black Recaro seats, factory body kit, larger brakes and lowered suspension. At the time, this 180hp Golf GTI was the most powerful and fast accelerating GTI produced to date.

Mk4 Volkswagen Golf R32

But in common with the Mk3 Golf, the most desirable Mk4 Golf didn’t wear a GTI badge. The R32 was the first Golf to wear the R badge and it was first seen at the 2001 Essen Motor Show. Volkswagen had planned to use the RSI badge for its high performance models, but stuck with the ‘R plus engine capacity’ formula. Hence, the Golf R32.

Mk4 Volkswagen Golf R32

It was powered by a 3.2-litre version of the narrow angle V6 engine, used in the Phaeton and Touareg. Thanks to Volkswagen’s 4Motion four-wheel drive system, the R32 was kept on the straight and narrow, with a 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds and top speed of 153mph amongst the headlines. All well and good, but was the GTI badge being put out to pasture?

Mk5 Volkswagen Golf

Not a bit of it. The Mk5 Volkswagen Golf of 2003 represented a return to form, not just for the GTI, but for the Golf overall. Volkswagen was keen to inject some renewed driving satisfaction into the new Golf, a direct response to the cheaper and more rewarding Ford Focus.

Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Launched at the 2004 Paris Motor Show, the Mk5 Golf GTI was extremely well received, with many lauding it as the greatest Golf GTI since the Mk1. Its new 2.0-litre TFSI engine developed 200hp, making it the most powerful Golf GTI to date. Crucially, it was also a dynamic gem.

Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI

The engine was mated to a six-speed gearbox and standard ESP, which were linked to a chassis equipped with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link configuration (a la Ford Focus) at the rear. It also sat 15mm lower than the standard Golf, with new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. This was the real deal.

Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Paying homage to the original Golf GTI, the Mk5 heralded the return of the tartan interior and red surround to the grille. Even the GTI typeface echoed that of the original. It was as though Volkswagen acknowledged it had dropped the ball. Tipping the hat in such a way could have been seen as mere window dressing, had the Golf GTI failed to deliver. Fortunately, it did anything but fail.

Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI Pirelli and Edition 30

Special editions soon followed, including the Pirelli and Edition 30 (pictured), both of which were powered by the 2.0-litre TFSI engine, but this time developing 230hp.

Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI W12-650

But the wildest Golf GTI has to be 2007’s GTI W12-650, which featured a mid-mounted 6.0-litre engine developing 650hp It could accelerate to 62mph in 3.7 seconds, before going on to a theoretical top speed of 201mph.

Mk6 Volkswagen Golf GTI

By the time the Mk5 Golf GTI made way for the MK6 in 2009, the hot hatch sector had evolved into a formidable playground. While the Golf GTI was still the best all-rounder, the likes of the Focus RS, Civic Type R and Megane R26.R had left it in the shade. Time for a change?

Mk6 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Perhaps not. For Volkswagen, being the best all-round hot hatch is where it’s at. A GTI for all people, all scenarios, for all seasons. So the Mk6 was little more than a refresh – a new lick of paint here, some extra horses there. It also benefited from a new XDS electronic diff and nicer interior. Evolution, not revolution.

Mk7 Volkswagen Golf GTI

And so to the present day, and the Mk7 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Whilst looking remarkably similar to the Mk6, the MK7 is based on the new MQB platform, making it an all-new Golf GTI. It’s also larger, with yet more power squeezed from its 2.0-litre TFSI engine. You can also specify an optional performance pack.

Mk7 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport Edition 40

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Golf GTI, Volkswagen has launched a new Clubsport special edition. Boasting 265hp as standard, the Clubsport features an overboost function, which ups the power to 290hp during hard acceleration in third gear and above.

Mk7 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport Edition 40

But unlike the 300hp Golf R, the Clubsport’s power is channelled through the front wheels. Prices start from £30,875 for the three-door version, increasing to £32,290 when fitted with the DSG automatic transmission. Is this the ultimate Golf GTI?

Mk7 Volkswagen Golf R

Or, in common with the Mk3 and Mk4, does the ultimate Mk7 Golf even wear a GTI badge? Many would point to the 300hp Golf R as the ultimate incarnation, the pinnacle of a new breed of mega-horsepower hot hatches. One thing’s for sure, the hot hatch has come a long way in 40 years.

The greatest hot hatch?

Earlier in 2016, the Peugeot 205 GTI was crowned the greatest hot hatch of all time at the Performance Car Show. But the Golf needn’t be too disappointed, because the Mk1 and Mk2 GTI finished fourth and seventh respectively.

Happy 40th anniversary…

They say life begins at 40, so enjoy the rest of your life, Volkswagen Golf GTI. Who knows how it will develop from the Mk8 Golf and beyond?

Hot VW Golf GTI Clubsport to start at £30,875

Hot Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport to start at £30,875

Hot VW Golf GTI Clubsport to start at £30,875

First unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, the 40th anniversary Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport is now on sale at UK dealers – with prices starting at £30,875.

Boasting 265hp as standard, the Clubsport boasts a clever overboost function which can increase power to 290hp during hard acceleration in third gear and above. That almost puts it into 300hp Volkswagen Golf R territory.

Unlike the Golf R, the Clubsport’s power goes entirely to the front wheels, taking 6.3 seconds to hit 62mph when combined with either the six-speed manual or DSG gearbox. Hence restricting the power boost to third gear and above, avoiding any potential wheel-scrabbling effects of channeling all this power through just the front two wheels.

CO2 emissions range between 158g/km and 162g/km depending on bodystyle and transmission choice, while combined fuel economy similarly varies between 40.9mpg and 40.4mpg.

As well as the extra power, for your £3,500 premium over the regular model, you get a special front bumper, side sills and rear diffuser.

Hot VW Golf GTI Clubsport to start at £30,875

As with the regular Golf GTI, the Clubsport features sports suspension and sits 15mm lower than the standard car. It features a front locking diff to aid traction, as well as progressive steering to reduce steering inputs.

Bespoke 18-inch alloys are shod with 225/40 tyres, and weigh 3kg per corner less than the standard wheels. Buyers can also opt for 19-inch alloys or road legal semi-slick tyres.

Inside, a golf ball gear knob, red stitching and Alcantara makes it undoubtedly a Golf GTI. New ‘Honeycomb 40’ trim strips make it stand out from the regular model – as do bespoke stainless steel sill plates.

The three-door Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport costs £30,875 with the manual gearbox, increasing to £32,290 with the DSG auto ’box. The five-door, meanwhile, starts at £31,530 with the manual and £32,945 with DSG.

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1990 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2

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