40 years ago a small group of German engineers, managers and, above all, motoring enthusiasts came together to create what was quickly to become a motoring phenomenon – the original Golf GTI. Former Communications Director at Volkswagen, Anton Konrad, along with Hermann Hablitzl, head of Golf project development at the time; Herbert Schuster, a chassis expert who would later become a member of the board responsible for development; Jürgen Adler, a specialist in interior design; and Horst-Dieter Schwittlinsky from marketing were the originators of the GTI. They were later joined by Gunther Kühl from motorsport and engineer Alfons Löwenberg as they crafted the GTI unofficially and, essentially, in secret.
Initially engineered as an enthusiast project, it soon became clear after the first Golf GTI hit showrooms in 1976 that the brand’s initial predictions of 5,000 sales might have been somewhat conservative. Today – seven generations and more than two million sales later – the Golf GTI still engenders avid interest from enthusiast owners, and would-be owners, around the world.
While Volkswagen’s Golf Gran Turismo Injection has evolved significantly from its earliest iteration – the 0-100km/h acceleration time of the original 1976 car, at 9.2 seconds, is eclipsed significantly by the Clubsport S’s 5.8 seconds for instance – the sporting ethos and commitment to everyday driving fun remains true to that of the original.
With a new Golf GTI due to debut in 2017, it will be boasting more power, enhanced technology, refreshed styling and more equipment.
40 years of the Golf GTI – a quick retrospective
Mk1 Golf GTI / 1976. In 1974, six men forge the secret plan to develop a ‘Sports Golf’. They carry the project through to the end. On what day of 1976 the first full-production GTI was built can now no longer be precisely identified. The fact is, however, that with its 110 hp and 182 km/h top speed it stirred up both the world of compact cars and that of luxury sports cars and saloons as well. 1983 sees the debut of the first special edition, the 112-hp ‘Pirelli GTI’.
Mk2 Golf GTI / 1984. A strategic stroke of genius follows one year later with the Mk2 Golf GTI. Still with 112 hp, it continues the conceptual course of the first generation. With identical GTI insignia. A newcomer had thus become a classic. An icon. As a result of the introduction of the catalytic converter, the power output briefly goes down to 107 hp in 1984. Two years later, Volkswagen compensates for the reduced power with a new 16V-engine, which delivers 129 hp even with a catalytic converter and matches the agility of the original GTI. In 1990, a ‘G-Lader’ supercharger in the Golf GTI G60 increases power output to 160 hp.
Mk3 Golf GTI / 1991. In 1991, Volkswagen transfers the GTI insignia to the third generation. This begins with 115 hp. A year later, the power output goes up with a new four-valve engine to 150 hp. In 1996, a turbodiesel version (TDI) delivering 110 hp enriches the GTI concept. Some years later, the petrol and diesel versions ultimately split into GTI and GTD. 1996 also sees the launch of the ’20 Years of GTI’ anniversary model.
Mk4 Golf GTI / 1998. The fourth GTI generation, introduced in 1998, is very conservative in appearance. Technically, however, the 150-hp Mk4 Golf GTI is a car that keeps the competition at bay with its agility and quality. The four- and (in one case) five-cylinder petrol engines deliver up to 170 hp, while the diesels manage 130 hp. In 2001, the 180-hp special ’25 Years of GTI’ turbo model heralds a renaissance of the sporty icon.
Mk5 Golf GTI / 2004. With the debut of the fifth generation, the Golf GTI 2004 celebrates a grand comeback. With a much sharper look, a 200-hp turbo engine and superb driving characteristics, it catapults the GTI concept into the future. In 2006, to mark the cult car’s 30th birthday, Volkswagen gives its fans the 230-hp ’30 Years of GTI’ model. Identically powered, the reincarnation of the ‘Pirelli GTI’ is then launched in 2007.
Mk6 Golf GTI / 2009. With the sixth generation there follows in 2009 a Golf GTI that redefines the subject of traction with an electronic transverse differential lock (XDS). A now 210-hp GTI that is even more fun! A GTI that with a redesigned exhaust system creates a dynamic sound as well. For the first time it is also available as a soft top. This generation’s crowning glory comes onto the market in 2011 for the 35th birthday: the ‘Golf GTI Edition 35’ with 235 hp.
Mk7 Golf GTI / 2012. The seventh generation of the GTI launches in 2012 with two levels of power output: 220 hp from the base version and 230 hp from the Golf GTI Performance, the latter being equipped with a new front-axle differential lock. Based on this model there then follows in early 2016 the Golf GTI Clubsport, delivering via a boost function up to 290 hp.