#TBT: Golf GTI history
May 14, 2020
Wolfsburg, Germany — Launched at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt in September 1975, the first Golf GTI was fresh and wild. As of the summer of 1976, it stormed into an automotive category that hadn’t actually existed until that moment—sporty front-wheel-drive compact cars, or hot hatches. Originally, 5,000 units had been planned, but the affordable Golf GTI turned the automotive order upside down, bringing driving dynamics previously relegated to the world of expensive sports cars to the masses. Consequently, a total of 461,690 Golf GTI Mk1 models rolled off the production lines. With its six successors to date, it has become the world’s most successful compact sports car.
Golf GTI Mark 1
In 1974, half a dozen staff members at Volkswagen, including Anton Konrad, Volkswagen’s then chief press officer, concocted a secret plan to develop a sporty version of the Golf. There was no official mandate to develop the Sport Golf, but Hermann Hablitzel, Board Member for Technology, made sure the project kept going. Initial prototypes emerged, including a vehicle with a carbureted engine generating 100 horsepower. In early March 1975, Hablitzel officially presented the Sport Golf project to Toni Schmücker, Chairman of the Board of Management, who gave it the green light. As a result, the clandestine Sport Golf officially became development order EA195. The vehicle was to celebrate its world premiere at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt in September and so the project picked up speed. EA195 took a crucial step forward once it was finally paired with the right power unit—a fuel-injected engine generating 110 hp. However, the Sport Golf didn’t even have a name yet. Suggestions that were discussed included TS and GTS, but GTI won the race. At the same time, chief designer Herbert Schäfer—a keen golfer—reinvented the shifter knob by simply attaching a golf ball to the GTI’s selector rod.
The car was showcased in Frankfurt, receiving an enthusiastic media response. In June 1976, the Golf GTI Mk1, priced at 13,850 German marks, was launched in Germany before going on to enjoy global success. The initial plan was to manufacture 5,000 units of this special product line to at least recoup the cost of development and the investment in production equipment. However, things turned out rather differently as neither Konrad, Hablitzel, nor Schmücker had anticipated the GTI’s level of popularity. The GTI had a top speed of 113 mph, black wheelarch extensions, a black frame around the rear window, red edging around the radiator grille, plaid sport seats, the golf ball shifter knob, and a sport steering wheel. The ultimate crowning glory of the product line was the Pirelli-GTI, a special edition generating 110 hp. This marked the first chapter in what remains the world’s most successful compact sports car.
1984 – Golf GTI Mark 2
The Golf GTI Mk2 perpetuated the concept and design DNA of the first generation. The GTI’s insignia —in particular the red strip in the radiator grille and the plaid sport seats—became classic design features and the newcomer ultimately also became an icon. In 1984, the vehicle’s output briefly dropped to 107 hp as a result of the fitment of a catalytic converter. Two years later, Volkswagen offset the loss of power with a new 16-valve engine generating 129 hp. In 1990 the G-Lader supercharged engine in the Golf GTI G60 boosted its output to 160 hp.
1991 – Golf GTI Mark 3
Volkswagen transferred the GTI insignia to the third generation in 1991. The second GTI generation’s dual headlights had now been concealed behind a shared lens and the vehicle’s output started from 115 hp. One year later, the engine output was increased to 150 hp thanks to a new 16-valve engine. In 1996 a turbocharged diesel version (TDI®) generating 110 hp enhanced the GTI concept. Years later, gasoline and diesel engines would be divided once and for all into GTI and GTD. In 1996, Volkswagen also launched the “20 years of GTI” anniversary model.
1998 – Golf GTI Mark 4
The fourth generation of the GTI, introduced in 1998, was modest in terms of GTI styling, and was the first and only GTI to do away with classic cues including the red strip in the radiator grille. Nevertheless, the vehicle still became a design icon, celebrated today as the starting point of a new, cleaner era of vehicle design. In terms of technology, the 150-hp Golf GTI Mk4 was a car that kept competitors at arm’s length with its agility and quality. The gasoline engines—with four and five cylinders—generated up to 170 hp while diesel engines delivered a maximum of 150 hp. In 2001, Volkswagen celebrated the icon’s first quarter century with the turbocharged “25 years of GTI” special edition generating 180 hp.
2004 – Golf GTI Mark 5
In September 2003, Volkswagen launched a magnificent comeback of the classic in Frankfurt with a prototype of the fifth-generation GTI. More than ever before, GTI became synonymous with outstanding compact-car handling. In September 2004, Volkswagen showcased the production version at the Paris Motor Show, and the launch of the Golf GTI Mk5 followed in November. Its hallmarks were a significantly sharper look, a 200-hp turbocharged engine and outstanding handling. Volkswagen propelled the GTI concept into the future with this version. The new Denver design wheels and the black, V-shaped radiator grille were particularly striking features. The new turbocharged engine also delivered plenty of power, propelling the GTI (with a manual gearbox) from zero to 62 mph in a mere 7.2 seconds. Fitting the vehicle with the new dual-clutch automatic transmission (DSG®) cut the time to just 6.9 seconds. The vehicle’s top speed was an impressive 146 mph. The slogan in the first brochure read “high-performance sport has never been this much fun!” On the iconic sports car’s 30th anniversary in 2006, its creators introduced GTI aficionados to the “30 years of GTI” edition, which generated 230 hp. Featuring the same engine, the reincarnation of the “Pirelli GTI” was launched in 2007.
2009 – Golf GTI Mark 6
The sixth generation of the Golf GTI followed in 2009, with racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck in charge of honing the vehicle’s chassis, which featured the electronic differential lock (XDS®) for the first time. With a top speed of 149 mph, this GTI featured a turbocharged engine generating 210 hp. This generation featured a sound generator and a new exhaust system with a tailpipe on either side, delivering sound to match the drive experience. In 2011, the vehicle was made available as a convertible for the first time, and marked its 35th anniversary with the “Golf GTI Edition 35”, generating 235 hp. Volkswagen presented the new GTI flagship at the Nürburgring, and it was the first to come very close to reaching 250 km/h (155 mph), hitting 153 mph. Thanks to a power-to-weight ratio of 13 lb/hp, the GTI had become faster than ever before, reaching 62 mph from rest in only 6.6 seconds.
2013 – Golf GTI Mk7
The seventh generation of the GTI was launched with two engine outputs for the first time in spring 2013. The basic version delivered 220 hp, while the Golf GTI Performance could unleash 230 hp. The latter was the first Golf GTI to feature an electronically-controlled torque-sensing limited-slip differential and to be constructed on the modular transverse matrix (MQB). This new technical platform cut the GTI’s weight by up to 92 lb compared with its predecessor, making it even more agile. The 230-hp version with a manual transmission was the first Golf GTI to reach 250 km/h (155 mph). It formed the basis for the Golf GTI Clubsport, presented in action at Portimão race circuit in November 2015, which was capable of delivering up to 290 hp thanks to an overboost function. It took a mere 5.9 seconds to accelerate the vehicle from 0 to 62 mph. A year later, the Golf GTI Clubsport S—with an output of 310 hp—smashed the previous record for front-wheel drive vehicles around the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife in 07:49:21 minutes, reaching a top speed of 164 mph.
Founded in 1955, Volkswagen of America, Inc. is an operating unit of Volkswagen Group of America and a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, with headquarters in Herndon, Virginia. Volkswagen’s operations in the United States include research and development, parts and vehicle processing, parts distribution centers, sales, marketing and service offices, financial service centers, and its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Volkswagen Group is one of the world's largest producers of passenger cars and Europe's largest automaker. Volkswagen sells the Arteon, Atlas, Atlas Cross Sport, Golf, Golf GTI, Jetta, Jetta GLI, Passat, and Tiguan vehicles through more than 600 independent U.S. dealers. Visit Volkswagen online at www.vw.com or media.vw.com to learn more.
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