The Volkswagen Golf GTI was the original hot hatchback. While there had been faster and better handling cars before - and there had never been any shortage of cars that were more commodious - nothing had ever driven and performed quite as well while also seating five people and their luggage in relative comfort.
That it was also cheap, super-reliable, started and idled fuss-free in even the coldest weather, was as happy to be driven on the ragged edge as it was to amble around the city, and provided class-leading economy were unexpected bonuses. The Golf GTI literally rewrote the book on fast, affordable, sensible motoring.
Unveiled in 1975, the first right-hand-drive cars arrived in the UK in 1979 fitted with a four-speed gearbox. While the early car’s acceleration was very good, the limitations of the close-ratio ‘box were readily apparent at high speed and later models enjoyed a five-speed gearbox. This combination of a long-legged gearbox and free-revving 1600cc fuel-injected engine is thought by many to be the perfect MK1 Golf GTI specification, even if the later 1800cc cars enjoyed a little more mid-range torque and another couple of bhp.
Of course, even the early car’s 110bhp – and the later car’s 112bhp - is plenty in a vehicle that only weighs 840kgs, especially when the lowered and stiffened suspension endows it with the agility of otter in a bath of warm KY jelly.
The interior is funky without trying too hard and the heavily bolstered seats and large rev counter - plus playful touches like the golf ball gearknob and, for some, a red stripe around the dashboard - served as the pattern for all that followed.
As did the car’s exterior, which was discreet to the point of near invisibility – and who’d have thought that all that was required to get out hearts beating faster in the greed-is-good and more-is-always-better eighties was a set of black wheelarch extensions, and a red stripe around the grille?
And no, we know the brakes weren’t up to much but, just like the original Mini, you quickly discovered that you didn’t need to brake half as often in a GTI as you did in other cars…