The VW Golf I GTI is the original hot hatch
Actually... not quite!
There are cars like these. Cars that have reached a mythological status and that will always be remembered for their greatness, or their historical significance. The car we are reviewing today fits the definition perfectly and completely redefined a genre of vehicles that is so dear to us petrolheads, the hot hatch. Even though powerful engines in compact cars seem to be pretty common today, this trend surely had to start somewhere and that somewhere was the Golf. Yes, the most "normal" car that was ever created also introduced a version that would be on every '70s teenager's walls.
I'm of course talking about the Golf GTI or, in other words, the world's first ever proper hot hatch. And I'm saying proper because many people argue that the 1973 Simca 1100 Ti, or the Autobianchi Abarth actually came first. Maybe, but the Golf GTI which appeared three years later in 1976 was a complete game changer and set the foundations of what was about to come. In fact, the Golf GTI still exists today, eight generations later, and is still considered by many as the benchmark of hot hatches. Today, we go back in time to see where it all started.
When my friends from Private Car Collection told me they had acquired an MK1 Golf GTI, I was first a bit skeptical, and that's because I know how hard it is to find one in mint condition today unless you're ready to pay big bucks. I know my friends have high standards, but they aren't also crazy enough to overspend. Therefore, I was curious to see what they would end up with but, boy was I wrong to have doubts. The car is just perfect! Finished in this beautiful black colour over tartan seats, the car is completely stock and was first registered in 1978 in Geneva. With just over 100'000 km on the odometer, that GTI is in superb condition and apparently Private Car Collection still managed to get a good price for it.
For the people who were born in a cave, here is a quick explanation of what the Golf GTI is and how it came to be. Like all great car stories, this one starts in the seventies during an engineer's spare time. Alfons Löwenberg who was back then working for Volkswagen had the idea to create a sports car out of the Golf, the "Sport Golf". He and other engineers with the same vision got together in their spare time and produced this car that truly impressed VW execs. It's at the 1975 Frankfurt auto show that the manufacturer from Wolfsburg introduced the Golf GTI (gran turismo injection). Apart from the chin spoiler, the red linings around the front grille, the sporty tartan seats, and the golfball-like gearshift knob, it looks exactly like your regular Golf. An assertive design which famously earned it the "wolf in sheep's clothing" designation. If you know, you know, but the rest of people will believe it's just a usual Golf. A recipe that Volkswagen still keeps to this day, and that has made the success of the model. The design of the MK1 Golf is, in my opinion, the best-looking across the eight generations thanks to its clean and simple lines. You can thank Giorgetto Giugiaro for that.
When the car was introduced, it was equipped with the fuel-injected 1.6 four-cylinder engine from the Audi 80 GT that made 110 horsepower paired to a four-speed gearbox. With only 810 kg on the balance, that was enough to take the car from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 183 km/h. It doesn't seem like much but that's not the point. No, the original GTI is all about putting a huge smile on your face and remind you of what is the very essence of hot hatches, fun! At times when new cars can feel numb and disconnected, the original Golf GTI is the complete opposite. It feels alive, nimble and despite the lack of grip that makes the GTI not very forgiving, it's a rewarding car to drive. Yes, it's only when you manage to find the limit that you truly understand the magic of the GTI. If it still does not feel like enough, Volkswagen upgraded its sports car with a 1.8l engine paired to a 5-speed gearbox in 1982. You only got two extra horsepower, but hey the looks were slightly different.
It's not a surprise that the first Volkswagen Golf GTI became a legend that left an indelible mark in the automobile history. It was so successful in terms of sales that many manufacturers have copied Volkswagen's recipe. For some it has worked, like for the Peugeot 205 GTI or the Renault Clio Williams, but most never managed to get the aura and recognition of the car that defined the hot hatch segment. Yes, even though VW may not have invented this niche, it definitely helped to set the tone for what was coming next. In fact, today's Golf GTI is still regarded as one of the best driver's cars money can buy, proving that the German automaker has managed to constantly bring its iconic model to a new level. Is the initial Golf GTI the best hot hatch ever? I won't answer this sensitive question, but all I can tell you is that it's Private Car Collection's favorite car in their entire collection. Since they have quite the cars, that means a lot.
I would like to extend my gratitude to my friends from Private Car Collection. They have been nice enough to let us review their car. They have a pretty cool collection of cars that you can see on their Instagram account or Facebook page. Without them, this article could have never been possible.
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VW Golf GTI