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The Top Gear car review:Volkswagen Golf GTi Mk1

An icon. And with good reason


Great fun, might make you money


Watch for rust


What is it?

A car that needs no introduction, but we’re gonna give it one anyway. It may not have been the first ‘hot hatch’ per se, but the MK1 Golf GTI is considered by many to be the “spiritual father of hot hatchery” – the car that gave birth to a phenomenon.

Story goes that VW engineer Alfons Löwenberg saw the potential in his company’s then-new supermini, so he gathered together a group of like-minded colleagues willing to work in their spare time on what they called the ‘Sport Golf’. When it was done they showed it to the execs, who were so impressed they gave it the green-light.

So at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show VW unveiled the Golf GTI (gran turismo injection). Save for the chin-spoiler, tartan upholstery and much pin-striping, it looked remarkably like a regular Golf. But under the bonnet was the 1.6-litre, fuel injected engine from the Audi 80 GT, which gave 0-60mph in around nine seconds and a top speed of 110mph. Not fast by today’s standards, but plenty pokey enough for the early Eighties.

Later MK1s had enlarged 1.8-litre engines (and five-speed gearboxes, rather than four) which made little more power (112bhp plays 108) but nonetheless helped them to 60mph in eight seconds. Torque increased from 103lb ft at 5,000rpm to 109lb ft at 3,500rpm. At 840kg, it’s 14kg lighter than the most featherweight modern-day VW – the Up – and near enough half the weight of a MK7.5 GTI.

Right-hand drive cars arrived in the UK in 1979. In its first, full year on sale VW shifted more than 1,500 of the things – signalling Brits’ desire for a practical, accessible performance car.