Is the Mk1 VW Golf GTI the perfect attainable classic car? Johannesburg's Stuart König believes it is!
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is arguably one of the most loved cars in South Africa. Consider the fact that more than half of the Golfs sold in South Africa are GTI models, then you realise just how successful this model was, and is. We’ve even got a nickname for the sound the (modern) GTIs make - Vrr-pah!
Interestingly, the idea to develop a higher performance variant of the Golf was not very high on the agenda back in the mid-‘70s. Instead, the concept was largely driven by six people at Volkswagen in Germany. Originally named the “Sport Golf”, the idea was presented to the management board in March 1975, after which it officially became the development order EA195. The world premiere occurred only a few months later, in September at the Frankfurt International Motor Show. It went on sale the next year and in Germany it retailed for DM13 850.
Interestingly, names considered for the car included TS and even GTS, but GTI won at the end of the day. The chief designer, Herbert Schäfer, who was a keen golfer, got his way by changing the gear knob to what is now the legendary golf ball top of the gear lever. VW planned (hoped?) to sell 5 000 units to recoup the expense of the development and investment in this new compact model, but in the end 461 690 were manufactured.
It was several years later, near the end of 1982, that the GTI was finally launched in South Africa. The 1,8-litre, four-cylinder engine was good for 82 kW and 153 Nm at the time. CAR magazine tested it in January 1983 and achieved a top speed of 182 km/h and a sprint time from standstill to 100 km/h in 9,3 seconds. The one kilometre sprint was done in 30,7 seconds.
The König family of Johannesburg are all motoring enthusiasts and Stuart explains how they landed up owning this special hot hatch: “My dad always had this goal of participating in motorsport with my brother and myself. After teaching us how to drive, he got us Mark 1 VW Golfs which we raced for a number of years. After a while my brother said to me we need to find an original Golf 1 GTI, just to experience it.”
Stuart, with his brother and father, finally found the GTI featured here and purchased it. Since then they’ve tried to keep the car in as good a condition as possible, as well as entirely original. Apart from participating in breakfast runs or meeting up with fellow enthusiasts, the longest trip they have done with the car was from Johannesburg to Durban. “It was a very relaxed trip, as we drove down over the course of a weekend. We have really made some quality memories with both the car and people involved in the motoring world.”
There was more to the first-generation GTI than outright performance. Here was a “run-of-the-mill” car with an additional layer of performance that didn’t cost too much, but which was still able to provide driving thrills to the enthusiast. The GTI featured some notable styling differences to set it apart from the standard Golfs. These included the now-iconic GTI badge, the red lining around the grille, the rubber front spoiler and the wheelarch extensions.
CAR magazine ended its January 1983 road test with the following statement: “It is a prince among the light cars and sure to cause a wide ripple of excitement.” Its legend lives on.
Car: Volkswagen Golf GTI MK1 (1984)
Engine: 1 781 cm3, in-line, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 82kW at 5 800 rpm
Compression ratio: 10:1
Torque: 153Nm at 3 500 rpm
Top speed: 182kph
0-100 km/h: 9,3 seconds (tested by CAR magazine)
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Wheelbase: 2 400 mm
Weight: 860 kg