Yesterday, on my way back home from a supermarket, I drove past a used car dealership that had on display a car that I haven’t seen in quite some time now – a Mk 1 Volkswagen Golf. It was a bright orange 1981 GLS model being sold for CHF 4,400. It had 107,000km (hopefully genuine), a four-speed manual transmission, three doors, and a heater – a very basic car in a world of cars that can now parallel park themselves. However, despite the small number of features that the old Golf had, it was the base for one of the best cars ever made, a base for the first of hot hatches. The Golf GTI.
The VW Golf GTI was first announced in 1975, and it really brought new meaning to the phrase "affordable performance". Instead of using carburettors it made use of fuel injection, which in those days was mainly used in premium brand vehicles and sports cars. The Golf GTI also meant that you could have one car that would give you the thrills you need on an open road, and at the same time have a useful back seat and trunk large enough to carry some luggage as well as groceries. Rather than having to choose between an impractical sports car for fun and a boring practical car (or buying both), the Golf GTI meant you could have one car that does everything.
It came powered by a four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine producing 110hp and 150 Nm of torque. The engine had a cast-iron block and SOHC with two valves per cylinder, sending power to the front wheels – which was a developing new trend at the time as most affordable mass-produced cars were still rear-wheel drive. At 810kg it was very lightweight too, promising agility through the bends. Acceleration from 0-100km/h takes 9 seconds, while its top speed was 180km/h.
The Golf GTI wasn’t only a fun car to drive, it looked good too – even today. Its boxy shape and round headlamps were common design elements for many cars of the day, but it managed to stand out somehow. And in 2013, it looks really cool and unique. The interior of the GTI was minimal, but a neat feature was the golf ball shifter, a feature that’s available even in today’s Golf GTI. The engine grew to 1.8-litres in 1982 and was connected to a five-speed manual rather than the 1.6’s four-speed unit. But at 112hp, power gains were modest to say the least.
Price-wise, they won’t leave your bank account sparkling clean either. An example with less than 150,000km can be had for €4,500 in the Eurozone, while nicer examples can be had from around €7,500. Pristine low-mileage examples can be had for around €15,000. But, if you’re thinking of getting one in rough shape and then restoring it, you can get it for as little as €1,000.
The Mk1 Golf GTI was very reliable too, so if you’re thinking of buying one you shouldn’t be too worried about frequent breakdowns. However they are old cars, so you should take all the precautions of buying an old car, such as: making sure it has a full service history, looking out for oily engine bays, rattles and knocks, rust, and so on.
By Alex Kisiri