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Golf GTi reaches middle age

By raccars Published

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This year sees the original and arguably the definitive hot hatch reach its 40th birthday.

As the Golf GTi reaches middle age, its appeal is broader than ever. The modern GTi remains cutting edge and leads the market in its class, while earlier versions have developed massive retro appeal and are becoming highly desirable collectable items.

The genesis of the Golf GTi

The standard Golf was released in 1974, breathing new life into the rather lacklustre hatchback format at the time. A couple of years later, the engineering team at VW added a bit of spice to German life by sticking a 1.6 litre fuel injected 110bhp Audi engine under the Golf's bonnet. A bit of suspension tuning and a sharp body kit later and VW had what it intended to produce as a limited edition Golf Sport on its hands. For some reason the name was changed to Golf GTi, and instead of the planned 5,000 units, the Golf GTi has lasted 40 years and seven generations.

The term 'hot hatch' had yet to be invented in 1976 and the first Golf GTi was in a class of its own. The only other really affordable sports cars were the rather tired looking MGB, and the Ford Escorts 1600 Sport and RS2000, but these were saloons and very different beasts to the cheeky Golf. It wasn't until the Eighties that the hot hatch scene really warmed up, and then all the big names started producing GTi rivals.

Even now those Mk1 models are ridiculously entertaining, weighing only a little over 800kg and they are clearly eager to please. The early GTi also makes a great amateur restoration project, with a cheap and plentiful supply of parts and an enthusiastic and helpful GTi owners' community on hand.

The original fuel injected Audi engine was very advanced for the Seventies, when carburettors were standard. It was also surprisingly economical; essential given the fuel shortages of that decade. Later on a 1.8 litre unit was added with 112bhp, lots of extra torque and a five speed gearbox instead of the original four. This showed VW really hitting its stride and paved the way for the second generation GTi in 1983.

The second generation

VW sensibly stuck with what was already working well for the second generation model, simply making a few necessary updates such as a new, 2.0 litre 16 valve engine. However by the time the third generation hit the market in 1991, the hot hatch landscape was getting pretty crowded and VW had some serious competition to overcome. The third GTi was slightly larger but followed the successful blueprint used by its predecessors.

The Golf GTi continues to evolve

The 1997 Mk4 Golf GTi saw some significant updates, including a more sophisticated design and an expanded engine range, including diesel units. The fifth generation model in 2004 was even smarter, with some nice touches including a nod to the original GTi with the return of the distinctive red trim elements and plaid upholstery. The most significant changes however were mechanical. Once again the GTi was made available with only one engine, a brilliant turbo charged 2.0 litre offering 197bhp. This was a very refined and seriously fast Golf and it was a big commercial hit.

VW made few updates for the Mk6 GTi in 2009, which was replaced by the seventh generation in 2012. While the Mk7 looks familiar, it rides upon the all new and ultra-modern MQB platform architecture. It's larger but lighter, more powerful and more efficient than ever. It continues to embody the perfect combination of practicality and performance that have made the GTi so popular and enduringly relevant over four decades.

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