The Golf GTI still looks the part 40 years af­ter it was in­tro­duced – but to ap­pre­ci­ate its im­pact you have to drive it and sam­ple its per­for­mance

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Auction News -

It’s the fizz that wins your heart – each time you open the throt­tle on an open piece of road, feel the rush of ac­cel­er­a­tion and watch the tacho nee­dle rac­ing for the red­line. This boistrous bun­dle was built to put a smile on your face – again and again, and again.

Very few cars are as spe­cial as the Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI. Equally, only a hand­ful are hard­wired into your synapses quite as ef­fec­tively. The Ger­man gi­ant’s bosses might have scep­ti­cal about the prospects of a sport­ing Golf be­fore they drove the orig­i­nal pro­to­type in 1975, but hearts and minds changed when they gave the fi­fi­nal prod­uct a good see­ing to at the Wolfs­burg test track.

At fi­first glance, they’d have seen some­thing sub­dued and sub­tle, with few hints to what lay be­neath. To­day, one of those hints, that red-pin­striped grille, has be­come the sig­na­ture for all that’s great about the GTI. Then there’s the deep front spoiler and the whee­larch ex­ten­sions.

Volk­swa­gen wasn’t the in­ven­tor of the hot hatch or even the fi­first to slap G, T and I on the rump of a car. But th­ese lovely vis­ual touches re­mind you how the man­u­fac­turer has made both its own.

Slide into the in­te­rior and the im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion is of a car that means busi­ness. It has an ap­peal­ingly min­i­mal­ist de­sign – ev­ery fea­ture has been honed with the keen driver in mind. The on­board com­puter, known in VW-speak as the MFA, was ad­vanced for its time, and still very use­ful to­day. It’s the same with the gearchange in­di­ca­tor for sav­ing fuel – smart, prac­ti­cal. The golf­ball gear­knob has be­come as iconic as St An­drews, and is still used in mod­ern day GTIs.

The driv­ing po­si­tion is ex­cel­lent. You sit high in the slim-pil­lared in­te­rior, and are pre­sented with a com­mand­ing view out. Plac­ing this hatch­back on the road is a piece of cake, as a con­se­quence. And it’s a friendly place – not a word you’d gen­er­ally as­so­ciate with sports cars.

Fire it up, and the en­gine siz­zles en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, goad­ing you into play­ing foot­sie with the throt­tle. Pull away, and the light clutch, pos­i­tive gearchange and agree­ably weighty steer­ing fill you with con­fi­fi­dence and joy. Even in town, you’ll fifind your­self want­ing to slice through rush-hour like a Parisian taxi driver.

But the fun has only just be­gun. Hit the B-roads, turn it up to 11, and the GTI truly wakes up. The steer­ing feeds back the road sur­face in minute de­tail, and loads up re­mark­ably in bends – it’s a good feel­ing, and there are huge amounts of grip. It’s ad­dic­tively chuck­able. You will love the way it tucks in as you trail off the throt­tle, coun­ter­ing any un­wanted un­der­steer – al­though other road users might fifind the way it will cock its in­side rear wheel in the air in tight turns just a tad alarm­ing.

Our Cam­paign model is pow­ered by the later 1781cc en­gine, push­ing out 112bhp and 109lb ft. This is enough punch to give this 860kg hatch­back gen­uinely thrilling ac­cel­er­a­tion. It’s not all about revs like the ear­lier 1.6-litre GTI, even though it pulls cleanly to 7000rpm. There’s plenty of torque, and it hauls strongly from as low as 2500rpm – just like a large-en­gined small car should.

All the sto­ries about the GTI’s poor brakes are spot on, though, which can erode some of that con­fi­fi­dence and joy when crack­ing on. Com­ing to a halt can take a fair bit of ef­fort on the middle pedal, even if the un­der­ly­ing qual­ity of the stop­ping power is there.

In short, the Golf GTI de­serves all the praise that’s been heaped on it over the years. It is a gen­uine phe­nom­e­non, a gamechang­ing sports car. It’s also one that’s al­most as good to drive now as the lat­est ver­sion in the line. You will be much more for­giv­ing of the orig­i­nal’s few dy­namic flaws, and more ap­pre­cia­tive of the crack­er­jack feel­ing you get ev­ery time you hit the road in it.

A new more mod­ern dash­board was in­tro­duced into the Golf in 1981 along with wider tail lights. Gi­u­giaro de­signed, and honed by Volk­swa­gen, the GTI has a time­less shape and is as ex­hil­a­rat­ing to drive as ever, de­spite hit­ting 40 this year. The UK was only ever to re­ceive three-door mod­els, but Ger­many, Bel­gium and South Africa got fi­five-door 1.8 GTIs. The cam­paign spe­cial edi­tion model was fi­fit­ted with 14in Pirelli P-slot wheels. Sim­i­lar al­loys were also avail­able for the MkII GTI. Cor­rect MkI wheels have larger Ps and the cen­tre caps should have Pirelli stamped on them.

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