Used car review

VW Golf GTi Hatch 

The Best Hot Hatch?

Lego Land

Back to 1979 - the MK1 Golf GTi was created as a three-door hatch with 1600cc-engine, CIS injection and 4-speed transmission. Allied to V Dubs Meccano square three-door hatch.

It included sports front seats, alloy wheels, stereo & body mouldings. Braking was by front discs and rear shoes with servo. This was absolutely the very first "hot hatch".
It's sales and mass production assisted VW from near bankruptcy along with the Polo and Scirocco in the mid to late 1970s as it sho
VW Golf GTi Hatch 1996ok off its dowdy one product image (VW still hate the Beetle for the direction it pushed the company).

At the time it was said to run on rails and perform excellently.

Has it changed?

Driving the first GTi Golf for the first time was a pleasure.  It accelerated hastily, stopped reasonably and handled as if on the proverbial rails.  The seats were a little Blackpool deck chair-ish with their striping and colour schemes. It was very noisy with an intrusive exhaust note at high revs. No janspeed needed here for attention and instant gratification. The tappets were always noisy; nobody ever adjusted them due to their design and the special tooling required.

The GTi was basically a standard Golf with a 1600i engine with moderate up-rating to the suspension braking and specification. The transmission was quickly changed to a 5-speed which, at the time, was like offering a child a Raleigh Chopper with three gears.  Everybody wanted it.


Volkswagen later introduced the Golf GTi Cabriolet with folding "pram" hood which was an instant hit; it had a certain style and excellent affordability.  It was so much sought after second hand that, for a while, it just did not depreciate.

The handling on the Cabriolet was not so good - a little like going into a rough sea in a canoe.

You simply did not go out too far in fear that you might not get back.

Volkswagen Golf GTi rear quarter

In late 1982 the 1800cc-mk11 version arrived and what a difference size made.

The Clio may now get an extra 2cm but the Golf got 200cc and what a difference it made! I would prefer the 200cc to 2cm any time. In car terms you cannot use 2cm but you can play and enjoy an extra 200cc (only a man could write these comments. Ed).

The car drove much, much better and subdued the currently challenging manufacturers back into less than 1st place thus keeping the Golf's credibility as "The Hot Hatch" and sending them scurrying back to their design boards.

But the brakes did not get upgraded.

The extra power was exhilarating until you tried to stop from very high speed. If you were facing downhill at the time, the transmission actually felt like it did more braking than the front brakes.  Yes, you have the idea - a car that had superb balance with more muscle more grace. But, with small front discs and rear brake shoes, it could not be stopped with any urgency whatever the weather or driver intention. The brakes got hot and the driver and passengers did the same with fret. Good job it handled so well as only the steering could save over-eager drivers of the early GTis.

VW Golf Git Dashboard

However, the Golf GTi did get a very useful multi function computer which is still in use today (what do you do with that then? Chuck it out the window as an anchor? Ed) The Campaign model, a limited edition, came next with twin front headlights, factory sunroof made of steel, leather rim steering wheel and 14" Pirelli alloys with 185 60 tyres. This was like owning a JPS Capri 5 years earlier but how different it was! The Ford was not very forgiving for average drivers but here was a new standard, having the ability to drive fast using front wheel drive - a combination which proved very successful then and is still here today.

Agreed, rear wheel drive can be better but not for most people most of the time. But most people cannot or do not drive fast cars to their limits and still own it as a car and not as scrap or a paid insurance cheque (or with an intact driving licence. Ed).

When the MKIII arrived it was a totally new car available in both 3 and 5 door versions but the Cabriolet remained unchanged.

So what did change?

Thankfully the brakes did! Discs and pads front and rear with larger brake discs and pads allowing the driver to go and, indeed, to stop when wanting to.

The body was impressively improved.  There was an entirely different feeling to the car but it had considerable changes in design to the body style and engine types with the introduction of the 16V engine.  16 valves at that time were considered advanced and here it was - a four cylinder 16 Valve performance engine in a production car and a hatchback at that (not quite a first although the Triumph Dolomite Sprint had a 16V back in 1976, producing power not so far away from the 139 bhp fuel injected VW Golf GTi).

Engine management systems and suspension was also improved.  Power assisted steering, electric windows and much more were introduced which took away the rough edges and refined the GTi, giving it an almost timid feel similar to a saloon car destined for a family of 3.7.

Every development seemed to make improvements such that the sense of speed and movement were being removed from the car whilst driving, thus creating a smoother and more comfortable ride much different to its predecessor.  Despite the loss of its sharp cutting edge it was still a very much desirable car much in demand by those who wished to bask in the legend of the early models.

This model was produced for approximately one decade.

In the late eighties was it still the most desirable GTi?  Or were the Peugeot 205 & 309 GTi, Ford XR2 & XR3I,RS, Toyota Corolla GTi, 16V Vauxhall Astra GTE taking some of the spotlight?

The hot hatch market had exploded with high sales and indeed good residuals as the public jumped for these pocket rockets.

The 205 became car of the decade with both 1600 GTi and the very responsive 1900 GTi (the touch-the-gas-and-go model) being very much in demand.  And the Astra launched its 16V GTE which was considerably faster than the VW if you could stop the front wheels from spinning madly under hard acceleration.

With all of this competition the Golf would have appeared to be under pressure in the market place but the market had changed and it was normal vehicle sales which moderately suffered until.....

Insurance premiums rocketed in the late eighties and early nineties to extremely high prices and boy do we mean high with a capital H.  Some models were just being plain declined by the insurance houses.

Any owner of hot hatches, particularly the Ford Sierra Cosworth, who was unfortunate enough to have a poor history or no claims were made to pay huge premiums or simply refused.  Personally, I'm not so sure that the premiums were disproportionate as the anti theft systems at the time were very inadequate.  The joy riders and thieves took advantage of this, much to the car owners and insurance companies indignation.

A demise begun?

With no demand residuals fell. The youths simply discovered it almost impossible to insure anything remotely speedy, resulting in cars such as the Vauxhall Nova SR becoming desirable!!!

It is difficult to imagine why.  It wasn't fast, it was ugly, the steering wheel was off centre, it didn't handle, it didn't have anything going for itself apart from a low group insurance.  But with stellar prices that was all that really mattered.

Later into the nineties the market changed again, similar to the motorcycle market. Dare I say "older" people went back to their youth and began to once more buy the cars of the early eighties with even the lost car style of the Coupe becoming popular again?

Is it true when we say what goes around then comes around?  In 1993 the MK 1V came back with a bang and once again what a change.  But this is not like a VW GTi.

It is smooth and refined with more improvements including side impact protection and security refinements.  Some editions now have such luxuries as full leather trim, air conditioning and option packs similar to high-class fleet vehicles.

The performance of this GTi was also not so special in the current market place.  Not that it had become slow but, in a way similar to football, the Germans have been caught up by the rest of the world (Brits excepted. Ed).  All the same, they are still extremely good and very consistent in their engineering qualities, developing a product with power and grace.


and it's a big but, the new GTis are now surpassed by many 2.0 saloon cars with 0-60 speeds and top end performance being comparable.

So what has happened?  Technology has not really improved that much over the last decade or so but achievements are now in fuel consumption, weight gains and refinements.

The technological refinement in petrol engines without using super charging or turbo charging has more or less remained static over the last ten years and the advent of the catalytic converter even set things back a touch.  All the market, safety, environmental and economic pressures have merely funnelled all manufacturers down an increasingly narrow channel where cars become less and less distinct and any character they display is squashed out in the name of uniformity.

The new GTis are here now with an array of Turbo-charged 8 valve, multi valve and V type engines producing various levels of power output to captivate the individuals who buy them.  The refinements and options now exceed many executive saloons and they are still competing with old enemies and still managing to achieve new sales with a relatively strong after market demand.  However, the high days of hot hatches as the ultimate fashion accessory are well and truly gone and the new, harder super icons are winging in from the Orient for the truly committed.  It's only a pity manufacturers didn't take security seriously when they where selling droves of the things but why would they when one stolen was another prospective sale?  Short sighted maybe and in the end they caused their own downfall.

If you still must have a hot hatch then, with the benefit of hindsight, the Original Golf is definitely a better car than most, if not all, of it's competitors.  It's this pedigree that still makes them so popular and encourages us to continue to buy them.  Many very old ones are still to be seen today going about their daily routines reliably and without much oxidation to the bodies.  They are already a guaranteed classic.  If you can get a MKI or II buy it now as they aren't going to get any cheaper.

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