The recipe is familiar. Take a front-wheel-drive economy and add some spice. That’s how the Volkswagen Golf GTI reinvented the affordable performance car.
With the eighth-generation GTI on the way, VW delved into the car’s origin story.
In 1974, a handful of staffers hatched a plan (no pun intended) for a sporty Golf model, with no official sanctioning from management. The car that became the GTI Mk I started development under the codename EA 195, and was built around a fuel-injected engine making 110 horsepower. Before settling on the name GTI, TS and GTS were also considered. Chief designer Herbert Schäfer—an avid golfer—created one of the car’s signature features by attaching a golf ball to the shift lever.
The Mk I debuted at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show, and went on sale in Europe in June 1976. Unsure of demand, VW originally capped production at 5,000 units—just enough to recoup