Volkswagen Golf GTI (1976-84): Old School Hot-Hatchery

Credited with popularizing fast, practical, reliable and affordable motoring the Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI arrived just after the Renault 5 Alpine/Gordini in 1976, and kick-started the hot hatch segment. With sharp styling, light weight, eager handling and room for five, the GTI was the everyday sports car. Agile and nimble the GTI was at home on snaking switchbacks or city streets. A junior yuppie-mobile with strong brand recognition, the GTI’s premise as a youth-oriented premium urban compact is coming back in vogue among many manufacturers.

Recognizably a product of its milieu, the Golf GTI’s design is however timelessly elegant, with clear, uncluttered and purposeful lines and surfaces. One of Giugiaro’s masterpieces, the GTI’s sharp lines and angles emit an unpretentious clarity, un-aggressive athleticism, subtle tension and graceful minimalism. Successive Golf generations have – to varying degrees of success – tried to emulate the original’s detailing and basic shape, but none match the Mk1’s aesthetic purity. Tight dimensions, low weight and big glasshouse also contributed to its sense of uncorrupted driving clarity.

With tall upright glasshouse, straight lines, thin pillars and body panels, the Mk1 GTI’s cabin is more spacious than expected, Good front head room and rear space, and excellent visibility allow for confidence and precision when hustling along narrow lanes or negotiating tight parking spaces. Though Spartan compared to modern cars’s kit, the GTI’s simple dials, buttons and wind-up windows are however user-friendly, while the lovingly-preserved factory-owned 1983 version’s contemporary hard plastics still looked fresh and its buttons and gear lever still felt crisp.

With a still respectable 8.2-second 0-100km/h time, the driven 1982+ face-lift version’s larger 1.8-liter engine was introduced to off-set slight weight gain and keep up with newer rivals. Only slightly more powerful than the earlier 1.6 the 1.8 benefits from more flexible mid-range torque. Little insulated and gruff by modern standards, the Mk GTI’s rich 109lb/ft at 3500rpm mid-range, 112HP at 5800rpm and low 860kg weigh means it pulls away briskly and is effortlessly flexible when on-the-move and in any of its precise and crisp shifting 5-speeds.

Agile, nimble, light and darty the Mk1 GTI was a natural B-road corner carver. Eager into corners the Mk1 is predictably thrilling at the limit, where inside rear tire lift-up could be provoked. Sporty and focused back then, the Mk1’s 185/60HR14 tires and suspension are supple and lean considerable by modern standards, but have a nice compromise of grip, feedback and comfort. Manageably un-assisted steering becomes light and feelsome at speed, but long lock-to-lock ratio felt dated when furiously shuffled through tight bends.

  • Specifications
  • Engine: 1.8-liter, 8-valve SOHC, fuel injection, transverse, 4-cylinders
  • Bore x stroke: 81 x 86.4mm
  • Compression ratio: 10:1
  • Gearbox: 5-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
  • 0-80km/h: 6.2-seconds
  • 0-100km/h: 8.2-seconds
  • Top speed: 183km/h
  • Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 110 (112) (82) @ 5800rpm
  • Specific power: 61.8BHP/liter
  • Power-to-weight: 127.9BHP/ton
  • Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 109 (148) @ 3500rpm
  • Specific torque: 83.1Nm/liter
  • Fuel consumption, 90km/h / 120km/h / urban: 5.9- / 7.7- / 6-liters/100 km
  • Length: 3815mm
  • Width: 1628mm
  • Height: 1394mm
  • Wheelbase: 2400mm
  • Tread width, F/R: 1405/1372mm
  • Ground clearance: 117mm
  • Kerb weight: 860kg
  • Steering: Rack & pinion
  • Suspension, F/R: MacPherson struts / torsion beam
  • Brakes, F/R: disks / drums
  • Tires: 185/60HR14