As the Tokyo Summer Olympics draw to a close, it’s time for the third and final chapter in our review of the all-time top scoring countries and their best-selling cars.
Taking home bronze is Germany’s all-time best-seller – the Volkswagen Golf. Since launch, the model has sold 7 million examples in Germany alone – and over 35 million worldwide as of 2019. Now in its eighth generation, VW’s ubiquitous hatchback is the automotive equivalent of a hole in one.
In the 1960s, Volkswagen had a problem. It’s iconic original people’s car – the Beetle – was a three-decade-old design, and rivals from England and France were beginning to worry Wolfsburg.
Early attempts to replace the Beetle began as far back as 1950; a mark of how difficult an act it was to follow. As the years rolled on, sub-par design exercises alongside Pininfarina and Porsche resulted in mounting pressure and falling profits. Then, in 1974, the Golf arrived to change the game completely. A design so well thought out, it stayed on sale in South Africa until 2009 in the form of the largely unchanged Citi Golf.
Though VW itself has managed the way a Golf looks since the second generation, it called on the expertise of Italdesign guru Giorgetto Guigiaro for the original. The Mk1’s crisp, straight-lined, two-box shape was a complete contrast against the Beetle’s curves. A horizontal grille and thick C-pillar made their debut and have been present on each generation since.
The front-engine, front-drive format was also a complete U-turn on the layout of the Golf’s aging predecessor. Immediately, Volkswagen established the model as it’s very own answer to everything. Drivers could choose three or five door options, or even a versatile van. A practical pick-up version - the Caddy – teed off Volkswagen’s brand of Golf humour. It would go on to include Driver and Match trim levels, not forgetting a multicoloured Harlequin special edition.
By 1975, development of a high-performance version was almost complete. The original fast Golf was the idea of two engineers, who initially began the project against the will of Volkswagen itself. The GTI was presented to management that year, who reluctantly approved 5000 production models, that would at least homologate the Golf for racing.
Such was the manufacturer’s faith in the original Golf GTI, it was made available to UK customers in left-hand-drive format only in 1977. The rest, as they say, is history. A deluge of orders meant supply couldn’t keep up with demand, and the ‘original hot hatch’ became the car of the moment - spawning countless imitations over the following decades.
Today, the Golf remains as loved as it always has been. A new eighth-gen e-Golf has arrived to turn the model all-electric and is already a sales smash hit. Complete with horizontal grill and thick C-pillar, it promises to keep the game alive for generations to come.
Is the Golf GTI the original hot hatch – or do you have other ideas? Let us know in the comments below.