::: The high volume Golf :::
With the introduction of the Golf GTI as a specific and influential model, several distinct factors in this study can be distinguished as pivotal to the car's success:
To avoid endangering customer allegiance, Volkswagen chose to introduce the lower volume Scirocco before the Golf. Sharing the same underpinnings, and being nearly mechanically identical, this was the easiest way to give dealerships service experience of the model. At the same time this strategy also allowed Volkswagen to eliminate any faults in the design before full-volume Golf production began.
The 'Sport Golf' development team within Volkswagen elected to bestow the highest profile on the high-volume Golf. This allied well with the appearance of the consequent 'GTI', a car which was obviously fast yet which remained understated, to create a model whose distinction reflected considerably on the rest of the visually similar range. The admirable light weight and rigidity of the base car, meant that building the GTI presented no manufacturing difficulties, and the delay introducing the car in RHD form to the United Kingdom worked well to hype anticipation of its eventual arrival.
With the GTI, Volkswagen chose to use the mid-lifespan period of the model to address its shortcomings rather than scrap the car and introduce a replacement model. Over both the nine-year life of the MK1 and the eight-year life of the MK2 Golf GTI, Volkswagen opted to keep the model line-up stable and to tweak, rather than transform the cars. Once aware of the value of the GTI concept, when introducing the MK2 GTI, Volkswagen were careful to engineer a car that offered clearly measurable progress in the boundaries of performance and packaging, whilst retaining the visual identity of a 'Golf'. Care was taken to retain the original Giugiaro designed car's most idiosyncratic feature, its broad rear C-panel, whilst the weight gain of what was now a larger car was offset by improved aerodynamic efficiency.
In the years that preceded the launch of the MK2, design prototypes covered 4 million test track miles, and spent many months testing under extremes of temperature in both the Arctic and the Tropics. Volkswagen claimed the development had involved an investment of almost £500 million, and this development unquestionably paid off over the subsequent eight years.
Two years into the life of the MK2, Volkswagen engineered both the introduction of a 16-valve range-topper and the start of a modern series of creative commercials. In so doing Volkswagen 'repositioned' the car within the market. They were offering increased status at an increased price, at a time when most manufacturers would have expected to start reducing the price. Once again the prestige of the 16-valve reflected powerfully on the rest of the range and on Volkswagen themselves.
Both the MK1 and MK2 Golf GTI's received only one visual change each during their combined seventeen-year life. Both changes were centred around bumper improvements and neither were so extreme as to devalue former cars. Throughout the study, continual reference has been made to both the car's understated nature and the length of time for which it remained valid. The combination of these factors is perhaps the most crucial aspect. For whilst the GTI was undoubtedly the fastest car of it's generation, its charm also lay with the assurances that came with it. These assurances of quality and sincerity were not explicit but implied. They were based on Volkswagen's reputation for quality, based on the solidity of the car and based on the social acceptability of driving a credible mode of transport.
Whether or not you were driving the very latest GTI remained both unclear and irrelevant. 'What Volkswagen hit upon in 1976 was an idea of such common sense that it transcended the fickleness of mere fashion' (Frankel 1996 p5). The Golf GTI was a car you aspired to own, a car that you could understand, and a car which those around you could understand.
Unsaid at the time, but obvious with bifocal hindsight, is the fact that the Golf GTI wasn't really a Volkswagen at all. In effect it was the only convincing entry level Porsche there has ever been. (Bulgin 1996 p7)
Volkswagen, Giugiaro, and the 'Sport Golf' team had created a car that was small, nimble, quick, rewarding, and fairly practical. They had created a car that was focused, without becoming inappropriate. Consumers may have wanted an open top two-seater, but they needed a hard top four-seater. The GTI carried luggage without stigma. It was the first all round sports car which had enough room for 'most' occasions. It was distinguishable however by not having too much room for any other occasion.
The long-term effect of the Golf GTI is perhaps unclear. Both Volkswagen and their users have matured. As to whether the market could sustain a modern incarnation of the 'MK1 GTI' is uncertain. The formula exists and the market continues, but as to whether a manufacturer could create a car of such intensity whilst answering every modern grievance remains unseen…