::: Chapter One :::
Giorgio Giugiaro and the 'Sport Golf'
In the era of corporate design… the Mark 1 Volkswagen Golf was the last mass-produced car to roll off the drawing board of a single designer. (Futrell 1996 p56)
The Mark One (MK1) Golf was designed by one of the few car designers whose name really stands out in the latter part of this century, Ital Design's 'Giorgio Giugiaro'. Born in the Piedmont region of Italy in 1938, Giugiaro's parents had fully expected him to continue in the family tradition of painting frescos in churches like his father and grandfather before him. At the age of seventeen, having graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Torino, Giorgio was persuaded by Dante Giacosa to work for the Fiat styling centre 'Centro Stile'. He soon became frustrated with Fiat's endemic bureaucracy however and by the age of twenty-one, had moved to the Italian coachbuilder 'Bertone'. Whilst there, under the guidance of the late Nuccio Bertone, he designed the Iso Grifo and the Alfa Romeo Giulia GT. In 1966, Giugiaro moved to Ghia's styling house where he helped design the De Tomaso Mangusta and the Maserati Ghibli. In 1967 he left and started his own company 'Ital Styling', which in 1968 was to become 'ItalDesign'.
Right from their inception, ItalDesign were closely involved with Volkswagen. During the early seventies Volkswagen were floundering. The future of the 'Beetle', by then a thirty-year-old design, was uncertain. In order to revitalise flagging sales Volkswagen enlisted Giugiaro to create a new range of water-cooled, front-engined cars. By introducing these cars alongside the air-cooled Beetle, Volkswagen hoped to modernise their image, working alongside the ItalDesign team as early as 1969. The first Giugiaro designed Volkswagen to appear to the public was the 1970 Tapiro concept car. Produced in conjunction with Porsche, who had in their infancy shared both components and design with Volkswagen, the Tapiro (Fig 1.1) was adventurously styled and in hindsight a clear pointer of things to come. 1971 saw the introduction of the rounded Alfa Romeo 'Alfasud' (Fig 1.2) but it was not until the launch of the 1972 Lotus Esprit (Fig 1.3) that Giugiaro's 'folded-paper styling' was first revealed. The significance of what ItalDesign had created with this stylistic about-turn was not immediately obvious but as the decade continued, the magnitude of what they had done would soon become clear.
When tracking a trend in automotive design over the past three decades, Giorgio Giugiaro always appears at the forefront. His ability to provide production schedules and devise ways of keeping costs down, have contributed significantly to his reputation as one of the world's top car designers (the Fiat panda uses the same shape of glass in its front and rear windscreens for example: Fig 1.4). The list of cars he has designed over his career is to say the least, impressive, including cars as diverse as the Lancia Delta (Fig 1.5), De Lorean, Saab 9000, Fiat Uno (Fig 1.6), Renault 19, the Seat Ibiza and the 1993 Fiat Punto.
1974 however, saw an upturn in Volkswagen's fortunes with the launch of their most important two cars for twenty years. Based on the same front wheel drive, water-cooled, transverse engined 'A2' chassis came the MK 1 Golf and Scirocco. The Scirocco (Fig 1.9) was a sleek low-slung two door coupe bearing unsurprisingly more than a passing resemblance to the Lotus Esprit, whilst the Golf (Fig 1.10), which derived it's name from the German word 'Golfstrom' or ("gulfstream"), was an upright 2 or 4 door hatchback.
Launched at the Geneva Motorshow the Scirocco was offered with three trim levels and three engines, and was met with praise for its crisp styling and fine handling. All Scirocco production was carried out at the Karmann factory as the car had been designed to replace the ageing Beetle-based Karmann Ghia, whilst all Golf production was carried out at Volkswagen's Wolfsburg plant.
The first Golfs, as mentioned, were available in two or four door form, and were offered initially with two engines, a 50BHP 1100cc or a 75 BHP 1600cc.
There are many versions of the series of events that occurred for the first Golf 'GTIs' to emerge. The basic story is the same however. In early 1975, the engineering department at Volkswagen, consisting of only a handful of enthusiastic engineers began what was to become known as the 'Sport Golf' project, to be based on the three door bodyshell of the one year old MK1 Golf. The changes that Herbert Schuster and his team made to the car over the next few months have become legendary and form the basis of the 'Hot Hatch' formula that so many manufacturers have since followed so closely.
Audi's merger with fellow German car manufacturer NSU in the late sixties and the subsequent introduction of the combined businesses into the Volkswagen group, gave the Volkswagen engineers their first access to a reliable water-cooled engine with performance potential, the square stroke 1588cc Audi GT engine. They started by fitting the engine with a traditional Carburettor system, but judiciously switched to a modern Bosch K-Jetronic Fuel Injection system during development. The system specified worked by measuring the engine's air demand characteristics at any given moment, and spraying corresponding amounts of petrol directly into the inlet manifold as needed.
Offering ease of starting and instantaneous throttle response, coupled with significantly improved fuel economy, fuel injection at the heart of the GTI was an unquestionable element of its success…
The biggest structural alteration to the engine was the adoption of bowl-in-piston combustion chambers of a 'Heron' design (dish-headed piston crowns), which allowed the engineers to raise the compression ratio from 8.2:1 to 9.5:1. The inlet valves were enlarged, whilst the main and big end bearings were uprated to cope with the increased engine speeds. These changes raised the output of the engine from 75BHP to 110BHP at 6100rpm, and maximum torque was increased to 101lb ft at 5000 rpm. As the figures suggest, the new engine's peak power was produced at the top end of the rev-range, which coupled with the engines inherent eagerness to rev, forced the inclusion of a rev limiter with a cut-out set at 6900 rpm.
Following lengthy testing, an airdam was added under the bumper at the front of the car to improve stability at speed. To offset the subsequent reduction in airflow over the 'sump', an oilcooler was mounted to the side of the radiator. Placed directly in the air-stream, it helped reduce the higher oil temperatures of the newly tuned engine. Unlike the generation of similar cars that would soon follow in the GTI's footsteps, no other spoilers were fitted to the Golf. A variety of airdams and ailerons were tested, but were ultimately rejected as their marginal benefits were outweighed by their weight and detriment to the car's appearance. As demonstrated later, the prudence of this decision to keep the car subtle is undoubtedly a significant factor in the GTI's success.
With a resultant fifty-seven percent power increase over the standard 1600 Golf, Volkswagen's engineers wisely uprated the braking system. The solid front discs were replaced with ventilated items, whilst a larger servo was included to provide greater pedal assistance. For increased braking safety a load-proportioning valve was fitted to the rear suspension beam. The valve linked between the car and the suspension, directly apportioned rear braking effort according to load in the rear of the car. Under hard braking, the system would automatically lessen braking at the rear as the car began to dive at the nose, thus preventing premature and dangerous rear brake lock.
The 'Sport Golf' retained the standard car's basic suspension arrangement but in a highly uprated format. The MacPherson struts at the front were fitted with Bilstein dampers which offered greater damping rates, whilst the springs were made stiffer and shortened by twenty millimetres.
The bottom of the two front struts were then linked together with an anti roll bar to increase stability under hard cornering. At the rear of the car the trailing arm suspension arrangement was also supplemented by the addition of a further anti roll bar. Once more the damping rate was changed and the springs were shortened. To complete the suspension transformation, the car was equipped with 175 section tyres on 5½-inch rims in place of the standard 155 tyres and 5-inch rims. According to measurements taken by Volkswagen engineers at the time, these modifications served to cut the maximum roll angle whilst cornering from 6.5°, to under 4.5°. At the same time the maximum sustainable cornering-force attainable at a steady speed was raised from 0.73g to an impressive 0.81g (Motor 1976 p 7).
A limited run of 5000 cars was given the go-ahead by Volkswagen's 'still unimpressed marketing department' (What Car? 1996 p2) and a prototype wearing a GTI badge for the first time was unveiled in August 1975. The first production Golf GTIs made their public debut one-month later at the Frankfurt Motorshow.
Fig 1.11: The 1976 limited edition Golf 'GTI' (Source: Blunsden 1992 p22)