The VolkswagenGolf has forged its legacy by pushing boundaries, showcasing radical design, and giving drivers incredible performance. To celebrate its illustrious past properly, we’ve put together a comprehensive profile for each of the Marks. Take a deeper look into the history of the Golf, meet the people who made it happen, and learn about the events that shaped the times. Be sure to check back regularly as we’ll be publishing new profiles soon.
Golf Mk1 (1974 - 1983): The birth of an icon
As 1974 dawned, Volkswagen was preparing to launch its ambitious replacement for the much-loved Beetle. The Golf was a revolutionary car during a time when revolution was in the air, but would the world be ready for it?
The Golf was a big moment for Volkswagen. Legendary car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, looked towards minimalism, a style that had risen to prominence in the early Seventies. Its influence was evident in the Golf’s disciplined, scalpel-sharp lines that simultaneously maximised interior space and announced that this would be a very different car to the famously curvaceous Beetle.
Another revolution in the Golf was the decision to switch from the air-cooled, rear-mounted engines of early Volkswagens to a water-cooled, front-mounted engine, an adaptation that offered improved performance and lower emissions. Just a year after its launch, the Golf Mk1 was firmly established as one of the most popular cars in the UK – a position it has held ever since.
Then in 1977, two unapologetically modern icons erupted into the mainstream. The first was punk, a snarling, explosive contrast to the glitter and glamour of disco. The second was the Golf GTI.
Like punk, which was created in bedrooms and bedsits across the country, the GTI was the product of an unofficial, after-hours project by Volkswagen engineers. They shared an unlikely (and almost certainly unintentional) vision with punk too - to create something aggressive and fast and uncompromising.
The Golf GTI even had tartan seats, an echo of the celebrated tartan trousers designed by Vivienne Westwood and worn by the likes of the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten.
For two years it was only available in the UK as the left-hand drive German variant. The first purpose-made right-hand drive models arrived in the UK in 1979 as GTI took its place at the heart of the Volkswagen range.
As the Eighties arrived, change was in the air again. The Mk 1 had sold an astonishing 7 million vehicles around the world, forever establishing it as of the defining models of the decade. But Volkswagen wasn’t resting on its laurels and, even on the back of the Mk 1’s runaway success, saw room for improvement. The Golf Mk 2 was on the horizon.
Golf Mk2 (1984 - 1992): Bigger, bolder, brighter
In 1984, Volkswagen reimagined its smash hit hatchback for a new decade. The Golf Mk 2 emerged into a world of fast fashion, pop culture obsession and radical reinvention. Would it have what it takes to make it?
The task of reimagining Giorgetto Giugiaro’s original lines fell to Volkswagen’s head designer Herbert Schäfer. He made the Golf Mk 2 longer and roomier, with an altogether more substantial look that resonated with the power-dressing sharp lines and wide shoulders of the day.
The later addition of distinctive ‘big bumpers’ have completed the Golf Mk 2’s iconic Eighties styling, but it was the Volkswagen badge that inspired one of the most unusual trends of the decade, when Mike D of the Beastie Boys’ wore a Volkswagen badge as a necklace in the video for (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!).
A year after its release, the Golf Mk 2 won the ‘What Car? Magazine’ Car of the Year. And then, as if to prove the riot of creativity wasn’t limited to the fields of fashion, film and music, Volkswagen embarked on some remixing of its own.
With sixteen batteries and a range of just over 30 miles, the groundbreaking Golf II CitySTROMer became the first ever all-electricVolkswagen passenger car to go on sale to the public. The first Golf to go digital was the new Mk 2 GTI. Affectionately nicknamed the ‘Pocket Rocket’, it had a 16-valve engine that could deliver 0-62mph in a blistering 8 seconds, and a cutting edge digital display so you could watch it happen.
Just as revolution had come to Europe, so it would come to Volkswagen. By 1991, the Golf Mk 2 had sold 6 million models worldwide and broken into new markets like China and Eastern Europe. It was much loved and had established itself as the benchmark for all hatchbacks, but nobody in Wolfsburg was resting on their laurels. The time had come for the Golf Mk3.
Golf Mk3 (1992 - 1998)
In early 1992, the world was diversifying fast as empires fell, social attitudes were transformed and technology reached around the globe. How could the Golf keep up with the rapidly changing demands of the time?
The new Golf Mk3 arrived quietly in the UK in February 1992. As with the Mk2, the design the Golf Mk3 was put in the hands of Volkswagen’s chief designer, Herbert Schäfer, who was noted for his clean, undramatic lines that imparted an air of solid reliability. His bigger Mk3 was slightly more curvaceous than the more angular Mk2, and featured distinctive new oval headlights and innovative safety features like airbags as standard for the first time.
The world may have been changing fast, but for Herbert some things were permanent: “The design takes precedence. We have found a look that is typical of the Golf: it radiates quality and safety."
Mk3 brought the first ever Golf Estate, launched in 1994, providing lots of space for families packing up and heading to Europe through the newly opened Channel Tunnel.
The Cabriolet made a comeback for the first time since the Golf Mk1, so on a hot summer’s day you could put the roof down and feel the wind run through your feathered bangs. The all-electric CitySTROMer also returned with an improved range of up to 55 miles, while the ultra-efficient Golf Mk3 TDi introduced the first direct-injection diesel to the range.
Some of the new Mk 3 variants were a bit more ‘out there’. The kaleidoscopic Harlequin Edition offered a distinctive mix of different coloured body panels. And a partnership with cycling company TREK led to the creation of a Golf that came complete a limited edition mountain bike ready-mounted on the bike rack on the roof.
And finally there was also a Mk3 GTI, with a special edition released to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Only 1,000 were made with special chequered Recaro seats, red seatbelts and the trademark leather golf ball knob.
Over the course of its life 4.83 million Golf MK3s were produced and during its time the 15 millionth ever Golf was built.
Making its debut in the UK in 1998, the Golf MK4 changed the design inside and out and further cemented Golf’s place as one of the nation’s most loved hatchbacks.