1975 – 2008: The history of the VW Golf GTI
The Volkswagen Golf GTI was unveiled in 1975 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The UK market had to wait a further two years for vehicles to arrive – 1977 saw 34 examples, all of them left hand drive, sold in the GTI’s first tentative year.
The GTI was powered by a 1,588 cc four cylinder engine with K-Jetronic fuel injection it developed 110 PS at 6,100 rpm and 103 lbs ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. This allowed the GTI, which weighed 810 kg unladen, to hit 60 mph from standstill in nine-seconds before reaching a top speed of 110 mph.
The now familiar mix of a high-revving, responsive four-cylinder engine installed in a hatchback body with the emphasis on driving fun was linked to a pared down interior came as a revelation at the time. Especially when combined with tartan trim and the now iconic golf ball gearshift.
The car was an instant hit. By the time right-hand drive cars arrived in the UK in 1979 a total of 1,573 cars were sold in that year, a number that would triple within two years.
In 1984 the Mk II GTI was launched and picked up where the Mk I left off. A new chassis structure, a 1,781 cc engine developing 112 PS and 114 lbs ft of torque and new styling evolved the GTI and saw it appeal to a new generation of fans. Sales of the Mk II GTI surpassed those of the Mk I, peaking at 17,193 vehicles in 1989. In Germany a supercharged G60 version developing 160 PS was sold, an output that wouldn’t be bettered in a GTI until 2002.
Three years later the Mk III GTI was launched, bringing with it a new 2.0-litre eight-valve engine and improved aerodynamics over the previous Mk I and Mk II models. In 1993 the GTI fitted was with a 2.0-litre 16-valve engine, raising the power output from 115 PS in the eight-valve model up to a more substantial 150 PS and 133 lbs ft of torque to drop the 0-60 mph time to 8.3 seconds and raise the top speed to 133 mph.
The introduction of the Mk IV GTI in 1998 saw significant changes to the line-up with the first diesel-engined GTI introduced along with two petrol engines in a total of four different states of tune. The Mk IV GTI made significant gains in refinement and safety – in 2002 the fastest accelerating and most powerful GTI produced up until that point was released in the form of the 180 PS GTI 25th Anniversary Edition. It was the success of this more powerful vehicle that inspired the introduction of the Mk V GTI.
Launched in September 2004 at the Paris Motor Show the Mk V GTI equipped with a 200 PS engine was not only the most powerful but also the most focused GTI yet produced. A new 2.0-litre T-FSI engine linked to a six-speed gearbox and standard Electronic Stabilisation Programme (ESP) were linked to a new chassis equipped with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link configuration at the rear. The vehicle was 15 mm lower than the standard Golf on new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.
Visual cues were taken from the original GTI with the return of the tartan interior and the red surround to the grille element – even the GTI typeface used on the badge echoed that of the original.
The Mk V GTI served as a basis for two special editions – the Pirelli and Edition 30. Both models were powered by an evolution of the 2.0-litre T-FSI engine fitted to the conventional GTI, albeit both producing 230 PS.
The wildest GTI ever created – the GTI W12-650 – was also based on the Mk V. Powered by a mid-mounted 6.0-litre W12 engine producing 650 PS the vehicle could accelerate to 62 mph in 3.7-seconds and could theoretically achieve a maximum speed of 201 mph.
Production of the Mk V Golf ceased in August 2008 with a total of 17,630 examples sold in the UK alone. In total over 1,700,000 examples of the GTI have been sold worldwide since the vehicle went on sale in 1976.
Key Facts: Golf GTI Mk I – Mk V
Mk I: 1977 – 1984
1.6-litre 110 PS
1977 – first UK registration
1979 – first right-hand drive cars go on sale
Total UK Mk I GTI sales: 19,518
Mk II: 1984 – 1992
1.8-litre 112 PS
1986 – 1.8-litre 139 PS 16-valve engine launched
1989 – introduction of ‘big bumpers’
November 1990 – 1,000,000th Golf GTI is produced
Total UK Mk II GTI sales: 88,278
Mk III: 1992 – 1998
2.0-litre 115 PS
1993 – 2.0-litre 16-valve 150 PS engine introduced
Total UK Mk III GTI sales: 39,766
Mk IV: 1998 – 2004
1.8-litre 125 PS
1.8-litre turbo 150 PS
1999 – 2.0-litre 115 PS is introduced
2002 – 1.8-litre turbo 180 PS and 1.9-litre GTI PD 150 PS engines introduced
Total UK Mk IV GTI sales: 46,944
Mk V: 2004 – 2008
2.0-litre 200 PS T-FSI
January 2007 – 30th anniversary of the GTI marked by the launch of 2.0-litre 230 PS GTI Edition 30
May 2007 – six-litre bi-turbo 650 PS GTI W12-650 design study unveiled – the most powerful Golf ever produced by Volkswagen
June 2007 – GTI ‘R-Line’ claims eighth place overall and class victory at Nurburgring 24-hour race
May 2008 – 2.0-litre T-FSI 230 PS GTI Pirelli launched to commemorate 25th anniversary of the original Mk I variant
August 2008 – production of the Mk V GTI ceases
Total UK Mk V GTI sales to date: 17,630