History of the 1975 - 1984 Volkswagen Golf GTi
The original Volkswagen Golf was launched in 1974 with 1100cc and 1500cc engines and in three and five door forms. It was to be two years before the start of the ‘Hot Hatch’ revolution, the original transverse engine, front-wheel-drive, sporting 1600cc Golf GTi was offered in 3 door form in the UK from June 1976, but only in left-hand-drive form, until 1979 when it was finally offered in the UK in right-hand drive, and from 1980 to 1983 in single-cam 1800cc form.
There was really nothing else to compare it with as it was such a big diversion for Volkswagen and came with good looks from Giugiaro at Italdesign. Despite some early build quality troubles, the Golf GTi still earned itself an upmarket clientele. 0-60 times were 9.0 then 8.3 seconds in 110bhp and 112bhp forms, and 112mph was on tap. It was the first European market Golf to use fuel injection by Bosch K-Jetronic, in place of the single Solex fitted to basic Golfs. The GTi was a must-have car and has a strong following today.
The Mk1 GTi Golf can be sub-divided into three editions, firstly with the 1600 from 1975 to 1980. This model included smaller rear lights than the later Mk1, tartan insert trim, and initially a 4-speed gearbox with a 5-speed coming soon after. Build quality needed to be addressed as the early cars very soon rusted out. After 1980 the 1600 Mk1 had an improved dashboard, larger rear lights, less extreme upholstery with striped interior trim and a standard 5-speed gearbox. Attention to rusty wings brought inner wing liners and better metal preparation before thicker paint was applied. From September 1982 an 1800cc engine was available together with MFA trip computer. Although this engine was more powerful, it was not as smooth and sweet running as the 1600cc engine. From August 1983 the last of the MkI saloon GTis were available as the Campaign Edition, with 600,000 MkI GTis built. However, it was not until 1979 that the 1600cc Convertible GTi was offered in the UK and was assembled by Karmann for VW. From September 1982 the 8-valve 1800cc version was offered all the way up to 1993.
Due to the boxy shape there are many rust pockets on the Golf, and rust can strike anywhere. The familiar windscreen area base at the 'A' post is a rust target and difficult to address. Doors, sills, wheel arches, and the front valence need careful inspection for rust, including the rear suspension mountings. Check to see the spare wheel well is still there. If this is badly damaged, the underside of the car is probably also rusted. No panels were ever galvanised, and new panels are hard to come by, except poor replica panels, since Volkswagen stopped making panels and exterior trim. Worst of all is a rusty fuel tank as the mess inside can expensively break the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel system. Walk away at this point.
All engines are robust, but listen for tappet rattle and look for a smoky exhaust indicating tired piston rings on cars with over 100,000 miles. If the car fails to start from cold after a second, at best the engine may be out of tune and at worst a series of fuel injection and tired engine issues might have occurred. The engine should not stall when running if tuned correctly. New engines are available, and gearboxes are mostly OK, except second gear synchromesh may be weak, and first and fifth alignment issues can cause gear selection problems.
Brake hoses stretch and do need replacing, as does the brake fluid. The reputation for poor brakes is easily addressed if serviced properly. Water can seep into the fuse box under the passenger side of the windscreen causing electrical problems. Replacement interior trim is nearly impossible to get, but might be found at autojumbles.
These cars have been through the bottom of the market, so it is wise to buy the best you can afford of any restored cars, and look at a lot of them before making a purchase. There is a forum and lots of help available from the Mk1 Golf Owners Club.
The sought-after model is the better-built 5-speed 1600cc Mk1 from 1980-83, before the 1800cc model, if you can find one. A fun car and not expensive to run if already restored.