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Three magic letters

With the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Volkswagen launched a sports car for everyone in 1976, hitting the pulse of the time. We look back and show how the sports car from Wolfsburg has developed from generation to generation


New, unique, powerful - when the Golf GTI was presented to the world's public at the IAA International Motor Show in Frankfurt in 1975 and launched one year later, it was a sensation.

Visually, it differs from the original Volkswagen Golf only in a few details, but behind its discreet exterior hides a real racing machine - powered by a new, lively 110 PS engine. Half a dozen like-minded Volkswagen colleagues had forged the secret plan at Volkswagen in 1974 to develop a "Golf sport", and they succeeded in transforming a compact car into a sports car that remained affordable and also proved its worth in everyday life.

To this day, the Golf GTI is a sports car for everyone. After the initially planned production run of 5,000 units, more than two million units have been delivered worldwide after eight generations and various special models. This makes it one of the most successful compact sports cars in the world.

Golf I GTI (1976 - 1983) - The classic one

The concept was as simple as it was ingenious - a lightweight compact car, a powerful engine and a sporty chassis. At the market launch in 1976, nobody suspected that this 182 km/h fast Golf with the magic three letters GTI would become a true cult sports car.

Under the hood was a free-revving 1.6-liter injection engine - and from 1982, a 1.8-liter injection engine. With its flared black wheel arches, black framed rear window and red rimmed radiator grille, it flew to 100 km/h in just 9.2 seconds. The interior was as striking as the driving performance, red tartan for the center strip of the black sports seats, black headliner and a sports steering wheel as well as a golf ball gearshift lever knob.

From the planned 5,000 units, 461,690 units were produced in the first series - which was also crowned by the special edition of the 82kW/ 112 PS "Pirelli-GTI".

The Golf GTI in motorsports
The Golf GTI also celebrated its first successes in motor sports, especially on the rallying circuit, shortly after its launch. Thus, the Golf GTI competed as a new championship car for six years from 1977. At the "Rabbit Cup" in the USA, Volkswagen quickly advanced to a record winner and multiple champion with the Golf GTI and its racing driver Paul Hacker. There were also records at the "VW Golf GTI Cup" in Germany. In the 1978 season, Walter Struckmann from Hanover won all ten races in a row with his Golf GTI. And Berthold Bermel from Krefeld took part in all Golf GTI Cup races from the premiere on Sylt in 1977 to the final in 1982 at the Nürburgring. The Golf GTI also won a world championship and two German titles in rallying. The Golf GTI also shone at the famous 24-hour race at the Nürburgring with almost 50 class and numerous group victories in the race held since 1970.

Golf II GTI (1984 - 1991) - A stroke of genius with up to 160 PS

The successful follow-up model offered variety under the hood: The Golf II GTI was available with five different engine variants that delivered between 79 kW/107 PS and 118 kW/160 PS.

Conceptually and with its design DNA, it resumed the course of the first generation. The GTI insignia - especially the red stripe on the radiator grille and the check pattern on the sports seats quickly became a cult.

In 1986, the new 16V engine made its debut, producing 102 kW/139 PS and driving the GTI up to 208 kilometers per hour. As before, the significantly more spacious interior was dominated by sports seats, a black headliner and the four-spoke steering wheel with the four round horn buttons familiar to its predecessor. The sporty flagship was the GTI G60, launched in 1990 with an engine output of 118 kW/160 PS.

Golf III GTI (1991 - 1997) - The discreet power pack with up to 150 PS

In 1991 Volkswagen transferred the GTI insignia to the third generation.

The double headlights of the second GTI generation disappeared under a single lens, and in terms of performance, the car started with 115 PS. A year later, the engine output climbed to 110 kW/150 PS with a new two-liter four-valve engine. Not only was the performance significantly improved, but so did the chassis of the compact sports car. Visually, however, it remained rather subdued.

And for the first time in its history, the GTI was also available as a diesel - with a nippy, economical TDI engine with plenty of torque. The GTI also celebrated its two decades with the  "20 Years Edition" anniversary model in 1996.

With a variety of engines, the fourth generation Golf GTI lured customers from 1998 onwards. The range was extended, from the economical TDI to the powerful 2.3-liter five-cylinder with 125 kW/170 PS. The turbo gasoline engine was also popular.

Similar to its predecessor, the appearance of the Golf IV GTI was also rather understated, and it was the first and only GTI to do without the red stripe on the radiator grille. Instead, it was offered with BBS aluminum wheels, darkened rear lights and Recaro sports seats as standard.

A highlight was the Golf IV GTI Edition 25, which Volkswagen presented in 2001 on the 25th GTI anniversary celebration. The special edition model, known among fans as the "Jubi-GTI", was limited to 3,000 units and produced 132 kW/180 PS on the tarmac.

Golf IV GTI (1998 - 2003) - Cult with 180 PS

Golf V GTI (2004 - 2008) - The comeback with 230 PS

"For boys who were already men back then" - this was the slogan used when Volkswagen presented the fifth generation GTI in autumn 2004, heralding a comeback of the classic.

The design was much more independent and incorporated quotes from the first GTI, such as the characteristic red trim line around the honeycomb grill and the typical bodywork in the interior. The new wheels were particularly striking, and the engine was also exclusively intended for the GTI: a turbocharged two-liter TFSI that produces 147 kW/200 PS.

With the new dual-clutch transmission (DSG), the GTI sprinted to 100 km/h in just 6.9 seconds, achieving top speed at 235 km/h and befitting the slogan in its brochure: "Competitive sport has never been so much fun."

With the celebration of the GTI's 30th anniversary, a special "Edition 30" series was released - an upgraded 169 kW/230 PS GTI. Identically powered, the reincarnation of the Pirelli GTI was then launched in 2007.

The sixth generation of the Golf GTI had even more "GTI" to offer than its predecessor, and the fine-tuning of the set-up was carried out by none other than racing driver legend Hans-Joachim Stuck.

The new generation was followed by a Golf GTI that redefined the concept of traction with an electronic differential lock (XDS) - a 240 km/h GTI, which, with its 154 kW/210 PS strong turbo engine provided fun on tap. It was a GTI that offered audible dynamics with a sound generator and newly designed exhaust system (one tailpipe each left and right).

For the first time in 2011, it was also available as a convertible. The soft top opened in just nine seconds and the machine stormed to 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds.

Golf VI GTI (2009 - 2012) Low power-to-weight ratio with up to 235 PS

The crowning glory of this generation was launched in 2011 on its 35th anniversary - the "Golf GTI Edition 35" with 173 kW/235 hp and a top speed of 247 km/h. With a power-to-weight ratio of 6 kg/PS, the GTI was more agile than ever before and could reach 100 km/h in just 6.6 seconds.

Golf VII GTI (2013 - 2020) - In top form with up to 310 PS

The seventh GTI generation was launched in two performance levels in spring 2013.

Volkswagen presented the seventh generation of the new Golf GTI in two power stages - 162 kW / 220 PS is offered in the basic version, and 169 kW / 230 PS in the Golf GTI Performance.

It was, for the first time, equipped with a differential lock for the driven front axle and built on Volkswagen's Modular Transverse Construction Kit (MQB) platform. The new technical platform made the GTI up to 42 kg lighter than its predecessor and thus even more dynamic.

A 230 PS version with manual transmission Golf GTI with a speed of 250 km/h was also offered.

In November 2015, the Golf GTI Clubsport, powered by a boost of up to 213 kW / 290 hp, was presented. It launched in markets in 2016 and blurred the boundaries between a road and motorsport vehicle - only 5.9 seconds was all it took to sprint to 100 km/h.

A year later, the 228 kW / 310 PS Golf GTI Clubsport S was introduced. Another highlight for GTI fans was the Golf GTI TCR racing car, and the road version was produced until 2019, completely dominating its rivals with 213 kW/290 PS and a top speed of up to 260 km/h. 

The Golf GTI TCR was developed for racing in the same named Touring Car Championship (Rennserien) racing series and participated in the TCR International Series, and the FIA WTCR from 2018. The Golf GTI TCR, with a the team comprising Sébastien Loeb Racing (SLR), Volkswagen factory drivers Rob Huff (GB), Mehdi Bennani (MA), Benjamin Leuchter (D) and Johan Kristoffersson (S) competed around the world for over five years, achieving more than 150 victories and over 500 podium results.

Production of the Golf GTI TCR was discontinued at the end of 2019.

Golf VIII GTI (2020 - present) - The legend lives on

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