Believe it or not, the MkI Golf GTI is the car Volkswagen never meant to build! The world’s first hot hatch was actually a secret after-hours project for a small group of engineers at the firm’s Wolfsburg plant in the early Seventies, but bosses loved it. The newcomer combined Italian design with German engineering, and turned the tepid Golf up to gas mark 8!
By modern standards, the original right-hand-drive Golf GTI – launched in the UK in July 1979 – is understated, with modest performance. But good examples are seriously desirable. Tatty models start from £150, while clean, reliable cars can be had for £3,500. A front spoiler and subtle wheelarch trims are among the few clues to the GTI’s performance, but later versions boast alloy wheels and bigger bodykits. All of them feature uprated suspension, with stiffer springs and dampers which polish the car’s cornering ability and give a lower, more purposeful stance.
Engineered to handle rather than shred tyres, the MkI was equipped with a 110bhp 1.6-litre powerplant, and could complete the sprint from 0-60mph in just under 10 seconds. Yet the groundbreaking blend of hatch practicality and pin-sharp responses
is what made the GTI such a huge hit.
Volkswagen Golf GTI MkI specs
Production dates: 1979-1982
Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 110bhp
Why? The original GTI isn’t as fast as the 1.8-litre car that followed, and you’ll be lucky to find one of the 1,573 examples sold on its UK debut in 1979. But if you can source a cosseted rust-free MkI, you’ll get a piece of hot hatch history.