The Mk1 Golf GTI was something quite special when first unveiled thanks to its performance, smart packaging and overall simplicity.
It could be argued that the Volkswagen GTI is one of the best all-around performance cars ever built. Sure, it’s front-wheel drive and isn’t all that much of a looker, but there are few other cars that have so perfectly defined the ideal combination of everyday practicality and high-performance all in one affordable package. Debuting at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show, the Mk1 GTI was unlike any other performance machine. Mainly because it didn’t look like one.
The first-gen Golf on which it was based launched the year before, and in no time at all had replaced the old VW Beetle as the definitive people’s car. In fact, the Golf helped to inspire other FWD compacts such as the Dodge Omni and original Ford Escort, but neither offered the same level of quality and elegant simplicity as the Golf, which was designed by none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro. The Mk1 GTI was initially powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with fuel injection, developing 108 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque, which translated to a top speed of 110 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 9 seconds.
This may not sound like much now, but considering the car weighed just 1,785 pounds, its power-to-weight ratio was excellent for the time. The US-spec GTI was powered by a 1.8-liter four-pot that was good for 90 hp and was paired with a five-speed manual. Beginning in 1978, North American-spec Golf production actually took place at a plant in Pennsylvania. The Golf and the GTI, redubbed the Rabbit and Rabbit GTI for the US and Canada, were both built there but the latter didn’t enter production until 1983. The idea, of course, was to lower production costs by building the cars locally.
Parts for the cars were made in Germany, Mexico, the US and Canada but final assembly was done in the Keystone state. Thing was, VW cheapened the Rabbit by giving it a softer suspension and substandard interior materials. The move was widely criticized by VW fans and even execs in Germany, so the US facility wisely switched back to higher quality parts in 1983. Compared to its Euro counterpart, beginning in 1980, the US Golf/Rabbit featured more angular headlights along with a few other minor differences, but were practically identical. VW later shutdown the Pennsylvania plant in 1984.
The MK1’s overall package set the formula for what became known as the hot hatch and with every subsequent Golf generation, a new GTI followed. Although they’re becoming less frequent as the years go by, it’s still not uncommon to see an MK1 GTI on the road, such as this one that’s owned by the Editor-in-Chief of Road & Track magazine. He actually bought this 1983 GTI 18 months ago and quickly reconditioned it in order to take it to his college reunion. It has a fresh paint job and many mechanical issues were resolved but he was careful to make sure it would remain 100% stock. The best part about it, however, is that it’s now up for sale for just $9,000.
Its exact mileage is unfortunately unknown because the odometer doesn’t work (it still reads 19,995 miles) but based on how it runs, 50k is a realistic estimate. With an all-new Mk7 GTI just around the corner, an Mk1 such as this reminds us how much we love the original hot hatch for its value, simplicity, fun-to-drive factor and performance.