VW Golf GTI's Famous Design Origin Revealed

Design / Comments

Ever wondered how those plaid seats and golf ball-style gear knob came to be?

It may sound hard to believe but the Volkswagen Golf GTI debuted 43 years ago. Considered the original hot hatchback, the Golf GTI was an instant success for its performance and handling capabilities and affordable price tag. Although it looked nearly the same from the outside as the regular Golf, the interior debuted with two notable differences: plaid seats and a golf ball-style gear knob. Both remain styling traits to this day, but how did they come to be initially?

The German automaker has now revealed their origins, and they both come from one person. Gunhild Liljequist was only 28 years old when she was hired by VW in 1964. A porcelain painter and chocolatier candy-box designer by trade (apparently there was such a thing), Liljequist was assigned to the Department of Fabrics and Colors where she, as you've likely guessed, focused on paint hues, trims, and interior detailing.

2015-2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Front Angle View Volkswagen
2015-2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Side View Volkswagen
2015-2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Rear Angle View Volkswagen

Eventually, she was tasked with giving the then-new GTI a unique interior, but it had to be sporty. "Black was sporty, but I also wanted color and quality," Liljequist said. "I took a lot of inspiration from my travels around Great Britain and I was always taken by high-quality fabrics with checked patterns … you could say that there is an element of British sportiness in the GTI." And the tartan seat pattern was born, but what about the gear knob?

"That was a completely spontaneous idea!" Liljequist said. "I just expressed my sporting and golf associations out loud: 'how about a golf ball as the gear knob?'"

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Not unexpectedly, her ideas were met with some resistance but VW management must have recognized the creativity and uniqueness of Liljequist's proposals and gave the green light.

Liljequist retired from VW in 1991 but prior to that also had a hand in designing the 1987 limited edition 'Etienne Aigner' Mk1 Golf Cabriolet, a design influenced by the maker of luxury handbags and luggage.

2015-2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Steering Wheel Details Volkswagen
2015-2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Engine Bay Volkswagen
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