The Glorious Seven

The countdown to the new Golf* is underway – and the eighth generation follows in mighty footsteps. No other European car was sold more frequently. A review of seven glorious predecessors.

More than 35 million units of the Volkswagen Golf have been produced in the last 45 years. Purely from a mathematical point of view, a person somewhere in the world decides to buy a new Golf, approximately every 40 seconds. It is the vehicle that has enabled automotive progress for everyone for seven generations.
“No matter which generation: the secret of the Golf’s success was and is the sum of its characteristics: a perfect companion for everyday life, embodying versatility, functionality, reliability and quality like no other car,” says Dieter Landenberger, Head of Heritage Volkswagen.

Since its introduction in 1974, it has been regarded as the proverbial precursor of the compact class, which was soon coined the “Golf Class”. Since then, everyone else has had to compete with the Golf. And not just locally but, globally, because the Golf is a worldwide bestseller.

Consumption label
*The new Golf: This vehicle is not yet for sale

Golf I – 1974 — 1983

1974 is the year in which Germany becomes football world champions for the second time, the Terracotta Army is discovered in China, ABBA wins the Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo” and US President Richard Nixon resigns due to the Watergate affair. And it is also the year in which Volkswagen presents the first Golf, the successor to the Beetle.

Volkswagen Chief Designer Klaus Bischoff: “The step from the Beetle to the Golf was revolutionary. With the switch from the air-cooled rear engine to the water-cooled front engine, a completely new vehicle layout was created at the time.” Round became angular – a paradigm shift. The stylistic features of the most successful compact car design? “The main design elements of the Golf I – the silhouette with the upright, solid C-pillar, the striking wheel arches and the horizontal front with the slim grille and the headlights protruding downwards – are still to be found in every Golf today,” says Bischoff.

In March 1974, the first Golf rolled off the assembly line in Wolfsburg. The advertising starts with the slogan: “The new popular sport: Golf” – a vision that was to come true. The first generation makes its mark: the Beetle’s successor is sold 6.99 million times.

Golf II – 1983 – 1991

Yes, there is a successor! And here it is: The Golf II is bigger and more aerodynamic. The designers consistently follow the DNA of the Golf I and at the same time create progressive new details.

Original script from Volkswagen in 1983: “The Golf must remain a Golf. So no new design that departs from the Golf concept – but nevertheless a new car from bumper-to-bumper according to the motto: continuity in the concept, progress in detail and quality. The rear is radically designed: the taillights of the Golf I are positioned at the very bottom just above the bumper – in the case of the Golf II they now move further up. No other car in 1983 has this. Meanwhile, the C-pillar, which is still typical today, builds a bridge between the generations. This makes the Golf II unmistakable and forgery-proof.

The new vehicle is a manifestation of the “Golf phenomenon” – the Volkswagen par excellence. It becomes the mirror image of the brand: a compact car with a cross-class status that reaches all levels of society.

Series production of the second Golf begins at the Wolfsburg plant in June 1983. Technical innovations: the anti-lock braking system (ABS), power steering and the “Syncro,” the first all-wheel drive Golf. And already in 1989 – 30 years ago! – Volkswagen presented a prototype of this Golf with an electric drive (Golf Citystromer) and a Golf Hybrid study. It is also at the forefront when it comes to the environment: It is the Golf which, in September 1984, had a regulated catalytic converter for the first time in the 1.8-litre injection engine. Five years before the mandatory introduction of catalytic converters in Germany. In 1989, the first diesel engine with a catalytic converter followed in November – a world first.

A total of 6.3 million second-generation units, including all derivatives, were produced by the summer of 1991.

Front views in transition – Volkswagen Golf I to Golf VII

Golf III – 1991 — 1997

Yes, it looks different – and it is still immediately recognizable as a Golf: The Golf III was the first with a wedge form that was as dynamic as it was aerodynamic (drag coefficient value: 0.30). It has a powerful presence on the road thanks to its much wider track, and even in the lower powered versions the wheels are flush with the body, unlike its predecessor.

“As we moved from the first to the second Golf, we made the car bigger, installed more powerful engines and gave it better handling. In the third generation, design now plays a greater role. We found a look that is typical of the Golf, which radiates safety and quality,” said Herbert Schäfer, then chief designer of the bestseller.

Volkswagen also ushered in a new era of safety with the Golf III. On the one hand, it was available from 1992 with front airbags. On the other hand, major advances in body design led to significant improvements in crash characteristics.

Technical innovations: the six-cylinder engine (VR6), the cruise control system, the oxidation catalytic converter for diesel engines and the direct-injection diesel engine (TDI), which raised the subject of diesel and driving dynamics to a completely new level. In 1996, the Golf also had its first side airbags, and shortly afterwards ABS became standard for all Golf models.

The concept works, and numerous derivatives increase sales even further. By the time it was replaced, the Golf III had sold 4.83 million units.