Mk1 GTI meets Mk7 GTI in celebration of the Golf's 40th birthday
The Mk7 Golf was launched in September 2012; the Mk1 appeared in March 1974
The Mk1 Golf GTI went on sale in 1976 and proved an instant hit
The Mk1 Golf was shaped in Giorgetto Giugiaro's ItalDesign studios
Over a million Golfs had been made by the car's third year of production
Although its name is derived from the German word for 'gulf', the Golf 'Driver' edition was a play on the name's sporting link
Volkswagen cite the Golf as a "pioneer of technological progress"
Styling for the Mk2 Golf was updated by VW's in-house designers
The Mk2 was larger and heavier than its predecessor
The Mk2 Golf was beaten to the European Car of the Year award by the Peugeot 205 and Fiat Uno
The Mk3, seen here in VR6 form, featured more rounded styling than previous Golfs'
VR6 edition ran a 2.8-litre engine and BBS alloy wheels
The Golf Mk4 arrived in 1997
The Mk4 Golf platform also formed the basis of the Seat Leon
Mk5 Golf retained many of the previous generations' design cues
Golf Mk5 won critical acclaim on its launch in 2003
The reverse kink running along the trailing edge of the window graphic is a Golf design hallmark
The Mk6 was less of an abrupt leap in appearance over the previous generation
Golf blue-e-motion prototype was an all-electric, plug-in version
Early Golf cabins echoed the car's square-cut design cues
Later cabins were something of a contrast
Original Golf Cabrio was built by Karmann on a separate production line
Picnic basket handle rollover bar a distinctive feature of the Golf Cabrio
'Mk4' Golf Cabrio was actually a Mk3 with updated bumpers and lights
The distinctive roll-over bar was deleted for the all-new Mk6 Cabrio
There have been estate variants since the Golf Mk3
Continuity is key to the Golf's success, says design chief Walter de Silva
The Mk1 Golf was offered in naturally aspirated petrol and diesel forms; a turbodiesel was later introduced
VW's Mk4 Golf was the first to feature electronic stability control
The Mk5 Golf was offered with a twincharged petrol engine, which made use of both turbocharging and supercharging
Volkswagen's Mk6 was launched in 2008 and marked the introduction of new assistance systems, including Park Assist
Other notable events in 1974 included the resignation of Richard Nixon and the disappearance of Lord Lucan
The Volkswagen Golf has become a reference point in the hatchback world, a design which, like the Porsche 911, has evolved immeasurably over time whilst still retaining the essential character of the original.
Named after the Golfstrom, the German for gulfstream, the Mk1 Golf first appeared in 1974, when the hatchback genre itself was in its infancy. The Golf was arguably the car that turned the sector into the colossal market it is today. Now, 40 years and over 30 million sales later, we’ve arrived at the Golf Mk7.
Designed as a front-engined, front-wheel drive replacement for the Beetle, the Golf’s crisp lines were penned by famed designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. So instant was its success that by October 1976 the one millionth Golf had already rolled off the production line.
The Golf was a neat and efficient family car, but thanks to the efforts of a small group of enthusiastic VW engineers it became a bone fide performance car too. An after-hours project for a ‘Sport Golf’ grew into the Golf GTI, released in the late 1970s and kicking off the hot hatch boom which continues to this day.
Giugiaro’s design was sympathetically updated by VW’s in-house design team for the longer and wider Mk2 Golf, which arrived in 1983. It went on to sell 6.3 million units before the arrival of the all-new Mk3 at the end of 1991.
It scooped the 1992 European Car of the Year award after the Mk2 Golf had previously lost out to the Peugeot 205 and Fiat Uno. The plusher and more expensive Mk4 appeared in 1997, continuing the soft-edged styling theme with even smoother, rounder design language. The larger and faster Mk5 came along in 2003, subtly updated for the Mk6 in 2008.
There have been estate and drop-top versions too, the Golf Cabriolet and its distinctive basket-handle rollover bar (engineered out on the Mk6 Cabrio) originally being built by Karmann on a dedicated line.
Countless special editions have been released, with early ones some of the most sought-after by the Golf's legion of hardcore fans. Models like the Mk2 Rallye, which combined VW's supercharged G60 engine with its Syncro four-wheel drive system and the jacked-up soft-roader Golf Country are hugely collectable.
Even later models, such as the Mk4 20th Anniversary Edition and the later Edition 30 and Edition 35 command huge premiums, such is the regard that the Golf's followers hold them. More recently, the introduction of the new Mk7 GTI and Golf R looks certain to ensure that the popularity of high-performance Volkswagens continues.
“One of the keys to the Golf’s success lies in its continuity, says Walter de Silva, VW’s Head of Design. “There are a handful of cars with a design that, like the Golf’s, has been refined, tweaked and enhanced down the decades and thus become timeless.”