No matter how ubiquitous the letters ‘GTI’ become, they are synonymous for much of the population with only one car: the Volkswagen Golf GTI. This has less to do with their original placement and more to do with serious, unbroken longevity.
There has been a Volkswagen Golf GTI on sale for as long as any of the current Autocar road test team has been alive. Although other manufacturers have been dabbling in hot hatches for close to four decades, none comes close to imprinting a single model identity on the segment in the way that VW has done.
But while it may stand alone as a recognisable icon of the class that it pioneered, the Golf GTI has been acknowledged as its leader only sporadically. Instead, VW has sought to stretch its ‘hot’ brief as thinly as possible so that it might be pulled down over a car of incredibly broad appeal.
There are few model introductions as notable as the Golf GTI’s debut at the 1975 Frankfurt motor show. In the UK, the car struck a chord, and what started as a trickle of left-hand-drive Mk1 cars in 1977 turned into a torrent by 1989, when the all-conquering Mk2 sold a remarkable 16,000 GTIs in one year.