Not many cars have a history going back almost forty years, but the Golf can lay claim to that distinction.
Of course the current model bears about as much relation to the original car as today’s laptops do to Charles Babbage’s difference engine, but manufacturers see the virtue of maintaining a name, for it enables them to claim record sales as the years pass. Total Golf sales worldwide are now approaching a massive 30 million.
The Mark 1 Golf was born in 1974, and you can be forgiven if you can’t quite remember what you were doing at the time, assuming you are indeed as old as the car. To put the date in the context of world events, Richard Nixon resigned from office, and the Watergate scandal took centre stage. More provincially the UK’s economy looked decidedly dodgy as inflation hit a worrying 17 per cent, but if neither of those two events stick in your memory, then possibly ABBA’s winning of the Eurovision song contest with Waterloo might strike a chord. The Golf sold well, and just after that never-to-be-forgotten summer of ’76, Volkswagen had the grand idea of including diesel engines in the mix, though turbodiesels didn’t arrive until 1982.
The Mk1 was sold for an entire decade, illustrating just how long it took a manufacturer to conceive, design, build and launch a new model in those days. Before the advent of a new model, the Cabriolet was introduced, and Volkswagen chalked up the five millionth Golf sale.
To the untutored eye the Mk2 Golf probably looks pretty similar to the Mk1. It started life in 1983, the year that seatbelt use became compulsory for drivers and front seat passengers in the UK, but like most of the succeeding Golfs, the Mk2 was not actually launched here until the following year, which turned out to be a good deal less worrisome than George Orwell’s novel had foretold, though conspiracy theorists would have you believe otherwise.
The square face of the Mk1 was maintained for the new car, and a multitude of owners suffered the loss of the famous badge from the radiator grille, thanks to fans of the Beastie Boys mimicking their heroes’ habit of wearing them as pendants. Golf safety had a real boost with the arrival of anti-lock brakes half way through the Mk2’s life.
The Mk3 achieved what no other Golf has before or since, which is to have been awarded the coveted European Car of the Year title in 1992, when it first put tyres onto UK roads. Gone was the square jaw of the previous cars, as gentler curves softened the new outline, and both an estate car and TDI diesel engines were seen for the first time during this model’s reign. 1992 was a busy year in the UK, with a fourth successive win for the Conservatives in the general election, and the Queen’s famous declaration that it was an “annus horribilis”, following the Windsor Castle fire and a number of scandals that came to light within the royal family.
The rest of us however were well served with a new Cones Hotline, which enabled members of the public to complain about traffic cones being placed on a road for no apparent reason.
The time gap between Golf models was consistently reducing, and just six years after ‘annus horribilis’, Volkswagen introduced their new Mk4 in 1998. More curvaceous than the preceding model, it was actually the painting in body colour of what had until then been black additions – underskirts and side rubbing strips for instance – that really marked out the new car. It was the first Golf that could be had with a five-cylinder engine, but more to the point for diesel enthusiasts was the arrival of Pumpe Düse unit-injector technology, which enabled massive improvements in power and fuel economy for the TDI diesel engines.
As to what happened in the wider world, the year will tragically be remembered as that of the Omagh bombing – the worst terrorist atrocity in the many years of Northern Ireland’s troubles.
Golf Mk5 arrived in the UK in January 2004, the year that the Millennium Centre, the Millau Viaduct and the Gherkin were all opened. Such was the importance of the car to Volkswagen, and the community around its home town of Wolfsburg, that at launch (which as usual had been in the previous year in Germany) the powers that be temporarily changed many of the signs to ‘Golfsburg’. The new model generally received an enthusiastic reception, though the quality of the interior trim came in for some criticism. As ever the car had grown from the previous model, and was actually now nine inches longer than the first Golfs. Indeed, with the Polo putting on similar growth spurts, Volkswagen had already launched a new smaller car, the Lupo, to fill the void.
It was in the last year of the Mk5 that BlueMotion Golfs started their run, with an impressive 62.8mpg on the official combined cycle; this a year after the 25 millionth Golf had been sold worldwide.
The Mk6 Golf could be ordered from dealers at the end of 2008, the year of Barack Obama’s election, and you won’t need us to remind you it was also a year which European economies would like to forget. As for the new Golf, there was a conspicuous change to its face: it had had its eyebrows plucked as the tall, in-your-face headlights of the previous model were replaced with a pleasing and subtle design. More importantly, the interior trim was upgraded to the welcome standards of models earlier than the Mk5, and the Pumpe Düse diesel engines were replaced by common rail types. Unusually, the Mk6 was almost identical in size to the Mk5 for, as Volkswagen proudly put it, their Golf had reached “the optimum size”.
That’s interesting, as the brand new Mk7 car you can read about elsewhere in the March issue is a couple of inches longer, and wider too!