The mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI was far from the immaculate concept it may have seemed at its 1975 Frankfurt show debut. A ‘hot’ version of the Giugiaro-penned front-drive replacement for the 35-year-old Beetle simply hadn’t figured in the plans for a car introduced to answer public anxieties stirred up by the oil crisis. But two VW employees in Wolfsburg had other ideas.
A young engineer named Alfons Löwenberg and the company’s then PR director, Anton Konrad, were convinced there was more to the Golf than family-friendly, post-Beetle practicality and pitched their idea for a ‘Sport Golf’ to the board. It was given short shrift and rejected. Undeterred, the pair developed the idea in their own time, building a parts-bin prototype using a Scirocco chassis with seriously stiffened suspension and a 1.6-litre engine breathing through twin Weber carburettors. If anything, the senior suits were even less impressed.
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But it created a buzz that caught the attention of other VW employees. The enterprise went further underground and effectively became a skunkworks project – arguably the most clandestine ever as a number of heavy hitters from key departments became involved, participating under the management radar. Hard to believe, but apparently true, the car that would become the Golf GTI took shape at a secret meeting fuelled by coffee and a cake baked by Konrad’s wife.
By late 1974 the project had gained an almost unstoppable momentum and only the cosmetic details needed to be resolved before it would finally be given the green light. That the neat chin spoiler, black plastic wheelarches, twin black side stripes, tartan seat fabric and dimpled golf ball gearknob would essentially codify an aesthetic approach for all subsequent hot hatches was unknowable at the time. But the one signifier that defined the faster Golf’s look most effectively and would go on to become the GTI’s signature cosmetic feature was also the simplest: the thin Mars Red trim stripe framing the car’s black radiator grille. It was the black/red colour combination that was seen as being thematically sporty as much as the notion of a pinstripe accent in itself.
Although Gunhild Liljequist, VW’s trim designer from 1965 to 1992, is credited with the adoption of the golf ball gearknob and the tartan seat fabric, the red stripe seems to have emerged from the team’s collective consciousness. Whatever else has happened to the Golf GTI in the ensuing 39 years, the red stripe remains to this day.
In This Article
- 1The Art of Speed | the great performance car design details
- 2Lexus LFA rev counter - Art of Speed
- 3E30 BMW M3 bodywork - Art of Speed
- 4Pagani Huayra's wing mirrors - Art of Speed
- 5Ferrari Testarossa side strakes - Art of Speed
- 6The Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evo II's bodykit - Art of Speed
- 7The Lancia Delta Integrale Evo's rear spoiler - Art of Speed
- 8The Renaultsport Megane R26.R's polycarbonate windows - Art of Speed
- 9Ferrari F50 rear mesh - Art of Speed
- 10The McLaren P1's exhaust - Art of Speed
- 11The Subaru Impreza's bonnet scoop - Art of Speed
- 12The Aston Martin Vantage V600's twin supercharged V8 - Art of Speed
- 13The Honda NSX's Monel ignition key - Art of Speed
- 14Koenigsegg One:1 active wing - Art of Speed
- 15Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano flying buttresses - Art of Speed
- 16Shelby Mustang GT500 racing stripes - Art of Speed
- 17Aston Martin V12 Zagato double-bubble roof - Art of Speed
- 18Lotus Esprit pop-up headlights - Art of Speed
- 19Lamborghini Miura louvred engine cover - Art of Speed
- 20Alfa Romeo SZ headlights - Art of Speed
- 21Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 grille stripe - Art of Speed - currently reading
- 22Aston Martin One-77 carbonfibre chassis - Art of Speed
- 23Koenigsegg doors - Art of Speed