After seven generations and sales of over 30 million, the iconic family hatchback is still going strong and is still setting the benchmark for other carmakers to meet.
The Volkswagen Beetle, the ultimate people’s car, was an extremely hard act to follow, but when the original Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed three-door hatchback rolled off the Wolfsburg production line on March 29, 1974, it signaled the start of a second motoring revolution.
As well as offering what has become timeless styling, it introduced German build quality to the affordable family car sector, but as well as being inexpensive, was an absolute joy to drive.
But as well as redefining the concept of the family hatchback, it also invented the concept of the ‘hot’ hatch with the launch of the original Golf GTI in 1976 — a car that really was all things to all. A car for running around town, shopping, long road trips or even for the track.
It created a market sector that 38 years later is still not just alive and well but as competitive as ever. Every company that produces hatchbacks for the European market, from Honda to Ford, has at least one family car with serious sporting credentials in its lineup.
By the time the GTi was launched, one million Golfs were already on the road and in 1979 the company launched the first convertible version, which has gone on to become a modern, affordable classic.
The Golf has survived because the company has never been tempted to tamper with the formula — a nimble car, packed with technological advances, focused firmly on families.
This concentration is also why over the past 40 years there have only been seven generations of the car. The current Golf, launched in September 2012, is the most comfortable and technically advanced yet, and in 2013 scooped both the European and World Car of the Year awards.
And, for its 40th anniversary year, Volkswagen plans to launch the e-Golf, the first ever all-electric version of the car, which should offer a range of 190 km between charges and a GTE plug-in hybrid version capable of delivering a fuel economy of 1.5l/100 km and an electric motor only range of 50 km.
As Volkswagen points out, very few products launched in 1974 have stood the test of time quite as well, but those that have include the Rubik’s Cube, liposuction and the Post-it note.