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Motoring: Volkswagen Golf - 1974

Since its launch in 1974 the Velkswagen Golf has been the standard by which all other compact cars have been measured. It has been copied, emulated and challenged for its position as the world's most popular 4-door compact, but only the Toyota Corolla has been successful in coming anywhere near it. The team that designed it in the first place, and those who have upgraded it over the years to keep its relevance in the marketplace, have without a doubt got the formula right.

The Golf is the an accomplished city car that feels equally at home on freeways and it rides more smoothly on rough roads than most other hatchbacks. Even the less costly Golfs are among the best small cars to drive, and the more expensive bring you sports-car like speed and handling. Interiors function well, all engines are easy on fuel, and auto-braking is available.

The original Volkswagen Golf Mk1 was a front-wheel drive, front-engined replacement for the air-cooled, rear-engined, rear-wheel drive Volkswagen Beetle. Up until that time, the Beetle was the world's best selling vehicle and the company's main money earner for over two decades, so it had some mighty big shoes to fill. History shows it was equal to the task. The Golf has been Volkswagen's best-selling model and the world's second best-selling model, with more than 29 million built by 2012.

That formula was first set out by the BMC Mini a decade earlier; a car that was small on the outside but big enough to carry a family of four; that was easy to drive; that offered a comfortable ride and was economical to run. BMC achieved the comfortable ride by putting a wheel at each corner, and made the interior as big as possible by mounting the engine east-west and front wheel drive.

The formula was followed - with varying degrees of success - by numerous other car manufacturers in the latter half of the 1960s, the Golf being Volkswagen's incarnation of it. What the Golf and other, mainly European manufacturers did to improve on the Mini, was to make it a true family car by making it bigger. The Golf was designed to carry four adults in relative comfort - not just two adults and two children, which was all the Mini could handle. It had a bigger yet still very economical engine and a boot that could handle a couple of suitcases with ease. What Volkswagen retained was a wheel at each corner for excellent handling and driving stability; an east-west mounted front wheel drive that allowed maximum cabin space and was both economical yet capable of hauling a full load; and a compact exterior that made it easy to park and to drive in city traffic.

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet 1975

The Volkswagen Golf has won many awards throughout its history. It won the World Car of the Year in 2009 with the Volkswagen Golf Mk6 and in 2013 with the Volkswagen Golf Mk7. Every generation of Golf has been a runner-up in the European Car of the Year awards. The Golf is one of only two cars, the other being the Renault Clio, to have been voted European Car of the Year twice, in 1992 and 2013. The Volkswagen Golf has made the Car and Driver annual 10 Best list multiple times.

Production of the Golf was initially in the 3-door hatchback style. Other later variants include a 5-door hatchback, estate/wagon (Variant, from 1993), convertible (Cabriolet and Cabrio, 1979 2002, 2011 present), and a Golf-derived notchback saloon/sedan, variously called Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Vento (from 1992) or Volkswagen Bora (from 1999). The cars have filled many market segments, from basic personal cars, to high-performance hot hatches.

The Name

It appears that the Golf nameplate is derived from the German word for Gulf Stream - during a period in its history when VW named vehicles after prominent winds or currents (as with the Passat (after the German word for Trade wind), Jetta (after the Jet stream), Bora (after Bora) and Scirocco (after Sirocco) or that "Golf" is a sport theme-related name as shared with the Polo and Derby. However, a 2013 report by former VW advertising copywriter Bertel Schmitt, says that - after consulting knowledgeable VW sources including Dr. Carl Hahn, former Volkswagen of America Chief and WP Schmidt, former sales chief at Volkswagen - no conclusive evidence suggests that Volkswagen employed a naming theme for its then new front-drive, water-cooled vehicles; nor that the names trace etymologically to any particular theme; nor that any naming system "was ever announced, either officially or confidentially." If that is so, then we can only assume that it is just conincidence that the names chosen by Volkswagen for their car models based on the Golf all happen to be sport-related, and that its other models bear the same names as prominent European winds or currents by accident.

Volkwagen Golf 1974

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