Volkswagen Magazine

Golf GTI

Redefining performance for 40 Years: the Golf GTI

Few cars can claim to have reached iconic status like Volkswagen’s
Golf GTI. With the release of the new 40 Years edition, the time is
right to celebrate this most beloved of performance hatches.

Words Henry Biggs / Paul Rodger

Looking back, 1976 was quite a year. Both Microsoft and Apple were officially formed, Concorde made its first commercial flight, the Ramones released their debut album and the Space Shuttle was unveiled. And of course, enthusiastic drivers got their hands on the first examples of what was to become an icon – the Golf GTI.

The car that popularised a whole new class of performance vehicle, the hot hatchback, was officially unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1975 and, like so many things destined for greatness, was the personal project of a small group of passionate people at Volkswagen’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Led by engineer Alfons Lowenberg and PR man Anton Konrad, a six-person team worked in secret, having been told by the higher-ups that Volkswagen had no need for a performance product. That all changed when the prototype – actually based on a Scirocco chassis – was shown to the board, who greenlit it for a limited production run.

The original formula was simple. Shoehorn a powerful 1.6-litre engine from sister company Audi into the compact and practical Golf hatchback, add mechanical fuel-injection (hence the ‘I’ in the name) and some purposeful exterior tweaks and a front spoiler to designer Giorgetto Giugiaro’s elegantly simple creation.

The driver was left in no doubt that fun was on the cards thanks to touches like the tartan seats and the golf ball gearknob. And with a rev-happy 80kW moving just 810kg, the GTI certainly delivered, with performance to match sports sedans of the day. An upgrade to a 1.8-litre engine offering 85kW only increased the smiles-per-mile factor. An instant hit, the initial run of 5000 cars quickly sold out and the GTI became a full production model.

The Mk1 was never officially imported into Australia but that changed with its 1983 successor. Only offered here as a GTI (or convertible), the Mk2 cemented the model’s iconic reputation and it became an ’80s status symbol, particularly in 16-valve form, which raised the power output of the 1.8-litre engine to 102kW. The Mk2 also established the GTI design cues that you can still see echoes of today, such as the red grille treatment, twin headlights and aggressive looking bumpers. In 1990 the one millionth GTI was produced.

»As soon as the road becomes twisty it turns from draught-horse to quarter-horse«

As the world moved from the excess of the ’80s to the more circumspect ’90s, the GTI followed suit. The 1992 Mk3 received another engine upgrade, this time to a refined 2.0-litre that in 16-valve form produced 110kW. With its aerodynamic new body, the car could reach speeds of 210km/h. For the GTI’s 20th anniversary in 1996, a diesel joined the range for the first time, producing 80kW but none of the Mk3 GTI variants were officially sold here.

Even its most ardent admirers would admit that the Mk4 GTI had lost some of the edge that the model was famous for, despite it being offered worldwide with the widest range of engine options yet. However, at the start of the new millennium, the GTI celebrated its 25th birthday with the introduction of something special – turbocharging – that would pave the way for the car that is regarded as the rebirth of the famous badge.

Announced in 2004, the Mk5 once again made it clear that the Golf GTI was the ultimate all-round performance package. With a new, turbocharged 2.0-litre engine producing 147kW, sports-focused suspension changes and the option of Volkswagen’s acclaimed DSG twin-clutch gearbox, the resurgent GTI could handle the Sunday morning blast as confidently as the school run. The distinctive red grille-trim, tartan seats and golf ball gearknob were back, too.

Building on its predecessor’s success, the Mk6 GTI added greater power and refinement, proving that in the GTI, you can have it all. The GTI Edition 35 had a top speed approaching 250km/h and could do 0–100km/h in well under seven seconds.
The Mk7 GTI, introduced in 2013 raised levels of sophistication and technology to levels that would astound someone who bought an original 40 years ago. Lighter than its predecessor thanks to an all-new platform, the latest GTI comes in two power outputs thanks to the Performance variant. It’s capable of 169kW, an increase of 7kW on than standard.

The lucky few drivers who manage to snag the latest offering in the venerable Golf GTI range, the very limited Golf GTI 40 Years edition, will find that they have up to 213kW at their disposal thanks to a new boost function.

The most powerful GTI ever? Well, for now…

To find out more about the Golf GTI 40 Years please click HERE to visit our website

Owners tell their stories

It’s the Golf GTI fans who’ve made the car what it is over the last 40 years. Volkswagen Magazine caught up with five owners who’ve lusted after, bought and enjoyed the car over the years.

 Dale Morgan Photography


“There’s two things I love about my Golf GTI Mk5. The first is its Jekyll and Hyde nature. I can chug to work with it or take it on the highway at a leisurely pace, but as soon as the road becomes twisty it turns from draught-horse to quarter-horse. A thousand psychologists couldn’t match it for the peace it brings me!

The other thing I love is the way it communicates the road surface to the driver like no other car I’ve driven. Its balance totally inspires confidence, even on slippery back roads, and means I can really enjoy driving it. My wife is from Albury [in Victoria] and I’m from Sale originally so we travel both ways to see family throughout the year. We have a son in the Australian Junior Ice Hockey League, so my car has seen plenty of kilometres driving around the country to tournaments over the years.

But I have to say that the time I value driving it most is when I’m on the hills and mountains of Victoria and Southern New South Wales. If there’s a better car for those windy roads, I haven’t driven it yet!”

Owner #1

NAME: Stuart
AGE: 45
MODEL: 2008 Golf GTI Mk5
LIVES: Melbourne, Victoria
OCCUPATION: Knowledge Management Consultant
OWNED FOR: 6 years (and 200,000km)


“My girlfriend and I take my Golf GTI Mk1 Campaign Edition for a drive down to Fremantle [from Perth] and it’s amazing how many people will admire the car, or take photos of it. It’s embarrassing, but also pretty cool at the same time. People who own a Mk1 will tell you that the cabin gives off a lovely vintage smell. Sure, the car is pretty old-fashioned, particularly when compared to the latest GTIs, but I like the rawness of it. The steering is pretty sluggish, but it’s so agile and I just love the engine note.

I’ve driven it to Albany [6 hours away] and it just purrs along. I’ll be in 5th gear and motoring along at 100km/h. If I want to overtake another car, it’s got so much in reserve that I don’t need to think about dropping down a gear. There’s only two Mk1 Campaign Edition cars in Australia that I’m aware of. Only a thousand were released in the UK and this is one of the very few to have been imported. Volkswagen was getting ready to introduce the Mk2 so the Campaign Edition was the last run on the Mk1 production line. It came with a few extra mod-cons at the time, such as a sunroof, fog lights and Pirelli tyres.

I’ve owned a few regular and modified Golf Mk1s over the years, but this is the only one I know to be absolutely genuine. Sometimes I don’t need to drive anywhere in particular – I just take it out for the pure enjoyment of it!”

Owner #2

NAME: Shane
AGE: 40
MODEL: 1983 Golf GTI Mk1 Campaign Edition
LIVES: Perth, Western Australia
OCCUPATION: Landscaper
OWNED FOR: 2 years (and 10,000km)


“I’m the type of person who wakes up one day and decides to do something crazy. I’ve always had a thing for cars and I was going through a rough patch in my life (early last year). I decided I needed something fun in my life!

My cousin lent me her Golf GTI for the weekend and it was then that I realised how fun the GTI is. So, after that weekend, I put my existing car up for sale. Within a few days I was the proud owner of a Golf GTI Mk6!

Every time I get in my car, I fall in love over and over again. If ever you want evidence of how much I love my car, just check out my Instagram page (issy.gti), which I usually post to every few days.I’ve had the car tuned (which makes it super fun and a little more aggressive). I also purchased personalised number plates for my birthday recently, which is a definite conversation starter at the traffic lights. I’ve made loads of friends by being part of the Volkswagen community so I couldn’t be happier with my Golf GTI!

(Photo credit: R Line photography/Andrija Susjna)

Owner #3

NAME: Issy Oz
AGE: 30
MODEL: 2011 Golf GTI Mk6
LIVES: Melbourne, Victoria
OCCUPATION: Workers Compensation Case Manager
OWNED FOR: 1.5 years


You wouldn’t believe what I’ve used my Golf GTI Mk4 to carry. I‘ve used it to move house, haul bags of cement, transport a leather single-seater lounge, and everything in between. The roof racks have seen a lot use, too. They’ve been used for cupboards, clothes lines, pool fencing and my mountain bike. I also have a Samoyed dog and it gets to ride in the back on the leather seats (on rugs!). 

My first car was a 1979 Golf Mk1 that my dad gave to me in Year 12. It was good fun to drive and it taught me a lot. Would you believe I still own it – but it hasn’t been started for a very long time. I bought this Golf GTI brand new in 2002 and I’ve put almost 250,000km on the clock. My mother and I caught a train to Melbourne and drove it back home to Albury. I tell you, it’s great to have a car that’s super practical but is still fun to drive on a curvy road. I’ve enjoyed taking it on the Great Alpine and Great Ocean roads, and it’s also been on a few driver training days.

I never did intend to modify it, but I slowly started buying parts and adding things one piece at a time. It‘s got parts from a few different Volkswagen models, but I‘ve tried to modify it with an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) theme. My inspiration was actually the 25th anniversary edition of the GTI. The photo you see here was taken in 2007 when comet McNaught was passing through.”

Owner #4

NAME: Peter
AGE: 34
LIVES: Albury, NSW
OCCUPATION: IT specialist
OWNED FOR: 14 years (and 250,000km)


“I had my heart set on a Golf GTI Mk5 a few years ago, but I couldn’t afford it at the time. I ended up buying a car that wasn’t a Volkswagen. I realised how much of a mistake that was when I ended up buying my Mk6. There was absolutely no comparison! I wanted to find a two-door car with the options that I wanted – namely, a sunroof, a Dynaudio system, Bi-Xenon lights and reversing camera. The car doesn’t have leather seats but I’ve really grown to like the tartan cloth.

I love my car for the instant power it has on tap. I can be cruising along and you can barely hear the engine note. But put your foot down and it just comes alive. I have a mate who owns a Ferrari and even he reckons it sounds unbelievable. I have made some alterations to the car to make it look (and sound) exactly how I want it, but I’ve always wanted it to maintain that OEM look. It still looks like it rolled off the production line in a lot of ways but a lot of work has gone into it. Not only have I added carbon fibre skirts, a new front lip and rear diffusers, I’ve had the paint redetailed and protected.

I’ve also added a turbo kit and an after-market exhaust that I’ve modified to my liking. I try not to drive it too often – I like to keep it as an ‘after 5pm’ car – but it’s hard not to drive it more often than I do!”

Owner #5

NAME: Stelio
AGE: 32
LIVES: Melbourne, Victoria
OCCUPATION: Stonemason
OWNED FOR: 2 years


“I‘ve been a fan of the Golf GTI for as long as I can remember but for some reason or other I never got around to buying my own. Perhaps I just wasn‘t ready for it. I’m an event photographer so when it came time to upgrade my car, I began looking for one that I could carry my gear in. I wanted something that could get me to my jobs in comfort and style. On my days off, however, I wanted something that could bring a smile to my face when I got onto twisty roads.

It just so happened that the Mk7 had been launched at the time, so after a quick visit to the dealership, I got myself a new Christmas present! I’ve owned a few sports cars over the years but without a doubt, this has been the best car I‘ve had. As well as taking it on my photography assignments, I‘ve used it to move houses and taken it on plenty of road trips.

It’s refined and it’s reliable. But more than anything, I love the sound it makes and the feeling I get when I drive it. There‘s nothing that this car can‘t do without skipping a beat. Simply put, it‘s the best tool for the job – every job.”

Owner #6

NAME: Patrick
AGE: 38
MODEL: 2013 Golf GTI Mk7
LIVES: Sydney
OCCUPATION: Photographer
OWNED FOR: 3 years