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VW Golf Published: 16th Oct 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

VW Golf
VW Golf
VW Golf
VW Golf
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Stuart winds back 40 years when Volkswagen’s Scirocco, beat the Golf into production and signalled the German’s shift to front-wheel drive

Just one simple letter transformed my life, or at least my hard-pressed finances. It was from Keith Macfarlane, who sadly died earlier this year, saying that he was going to set up a motoring supplement in the big South African newspaper, The Argus, and asking if anyone on the staff of Autocar was interested in writing for it. I responded with alacrity and was taken on as European motoring correspondent. By chance I was able to offer something of a scoop for my first piece for the newspaper, because I was just back from the 1974 Geneva Show where I had seen the sharp suited new Volkswagen Scirocco. I had been told that this new Coupé was to be followed by a whole new range of front-wheel drive hatchbacks, a format which VW tried with the Passat a year earlier; Audi had been producing fwd cars since the late 1960s so it wasn’t a totally new venture.

For South Africa, where the Beetle was built under licence, this was big news, and my article headed ‘Scirocco to blow out the Beetle’ in the paper for 3rd April, 1974, caused a stir. It was an appropriate title, because the Scirocco name was taken from that of a wind off the Sahara.

Sales of the Beetle were already flagging, and the realisation that Volkswagen was moving to front-wheel drive and a water-cooled engine was something of a final nail in the Beetle coffin, although it did soldier on in some countries for several years. It was a good start to my freelance contract with South Africa, which continued for 12 years until Keith retired, by which time the exchange rate for the South African rand had collapsed. In those difficult years of the Government pay freeze, our hard times under a mean managing director and even meaner editor, were eased by the monthly pay cheque from SA.

The Scirocco was offered at first in two versions, both with 1500cc engine, but a smaller 1093cc unit (not seen in the UK) was to be launched later, mounted transversely again, but the other way round, with its clutch and gearbox on the right hand side.

Both engines were available when the Golf had its début at the Earls Court Motor Show in October 1974, by which time the Scirocco had come on to the market at £1995 including the then applicable car tax plus VAT, a fair old sum back then. As we had been promised, we had a Scirocco 1.5 TS for Road Test in one of the early Motor Show issues, recording fuel consumption of 28.5mpg and a top speed of 104mph.

The Golf came on stream later that year, and we had an example of the baseline 1100L for test in one of the first issues of 1975. Not surprisingly it was a poor preface to the exciting ‘pocket rocket’ into which Golf developed later, taking nearly a whole minute to accelerate through the gears to 80mph, which was not far short of its 86mph top speed. Fuel consumption of 30.1mpg would not have found many buyers today mind…

By 1978, it emerged that GTi versions of both the Scirocco and Golf were to become available following launch at the Frankfurt Show, and at much the same time it emerged that there would be a revival of the Mobil Economy Run. Mobil Oil, most strangely, abandoned their long support of the annual Economy Run after the 1973 oil crisis, just when people were beginning to be really interested in fuel consumption.

A tentative enquiry to VW, asking if a good performance by a VW Golf GTi might help to offset previous disappointing mpg figures in Road Tests, received a positive response, but there was no right-hand drive version available yet. Could we cope with lhd?

Although Mobil were backing the event, organised as usual by the very efficient Hants. & Berks. Motor Club, the support was far removed from the lavish extravagance of previous years. Effectively, all they were prepared to pay for was the fuel used, so the length of the course, previously always around 1000 miles, was reduced to 420. A more important change was that there was no spare cash to pay for the usual team of observers, one to each car, to ensure observance of all traffic rules and especially, no freewheeling.

At the scrutineering, one of the competitors asked if freewheeling was allowed, and the answer was that as they couldn’t monitor it they couldn’t stop it, but they didn’t think that the course would give many opportunities for slipping into neutral.

This was certainly not the case, and after experience of the Golf GTi I was delighted by its slick gear change, and the easy way it bowled along in neutral with the engine turned off, and then restarted after long bouts of freewheeling. All competitors were taking advantage of this, and the results showed the tremendous fuel saving contributed by freewheeling! The winner in the small car class, up to 1000cc, was the late Joe Lowrey whose Reliant Kitten achieved 71.92mpg, and the overall winner on index of efficiency was Pat Tothill with an Austin Princess 2000HL who managed a remarkable 53.11mpg.

Our Golf, with the benefit of excellent navigation by my brother Hugh, failed miserably and despite all our efforts managed only 44.57mpg to finish fourth in the up to 1750 cc class. Its sparking plugs were intended for hard driving and high speed cruising on the Autobahn and just did not like the pussy-footed progress of the rally. At the end of the run the engine was misfiring and the plugs were black and soot-covered. Perhaps a few full throttle blasts would have produced a better result.

After I had left Autocar and become a freelance writer I was delighted to try the new version of the Scirocco Storm, introduced in June 1984. There had been an earlier version but this 1984 model, based on the GTi version, had bodywork modifications by the coachbuilders, the now defunct Karmann.

There were wheel arch extensions in body colour, a larger wing on the rear hatch, and lots of luxury inside. Leather upholstery and a polished wood facia plus sunroof were among the embellishments for Storm. Prices have changed out of all comparison, of course, but it’s amazing to realise that the Storm was on sale at only £9796, and only 600 were available on the market that year. If I could have afforded that sort of money in 1986, a Storm would have been my choice.

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