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Volkswagen Golf Mk1

Published: 27th Feb 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • For us classic car lovers, originality and authenticity are the watchwords but nowadays you have to look long and hard to find a standard Golf, especially a GTi. Most have been modded and customised – and thrashed ‘n crashed – accordingly, so be as discerning as you can.
  • Care for a Campaign? Check the chassis numbers. That long line of digits must contain an E mark mid-way through, together with a number that’s special to the car.
  • It may be a Volkswagen but do they rust. Favourite places are the floor, bulkhead, suspension turrets, windscreen surround (can be nasty). sills, front wings rear axle and chassis rails, front suspension crossmembers, clutch cable location and the outer panels such as the doors and rear hatch (rare as hen’s teeth). Perhaps the most serious rot spot are the box sections under the rear.
  • Another odd rot point is around the fuel filler neck. Apart from being unsightly, corrosion also seriously contaminates the fuel lines and it’s a nightmare to eradicate.
  • The good news is that, thanks to a strong following, quite a lot of body panels are still available, even for the early Mk1, which were still in production in South Africa and South America until recently.
  • Usual engine trouble spots are worn cams (tappet noise), smoking and fuming and worn valve guide oil seals. The cam belt needs changing periodically – say every 50,000 miles to be on the safe side.
  • Transmissions are known for a couple of faults. For a start, crunchy reverse gear selection is a Golf characteristic and usually due to poor adjustment. Second gears can also suffer from a similar fate although modern synthetic oils can help here. The differentials can be a worry; VW riveted the gear clusters together and these can let go like a bullet and even smash through the casing!
  • Suspensions suffer from bushes / damper /spring / wishbone / ball joint wear but all are easy to fix. Too often Golfs are overmodified in the suspension and tyre departments. A good spring / damper match is crucial, while many owners go far too wide with the wheels and spoil the car’s geometry.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    Lively and modern in feel – even the non GTi models have enough performance for today’s roads but the brakes could be usefully improved.

  • Usability: 5/5

    One of the most practical, versatile classics around that’s a great daily driver that’s bound to be reliable. There’s a saloon as well as a pick-up spin-off, too.

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    Been around for decades and so well proven. Plenty of VW specialists around and most spares are easily obtainable.

  • Owning: 4/5

    Couldn’t be easier or so cost-effective with over 30mpg on offer from all models plus value for money classic car insurance is available. All need normal taxing though.

  • Value: 4/5

    Top GTis are becoming pretty pricey but the rest of the range remains keenly priced, although three-doors are wanted by young drivers to custom and tune and prices are reflecting this surge in interest.

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If you’re after a usable, economical daily driving classic that’s fun then why not take up Golf, says Alan Anderson

The original Volkswagen Golf was one of those cars that defined a generation and started a whole new fashion – the hatchback. Sure, others had the idea before – not least our own Austin A40 – but nobody packaged it as well as VW. Designed to replace the iconic Beetle, the Golf couldn’t have been more different, yet contrary to widely held views it wasn’t the first front-engined, front-wheel drive VW. The German had tried the concept out in 1972, with the bigger Passat, and Audi had been using front-wheel drive since the 1960s. VW’s own first effort was the unpopular K70 saloon, a design foisted upon the company by the takeover of NSU.

GTI apart, you may not think of the Mk1 Golf as a classic, but tell that to the kids! Such is their popularity for tuning and customising that, if you hanker for one, you’d better get in there quick while they are still cheap and available.

Which model to buy?

Of course for enthusiasts there’s only one choice, the GTi, but that does the rest of the range a disservice because all that makes the hot hatch so good is all there, albeit in lesser degrees, in every other model – even the base 1100. The Golf GTi was rumoured to have been devised by a bunch of VW engineers who played with a standard version by slotting in the capable 1.6-litre fuel-injected engine that was already doing the business in the often overlooked Audi 80GT. VW big wigs were so taken with the results that they quickly ordered the car for production, arriving late in 1975.

Naturally these are the most expensive Golfs and five figures for top models is not uncommon, although you can still get a fair one for half this. The most coveted GTi is the limited run Campaign model, but a lot of nonsense has been talked about this. In simple terms it was a specially-trimmed GTi featuring some subtle changes (of which the vast majority could be retro-fitted anyway) such as dedicated Pirelli ‘P’ alloy rims, driving lamps enclosed in the grille, sunroof, locking fuel cap, tinted glass, and even those famed and unique ‘golf ball style’ interior door lock buttons! Only 1000 cars were made, so beware of fakes!

The more basic Golfs can be picked up for not much more than £1000 and, out of these, the best models are the 1300 and 1500 in L and GL forms, which are lively and civilised. The 1100 is sluggish if smooth and some early base models even used all round drum brakes. If you want a classic diesel the Golf, introduced in 1978, is ideal. Low tech by today’s standards, the 1.5 Derv drinker has similar performance to the 1100, yields up to 50mpg and is fairly refined.

Sun seekers will love the Convertible. Built by Karmann (like the Beetle rag top) this range also redefined the saloon-derived cabrio when it was announced in 1979. So good was the design that the car skipped a generation upgrade and was only replaced by the Mk3 in the 1990s, although it did boast certain changes afforded by the Mk2 such as a 1.8-litre engine option. Other lesser known Golfs include the Yugoslavian-made Caddy pick-up which lasted well into the 1990s, plus was available in GTi-like Sport guise, and the equally good if less practical and stylish Jetta saloon that‘s well worth considering, we might well add.

Behind the wheel?

The first thing you ask yourself when driving the original Golf is to question the design’s age. Is it really almost 40 years old? So well engineered and solid does this VW feel and seem much more youthful than its age suggests. Anybody used to younger Golfs will feel right at home, and that includes a crunch into reverse if you’re not careful with the clutch! The driving position is good but the seats aren’t as comfortable as you expect – but it’s no worse than say an Escort Mk2/Mk3 of that era.

Once on the move though things improve and all models feel pleasantly lively and keen, including the 1100, although that’s because of the rather lowish gearing employed. This Volkswagen makes a much better bet as a 1.3 (0-60mph in 14 secs), 1500 (12 secs) and better still the 1.8 (11 seconds).

Of course, it’s the GTi that’s entitled to all the bragging rights with its razor sharp and swift fuel injected engine allied to kart-like wheel lifting handling. But the gentler Golfs are also good fun, thanks to their similar crispness and nimbleness.

If the dampers are still healthy (and they can wear out quickly along with the suspension bushes) the ride will remain compliant if not cosseting; it’s made worse on the GTi, care of an inch less ride height and anti-roll bar fitted fore and aft, but it‘s never notably uncomfortable.

“In its class, few cars are so easy to drive or give so much straightforward pleasure”, said Car in a road test. Sun seekers won’t find a better classic than a Golf cabriolet. While it loses some of the rigidity found in the hatchback, despite a Stag-like roll bar, it’s nevertheless not a sloppy sunbather and a good one will still be pleasantly free of squeaks and rattles.

Another benefit of going the rag top route is that this Golf Mk1 lasted well into the 1990s, so you can buy a relatively ‘new’ classic. There’s also the option of the 90bhp 1.8-litre engine which in easy-to-tune carb form is perhaps the best all roader of the lot.

If you can, go for a Golf with better gearing. VW played with the idea called ‘3+E’ during the early 1980s, which was aimed to give superior economy via taller gearing, but nothing can beat a five-speeder; and they can be fairly easily retro-fitted.

The unassisted steering was considered light and direct in its day but those used to moderns may not agree now. One area where the Golf has always been criticised is in the braking department. Brakes are disc and drums but some entry models lacked servo assistance. And even with it, road tests regularly complained about a long pedal travel caused by the conversion to RHD and a dead feel, but in general driving it’s not something that causes a major concern (see The Daily Option for more on this).

Okay so let’s talk about the GTi, the Hot Hatch. For many this is still the only one to have, thanks its blend of performance, light weight, agility and minimalism. Later Golf GTis (of which there has been no less than six generations) may be faster and grippier but they all lack the simplicity and purity of design, as well as the rawness that made the original such a classic – rather like the original Mini Cooper in spirit. Find a good, honest example - and they are around – and chances are you’ll never want to part with it. Some enthusiasts like the first ‘1600’ best but the 1.8, introduced for 1983, is torquier with significant more pull low down.

The daily option?

The Golf is arguably the most practical and sensible everyday modern classic on the block. A performance car one minute, makeshift van the next, it’s easy to see why the cars remain so popular. The Mk1 is almost the same size as the current Polo, but you’ll found older the Golf roomier because it’s not stuffed with safety padding and the like, encroaching on cabin space. Almost 40 years on, and the refinement levels still impress (if not the equipment levels) while general performance is entirely adequate, even on the 1.1/1.3 around town. Those used to moderns may bemoan the lack of a fifth gear, as well as power steering, however. One point that may raise some concern are the brakes, which, thanks to conversion to RHD, are strangely long in travel and mushy but there are many tuning companies around who can sort this out by simple tweaking and adjustment, along with giving Golfs more go and grip, if needed.

There’s that familiar sold feel of course, which we’ve come to expect with the badge and, thanks to the small size and square cut styling, both the Golf and the Jetta are easy-peasy to drive in town and park, while the heating and ventilation set up is more than adequate for our changeable climate. As rag tops go you can’t find a more user friendly one than the convertible. On later model it’s powered, but the earlier manual labour ones are easy and quick to operate. Once up it feels almost as snug and quiet as a normal Golf hatchback.

Being a hatchback, the Golf as a versatile as you want it to be, although the Jetta saloon boasts a massive boot of almost 20cuft plus doesn’t suffer from a high loading lip like the Golf’s hatch. Equipment levels were never benevolent and a good many hatchbacks will lack a wash/wipe and it’s well worth fitting one – try an autojumble for a cheap kit.

Ease of ownership?

The Golf is VW’s most successful car ever and it’s the world’s third best seller with more than 25 million made. So, as you can imagine, spares and repairs shouldn’t pose a problem, even for Mk1s because it remained in production in South Africa and South America until quite recently, although rear hatch doors can be a problem. Trim, however, is much harder to source all round so it depends how original you want the car to remain. If you have the space, perhaps buying a scrapper would be a wise move for future scavenging.

For the DIY-er the Golf is a good prospect. It’s been around for almost 40 years and is extremely well known in the trade, where there are shed loads of independent Volkswagen/Audi specialists who can assist. Many parts from later Golfs and other VWs can be substituted and, as proven by young enthusiasts, replacing the stock engine with a later VAG unit with five or six speeds makes a very fine usable car indeed.

If you intend to use one as a daily driver (and why not?), just take care of the bodywork with annual inspections and copious applications of Waxoyl or similar because they do have a reputation for rusting, although mechanically they uphold VW’s famed reputation.



Work started on the Golf after VW’s take over of NSU in 1969, fiirst fwd VW being NSU-designed K70. Golf introduced as all new replacement for the much loved Beetle (which remained in production); three/five-door front-wheel drive and new ohc engines, initially 1.1 and 1.3-litre


Car launched in American and Australian markets. 1500cc engine offered. GTi, featuring the Audi 80 GT 1.6 engine first shown as a concept but not launched until a year later



Minor facelift and trim upgades plus convertible model is launched, made by coachbuilder Karmann. Although Mk1 replaced by Mk2 in 1983, the convertible remains until the Mk3 is introduced in 1993.


Cabrio gains larger fuel tank while Clipper model is launched featuring distinctive bumpers, side skirts and other enhancements. Caddy pick-up introduced for certain markets while certain Golf models remained in production right up until 2009!

We Reckon...

Anybody after a classic daily driver would be daft not to consider a Golf. They offer everything today’s motoring demands in a classical way and are easy to maintain and update. A well maintained one is bound to prove reliable and in terms of image the Golf (like all top ‘working’ classics?-ed) is both classy and classless at the same time. And, best of all, you don’t need to own a GTi to enjoy this round of Golf either!

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