By on May 31, 2011

How about a Volkswagen Golf with the insane, mindbending power of  235 horses under the hood? Want one? Then better stop reading. Book a flight to Klagenfurt (that’s KLU in airport-speak, your travel agent probably has never heard of it) and go like right now. There will probably be a stopover in Vienna. Then head to Reifnitz, Wörthersee and just follow the noise. From tomorrow, June 1 through June 4th, the bucolic town in Austria will host the world’s biggest Golf GTI Meet.

There will be two anniversaries to be celebrated. The Golf GTI Meet turns 30. And the Golf GTI has just turned 35. To celebrate the double anniversary, Volkswagen lays on the Golf GTI Edition 35, at 235 hp “the most powerful GTI ever,” says Volkswagen.

The 235 hp (25 horsies more than the regulation GTI) propel the car to 247 km/h – that’s pretty scary with such a little car. Volkswagen took the engine out of the all wheel Golf R; and routed all the power to the front wheels. The 235 hp Golf GTI Edition 35 (get it, get it?) can be ordered now at a dealer in Europe at a starting price of 30,425 euros ($43,827, usual disclaimers apply.)

“What a success story,” fawns the Volkswagen press release. “Back in the summer of 1976 – when the very first production GTI was launched – no one ever would have surmised what Volkswagen had just unleashed: that there would still be a Golf GTI 35 years later; that the power would handily exceed 200 PS; and that nearly two million Golf GTI would be sold by today. That is because icons cannot be planned.”

The can say that aloud. The truth about the GTI is that it was a total fluke.

When the Golf GTI was launched 35 years ago, Volkswagen thought the GTI would only be an oddity for motorsports. I did the launch campaign for the thing (red with black accents, obscene 110 hp). When we received the agency brief, they told us it was a limited edition, a “Sondermodell,” 5000 units. If I recall right, 5000 was the minimum for homologation for some rally class.

We told them: “You are nuts. None will reach the customer.”

“Hey, we build 5,000!”

“You have 4,500 dealers in Germany. Each dealer will keep one for his son.”

And so it was. The first run was sold out before the car had reached the showrooms. But Volkswagen adapted quickly and cranked them out to meet market demand. Remember the black golf ball as the gear shift knob? The Golf GTI started the hot hatch genre, the belated Euro version of the muscle car.

I immediately was in Volkswagen’s ears to bring the car to the U.S.

“Bertel, haven’t you heard, they have that 55 mph speed limit.”

“Sure, but they like their muscle cars.”

Nein. Forget it. You do the ads, we do the cars. Verstanden?

It took until the 1983 model year for a Golf/Rabbit GTI to appear stateside. Icons can’t be planned. But they can be delayed if you try hard enough.

Wait a minute, did I say 35 years? OMG. I better call the Social Security Administration and switch from AAA to AARP.

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19 Comments on “35 Years Golf GTI. Celebrated with a 235 hp Golf GTI Special (Lots Of Pictures, And Some BS Reminiscing)...”

  • avatar

    I have a 95 golf 3 with about 100 hp and 240k on it, its been a fun little car.

    But 50 large for one, I just dont see it. I would settle for a regular GTI at half the price. I probably will.

    • 0 avatar

      You need to adjust for Germany’s 19% VAT (and other factors). Car prices usually works out to a 1:1 conversion between EUR and USD – so a car that sells in Europe for EUR30,425 would sell in the US for $30,425.

    • 0 avatar

      Euro prices don’t apply to the US market. A 35 edition (which won’t come here anyway) would probably sticker for $30k or so in the US. I think we’ll be getting the Golf R for $34k or so and that is an AWD, 270hp version.

      I have a special place in my heart for the MKI, MKII, and MKV GTIs. The first 2 were simply brilliant cars for their time and the MKV rediscovered some of that magic. I still miss my MKV GTI every so often. Such a fun car to drive with that great transmission and spunky 2.0T. It just wasn’t worth the hassle at the end of the day.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    Mine was an ’84, one of the last of the Mk 1 “Rabbit” GTIs, made in the infamous Westmoreland, Pennsylvania VW plant. In US trim those Rabbit GTIs only had 90 hp, and mine barely topped 100 mph with the sunroof open. But you could do a fair fraction of that speed going around freeway entrance ramps, it seemed:-). A great fun car, and mine lasted over 11 years in my garage.

  • avatar

    As an enthusiastic owner (my first ever new car) of a 1983 Rabbit GTI, I would like to personally thank you, Herr Schmitt, for attempting to convince VW to bring the car to the US. I drove it for ten years and loved every minute. It was quite reliable, too. Since then I’ve had various 3 series BMWs, an Evo, an SHO, an SVT Contour, and other cars, nothing can match the playfulness of that Mark I GTI. It only had 90 HP, but it just felt like the fastest car in the world.

    I have a Mark VI GTI in the stable right now and it’s a sweet-driving car. Age and weight has made it a bit less frisky than than the Mark I, but as I get older I realize that insane horsepower isn’t everything. Volkswagen deserves to be proud of the GTI legacy.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, they have gotten bigger and more everything over the years. I wish we could get the Polo here – its probably about the size in the Mk1.

    • 0 avatar

      Right on- after a bunch of second hand Japanese sedans, last summer I scooped up my first new car, a candy white MkVI GTI.

      9 months and 20,000 flawless miles (up and down every mountain chain east of the Mississippi) I have come to the indisputable conclusion that this is THE PERFECT CAR.

      Touring, commuting, hauling a modest amount of stuff, perfection. Despite it’s short wheelbase it is well planted. Even in it’s base form, the fit and finish is second to none for any vehicle under $60,000.

      You can tell this car is designed and built by and for people who work for a living, and take pride and joy in the little things.

      Happy Birthday GTI, and excellent work VW.

  • avatar

    “The 235 hp (25 horsies more than the regulation GTI) propel the car to 247 km/h – that’s pretty scary with such a little car.”

    Common, Herr Schmitt, the current Golf GTI weighs about 1400 kilogramms and is not a little car except when compared to a 1970s Caddy. The Golf I was a small car (about 800 kilogramms) but like all the other cars, the Golf has gotten bloated.

    Also, I’d be curious to see the original add you created for the GTI.

  • avatar

    Yawn. The Alfa Romeo 147 GTA had all this in 2002.

  • avatar

    While the Mk V GTI brought the car back to its roots, it wasn’t until the significantly updated Mk VI came out that VW really nailed it. The current GTI is a fabulous car, all around. Looks good, priced right, and that flat bottomed steering wheel with plaid seats make the car a very unique piece of kit. Love it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure what was so significantly updated on the MkVI (I own an MkV GTI and love it). Yes, the interior skin is different and the front and rear fascias have morphed. The engine is different, but APR can’t get as much power out of it in a Stage 1 tune than my engine. But, my understanding is that the driving reason behind the MkVI architecture in the first place was to cut costs over the MkV. So, it was brought out as a “cheaper” MkV. That’s why it basically looks like a Mk5.5.

      Are you speaking strictly LOOKS? Even that’s arguable.

  • avatar

    The 263 horses and 280 feet pounding in the Mazdaspeed3 is a scary amount of power in a little car. Frankly, the GTI is more right-sized.

  • avatar

    I love my 2008 GTI, and I would REALLY love to find a nice 83 or 84 first gen to have parked next to it. Or maybe a Scirocco. Or a Cabriolet with a GTI conversion… so much to choose from!

    Great article Bertel! I didnt know you were involved in the marketing of the GTI, very cool.

  • avatar

    I had an ’84 Jetta GLI through most of college in the early 90s. The GTIs German-made betrunked sister. Fantastic car, and with the Euro cam and downpipe it really flew. Also amazing handling for those days on sticky 14″ rubber. Traded that car back and forth with my best friend for many years after college until the tinworm finally got to her 5-6 years ago. 350K miles or so, and still ran like a Swiss watch. The engine and close-ratio gearbox are still in his shed.

  • avatar

    The 235 hp (25 horsies more than the regulation GTI) propel the car to 247 km/h – that’s pretty scary with such a little car. Volkswagen took the engine out of the all wheel Golf R; and routed all the power to the front wheels.

    I could be wrong, however I think you will find that VW didn’t use the engine out of the R on 35th anniversary GTI, as the R using the older EA113 engine out of the Mark 5 GTI, and the current Mark 6 GTI uses the newer EA888 engine that is shared with Audi. For the 35th edition, they’ve given the EA888 a software upgrade to release a few extra horses.

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