By on March 31, 2014


March 29th, 1973 marks the anniversary of the Volkswagen Golf’s introduction some 40 years ago. Although Volkswagen’s official communications tout the car as a runaway success, the front-drive, water-cooled car wasn’t met with such an enthusiastic reception at the outset.

The true story of the Golf (or at least an entertaining one that runs counter to the PR hagiography disseminated by Volkswagen), and its success can only be told by one Bertel Schmitt, who recounted it in “The Autobiography of BS”, back in 2009. Rather than relay it here, I urge you all to check out the original, which is best relayed with Bertel’s unique diction, droll sense of humor and his eye for the absurd.

During my time working with Bertel, much of our business was conducted via the phone, with hour-long chats where Bertel would relay the “directors cut” version of his time working with Volkswagen. Much of it was unpublishable, and I was often left reeling at the end of it, having difficulty processing the sheer amount of information and detail. But the end result was a “Karate Kid” style of mentorship. Bertel was effectively planting the seeds of industry knowledge in my brain, giving me the context and background knowledge I needed to do my job, while giving me enough autonomy to let me screw up, get things wrong and learn the hard way – by getting flayed by the B&B in the comments.


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27 Comments on “The Golf Turns 40 As TTAC Looks Back At The Man Behind The Launch...”

  • avatar

    I never felt the urge to purchase a Golf, due mainly to my preference to the build quality of VW’s from the 1960’s and Volvo before the mid 1970’s.

    I must say, the design of the Mark I Golf still looks fresh today – unlike the Nissans and Toyotas of the late 1970’s.

    • 0 avatar

      Volkswagen had and still has a very restraint design language. While it is certainly not breathtaking in any way, it tends to age better than some designs from competitors.

      • 0 avatar

        I do recall the European motoring press referring to the original Golf as the “Wolfsburg 127” due to its similarity in design to the hatchback Fiat 127 of 1972. I also remember a friend’s Golf fondly, as it was roomier and more modern than most of the small cars available in the early and mid 70’s. It didn’t have nearly the charm of the Beetle, but it was a much better automobile.

        • 0 avatar

          A quick nod to Alec Issigonis for the Mini and the Austin 1100/1300 – which essentially repackaged the design of small cars a decade later.

          The Golf and cars like the FIAT 128 were better automobiles with regards to interior space and comfort versus a VW Type 1 or Type 3. Thank you, Sir Alec.

          The Golf and FIAT were able to take it a step further than Austin and Morris with freshly designed OHC 4 cylinder engines.

          Both engines were decades better than the original VW flat four.

          There was a trade off though. The body and chassis components of the new FWD cars weren’t as robust as the old VW air coolers. That is the reason why there are so many Type 1 survivors that are still road worthy.

          Unless you only drove on smooth roads – the new Golf aged quickly. In short it would have more than its fair share of rattles by 50 to 60K mile mark – when one issue after another would appear.

          It was a birth of a new era where used VW’s need window regulators replaced. The rear hatch rattle would eventually lead to a water leak and so forth.

    • 0 avatar

      Giorgetto Giugiaro in his prime … he penned the original Golf, Scirocco and Passat. Classic clean 70s designs that have aged amazingly well.

    • 0 avatar

      From ownership, I know that air cooled 70’s VW had equal build quality to their 60’s counter parts, its the designs and metal quality that goofed up,

      Volvos were fine until the mid or late 90’s, my ’92 240s pretty solid if a bit wire-stuffed.

      I agree on Golfs aging better though, only the square headlight ones look dated.

  • avatar

    The Autobiography of BS is the series I like the most of all the things BS wrote.

    • 0 avatar

      Although you have to take it with a pinch of salt.

      I think we all know that BS is a narcissist who likes to boast around. It is nice to read but you always have to wonder how much of it is real and how much the writer glorified afterwards. *g*

    • 0 avatar

      BS is a marketing man first and foremost. The Autobiography of BS series were fantastic, and if he took no artistic license in the telling of the stories they would have been less authentic. Jack’s Sunday stories are better, but the world would be richer if we could have both writers without the toys, banning, shaming, flaming, “anonymous” posting etc. I’m still thrilled this site exists as is. What’s better?

  • avatar

    “During my time working with Bertel, much of our business was conducted via the phone, with hour-long chats where Bertel would relay…”

    For some reason, I immediately thought of Higgins from Magnum P.I. (one of the greatest shows of all time, by the way) beginning to relay one of his haughty & insufferable British Military excursion stories, as Thomas Magnum drops his head, eyes glazing over, clutching his rubber chicken in his throes of sudden boredom crashing down upon him like several tons of bricks.

  • avatar

    I think you meant to say “March 29th, 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Volkswagen Golf’s introduction.”

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    That may be true, but nevertheless his “insiders club” stories from VW were hugely engrossing, and well written.

    BTW, my nickname has nothing to do with him. Schmitt trigger is an electronic comparator circuit, with hysteresis to prevent noise during the transitions. Named in honor of German-American inventor Otto Schmitt.

  • avatar

    1983 Rabbit GTI, 2007 Golf GTI, 2008 R32, 2010 GTI — yeah, I like the Golf, particularly in its Hot Hatch form. All except the R32 (Chronic Check Engine Light) were quite reliable, too. Certainly fun to drive and lately the level of refinement of the Golf matches the BMWs I have owned.

  • avatar

    My sister had a Golf/Rabbit diesel manual (not brown) and it was just the right size/utility for her. It broke down on the freeway, and when her husband arrived with a tow truck, it had been stolen from the breakdown lane!

    She was going to buy another one, but found a newer Plymouth Horizon for less, and was shocked at how much bigger and more stable it was. Unfortunately, it melted just as fast in the Northeast chemical slush zone as every other car she owned.

  • avatar

    Wow, 40 years in production with the same name and a hatch design, that’s quite a feat compared to some companies that kill off names and bring them back years later as something completely different. More details are coming out on other sites about the 7th generation Golf, looks like it’s going to be a pretty awesome car and keep up with VW’s gradual evolution philosophy. Still no offical word on the GTD for North America but you can build a new 2015 Golf on now.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    We had three Rabbits in our family. Just before college graduation I got a ’77 in “frog” green from family friends who were moving away, to replace my SuperBeetle. Only a couple of years old, it seemed like a “new” car to me, and being the first year with the K-Jetronic fuel system it was quite reliable, so I ended up driving from the Midwest to New Mexico for a summer job (no A/C, and in NM even if it’s a dry heat, 106F is still hot), which was my mythic cross-country roadtrip, including places such as R66. “Frosch” seemed to be indestructible, only thing it didn’t like was trying to breathe while driving in the NM/CO mountains. Then back up to Boston to start graduate school (getting around there in the winters and to my folks in Buffalo to visit a girlfriend didn’t seem to faze it either), then a few years later back in the Midwest. My sister had a brown ’78–the last year they were imported from Germany–which she eventually traded for a new ’82 Honda Accord. Meanwhile, the green ’77 was joined a few years later by the last of the original Rabbits, an ’84 GTi, which I kept for nearly a dozen years, well into my family raising stages. Never warmed up to the styling of the later Golf variants, but I always keep a current GTi on the list of cars I could see myself in no matter what my age.

  • avatar

    Though I recognize the ultimate importance of the Golf and a 40 yrs run (though of course its been many cars under the same name) is impossible to ignore, the Golf has never done it for me. I always thought the competition offered better and I’d always choose one of them over the Golf. From the first to the seventh.

    As to Bertel, whatever where his peculiar viewpoints and opinions, his role in the industry and knowledge of it is undeniable.

    Anyways, happy 40th Golf!

    • 0 avatar

      I bet you’d prefer a Fiat.

      • 0 avatar

        At various times it’d have been different cars. I always liked the Tipo or Brava more. The current Bravo, although long in the tooth, is pretty attractive.

        There have been Méganes I’d take over any Golf. Some Peugeots and Citroëns. The current 308 is sweet.

        And of course, the Fords. Any Escort or Focus, pls.

        The GMs are probably the ones I’d like the least. Especially the Brazilian versions hampered by their decades old engines. Some Euro Opels have been pretty good too.

        Yeah, too much choice. With better rides, engines, features, cost/benefit. The Golf has really never been my thing.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    When the GTI first reached our shores I just HAD to have one…but I was so upside down on my car it was mission impossible.

    Like a Honda, despite intents and desires I’ve never had the opportunity to own one (I’ve always needed more cargo space), but I will someday.

    Golfs are beautiful cars – driver’s delight, always function before form. It is rumored/gossiped they’ll be bringing over the Golf convertible to replace the Eos…this I would love.

  • avatar

    > Bertel was effectively planting the seeds of industry knowledge in my brain, giving me the context and background knowledge I needed to do my job, while giving me enough autonomy to let me screw up, get things wrong and learn the hard way – by getting flayed by the B&B in the comments.

    Bertel for all his pretense was remarkably unaware of industry details. I wasn’t really looking at TTAC at the time but happened upon the self-proclaimed informative article about modular platforms while researching it myself:

    For all the praise in the comments this is nothing more than regurgitating press materials and looking up what kit means in the dictionary.

    Even worse, none of the “B&B computer experts/engineers” managed to point out the value of abstract interfaces despite its coincidental reference in the article.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. His knowledge was mostly from hearsay chitchat.

      His technical background (as all typical marketing guys) was always lackluster.

      I agree with you that his pieces were entertaining (in the beginning that is), but after a while I realized he was telling the same stories from 30 years ago over and over again.

      This website was always at it’s best, when it could provide a real insight into today’s car industry. I don’t really care who was stoned out of his mind at VW half a century ago … ;-)

      • 0 avatar

        The crux of the issue is that every business needs some competitive core competency. TTAC is never going to compete with any major pubs based on volume, and thus needs quality.

        As mentioned it’s worth living up to the name and start investigating the truth about cars. For example, what really is a “platform” or “kit”. How do those drive by wire pedals work anyway. Anatomy of a marketing campaign. The economics behind quarterly reports. Pitfalls of car financing. The list of topics where insight matters is endless.

        Provide a platform for either insiders or those with relevant expertise to build a veritable collection of value instead of chasing after sensationalist daily hits. Baruth does this to an extent with the car review shell game et al, but the car enthusiast internet sorely needs more expose behind the industry’s opaque curtains.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Sorry, your much beloved and often butt-kissed Bertel was nothing more than a petty tyrant who couldn’t even run an autoblog. His pettiness and childishness turned many a reader away from TTAC. Berthle’s almost daily anti-American rants where mildy amusing at first, and unacceptable at the end. Was I shocked when the “Emperor of TTAC” was told he had no clothes? Nope, not a bit. His inglorious exit was totally appropriate for a man of his intellect and caliber. Yeah, you could say I loathed The Banhammer.

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