The Editor finds himself becoming once more VW-orientated
Once upon a time, and it was a long time ago, I was known through these columns as an incurable Volkswagen fanatic. This was at the period when the reputation of the Beetle was at its height, as production at Wolfsburg swelled towards one-million of these rugged, high-quality, well-finished and dependable insects. I gained experience in the rnid-1950s of the car itself and VW service and felt justified in strongly recommending, to anyone who would listen, this unconventional approach to small-car motoring. As the years rolled along, however, other manufacturers brought out new models that were also technically “different” and which also had outstanding advantages. The BMC Mini Minor, for instance. So gradually I had to revise my opinions about the VW. I retain a very warm feeling for the Beetle and if I had to provide myself with a vehicle for impoverished commuting, I expect it would be to a sound used example to which I would turn, conscious of the low oil-thirst, long tyre-life, and ready availability of spares that these now out-dated cars still encompass.
As to the Volkswagen theme itself, the Beetle moved away from being a sensational sales-success in all parts of the world—how long can you watch an old film or documentary before a Beetle flits by?—to become a rather cramped, specialised-appeal sort of car and had to be supplemented by revised concepts of the original Dr. Ferdinand Porsche design and I never felt the same about the Variants, Fastbacks, Siroccos and 412Ls of later decades as I had about the original oddshaped VW.
Indeed, when the NSU-Audi marriage came about and the VW badge was stuck on water-cooled, front-wheel-drive cars, I felt that all my affinities and affections for the make had evaporated, good as the cars themselves undoubtedly were. I saw none of the old magic in this German badge-engineering. Anyway, along the way since the 1950s other makes had appeared with all-independent suspension, torsion-bar springing, air-cooling and high-quality gloss paintwork, etc., even if not combined in one car. So my fanaticism for all things VW-from-Wolfsburg waned, although it was mightily difficult to discard the label I had acquired!
Then the Golf arrived. I played the game with both 1100 and 1500 versions on the preview run and thought them nice cars, but no better than many other small cars available today, and doing nothing for me, in the old Beetle context. More recently, however, I have been able to use a 1500 Golf LS for a normal test-period and now find I am in danger of returning to something of the old VW fanaticism of which I am sometimes still accused. This can only have come about because the VW Golf has some affinity with qualities I admired in those 1950s Beetles. They may be tenuous, but they are there.
For instance, the doors do not want to shut unless a window is opened, which is presumably an indication of good body sealing, as it was on the Beetles. The fuel range is generous, as it was on the Beetles. I ran 288 miles on a far-from-full tank before I ran the thing dry. I was amused to be again using a key with the cut-away “VW” motif on its shank and the instruction book issued with the Golf is as informative, and of very similar format, to that I had with my black Beetle, although they no longer give you a pull-out colour cut-away of the car in side elevation, a picture which was meticulously brought up-to-date with every change in the Beetle.
I am aware that these are very small throwbacks to the older VWs and that on their own they in no way merit a rave report on the new Golf. But, you see, it has other appealing, even VW-like, qualities.
My wife and I were impressed with how quiet the LS was. Motorway cruising at 70 m.p.h. it is far less cacophonous than the majority of small cars, so that conversation was easily carried on at this speed. The gears are quiet, too. Then the steering is very light and the gear-change, from the somewhat long-travel gaitered central lever is a delight. (Ahem !—both Beetle features.) Even reverse engages smoothly.
There I suppose the comparison should end and we should forthwith regard the Golf as a very different car from the Beetle, conceived round Audi 50 components of modern water-cooled, front-drive layout. The LS model I tested was of that most useful of saloon configurations, one with five doors. The doors are wide, have neat handles, and firm “keeps”. A shelf lets down over the boot space when the lift-up rear-panel door is shut, with the back seat up. But this seat folds down to give generous stowage space, although luggage has to be humped into it. The doors do not rattle, this tail-gate rises easily under the persuasion of gas-struts, and there is an extension on the exhaust pipe to take fumes away from this back door. I found the driver’s seat, which is sprung rather buoyantly and covered in simulated leather, with a cloth centre, comfortable and its squab and other adjustments easy to make. The steering wheel is of a sensible size; it has a simplified Wolfsburg-Castle badge on its single spoke. The wheel rim is of sponge and it goes 3 1/3 turns, lock-to-lock of taut rack-and-pinion gear. There is good castor-return. The handbrake lever is neatly set between the seats.
In modern style the instruments, radio and heater are in a single cowled nacelle on the driver’s side, instrumentation comprising a Vdo 110 m.p.h. speedometer with total and trip-with-decimal mileometers, and an accurate clock surrounding a dial for an accurate fuel gauge and a water thermometer. Neat tumbler switches look after effective rearwindow heating, hazard-warning, and putting on the two powerful Hella circular headlamps or sidelamps. Instrument lighting can be controlled by a vertical inset knurled wheel adjacent to the lamps’ switch, and the heater settings are illuminated. Two flat-section stalks under the steering wheel control 2-speed wipers, with single-wipe action when required, and washers on the right, turn-indicators, lamps’ flashing and flick-control of dipped or full headlamps beam on the left. The steering-wheel spoke sounds a subdued horn. The heater kept the occupants very comfortable, was easy to understand when setting it and demisted the screen well; it is supplemented by adjustable facia fresh-air vents with, above them, small side-window demisters. There is a 2-speed heater fan. The warning lights are behind extremely neat little oval windows on the instrument panel. Stowage for the smaller objects is provided for by a small lockable cubby which has an interior light with its own little switch (not working on the test car), a divided open-well ahead of the gear lever, and the shelf at the back, which is felt-lined. The rear-hinged bonnet has to be propped open, its release lever is on the n/s.
The engine is an o.h.c. 76.5 x 80 mm. (1,471-c.c.) four-cylinder unit giving 70 (DIN) b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. on an 8.2 to 1 c.r. It is mounted transversely towards the o/s, to accommodate a normal gearbox extending from it. It is set at an angle; the long-stroke configuration is unusual for VW. Recommended speeds in the lower gears, marked on the speedometer, are 25, 40 and 66 m.p.h. The dip-stick is rather buried but the six-cell VW/Audi battery and the plugs are very accessible. The radiator is behind a straight-line grille that carries a big VW badge. No engine could have started more promptly from cold, on the automatic choke.
The cornering power of the Golf is notable but the suspension, coil-spring strut with wishbones in front, torsion-bar trailing arms at the rear, with telescopic dampers intruding into the body, gives a lively ride unless the road is smooth. The higher-range Golf models have light servo disc/drum brakes, which functioned well but were inclined to squeal. There are no reversing lamps.
The fact that the engine expects to be fed with 91-octane petrol was a pleasant surprise, as this represents the least-expensive two-star. Moreover, I was able to obtain 36.6 m.p.g. and as the tank holds 9 1/2 gallons, the range is comfortably over 340 miles. The tanks filler on the o/s has five large finger grips. No oil was consumed in over 1,000 miles.
In appearance this Golf could not be less Beetle-like. But it was generally admired for its crisp manx-tail styling, although some people thought it was a Fiat or other Continental. The test car was shod with Uniroyal “Rally 180” tubeless radial 155 SR 13 tyres. Fourteen fuses protect the electrical system. Top speed is mostly of acadernic interest in these pale-blue times but the Golf 1500 should do “the ton” under favourable conditions, and its acceleration is excellent for its type. In top it pulls away from 25 m.p.h. It has a few affinities with the old VWs and while there are far more rivals to challenge it than the Beetle had, the Golf is such a very likable little car that it is worthy to carry on the great reputation established all those years back by the Beetle. As I said, I like it, and can well understand its sales success in Germany. It sells here, in 1500 LS form, for £1,798. Servicing at 10,000 miles (oil change and check-over at 5,000 miles) offsets a rather high price. There is a socket for electronic servicing fitted to each car.—W.B.