Just before 1974 went out in a welter of costly petrol and low speed-limits I was invited by Philip Stein of Volkswagen GB Limited to the show village of Broadway in Worcestershire to “play golf”. The rendezvous was the Lygon Arms, a noted hotel which I remembered from pre-war Bugatti OC rallies and which as early as 1923 was offering garage accommodation to motorists whose chauffeurs had brought them to Broadway in Rolls-Royce, Daimler and similar stately motor-carriages.
So I set off in anticipatory mood, especially as the game on this occasion revolved round the first entirely-new VW to be introduced since NSU-Audi and Volkswagen united, and I have been branded a VW fanatic ever since my warm praise of the Beetle some twenty years ago. This was obviously a function I had to attend.
After an uneventful and brisk run to the hotel, in blissful ignorance of the newly imposed 50-m.p.h. speed-limit which I had not seen announced in the previous day’s papers, dinner was taken in the Great Hall, and I was pleased to find an old VW tradition prevailing, namely the giving away of a model of the new car, so that its layout and styling could be studied at leisure, before confrontation with the real car. At Wolfsburg in 1955 we had been given small replicas of the Beetle, which had by then reached an output of one-million. Now there was a model for each guest of the Golf, by Schuco, who made Mercedes and Auto-Union toy racers before the war.
After dinner questions could be fired at Dr. Friedrich Goes, Head of VW’s Passenger-Car Development, Rudi Maletz of the Wolfsburg Press Office, and Herr Wagner of Volkswagen. The assembled journalists were mainly concerned with details of VW’s arrangements for strapping themselves into the cars with the new door-mounted safety-belts, which release as the door is opened. Alas, they were told these are an extra not yet available in Britain. They then turned to how many Golfs had been made (13,380 last September, 21,600 in October, 14,383 in November 1974, making it the best-selling car in W. Germany). They wanted to know whether it will replace the Beetle, the answer being that the 1200 Beetle will remain the lowest-priced VW even after introduction of the smaller VW Polo. There was discussion about the unusual name of the new car, which it seems has something to do with the Gulf (golf)-stream, so that it would have been unfair to enquire whether it was all-balls, although John Bolster did remark that it was not cricket. Jerry Ames tried to draw Dr. Goes over the absence of a 5-speed transmission, which amused me as I had arrived in a car entirely devoid of a gearbox. The reply was that this was quite unnecessary, from both the flexibility and economy aspects. Where Dr. Goes was very controversial was in telling us that radial-ply tyres are not required on the Golf (indeed, they cost extra) to improve its already impeccable cornering and road-holding.
The following day it was possible to drive both the 1,093-c.c. and 1,471-c.c. models. Both are front-drive, transverse-engined cars (congratulations again, Sir Alec!) with belt-driven o.h.c. four-cylinder engines having slightly greater strokes than bores and developing, respectively, 50 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. and 70 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. Front suspension is by coil-spring struts and wishbones, and there are torsion-bar-damped trailing arms at the back. The tyre size is 13 in., the brakes are disc/drum with servo on the bigger-engined car, and the steering is rack-and-pinion, incorporating the Audi fail-safe device. Prices are £1,294 for the 2-door 1100, £1,410 for the 4-door 1100, up to £1,654 for the luxury-trim 1500. These may have to be increased soon.
A fuel consumption of 51 m.p.g. at 50 m.p.h. is claimed for the 1100 Golf and, if this is so, success is assured; however, the overall figure of “more than 35 m.p.g.” casts some doubt on such remarkable economy. Nevertheless, the engines, based on those of the Passat and Audi 80 in the case of the 1500 Golf, but a VW development in the case of the 1100 Golf, use 2-star fuel, which is encouraging. First impressions were of very ample space in this five-seater Giugiaro-styled small saloon, which has a VW-quality matt-black interior décor and is the useful 3-door or 5-door configuration. The ride is good, the handling pretty outstanding, but we noticed that the 1500 we drove was on radial-ply Continental tyres although certainly the 1100 was happy on cross-ply Continentals. Curiously, it was the 1100 that made more road noise. The high-speed cornering is notably flat, wind noise commendably low, and there is no particular indication from the feel of the steering that these are front-drive cars. The brakes on the 1100 felt rather hard and apart from a non-lockable cubby there was a minimum of oddments’ stowage. The 1500 has a well by the gear-lever. The gear-shift is good without being outstanding. On the 1100 it has to be used freely to get good performance, but the 1500 has much easier pick-up in the higher gears. Indicated maxima in the three lower gears came out at 26, 42 and 66 m.p.h. on the 1100, 30, 52 and 76 m.p.h. on the 1500, and the larger-engined Golf went to a speedometer 60 from rest, with some judder on take-off in 12.1 sec. The claimed top speeds are 87 and 99 m.p.h., respectively, but of course these are far too furious speeds to be attempted in Britain.
My impression was that the VW Golf is a nice little car but one lacking any individuality that would establish it in my mind as a Volkswagen rather than another variant of Audi. And under the prevailing economic conditions prospective customers may prefer to wait for the Polo Mini-VW, instead of playing Golf.—W.B.