The Golf GTI

A superb 110 m.p.h. VW

The art of civilising the high-performance engine reaches new heights of excellence as each year of increasingly regulation-bound motoring passes. Jaguar have taken such high-performance concepts as an overhead camshaft V12 and turned such engines into perfect units for limousines. Ford have 240-plus horsepower competition engines of 2-litres that will scream with rage along a forest road or tickover at a reliable albeit clattering, 1,000 r.p.m. or so, and still be ready to give clean power. Leyland score heavily with a simple s.o.h.c. 16-valve unit that combines city manners with 120 m.p.h. performance to delight the enthusiast. The Germans have the idea of a smooth punch from smaller power units well to the forefront of their priorities these days and they have joined the game with an additional sophistication: the fuel-injection sub-2-litre engine. I cannot recall a British manufacturer (or any other nationality of manufacturer on the British Market) who offers this feature on smaller engines, which is a shame for the Germans have built up a store of knowledge that has left the latest Bosch jetronic-induced BMW, VW and Opel engines with power to spare and perfect manners.

However, there is an irony in this case. “Our” GTI Volkswagen Golf variant was a bit of a baddy. When I took it over there had been phone calls warning that this one wasn’t representative, especially in performance. VW claim 0-62 m.p.h. in 9 sec., and 113 m.p.h. top speed. We were told “our” car had disgraced itself with 108 m.p.h. and 0-60 in 9.6 sec, which is still faster than any mass production 1600 that I can recall.

Priced at £3,372 in the UK, the Golf GTI tomes only with left-hand drive. In the same area of the market are Ford’s RS2000 (£3,729); Leyland’s Dolomite Sprint (£3,833) and Opel’s Kadett GT/E (£3,320). Only the Dolomite is made in Britain, though the Opel is convened to RHD here, if required.

Frankly, the VW comes out of such comparisons very well. Although it is only 1.6-litres compared with the 2.0-litre capacities of those rivals, the performance is very similar to all save the Dolomite Sprint, which is a quite car by any standard. Once you have accepted that it is left-hand drive the rest of the equipment is first class in conception and use.

I detailed the specification of both the injected Scirocco and Golf in the September 1976 issue, so I will repeat the outstanding points. The engine has new pistons on the Heron head principle and Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. Maximum power is 110 b.h.p. at 6,100 r.p.m. and 101 lb. ft. torque is developed at 5,000 r.p.m. Peak r.p.m. are controlled by a rev-limiter at 6,900 r.p.m. on this nearly square (79.5 by 80 mm. stroke) engine of 1,588 c.c. A normal warranty is given with the car, which retains a four-speed gearbox.

The chassis has comprehensive suspension modifications and 51 in. alloy wheels. A larger front air dam and ventilated front disc brakes play an important part in keeping this bouncy Golf machine in play with little effort. as does an 86.8 lb. ft. torque reading, which stretches from 2,000 to 6,500 r.p.m. Inside the car has outstanding front seats from Recaro and a jazzy check cloth seat covering. A sports steering wheel is provided and there is also an oil temperature gauge, plus a central clock, which are mounted in that useless GM favourite site—low down on a centre console.

However all the description of changes made hardly prepares you for the well-mannered flyer that Golf GTI character is actually about. The scats had prepared me for a real boy racer’s delight, but the car actually combines fun and efficiency in an almost frightening effectiveness within a small car.

With string back gloves whirling and teeth bared you can had the thing along greasy roads at simply incredible speeds on Pirelli CN36 SM radials. While the passenger flinches at the first corner, especially as he/she is on the “wrong” side, they soon share the driver’s confidence in a vehicle that simply corners, stops and accelerates in a well judged harmony of components that are properly matched to each other.

The acceleration doesn’t seem that surprising until you find that winding the Golf to 34 m.p.h. in 1st, 60 in 2nd and 87 m.p.h. in 3rd is bringing you the kind of performance found in 3-litre BMW saloons. However, you have no extra size to carry around, those excellently matched brakes and she agility of a 110 horsepower flea on your side! This of course leads to some disgruntlement on behalf of those who have paid large sums of money for their lame cars, so it pays to demonstrate such abilities with restraint, though it is hard to stop laughing on some occasions.

Where VW’s development engineers have also scored heavily compared with previous attempts to produce civilised small cars with 100-plus capabilities is on the noise front. Just under 4,000 r.p.m. brings the 70 m.p.h. speed limit up on the dial (which is marked in m.p.h.) and at this speed there is some wind noise competing idly with the crisp, but inoffensive exhaust and engine noise. Neither are at a level to be found in normnal production saloons of this capacity, so the engineers have done a good job.

I said earlier that the efficiency was almost frightening. The first time I checked the fuel consumption. I just could not accept it, for the figure was 34.9 m.p.g. Well, it was not quite that good for the remainder of the test. I found on thinking a little more deeply that I had spent a lot of motorway time between 30 and 45 m.p.h. in 4th, crawling through fog, when that figure was recorded. However I averaged 28.3 m.p.g. with little oil consumed during one of the toughest tests we have run in recent years. Normally cars go through a routine week with one, or two people, but the GTI was with us over a long Christmas fortnight, and everyone seemed to thrash it mercilessly on every occasion.

There were no reports of any kind of trouble. The engine always fired up on the second turn of the key (utilising an automatic choke) and the gearchange remained lighter than most Fords despite its f.w.d. linkage, with no tram of the usual f.w.d. baulking. The brake pedal obviously had a lot more movement after 2,500 hard miles, but there was still that enviable front to rear balance with little of the locking-up tendency one might expect of a 15.9 cwt. car with generous braking capacity.

There are some snags that could be rectified easily. The first is the Hella light units which are not giving the output needed for such performance, especially in range. Secondly, them is the surprise that you cannot heel and toe, the centre console getting in the way, and thirdly there is the instrumentation. Here the problem is of scattering throughout the car. the normal water temperature and fuel gauges being awkwardly complemented by those centre console add-one. Perhaps the answer would be a central auxiliary gauge binnacle on top of the dashboard, and the removal/ simplification of the centre console to provide more foot pedal room?

Overall, a very impressive VW “hot-rod” that probably has a brighter future as a road than competition car.—J.W.