Ticking the boxes – the story of the Golf Mk1’s design

Ticking the boxes – the story of the Golf Mk1’s design

October 7, 2022

October 2022

In seeking a replacement product for the massively popular Volkswagen Beetle, we turned to a young Italian designer with a penchant for folding paper.

How do you follow up on a car that sold more than 21 million units during its production run and placed your brand’s name on the lips of immeasurably more households around the globe?

Towards the end of the 1960s, it became clear that we would need to consider a replacement for our venerable Volkswagen Beetle. While the mandate was clear in terms of what this successor model would need to offer potential buyers – including a necessary switch to a front-engine package – not as obvious, was what form this vehicle would take.

Ticking the boxes – the story of the Golf Mk1’s design

Leaving the 1969 Turin Auto Salon suitably impressed with the work on display by newly-formed Italian design studio Italdesign, we moved quickly to have this company’s founder, Giorgetto Giugiaro, visit Wolfsburg for a series of discussions around our unique brief. While Giugiaro had established his reputation around the penmanship of relatively niche models, like the Lotus Esprit and Alfa Romeo Alfasud, the replacement for the VW Beetle needed to combine broad market appeal with the considered costing associated with high-volume production.

With both the proposed project’s exterior dimensions and want for interior packaging agreed upon, the only other non-negotiable would be the position of a transverse-mounted engine below the car’s front-opening bonnet. Unlike the Beetle, the new car would be front wheel driven.

With the final design and name agreed upon, the first Golf Mk1 would leave the production line in March 1974. With the only notable change made to Giugiaro’s original drawings being a move to circular headlamp units, replacing his preferred square items, the new car’s so-called box design (identifying the vehicle’s engine bay from its passenger and luggage cell) included sharply formed lines and a distinctly shaped C-pillar, inspired by the designer’s famed “folded paper” method.

Ticking the boxes – the story of the Golf Mk1’s design

Built as both a three and five-door hatchback, Giugiaro is quoted as saying he prefers the latter model because “it simply has the stronger Golf characteristics, including the strong C-pillar.”

A car that all but defined the modern C-segment, went on to produce close to 7 million examples of the Golf Mk1, including all derivatives and the then Golf-based Jetta, before this project was discontinued in favour of the Mk2 iteration. A South African audience would, of course, enjoy Giugiaro’s original design for a little longer in the form of the Citi Golf.

“The main design elements of the Golf 1 – the silhouette with the upright, solid C-pillar, the striking wheel arches and the horizontal front with the slim grille and the headlights protruding downwards – are still to be found in every Golf today,” says current Volkswagen Chief Designer, Klaus Bischoff.

In 1999, Giorgetto Giugiaro would be named “car designer of the century” by a jury of 132 professional automotive journalists from 33 countries.