In the annals of enduring love affairs, the one between South African motorists and the Volkswagen Golf is ongoing with as much passion involved as the day the first of the front-wheel drive hatchbacks was launched back in 1978.
Now, 40 years down the line and up to Mk 7, the little charger still promotes plenty of petrolhead frenzy and lively debate.
Design work on the Golf began in 1971, with production starting in Germany in March 1974 and deliveries to customers commencing in June 1974.
After 31 months in production the Mk1 had already sold 1-million units and its success would continue in South Africa where the hatch back was launched in May 1978. Production in Uitenhage started with 65 units a day with a local content of 57%.
Its space-saving front-wheel drive and 1.5-litre four-cylinder transverse front-mounted, water-cooled engine, with just 70 horsepower delivered impressive performance. The initial launch price of the 1100 cc L two-door was R3 985 while the rest of the line-up included the LS four-door priced at R4 135, whilst the 1500 cc GLS four-door manual and automatic retailed for R4 940.
During the years after 1978 a number of variants were introduced into the model line-up including a diesel version at the end of 1978 and the high performance 1600 cc Golf GTS with its matt black bumper, extra-wide radials, bib spoiler, four headlamps, GTS logo and stripes along the bottom of the doors and quarter panels.
In less than 12 months (April 1979), the 20 000th Golf was already produced in Uitenhage and by February 1980, the 50 000th Golf, a GTS model, left the production line. By 1981, the 100 000th Golf had been produced – just over three years since its introduction.
Four years since launch of the Golf Mk1, in 1982 the Golf 1 GTI was launched in South Africa, creating a whole new concept in performance motoring, the ‘Hot Hatch’.
In 1983, almost 10 years after being launched in Europe, the Golf Mk1 was replaced by a larger and more sophisticated second-generation model.
This paved the way for Volkswagen South Africa to retain the Golf Mk1 so as to maintain a presence in a segment which was about to be vacated by its successor and so the concept of the Citi Golf was born.
No other vehicle in the history of motoring in South Africa has broken as many records and sold in such high numbers as the Golf Mk1. The Citi Golf was produced for 25 years in South Africa and more than 370 000 units were sold before production ceased in 2009.
In 1992, the fuel injected Golf 3 was launched in South Africa with an all-new 1,4-litre petrol engine. Also offered was a naturally aspirated version of the 1.9-litre diesel engine, delivering 47 kW. Air bags were first offered on the Golf in 1992, and from 1996 anti-lock brakes were standard across the range.
In 1999, the Golf 4 replaced the Golf 3, setting new class standards. The fourth generation was a deliberate attempt to take the Volkswagen Golf further upmarket, with a high-quality interior and higher equipment levels.
The last generation of the Golf to be built in South Africa was the fifth generation which was launched in August 2004 and raked up 1 300 sales in its debut month. In the following year, a Candy White 2,0-litre Golf became the 750 000th Golf to be produced in Uitenhage.
After 30 years and more than 813 000 Golfs made in Uitenhage, production of Golf was stopped in South Africa in December 2008. This was due to the rationalisation of models to maximise volume production and meet objectives of the Motor Industry Development Programme (MIDP).
The sixth generation imported Golf was launched in South Africa in April 2009. The model sold in South Africa currently, the Golf 7, was launched in February 2013 and is a segment leader in 2018 with a share of 35%.