1976 Volkswagen “Golf”: Review

In this transcript of a period review, the legendary motoring writer Archie Vicar casts a critical eye over the new “Golf”, successor to the much-loved Beetle.

1976 VW Golf

“Fore! Can the new ‘Golf’ possibly succeed in a crowded and increasingly competitive market?” Asks Archie Vicar.

From “The London Illustrated News” February, 1976. Photography by Douglas Land-Windermere. Owing to the poor quality of the originals, stock photos have been used

No matter how severely Jack Frost bites, a Volkswagen Beetle always starts. Even a royal Rolls-Royce can succumb to the effects of freezing whereas the humble Beetle’s ingenious design is cooled by air, making the engine as tough as old nails and as reliable as the Queen’s Grenadier Guards. I am reminding you, readers, of this as an introduction to a new car from Volkswagen.

The name Volkswagen has chosen for this new car might sound good auf Deutsch (“in German”) but to my seasoned ears, calling a car “Golf” puts one in mind of retired colonels and their favourite sporting activity. No doubt Volkswagen will rename this car for the British market, as a foolish name like this one will assuredly hamper sales.

But what about the motor car itself? First, let me address the not unimportant matter of appearance. The only thing round about the Golf is the shape of the wheels. The Golf can be described as one straight line piled on top of another and this is shocking after the pretty curves of the lovely Beetle. After penning the Beetle’s fine and durable shape entirely unassisted, the Germans have gone to the Italians to create the coachwork of the Golf. The Italians must be laughing into their unpalatably strong coffee for having pulled the wool over the Jerries’ eyes in this way.

Simply put, the Golf looks a fright. Whilst the reader can judge for himself, I have not one tiny shadow of doubt that the Golf will deter the majority of sensible motorists more accustomed to more pleasing shapes like the Morris Marina and Ford Escort.

1976 VW "Golf"

So, assuming one can overcome the foolish name and brusque appearance, what is the Golf like? Again, the People’s Car people have been taking careful aim at their feet. While the Beetle was a saloon, the Golf is constructed in the form of a hatchback. The Morris Minor is a saloon and the Ford Escort is a saloon and the Vauxhall Viva is a saloon too. In short, most people like saloon cars. They do not like driving around in vehicles which remind them of delivery vans.

Another reason to dislike the five-door configuration is the deleterious effect a fifth door has on the strength of the bodywork. The Golf is therefore a car hopelessly compromised by the fitment of a “hatchback”. Who will climb into their car from the rear? As many people as will buy this peculiar car, I would hazard.

Moving to the engine, the Golf’s engine is located in the front of the car. The result of this is that there is an unreasonable weight located over the front wheels, which are also the driven wheels. As any enthusiastic driver knows, front wheel drive is a recipe for understeer and poor control. When I went for a test drive in Wolfsburg I found the car wholly unremarkable to drive. One can be generous and say that the car was undemanding but this quality is one we associate with the Christmas-cracker offerings from Datsun and Toyota.

The Golf is a curiously expensive car as well. Depending on trim, it costs more than the Triumph Dolomite, Ford Cortina and Sunbeam Rapier. It costs the same as the superb new Simca 1307. If one wants something out of the ordinary, a Toyota Carina costs a shade less and comes with rear wheel drive and plenty of extras like electric front windows, a heater and an FM radio (but also the shame of driving a Japanese car).

It is to be hoped that VW can go back to their drawing board and think again as the “Golf” is not the solution to their problems. If they could take a leaf out Porsche’s book and develop their existing, proven technology, there might be a chance for Volkwagen to survive in these increasingly competitive times. Otherwise, we shall have to say “auf wiedersehen” (goodbye) to this sadly confused manufacturer.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

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