A Photo For Sunday: 1997 VW Golf Estate

Continuing the theme of colour, here’s a VW Golf from the 1997-2004 series.

1997 VW Golf estate
1997 VW Golf estate

It’s the cheerful metallic green I want to draw your attention to. The interior had cloth seats with panels of a similar hue. Presumably this was a special edition but the car had no badges to indicate this. This iteration of the Golf was the most neatly refined, in my view, the one where competitors gasped at the subtle refinements such as the legendary cloth covered a-pillars. Quite why people were so impressed with these I find hard to imagine.

Yet such details became totemic of the apparent attention to detail that hitherto cars in this class had not quite reached. Sure enough the 1983-1992 version had black plastic trim that seemed impossible to surpass for its bottomless depth and scathe-proof toughness. The car here moved on from indestructibility to a deeply cool, mathematical correctness and offered a kind of quality that married surgical precision to visible comfort.

Jet airliners didn’t have interiors this well put together; leather and wood luxury as you’d find in a Mercedes or Jaguar was shown up as being quite unnecessary to convey tangible quality to the customer. What’s amazing is that none of this can be drawn or modelled but has to get from the mind of the designer to the machine tools via prototypes indistinguishable from the real thing.

These are characteristics that can’t be written down, and thus are indeed purely about quality itself. Imagine if Alfa Romeo or Renault had stumbled on this formula. This car represented where the purview of the designer reached into the very dies and tools used to make the parts from which the car was assembled. Hitherto, designers lost control of their creations the moment the tool makers took over.

Author: richard herriott

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

11 thoughts on “A Photo For Sunday: 1997 VW Golf Estate”

  1. The estate looks better / more cohesive with the rectangular headlights of the Bora.

    The interior is a thing of beauty. After reading this piece I had to go for a spin and I still marvel at the quality of the fitting and the materials. My car is 15 years old but it doesn’t show, the same way Mercedes-Benz interiors used to be honed to perfection and looked like they would last forever.

  2. Necessary or not, the cloth covered a-pillar showed VW paid close attention to the interior. It was a milestone in car interiors. I can see why Sam is so pleased with it. I agree the Bora exterior is even more coherent. It’s real PD professionalism.

  3. I think this points out just how foolish VW were around this time. As far as a manufacturer is concerned, a good car is one that pleases you for three years from new, then begins to look a little worn around the edges. The Japanese used to excel in that sort of car, so much so that you’d almost imagine that they contained some sort of timed self-destruct mechanism.

    Laurent’s reaction echoes my Mum’s. She is forever pleased with her 2000 year Golf and has no desire at all to replace it. This hardly helps VAG’s cashflow.

    1. Is it really being foolish, or just part of the process of building a reputation? And is it really damaging your cashflow when people who do buy cars every 3 years (because it suits them and their chosen financing model) keep coming back to you as much because they like your products as for the residuals that remain high, and second-hand buyers will make sure you can keep selling spare parts at over-inflated prices?

    2. Laurent. Part of what I wrote was facetious, and I agree that the Mark IV in particular has cemented the Golf’s reputation, but it is a relevant question to ask if you can make a car that’s too good?

  4. The Golf IV may still be Peter Schreyer’s finest hour.

    As with soft touch plastics, the Golf IV introduced another staple of perceived quality: clear headlights.

    1. I think clear headlights appeared on the MkIII first.

      Incidentally, those headlights on the MkIV/Bora are made of polycarbonate instead of glass and get all dull and foggy after a while, so much so that I now have to polish them at least once a year with some mildly abrasive product and a brush plugged on an electric drill… Which is no big deal but shows where the difference between perceived and actual quality lies.

    1. I’m not claiming I’m a big fan, but in the wake of the Golf IV (I’m certain it was that one, Sam), no car headlight was allowed to remain opaque anymore.

      See Mercedes’ W220 facelift for an example of desperate adaptation of this particular gigatrend®.

  5. This is another aspect of the point I was making about car lives. Everyone knows that plastic degrades, but some more than others. Office electronic equipment is moulded in that creamy-grey plastic that slowly achieves an unpleasant greeny hue saying “I’m old – change me” and foggy headlamps say the same.

    The clear lenses on my Fiat Ducato motorhome are not yellowing so much as crazing at 13 years old. But that’s not surprising since, as a van, the Ducato base vehicle would often be scrappable well before it was 10. I doubt whether car manufacturers worry much if their headlamp lenses don’t last over 7 years.

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