A Poor Round

The jury may still be out on the Mk8, but most commentators would adjudge the 1991 Mk3 to be the poorest articulation of the qualities that made the Golf into an automotive phenomenon over the past five decades.

Tepid: 1991 VW Golf Mk3 GTI (c) volkswagen.com

The 1974 Volkswagen Golf Mk1 was a simply brilliant car. In retrospect, however, it appears to be something of an outlier in the eight-generation history of the model. When one thinks of Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart, the characteristics that come immediately to mind are the high quality of its design, engineering(1) and build, its sober, timeless styling that eschews fads and fashion, good (but not outstanding) dynamics and most importantly, the quiet self-confidence, perhaps even bordering on smugness, it instils in its owners. Golf ownership says: “I could have spent more, but why would I?” 

Unburdened by any of this later baggage, the Golf Mk1 was more Italianate than Germanic in character, with its sharp Giugiaro styling, lightweight construction, and peppy and eager (if noisy) engines, to the extent that nobody would have been surprised if it had emerged as Fiat’s hatchback replacement for the 128(2). It also shared another less desirable Italian characteristic, a propensity to rust almost as enthusiastically as any contemporary from Fiat, Lancia or Alfa Romeo.

The 1983 Golf Mk2 was actually the first ‘real’ Golf as defined above. Bigger and heavier than its predecessor, it was styled in-house under Herbert Schäfer and replaced the crisp lines of the Mk1 with a fuller style that had rather more visual (and physical) heft. The Golf had left its fashion-conscious adolescent years behind and was now becoming more mature, as were many of its customers.

Volkswagen attempted to repeat this evolutionary step with the Golf Mk3, launched in August 1991(3). The car actually gained less in size and weight over the Mk2 than that model had over the 1974 original. However, the styling, credited to J Mays, was considerably softer and more organic, following the trend in early 1990’s automotive fashion.

It still retained the Golf’s familiar profile, with its hallmark wide C-pillars and upright tailgate. Volkswagen claimed improved aerodynamics (a Cd of 0.30) and crash protection for the new body, and the car was fitted with dual front airbags for the first time. Another innovation was the use of water-based paint, but this would prove rather soft and fragile and it caused an issue with premature corrosion.

Softer was an adjective that could equally be applied to the new model’s dynamics. It drove with noticeably less precision than the Mk2 and felt somewhat baggy in the words of one reviewer. Moreover, the hewn-from-solid quality of the Mk2 was gone, replaced with a perceptible body flex(4) that was accompanied by squeaks and rattles from various items of interior trim. This raised suspicions that Volkswagen had undertaken some surreptitious cost-cutting on its new model.

Plump, not pretty: 1991 VW Golf Mk3 (c) pistonheads.com

The entry-level versions of the Mk3 were also rather dowdy looking, with large integrated but unpainted textured grey plastic bumpers and steel wheels with small hub caps. Inside, the dashboard was a cliff-face of black plastic, with a mix of a smooth satin finish or an unconvincing grained elephant hide approximation to leather. Performance was pretty pedestrian too. Fitted with the base 1.4 litre 59 bhp (44 kW) engine, the Mk3 took 15.9 seconds to reach 60 mph (97 km/h) and had a top speed of 98 mph (157 km/h).

The underwhelming nature of the new Golf would not have surprised at least one industry watcher, Car Magazine‘s Georg Kacher. In the August 1989 edition of the magazine, Kacher reported as follows:

“While the current Golf Mk2 continues to sell well, its replacement has recently clinicked so poorly that the car must again undergo detail changes. Even internally, project A3 [Golf Mk3] is causing controversy. While some managers hope that the latest front and rear end revisions will make all the difference to the allegedly rather plump and homespun styling, others suggest shortening the lifespan of the A3 and replacing it earlier with the more progressive A4 [Golf Mk4].”

Notwithstanding its shortcomings, the Golf Mk3 won the 1992 European Car of the Year Award, ahead of the Opel Astra F and Citroen ZX, becoming the first Volkswagen to do so since the award was established in 1964. A Variant five-door estate joined the three and five-door hatchback models in early 1993, the first time such a model featured in the Golf range. In late 1994, a new convertible version replaced the long-running 1980 Golf Mk1 Cabrio.

Practical, not pretty: 1993 VW Golf Mk3 Variant (c) automobilio.info

In reality, most Golf owners were unlikely to notice the deterioration in its dynamic abilities. Those who drove the GTI version did, however, notice its lacklustre performance. Despite the engine being enlarged to 2.0 litres and producing 115 bhp (86 kW), 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) took a leisurely 8.7 seconds, and the top speed was just 124 mph (200 km/h). The culprit was the car’s additional weight, which reduced the power to weight ratio to 113 bhp/ton from its predecessor’s 133 bhp/ton.

For those who wanted stronger performance, there was the new VR6 version, fitted with Volkswagen’s innovative narrow-angle 2.8 litre V6 engine. This featured a 15° angle between the offset banks of cylinders, which shared a single cylinder head. The engine was also offered in the contemporary Corrado and Passat B3 models.

The VR6 was something of a Q-car, with only discreet chrome badging and unique alloy wheels to distinguish it from lesser versions. It was fundamentally different in character to the GTI, being best suited to covering long motorway distances at high speed in relaxed comfort. In contrast, the traditional hot hatch was most at home on twisting, sinuous B-roads, even if the Mk3 GTI no longer excelled here.

Brutal: (c) carmagazine.co.uk

Car Magazine ran a Golf VR6 for a long-term test and found it be fragile and unreliable. The magazine summed up its opinion of the car on one of its most memorable and infamous covers, for the April 1994 edition. Needless to remark, Volkswagen was not pleased.

In January 1993, Volkswagen introduced a 16-valve version of the GTI 2.0 litre engine producing 150 bhp, which reduced the 0 to 60mph (97 km/h) time to 8.0 seconds and increased the top speed to 134 mph (216 km/h). This brought the performance back into line with its peers, but the handling was still foolproof rather than engaging, perhaps even more so, as the GTI 16V received the VR6’s traction control, which worked with the standard ABS to prevent wheelspin.

The Golf Mk3 had a relatively short production life of just six years before being superseded by the Mk4 model in 1998(5). It sold well, with a total of around 4.83 million examples finding buyers, averaging slightly more annual sales than its predecessors. However, it was quickly eclipsed by its crisp and handsome successor, which featured an interior that set a new benchmark for quality in its class.

Today the Golf Mk1 and Mk2, especially in GTI form, are fondly remembered, but the Mk3 registers barely a flicker of interest. It was by no means a terrible car, but despite the existence of models like the VR6 and GTI 16V, it was just a bit ordinary and dull, and that is how it made many owners feel.

(1) So resilient and enduring is the Golf’s image that it seems largely immune to diesel emissions scandals, concerns around fragile, overstressed small-capacity turbocharged engines, twin-clutch gearbox maladies, and Volkswagen’s generally mediocre performance in reliability surveys.
(2) Conversely, Fiat’s eventual 128 replacement, the 1978 Ritmo, was much more French than Italian in character, with its soft suspension and pliant ride.
(3) Early quality control issues, followed by strikes at Volkswagen’s plant in Peubla, Mexico, delayed the Mk3 Golf’s US launch until spring 1994.
(4) Counter-intuitively, the body-flex was more perceptible in the three-door model.
(5) The Golf Mk3 Cabriolet was given an Mk4 style nose and revised tail, and continued in production alongside the Mk4 range.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

55 thoughts on “A Poor Round”

  1. The Golf Mk3 was based on Mk2’s platform with added material to improve crash worthiness, particularly in side impact tests. The decision for these modifications came relatively late in the development process and were made to give the Golf an advantage over its Rüsselsheim rival.
    With Golf Mk3 and Passat B3 VW had lost the plot.
    Both represented an all time low in VW product quality and were astonishingly inefficient to produce.
    The Golf started with thirty-eight different versions of its rear axle – this number was reduced to two by VW’s new boss after he took over from Carl H. Hahn.

    1. Hi Dave. Thirty-eight different versions of the rear axle? How on earth did that happen? That’s worth an investigation in itself!

    2. Reducing the number of axle variations from thirty-eight to two was one part of the job Fugen-Ferdl did. The other was making the car easier to produce with less proneness to errors on the production line.
      When Ferdinand Piech started his job as VW’s CEO for a nominal salary of one Deutschmark for his first year to show that he was interested in the job and not the money his first office was a glass cubicle net to the production line where normally the supervisors sit. From that moment every line worker had to be aware that the boss could stand next to him and ask questions like why a bolt had to go in horizontally in an overhead working step. Then it was sure that the design was altered to make the bolt go in vertically in the shortest possible time.

    3. Is that attention to the minutiae of production-line detail the sign of a brilliant or terrible CEO? Unfortunately, I think the latter, given that VW should have had legions of production engineers who should have been doing exactly that. Either they weren’t doing their job, or Piëch was usurping them, bad management in either case.

    4. “38 different versions of the rear axle” – It’s crazy, but I can see how that could’ve happened. The VW Golf had a torsion beam rear axle:

      In a torsion beam axle, the axle itself performs the antiroll function by twisting elastically. By changing the thickness, shape, etc. of the cross bar you can change the torsional stiffness of the axle, like an antiroll bar would do. You can also add an antiroll bar for added adjustability of the design. I can see how an obsessive desire for detail can make this an over engineering nightmare: Different suspension arms depending on whether car has drums or discs in the back, different cross bar thickness and/or antiroll bars depending on whether car is base three-door, loaded five-door, Variant, 60hp base model, GTI model, whether it has optional big tyres, petrol engine or diesel, world market specifics, etc. Same thing would happen with bushings. Of course, if the axle assembly is defined to include the dampers and springs too, then you have a second mountain of possible variations.

      That reminds me of when the Lexus 400 LS came out, Lexus claimed that its Nakamichi sound system was tuned differently whether the specific car had leather or velour upholstery.

  2. I remember in the US the MkIII Golf and especially the Jetta (Vento in Europe) were everywhere in the 90s. I came close to buying a used Jetta (Vento) when I lived in the US, but the brief test drive put me off. The interior was so severe and austere, with that flat, shallow dash completely black, including the steering wheel which had a huge early airbag hub of the sort that don’t inspire driving. And all that blackness contrasting with the light beige upholstery, a kind of mouse fur that acted like Velcro on my clothes.

    The test drive was too short and monitored for a driving dynamics assessment, but I remembered that the whole experience was uninteresting. I didn’t really like the Jetta(Vento) to begin with, finding its rear too big and disproportionate to the rest of the body, but I was attracted to the idea of finally owning a proper German driver’s car (albeit built in Mexico), a budget Audi. At the end I chose a Mazda 626 almost as old as the Escort I was trading in, but so much nicer to be in than that Jetta.

    1. Hi Cesar. Ah, yes, the Mk3 Jetta/Vento. If ever a car looked like a hatchback with a boot tacked on as an afterthought, this was it:

      VW made a considerably better job of its successor, the Bora, in particular by giving it bespoke rear doors:

    2. I agree Daniel, the Mk4 Jetta(Bora) was quite tasty. A friend in the US had a brand new Jetta Mk4 with the 1.8 turbo, 180hp engine. I thought it was such a cool car. Never drove it, but as a passenger it felt solid, cocoon-like, with no rattles or cheap noises, only hushness. The blue lighting on the instruments was the icing on the cake for that overall feeling of sophistication. As we all know, that generation marked the beginning of VW as a semi-premium brand. The only odd thing to me about the Mk4 Jetta´s styling was that the rear doors seemed to wrap too much over the wheel wells, so that when opening them you felt like the rear edge of the door was going to hit you. It’s interesting how such a small detail – it must have been just a couple of inches more than normal – can have such an impact on your perception.

    3. There was a joke about the colour of the instrument lighting in VAG products of that time.
      The colour was linked to those of Deutschmark notes:

      Audi instruments were red => 500 DM
      VW instruments were blue => 100 DM
      Seat instruments were amber => 50 DM
      Skoda instruments were green => 20 DM

    4. I must the only person who likes the Vento precisely because of its frumpy looks. The secret of the car´s appeal is the interior with its rear head-restraints and armrest and the huge, huge boot. The question is who wanted this precise formula? I know people did and they aren´t wrong. VW found a market for people who wanted the features of a mid-range Passat in a Golf plus package and satisfied it even couch market analyists doubt the existence of such a demographic.

    5. My parents 1.9D (note the absence of any “T” of “I”) Vento was the car I spend a lot of my youth in and which of course ended up as the car I learned to drive in.

      I must say it looked rather smart, if austere, for the time. With the optional “non orange” indicators and nice alloys. But boy, when we went on ski trips with it, many Alpine glaciers accelerated swifter than a VW Vento. Brakes were weak, handling was very uninspiring. But there was some feel in the steering and the ride wat actually pleasant – probably because of 15″ rims. Economical too, which is logical as the 1.9 was not even capable of exploding additional diesel or it would make more than 59 HP.

      My grandparents drove a DTW favorite, a Turbodiesel XM, which made the Vento feel very ordinary even for a ten year old.

      But as I could loan the Vento on trips with my mates when I was 19 years old, it was briefly the very best car in the world.

  3. Certainly some interesting facts and figures in your article Daniel. A car that won ECOY and sold 4.83 million examples is deemed a failure by virtue of a long term test on one variation by Car Magazine.
    Maybe the actual buyers knew something that Car Magazine didn’t perhaps?

    1. Good morning Mike. Fair comment, but another way of looking at those sales figures is that they are testament to the power of the VW marque and Golf brand. It was that, rather the qualities of the car itself, that maintained sales momentum through what was a pretty indifferent generation of the model.

      As far as ECOTY goes, the history of the award shows a extraordinary variance in the quality of the winners. The Golf Mk3 was by no means the worst winner!

    2. VW Golf Mk 3, Opel Astra F and Citroen ZX. Hardly a year of lookers

  4. Talking of CAR Magazine, I vaguely recall one issue where the cover story was a scoop of the forthcoming Mk 3 Golf. It had an artist’s rendering on the cover and talked about all sorts of advanced tech that was going to be in the Mk3, including the VR6 engine and some flavour of fancy suspension. I remember being hugely disappointed when the production car was so humdrum. They at least got the engine prediction correct. Does anyone else remember that one?

    I wish there was an online archive of every CAR Magazine cover.

    1. Somewhere in the JTC Archives (otherwise known as the red shed) is the edition of which Mr Topley speaks; it may soon come to light. I went through the Golf phase of my life very rapidly and only ever owned a Mk 2 – a black 4-door GTD which served us very well. It was second-hand, the first owner had chosen the full spec.; alloy wheels, sunroof, etc., and it kept being mistaken for a GTI – meaning that every young tearaway in a souped-up Fiesta kept trying to pick a fight with it. This became very boring and I managed to trade it in, at a profit, for a Passat estate.

    2. Good morning John. I bought Car Magazine continuously from the late 1970’s to around 2000 and had them ‘archived’ (i.e. in a box in the garage/shed/loft) for a long time. Unfortunately, before moving into our current home, we were ‘of no fixed abode’ for three months and I couldn’t justify paying to put them into storage with everything else. I really regret that I didn’t do so as they would have been a great resource for researching my DTW pieces.

    3. Good afternoon Daniel. I started buying CAR Magazine in October 1985 and stopped some time in the late 1990s. There’s a photo of my bedroom with them stacked high! They took up a lot of room. I kept the first two issues and my parents got rid of the rest after I left the nest. I have a lot of fond memories of reading CAR.

  5. I always considered the Mk3 a lemon too.
    Just a minor correction – the Mk3 competed for COTY with the Opel Astra F.

  6. Well, I liked my mk 3 very much – in fact, it was the car that turned me back on to Volkswagens after having moved away from the brand for a while. Mine was faultless and I liked its feeling of quality and general well-oiled ‘heft’.

    A while ago there was a lovely (to me) convertible for sale at Stone Cold Classics.


    I’d like to politely question the statement about the Golf mk 1 being an outlier, to the extent that I think it was the car that started it all off and the ones which followed built on its virtues (although I take the points about its size and styling and, of course, lack of baggage).

    It’s telling, though, that Margo Leadbetter’s car in the ‘70s TV comedy, The Good Life, was a mk 1 Golf. The producers clearly thought that it went nicely with Jerry’s Volvo estate in The Avenue.

    1. Hi Charles – same here.

      It’s fashionable to heap scorn on the Mk III, but ours was a faithful servant and was in the family (passed between various family members) for 17 years. Not shabby. To be fair, by the end of its life some spots of corrosion were visible on the rear doors and the gearbox sometimes refused to engage 2nd when hot, but it never once refused to start.

      Those complaining about the austere cabin should compare it to that of the Mk II, which really was austere. And the power steering was welcome too!

    2. Ah, good, we’ve smoked out some Golf Mk3 defenders. I knew they were out there somewhere!

      Seriously though, it’s always very useful to hear the contrarian viewpoint, so thank you Charles and Jacomo. In truth, if the handling was a bit stodgy and the image a bit frumpy, then that clearly didn’t matter to the vast majority of buyers. As to reliability, I’m glad to here you both had good experiences, even if the Mk3 had a less than stellar reputation in that regard.

      Charles, regarding the Mk1 being an ‘outlier’, that’s just my personal viewpoint, based on its lightness and delicacy, both visually and dynamically. I remember at the time thinking how ‘ungermanic’ it seemed. In truth, all cars grew bigger and heavier from the seventies into the succeeding decades as increased safety requirements and standard equipment dictated, it’s just that the leap from Golf Mk1 to Mk2 seemed to be particularly pronounced.

      Finally, Margo’s Golf Mk1 in ‘The Good Life’. Very well remembered, Charles! If I recall correctly, it appeared only fleetingly, in an episode titled ‘The Green Door’. The car was in a very 1970’s VW colour, Viper Green metallic. Here is a clip from that episode, where the Golf makes an appearance at 4 mins 35 secs:

      And yes, I do know more about 1970’s BBC suburban sitcoms than is healthy for a man of my age. 😨

    3. That’s a glorious clip – thank you, Daniel. I think Margo was having hypnosis to give up smoking, if memory serves.

      Re the mk 1, I can see your point. I think Volkswagen thought it wasn’t very ‘Volkswagen’. I recall ads in the colour supplements of the time also featuring a picture of the Beetle, to make the link and provide reassurance.

      Speaking of ads, this one for the mk 2 is one of my favourites,- it still makes me smile:


    4. That’s a brilliant VW advertisement, Charles. Mercedes-Benz should be flattered, but I bet they weren’t!

      Incidentally, for all my Golf Mk3 bashing, I’m strangely taken by the Flash Red GTI at the head of my piece!

    5. I think the Mk III’s reputation for being a stodgy drive is down to the GTI, which was a bit of a pudding. Of course, for the Mk IV it was even worse.

      The base versions, however, drove better than the Mk II. That really was a pretty joyless experience with the 1.3 engine (I never drove the diesel, but I dread to think how bad that was).

      I pretty much learnt to drive in a Mk II 1.3C, and the best thing you could say about the way it drove is that it seemed to take repeated thrashings in its stride. The Mk III certainly wasn’t any quicker, but the power steering, better ride and improved refinement made it a lot nicer to pilot.

      Later, I had a Mk II GTI 16v, and never failed to be astonished at what a different car it was. For the Mk II, it honestly felt like they developed it as the GTI, then stripped out all of the niceties for the basic versions.

    6. Hello Jacomo, I think you’re right – some cars are better in their more basic forms.

      Mine was a CL, which had just enough equipment to make it not feel miserable.

      It felt light but strong. Having checked, it seems it weighed just about a tonne, which is light by today’s standards – the mk 8 weighs half as much again.

      I can’t recall what size the engine was, but it performed very well – lively, and quiet on the motorway – with a good manual ‘box. I didn’t mollycoddle it be any means, but it took it all in its stride.

  7. This video about the ecomatic version shows the mk 3 off nicely, I think, as well as being very 1990s. I think that was the decade that environmentalism really took off.

  8. The Golf Mk3 sold well perhaps and you can´t argue with the number. You can argue with the meaning of the number: with such a big customers case, VW could almost have sold anything on wheels and it would have been lapped up.
    It´s sobering to see the Mk3 is from 1991 and to think that the part-square and part-round headlamps were the deal breaker for me and ever since every Golf has had the “wrong” lamps at the front. Oddly, I´ve no problem with the great variation in generations for the Escort/Focus, Astra and Megane to name a few others. Golifiness was for me bound up with a look whereas I have not much of a fixed notion for the other cars´ appearance. Thus I view all Golfs as impostors and have no trouble with whatever turn the Megane y Ca. take from generation to generation.

    1. Hi Richard. An interesting perspective, thank you, but one thing puzzles me: if all Golfs are imposters, then what is the definition of ‘Golfiness’? Or did you mean all Golfs that followed the Mk1, in which case we are arguing exactly the opposite cases, as I regard the Mk1 as the outlier!

    2. Outliers I suppose can be the first in a sequence: 1,4,5,5,6,4,5,3,5,3,5,4,5 for example. For a car, the first one tends to be the concept that sets the standard and if the second one is quite like the first, that effect is reinforced. Further, even the dreary Mk 3 is Golfy as are all the later cars – but not Golfy enough. So the Golf hovers in between fidelity to the idea of the Mk 1 and the need to change and for me the change has trumped consitency, especially with regard to lamps.

  9. Regarding “Golfiness”, maybe it combines a certain lightness of spirit, a slightly wry approach to the design and marketing such as was the case with the Beetle/Käfer. Examples of this approach include the light-hearted slightly self-depricating advertising as cited by Charles above; the playful claims that Golf, like Passat, Jetta, and Scirocco is the name of a wind current, but it’s obviously also a sport, like Polo; the “Rabbit” moniker and logo used in North America; and the memorable golf ball shift knob on the GTi.

    But also as with the Beetle, there simultaneously coexists a contrasting and equally strong sense of simple stolid robustness, down to earth unostentatious economic sensibility, and serious functional mechanical fitness of purpose.

    This combination of characteristics is not found in any Twingo, Ka, Mini, or Fiat 500. If the Mk3 erred by creeping toward dour boring solemnity, there was a fix issued for that: the Harlequin edition.

    1. Oh my goodness! I had forgotten that the Golf had also been subjected to that humiliation:

      What was VW thinking/drinking/smoking/otherwise imbibing?

    2. Is there something especially wrong with the Harlequin? One doesn´t have to buy it if one is not well disposed. I think they are harmless fun.

    3. Hi Richard, it just puts me in mind of an old banger repaired with scrapyard sourced panels that were never resprayed to match. Otherwise, it’s just fine and dandy!

  10. Another Mk 3 defender here. We had a Mk 2 for ten years and then replaced it with a Mk 3 for ten years. We certainly didn’t notice a fall off of quality and the cabin was considerably less spartan than its predecessor and in the Mk 3 all the trim was the same colour, not random brown pieces among the black. Both were reliable but in the Mk 3 nothing broke and it was still on its original exhaust, the Mk 2 had three systems. Both diesel. I know it’s unfashionable to say it on DTW but was the Mk 3 really that bad. Oh yes, I really liked the unpainted bumpers, a rub of black shoe polish and scuffs were gone.

    1. Hi Barry. I’m happy to say that DTW is a broad church and all opinions are valued and respected. It would be a much duller place if we all agreed!

      Good point about the bumpers. High-gloss body coloured bumpers look very nice but are a bit impractical, especially for cars that live on city streets.

  11. Despite the mk3 Golf’s softer and heftier appearance compared to the mk2 Golf, it was not too much of a step down once the 150 hp 2-litre 16v GTi appeared and felt the rear was actually an improvement over the mk2 Golf’s that was itself a downgrade from the crisp looking mk1 Golf.

    It was the mk4 Golf where Volkswagen lost the plot at least in dynamic terms compared to the mk3 Golf before they returned to form with the mk5 Golf.

  12. The Mk 1 Golf is rare as hens’ teeth here, so I was surprised a couple of years ago to pull up behind a clean one at a set of traffic lights in Cork city. Even more surprised/confused when I realised the number plate said it was only twelve years old. Later in the day I realised it was a personal import from South Africa, where they were made ( in modified form) until 2009.

    1. Ah yes, the Citi Golf. The Giugiaro shape actually survived remarkably unscathed after 35 years:

      The only metalwork changes are the slightly sloping front end, the additional L-shaped crease in the C-pillar and minor changes in the wings to accommodate the wraparound bumpers.

    2. All change inside however. It was given the dashboard of the Mk1 Škoda Fabia at some point:

    3. Daniel O’Callaghan

      Regarding the Citi Golf, had Volkswagen decided to update the mk1 Golf along roughly the same lines (albeit with less restrictions compared to the South African model) would it have worked almost as well over the course of the 1980s in place of developing the mk2 Golf?

    4. Hi Bob. I guess that it would still fall short in terms of safety. That example above looks great, but I wouldn’t like to be involved in a crash in it. I wonder if it received better corrosion protection than the original Mk1? Possibly not, as it wouldn’t be required in South Africa.

    5. I wonder if there was a structural reason for the crease in the ‘C’ pillar, as it doesn’t do anything for the looks.

    6. That’s a good question, Mervyn. Perhaps it added a little rigidity to stop the panel ‘thrumming’ at certain speeds? As you say, it’s ‘gilding the lily’ somewhat.

    7. Keeping the Golof Mk1 in production for much longer than they did was no alternative for VW. VW never kept non-aircooled vehicles in production until they were outclassed by the competition and the Mk1 was on the small side and it was somewhat primitive in the interior.
      The Mk1 also was restricted by its Beetle heritage – when the Golf was developed VW was bankrupt and therefore had to use the Beetle’s production equipment and processes which was the main reason for teh Golf’s 2,400 mm wheelbase. The Golf Mk1 for example used the giant welding carousel where the production of the body started by the highly unusual process of first welding together the rear inner side panels and the roof and then working forward with the floorpan going in last. This had to change but the Mk1 had to earn its own money and the funds to develop its successor and buy new production machinery.

    8. Regarding the C-pillar, Wikipedia says: ‘A crease in the shape of an ice-hockey stick was also added to the C-pillar behind the rear doors. This crease not only served as a decoration, but it assisted in the elimination of smaller creases in the large area of the C-pillar during pressing’.

      I never realised that about the mk1’s production, Dave – amazing what one learns on DTW. The build process, as you described, is illustrated here, along with that of some other Golf models:

    9. Understand the mk1 Golf would potentially fall short against the opposition with regards to size and safety, did not know it was still restricted by the Beetle in some respects. Just that the design of the mk1 Golf especially in Citi Golf guise as shown in the pictures actually holds up pretty well IMHO, had the mk1/mk2 Polo as well as the mk1/mk2 Ford Fiesta in mind with regards to a properly updated mk1 Golf remaining in production over a similar time period featuring improved brakes, 5-speed manual, etc (the mk1 Golf Cabriolet being admittingly an extreme example of what was envisioning).

    10. The first couple of seconds seconds of the film perfectly illustrate the weird production process of the Golf Mk1. You get rear side panels and roof/A post/windscreen surround welded together and then the bulkhead is inserted and there’s still no central floorpan, just as they built the Beetle.
      Beetle body production started in a giant welding apparatus with nine or ten welding stations arranged radially like indexes on the dial of a watch with a rotating carousel with the corresponding number of jigs on it. The jigs rotated from one welding station to the next until the rear half of the body was comleted and the whole process was automated to an astonishing degree already in the Fifties. This equipment must have cost an enormous amount of money and VW simply couldn’t afford to replace it, so they re-used it.

  13. I hated golfs growing up, and i believe the looks of the mk2 and mk3 was the reason – there was just something incredibly frumpy and ungainly about them.

    A friend had a mint old golf 1 when i was a student though, and that car converted me into a golf(1) lover.
    Such a charming little car, and even though it had no power, it just felt great to wring it all out to pull up a steep hill, manhandling that clunky 4 speed gearbox to keep the power up, while the rear seat passengers were desperately trying to hold their beers in…

    Thats probably the car that turned me into a hardcore vintage car enthusiast.

  14. What a great article and some interesting responses too.
    I remember the mk3 launch and being largely underwhelmed by it apart from mild curiosity about the odd VR6 engine. A friend worked at the local VW dealer at the time and went on a course to introduce technicians to the “joys” of working on this very tightly packaged version. Needless to say his feedback did little to fuel my enthusiasm!
    Fast forward a number of years (during which a lovely mk2 GTI came and went) and I bought a late mk3 GTI 3 door as a cheapish daily driver for my 500 miles a week commute. It performed brilliantly and due to the bashing the press gave them when new I was entirely ready for the rather un sporting drive it offered. Thoroughly practical and great on the motorway, it did the job.
    So bearing in mind the foregoing how is it I’m currently the proud owner of a 1992 VR6 Auto 5door with 300k km on the clock? I can only offer time and perception as the possible reasons. Time has changed what I want from a car and now the mk3 offers space and a degree of refinement that the more desirable mk2 cannot match. Where I perceived that putting such a large heavy engine in the nose of a small hatch would create a dynamic disaster I have to admit I was wrong. Being 50+ I just don’t drive at 10 10ths anymore and VR6 belies its layout well when driven at a moderately brisk pace. The spec of mine is very much biased toward comfort and I think VW were prioritising this at the time. All in all it’s an interesting and practical old car for not a lot of cash and it gets a lot of interest when out and about, more so in Europe than the U.K. Will it’s time come as a classic? I think it just might.

    1. Hi Andy. Thank you for your kind words and glad you enjoyed the piece. You might just be right about the Golf VR6. In an era of increasingly highly stressed small capacity petrol engines, there’s something rather attractive about a big V6 in a medium-sized (small, actually, in today’s terms) car. Hope it continues to provide you with good service and lots of enjoyment.

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