From The Oakland Press
Magic cars: With GTI, Volkswagen invented the hot hatchback
Today the concept of a small car that offers economy, some utility, and an emphasis on fun mundane, but once upon a time, that was the stuff of fantasy for American driving enthusiasts.
Volkswagen had been tantalizing us for almost a half dozen years with reports of a Volkswagen Golf (we called it the Rabbit here) that offered performance that was only available in the muscle cars that were still sold in our market. All the manufacturers were struggling to meet the new U. S. government requirements for safety and emission equipment. Almost all cars had grown heavier, slower and more difficult to keep running smoothly. Carburetors were slowly being phased out in favor of fuel injection.
Volkswagen had built an assembly plant in Westmoreland, Pa., to build the Rabbit, and the buff books — magazines dedicated to automobile industry talk — weren’t kind about the “Americanization” of the German bunny; they thought VW was changing the car based on what the marketers told the engineers we Americans liked. So when word of an American built GTI was announced for the fall of 1982, it was greeted with skepticism.
All of which was completely unfounded. The GTI was one of those cars that proved to be more than the sum of its component parts.
The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine only made 90 hp. and 105 lb.-ft. of torque, but since the car weighed only 2,100 pounds, it proved to be enough to scoot the GTI to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds. Top speed was just 105 mph, so clearly, no one would be impressed just by the hard numbers.
Once you got inside, the magic began to happen. The steering wheel was thick-rimmed and a “just-right” diameter. The seats offered supportive side bolsters on both the back and bottom. The shifter offered a feel that was on par with the best sport cars of the day, and the lever was topped off with a dimpled “golf ball.”
The easy-to-read speedometer and tachometer were supplemented by a trio of gauges set low in the center console, just ahead of the shifter. The oil temperature gauge was one announcement of the car’s seriousness.
When you drove the GTI, balance is the word that came to mind. The 185/60×14 inch Pirelli Cinturato P6 tires came mounted on six-inch wide alloy wheels from the VW Quantum. These tires provided a gleeful amount of grip while still providing a decent ride. The front disc brakes were backed up by rear drums, but they proved to be more than adequate. To sum up, the GTI was extremely tossable.
The fourteen cubic foot trunk was reasonably sized, but fold down the rear seat and you added another 33 cubic feet of space. Reports of the GTI being used as a mini-moving van by college students weren’t uncommon.
Two of the advertising tag lines sum up its appeal: “Introducing the Volkswagen Rabbit GTI. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and “The Rabbit GTI is more than just fast; it’s wired directly to your synapses.”
In a market where small cars like the Pinto and Vega were still fresh in the public’s mind, the GTI offered a playful alternative. With a starting price of $7,790, it offered 26 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway, along with the opportunity to actually enjoy driving a small car.
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Provided by The News Herald