And potential car buyers leafing through those same pages agreed: VW sold 5 000 Golfs in the first three months after the model reached our shores in early 1978 and broke the 100 000 mark a little over three years on – a record for a South African-assembled car! Six generations – and several further memorable advertising campaigns – later and the Golf is a serious mainstay of our new car market, having spawned a unique-to-SA budget model along the way.
And while today’s automotive listings fairly much mirror what buyers overseas can enjoy, that wasn’t always the case here. Especially in the late 1970s, when SA experienced a lag in new car launches; what debuted at the likes of Geneva and Frankfurt often took a few years to turn up on our shores. That was the case with Volkswagen’s Giugiaro-styled hatchback which was on European salesroom floors as far back as ’74, although the model’s origins go back as far as 1969.
That’s when Wolfsburg bosses, concerned about falling Beetle sales which had led to overall annual VW production nearly halving from a 600 000-unit high in 1966, visited the Turin Auto Salon for inspiration. Of the six show cars they favoured most, four had been designed by Italdesign and the firm’s founder, Giorgetto Giugiaro, was invited to Wolfsburg to discuss a new family car to take over from the Beetle.
Giugiaro had a preference for sharp, crisp lines which he delivered with the Golf and which would become his styling signature with subsequent projects such as BMW’s iconic M1 and the gull-winged DeLorean DMC-12 (of Back to The Future fame), among others. Despite the Golf looking radically different to its predecessor, the Italian stylist wasn’t given carte blanche: Wolfsburg’s engineers issued a clear brief relating to the car’s wheelbase and overall interior and exterior dimensions, although some of that was related to the need for component commonality across Volkswagenwerk AG, which had by then acquired NSU and Audi.