Thanks to a close-ratio box the Golf GTi delivered test figures to 100km/h in 9.3 seconds. Highway cruising at 120km/h was reasonably peaceful with fifth gear being a true fifth, not the more common overdrive ratio, and pulled all the way to a maximum speed of 182km/h.
Off the bat sales impressed with 2 991 units selling in 1983 – this despite it being almost R2 000 more than a R9 860 Golf 1600 GTS. By 1984 the bigger Golf II was launched and the early 8 valve 1800 GTI stole potential Golf I GTi sales, leaving the boxy classic with only 357 units on the sales charts. For 1985, its final year, just 22 Golf I GTis hit the road, despite the drop from the 1984 price tag of R14 100 to R13 245. By contrast 2 262 Golf II GTIs sold the same year, and they cost a cool R18 135.
I suppose a true African competitor to the MkI Golf GTi would be the Ford Escort XR3i or maybe the Opel Kadett 1.8 GTE. Both sported hopped-up, boy racer aesthetics and sprightly performance and at R12 270 and R12 940 respectively, offered more bang for your buck than the Golf. But we are talking GTI/GTi here as the king of the 1980s hatch brigade, and no other moniker would do. So we found one of a handful of Peugeot 205GTIs in South Africa. Yes, we got the bigger saloon 505GTI in 1984 (321 units sold at R24 715) but the only real competitor to Golf when it comes to wearing the GTi crown is the 205 hatch version. It is worth noting that in car segment terms the Golf is one size up on the ladder – and looks it when parked next to the French offering. This becomes more evident when opening the duo’s bonnets: the Golf has loads of space surrounding the motor, while the Peugeot is so tight you see mechanics roll their eyes and prepare for bleeding knuckles at the thought of a cambelt change. Although it looks heftier the Golf actually wins the battle of the scales, weighing in at 838kg against the 1.6 Pug’s 850kg and 880kg (1.9) – this due mainly to the fact that the Volkswagen’s harder-edged body lines added structural rigidity, where the more contoured 205 needed this built in under the skin. The Golf also lacked a front sub-frame and the rudimentary torsion beam rear suspension setup weighed in significantly lower than the individual trailing arm and cross-tube found in the French offering.