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There are lots of reasons to love the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
It really did invent the hot-hatch genre and, while pretenders to the throne have come and gone, the Golf has remained at or close to the top of the tree.
For many it is the obvious choice: conservative, well made, comfortable and durable – a car for all occasions, at home on the high street, at society events or in a race paddock, often driven to classic events by owners who’ve come to race a seven-figure classic Ferrari.
The last car before it that achieved this egalitarian feat was the Mini Cooper ‘S’.
The GTI had that same universal appeal and usability.
I love the fact that the GTI began as a skunkworks project by a group of VW engineers and marketing men. Rarely could a hunch have been more successful.
Today the Golf GTI is an icon. Often legends disappoint against today’s standards. The Golf doesn’t.
It was and still is a great drive, and is as usable as ever.
The Mk1 GTI’s age puts it right at the sweet spot to attract enthusiasts’ money now.
I’m typical of those for whom it’s a hero car. As an excited 12-year-old, I went with Mum to VW dealer Harper Euro Car in Stevenage in 1979 to collect her new GTI.
She traded in her much-loved Alfasud 5M, which was rapidly disappearing into a pile of red oxide.
I always had a hand in choosing my parents’ cars. I spent hours engrossed in Car, reading and re-reading road tests, hence the choices for Mum of Alfasud and GTI, both loved by the mag.
We were the coolest family on the street when we got the GTI.
In 1985 Mum decided it was time for a new car and I hatched a plan to snaffle the GTI.
My opportunity arose one morning in a breakfast-table discussion that finished with Dad laughingly placing a bet.
It amounted to me having the Golf if I could get it insured. He thought that was about as likely as me winning the pools.
But, a couple of days and 200 phone calls later, I left him open-mouthed when I presented an insurance quote that made the Golf just £10 more a year than my VW Polo.
Mum got her Peugeot 205 GTI and I got the Golf.
I was given a company car in 1990 and the Golf was parked away in a garage at my parents’ house. It stayed there until four or five years ago, when Dad had finally had enough of it.
The GTI was in decent shape and had only 63,000 miles on the clock, but was a bit tatty.
I decided I had to keep it and that it should be returned to the way it was when Mum handed it over.
As I researched restorers, Crazy Quiffs in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, kept coming up and a meeting with boss Richard Masters at the firm’s workshops revealed the depth of passion and knowledge, and the quality of the work there.
When the Golf went to Crazy Quiffs (I know: terrible name), I flippantly said that I wanted it to be the best in the world.
Three years and many invoices later – no, I haven’t added them up – the GTI came back.
The team had done exactly as I asked: it is just as I remember it when new and I love it.
I use the car regularly, having first licked the road clean to ensure no damp! Sadly, my mother died the week before it was finished.
I love the GTI because it’s an icon that created an automotive category.
It still looks great: its styling is simple, tasteful and purposeful, with nothing to go out of fashion. It’s a bit like Dieter Rams’ Braun products and his philosophy in that respect.
On the road, it delivers like a legend should. It punched above its weight new and is still great fun.
It has Teutonic quality, reliability and usability, but with personality. It may be a mini 911 in that respect.
It was a great buy when new (my five-speed was £5444 in 1979) and still is now.
It has so much of everything for not a huge sum in classic terms. It’s still the right car for every occasion, as it was then.
From my experience running The Hairpin Company with Charles Reis in Wiltshire, the holy grail is a perfect, low-mileage and original early or late production GTI, and those restored by a top specialist.
Prices tend to range from £5-10,000, for a car requiring restoration, up to £45,000 for the best. Most are between £18,000 and £25,000, and it’s cheaper to spend more on a better GTI than to buy one and improve it.
A full restoration with the best people will take years and cost most of £50,000, I can assure you…
- Owned by Neil Dickens
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