I have two early Volkswagen golf memories. When a student in the early 1970s I had a tutor whose house in North Wales I used to visit. Quentin Hughes was an architect polymath, conservationist, soldier, bon-viveur-a big influence. He introduced me, in no particular order, to the Wine society, to Eames chairs and to the clean design of bang and Olufsen hi-fi. One day in 1974, while strolling through the harbor at Criccieth we came across a small, bright green car of outlandish aspect. At the time, Morris Minors were still a familiar sight not just in rural Wales, but London too. This feature alone seemed a token of serious Ubermenschheit. Each was Volkswagen Golf…one of the most significant cars of all time. The success of Dr Porsches’ ur-volkswagen almost ruined its parents. As late 1970 it was still the company’s single most important product. It sold very well, and made US importers rich, but it was pitiably retardataire compared with Europe’s best and increasingly the Japanese too. Every day 5000 beetles were made, but this was as embarrassing as Ford building the same number of mid 1930s model as in 1969. the Beetle might have inspired Doyle Dane Bernbach’s magnificent contrarians, knowing and sly advertising, but it was poor advertisement for a culture of buzz-cut technocrats with a rapidly rising Deutsche Mark to support.
So Golf had to retain traditional VW values but, be emphatically new. Thus it was born out of Wagnerian management wranglings, procrastination and fretting about the families and fate and destiny. The 1973 Passat was the first new tech VW, but the Golf was more significant, the production that signaled VW’s reinvention, eventually powering the company to its present dominant position in Europe—one likely ever to be challenged.