::: Chapter Five :::
Steps to success
In 1976 a 'Mars Bar' cost seven pence, a pint of beer, sixteen pence, and an average house cost £29'000 (Clarkson 1991 p31). The newly imported LHD 1600 Golf GTI cost £3372, which compared favourably to the Triumph Dolomite Sprint at £3833 and Ford's RS200 Escort at £3279. Motor magazine even went so far as to call it 'surprisingly cheap' in their first ever GTI road test (Motor 1976 p9). This was not to last however. By 1979 the price had risen to £5135 and by 1982 a new Golf GTI cost £6499 (Bolster 1982 p31). The rise in price was corresponding directly with the GTI's surging popularity. One report in the motoring press described the GTI as 'a truly remarkable car, quick yet frugal, sporty yet practical, and understated… For our money it has got to be the Golf all the way' (What Car 1979 p19) whilst another concluded, 'The Golf GTI, you see, is the world's best small sports sedan' (Green 1982 p32).
By the start of the Eighties the GTI was adored. The high price it now commanded was not a problem, in fact it worked in the car's favour. The GTI was a quality car, 'the hottest of the hot hatches and, on balance, the best'(Motor 1982 p43). The GTI was already enjoying 'cult status' (Ibid. p40) and it was well understood that the 'best sporting hatchback on the market' (Hughes 1983 p48) should cost more.
One of the most central issues of this study is emphasised in the 'Sporting Cars' October 1983 article which they conclude by saying 'At £6'800 the cult clearly has something to do with quality as well as economy and vitality'. When designing the Golf GTI, Volkswagen paid as much attention to the smallest details as they did to the most obvious. 'The bodywork of the Golf seems to carry an air of long-lasting quality' (Ibid. 1983 p51). The fuel injection fitted to the car provided ample power without detriment to the fuel economy, and small but significant touches like a six-year anti-corrosion guarantee inspired confidence. Motor (1982 p42) said the Golf was 'thriftier quicker and quieter' than its rivals, but it went further than that.
A generation of sixties children were growing up with a different set of values to their forebears. The GTI was refined yet unassuming, at the time Volkswagen said it was a case of 'understatement instead of warpaint' (What Car? 1979 p18), and the passage of time proved them to be right.
When the 1980's person cast around for something to encapsulate their New Jerusalem, they chose not to drive something English with the scent of walnut and leather, but a rather innocuous hatchback (Futrell 1996 p57).
On the face of it the GTI was a sober town car, without any of the tasteless accessories that came to typify so many of its subsequent rivals. Only the single stripe down the flank and the red piping around the grille revealed what was actually a sports car with room for four people and their luggage. Volkswagen, it is fair to say had created a car that advertised itself. 'It is no coincidence that the death of almost the entire breed of affordable sports cars came broadly with the birth of the Golf GTI' (Frankel 1996 p5).
Every generation needs icons in cars, fashion and music. The GTI was a cut above the rest, a car you aspired to own. No one wanted to be average and the GTI had an 'important whiff of cachet' (Car 1996 p2).
To lean too heavily on retrospective road tests, might be to miss the point. For whilst 'Eighties GTI users remain the great unknown among market research boffins' (Bulgin 1996 p7) the success of the GTI followed a discernible formula. Whether or not it would be possible for another manufacturer or design team to fully replicate the success of the 'GTI' will be discussed later, but constituent factors of this 'formula' are obviously applicable to a variety of products.
Factors inherent to the formula can be split into three sections to aid clarity.