Like most great vehicles, the Volkswagen GTI was born an underdog. A few engineers in Volkswagen’s research and development department in the early 1970s knew the upcoming Golf could have some sporting potential. Just as the Beetle had been tuned over the decades, so too could its small-car successor. But in that era, oil crises and political winds were defanging sports cars around the world.
So a team of six executives went to work in secret on a side project to build a sport version of the Golf. Maybe, just maybe, they thought, it might sell 5,000 copies.
Today, 40 years after its introduction in Frankfurt, the car now known as the Golf GTI has sold more than two million examples. The GTI established the “hot hatch” segment, offering performance in a shape known until then mostly for value, not velocity. Over the past four decades the GTI has grown larger and more powerful in step with trends, but retains many of the features that first made it a sensation. Here’s a look back through our archives at what every generation of GTI has brought to the road.