Seven generations of Golf have sold over 35 million units to date. Picture: SUPPLIED
Seven generations of Golf have sold over 35 million units to date. Picture: SUPPLIED

What do Muhammad Ali, the German national football team and the Volkswagen Golf have in common?

The answer is that 1974 was a very special year for them all. It was the year Gerd Müller delighted German football fans with the goal that won Germany the World Cup for the second time; the year Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman in the legendary Rumble in the Jungle; and it was the year in which an automotive icon was born.

The first Golf left the assembly line in Wolfsburg in March 1974, starting a model range that is now 45 years old and in its seventh generation.

The rounded silhouette of the Beetle had set its stamp on the roads, and the first-generation Golf with its square design had heads turning when it first appeared. It soon became a familiar sight: just two and a half years after it was launched, it had been sold to 1-million people.

The original MkI Golf of 1974 was designed by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro. Picture: SUPPLIED
The original MkI Golf of 1974 was designed by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro. Picture: SUPPLIED

Today, the Golf has sold more than 35-million units worldwide and has become VW’s best-selling model. From its humble beginnings as a replacement for the original people’s car, VW’s hatchback has gone on to spawn high-performance legends such as the GTI and Golf R, and limited-edition Clubsport versions.

The main design elements — the side profile with its upright, solid C-pillar, the distinctive wheel arches and the horizontal front with the slim grille and downwardly protruding headlights — are still present in every Golf even though the car has evolved to be larger and more high tech.

The eighth-generation Golf will be launched early in 2020 and moves further into the digital future with a raft of new semiautonomous driving aids and infotainment systems.

FIVE FUN FACTS ABOUT THE VW GOLF

1. The MkI Golf was styled by Italian design legend Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign, the man who penned legends such as the Lotus Esprit, Maserati Ghibli, and the DeLorean DMC-12 of Back To The Future movie fame.

2. A new Golf has been ordered somewhere in the world every 41 seconds, every day, without interruption, since the start of production 45 years ago. That is an average of about 780,000 vehicles per year.

3. In 2002 the Golf overtook the Beetle as the most popular car in the world when it notched up 21,517,315 sales.

4. The GTI wasn’t the first hot hatch but it’s arguably the car that came to define the breed. It started life as an after-hours project by enthusiastic VW employees who took a MkI Golf and slotted in a more powerful fuel-injected 1.6l Audi engine with a grand power output (for the time) of 81kW. 

5. The mid-engined GTI W12-650 was the most powerful Golf. Made as a concept for the 2007 GTI Festival in Wörthersee, Austria, it had a 6.0l W12 bi-turbo engine from the Bentley Continental GT where the rear seats should be, with front brakes from an Audi RS4 and rear brakes and axle from a Lamborghini Gallardo. The rear-wheel drive car made a stonking 650hp (485kW) of power and was reportedly rather tricky to drive.