Fancy a quick blast down memory lane? Join us as we travel back to a time of cassette players, questionable haircuts and just four TV channels. Here we review four of our favourite VW Group cars from the 1980s.
1. Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 1
There’s only one place to start: with the most iconic 1980s Volkswagen of all, the magnificent Golf GTI Mk 1.
The Mk 1 is rightly regarded as the grand-daddy of hot hatches. Not that there weren’t other quick(ish) hatchbacks around at the same time, but the Mk 1 was the first that really caught the public’s imagination.
With 20:20 hindsight, it seems obvious to us that people would love a small, practical, reliable car that was also bags of fun. Yet Volkswagen was cautious, committing themselves to just 5,000 cars in their first production run in 1975. Imagine! Amazingly, it took another four years for a right-hand drive model to reach Blighty, but by the early eighties, it was firmly established as a hit. In fact, Volkswagen would sell 460,000 Mk 1 s worldwide before it was superceded in 1983.
The last revisions of the Mk 1 were equipped with a 1.8 litre engine that generated 112 bhp, enough to bring up 60 mph in around eight seconds. If that doesn’t sound too impressive these days, just consider what else was on the road at that time. A 1981 Austin Allegro (1.3 litre), for example, lumbered to 60 mph in a coma-inducing 17 seconds. Remember too, the fun factor of hooning around in a car that weighed just 840 kg — that’s about the same as today’s VW Up.
For many young drivers in the 80s, the Mk 1 was their first true automotive love. It remained ahead of the pack for years, the gold standard for affordable performance. And for that, hats off to Volkswagen.
2. Volkswagen Scirocco
The Golf’s towering reputation tends to overshadow everything. That’s a shame, as Volkswagen made some other great cars in the 1980s.
Take the Scirocco, for example. Launched in 1974, just a few months before the standard Golf, it had a much sportier, stylish look than its high-volume cousin. In fact, if you can detect a faint whiff of DMC DeLorean in its design, it’s no illusion: both cars were styled by Italian design maestro Giorgetto Giugiaro.
The first generation Scirocco had looks to match the omnipresent Capri. Like the GTI, at just 850kg, it was a hoot to drive (and serves as testament to the comparative lardiness of modern cars).
By comparison, the second generation Scirocco went a bit stodgy, suffering a 70kg weight gain (though that’s still only 920kg) and a toning down of its sharp lines. Strange, then, that the later edition sold much better. There’s no accounting for tastes.
3. Volkswagen Corrado
Just squeezing in at the tail-end of the 1980s, our third favourite is the fantastic Volkswagen Corrado. Launched in 1989, it was only produced for seven years, but that was more to do with profit margins than its motoring ability.
It’s fair to say that by the late 80s, Volkswagen was losing in the style wars. The Corrado saw Wolfsburg come roaring back. It’s a handsome brute of a sports coupe, with sleek lines, perfect proportions and maybe a touch of menace.
It was fast too. The original G60 was good for 0-60 in 7.8 seconds, and the 1991 VR6 could get there in 6.2 seconds. That would give some of today’s sports saloons a run from their money, the result of plonking a 187 bhp engine in a 1230kg car.
What’s more, the Corrado had a rear spoiler that lifted up when you hit 40mph. It didn’t really achieve anything, but it was still super-cool.
4. Audi Quattro
Oh goodness. Just look at it. What a thing of beauty was the Audi Quattro, the car that brought four-wheel drive into sports coupes.
Four-wheel drive wasn’t invented by Audi engineers, but they were the first to see its potential for performance. Rally fans watched the Quattro annihilate the competition at the 1982 World Rally Championships, just one of 23 major rally wins it notched up in the first half of that decade. A road-going version was always going to set hearts alight.
The Quattro launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980 and was available in right-hand drive a couple of years later. The road version sprinted to 60 mph in 7 seconds, thanks to a 200bhp, five-cylinder turbocharged powerplant. The 20 valve version knocked around a second off that.
We can’t honestly say that it was performance for the masses — only 11,500 were made in a ten year run — but it did pave the way for plenty of other four-wheel drive performance cars. The Subaru Impreza might have sold by the bucketload, but the Quattro got there first (and some would say best).
- Mark I Golf GTI: YouTube channel Carfection
- VW Scirocco: Wikimedia, Arcturus, VW Scirocco 1973, CC BY-SA 3.0
- VW Corrado: Rivercard, VW Corrado – standard, CC BY-SA 3.0
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