Just as the Golf GTI spawned many imitators such as the Escort XR3i and the Peugeot 205 GTi , so the success of the Golf Cabriolet pushed rival manufacturers to make open versions of their hot hatches. While the Mk2 Golf has pursued refinement in its chassis and overall deportment, the Carbriolet retains the more raunchy and vibrant feel of the original GTI . Because of this, it remains a better open-air fun car than its direct rivals. The engine of the Cabriolet is smooth, sweet and torquey and, when you have the hood down, the powerful rasp of the exhaust note under hard acceleration adds to the sensation of open-air motoring.
With more weight in the rear, the Cabriolet has a different handling balance from the GTI . Its tuck-in is more pronounced if you lift off the throttle at high cornering speeds and the way to avoid an oversteering situation is to flick the steering wheel straight as you lift off. For an open car converted from a saloon, the VW Cabriolet has good structural rigidity. Scuttle shake is detectable but it is not worrying. Acceleration and top speed are down on the GTI because of the extra weight and the blunter shape, but open-air motoring is not about flat-out driving: it is about enjoying the sights and sounds around you in a car that is tactile, responsive and civilized. The Golf Cabriolet has these attributes in full measure.
For many years, VWs have been enthusiasts’ vehicles, witness the huge number of Beetle owners world-wide who make the effort to join VW Clubs and take part in organized events. But even the Beetle craze has been overtaken by the fanatical following of GTI owners. In Germany, almost every large town has a GTI Club and in both Holland and Germany there are Scirocco Clubs to cater for the VW coupe as well. Germany also has a few Golf Cabriolet Clubs for open air fans, and we will probably see Corrado Clubs starting up before long.
The Americans tend to integrate GTI enthusiasm into their normal VW Clubs but in Britain there is the GTI Drivers’ Club and Club GTI while the hard-core South Africans have the very active GTi Club of SA. Club gatherings in all countries range from a monthly regional get-together for drinks and car talk to full-blown events at racing circuits. But the most spectacular GTI events occur at an international level. These tend to involve the VW importer and main dealers in the host country and are professionally organized, with technical lectures, exhibitions, film shows, sprints and slaloms.
The most famous of these giant GTI gatherings is the annual GTI Treffen (Convention) at Maria Worth on the edge of the Worthersee, a lake in Southern Austria. The first of these events in 1982 started off quite innocently as a small gathering of GTI enthusiasts. The meeting was a success and Volkswagen fuelled the fires by circulating details of the 1983 event to VW owners in Germany and Austria. Nearly 800 cars turned up for the second event. The scale of the event took it beyond club-level organization, and so Volkswagen took over the logistics in association with the local tourist board. The numbers of cars and people attending has been growing every year, and in 1985, the cars attending produced a six mile long GTI traffic jam. Last year, with a record number of 1,160 cars at Maria Worth including a contingent from the British Club GTI, a monument to the GTI was carved out of stone by a group of craftsmen.
Another growing event is GTI International which is organised by Volkswagen Audi Car magazine in the UK. In its second year in 1989, GTI International moved to the Transportation and Road Research Laboratory in Crowthorne, Berkshire, and under brilliant May sunshine, was a stunning success with 1,000 cars turning up over the weekend. The test establishment has a huge car park with room for slaloms and handling tests and there is a timed quarter-mile sprint, concours d’elegance, technical seminars, exhibitions and displays. In 1990 there will also be a sound-off competition for cars with customized audio systems. In 1989, several participants came over from Germany and as the fame of this event spreads, it could well equal the GTI Treffen in attendance in the years to come.
In 1983, with the life of the Volkswagen Mk1 Golf drawing to a close, Wolfsburg produced a limited edition model to boost sales of the GTI in the face of competition from the XR3i and Opel kadett GTE. They launched the car that has become known as the Campaign Golf, which featured a steel sliding sunroof, four headlamp grille, green tint glass, dimpled interior lock pins, genuine leather GTI steering wheel and 6j x 14in Pirelli alloy wheels (also known as ‘P-Slots’) shod with 185/60HR14 p6 tyres.
On the continent these cars had wheel arch trims and bumpers finished in the body colour, leaving only the centre part of the bumper black, while UK-bound cars retained the all-black bumpers and wheel arch trims of the normal GTI.
The Campaign GTIs are much sought after by enthusiasts looking for a late Mk1 Golf.