In May, 1974 Volkswagen presented the first-generation Golf as a modern front wheel drive long-range replacement of the Beetle. Early versions included a now-sought-after ‘swallowtail’ rear end and ‘smoothie’ hood. Later Golf variations included the Golf GTI (introduced in June, 1976), a Diesel-powered version (from September, 1976), a notchback saloon version called Jetta (from October, 1979), the Cabriolet (from January, 1980) and a Golf-based pickup, the VW Caddy. All variants proved instantly popular with the only notable technical flaw being the poor braking in RHD models, due to the master cylinder for the brakes being placed on the left for LHD cars, as Volkswagen never intended the Golf to be sold abroad.
In North America, the Golf Mk1 was sold as the Volkswagen Rabbit. In Mexico, the Golf Mk1 was sold as the Volkswagen Caribe.
As of 2008, the Golf Mk1 is still being produced in South Africa as the Volkswagen Citi Golf.
The Golf Mk1 is also featured in the game midnight club los angeles.
Like its predecessor the Volkswagen Beetle, the Volkswagen Golf Mk1 has proved to be influential. In continuous production since 1974, the Golf was one of the first widely successful front wheel drive hatchbacks. In the USA, the Rabbit would spark another generation of VW-alike front-wheel drive American compacts, such as the Omni, Escort and Cavalier in the 1980s, just as the Beetle inspired Falcon and Corvair in 1960s and subcompact Vega and Pinto in the 1970s. The Golf’s performance also defined the hot hatch before youth started tuning their imports.
Replacing the Beetle was a vital goal for Volkswagen’s continued survival. By the early 1970s, the company had fallen into financial woe. The novelty of the Beetle had worn thin. Sales were in terminal decline. The front-engine, rear drive small cars like the Toyota Corolla were refined enough to woo customers away from Volkswagen’s noisy underpowered engines and dated styling. The Type 3 and Type 4 fastback and squareback failed to attract much interest, whilst the NSU-developed K70 was a failure.
The small Golf had to succeed in replacing the high volume Volkswagen sedan. The upmarket Dasher/Passat would be VW’s first front wheel drive car, and it was relatively well received for its lower volume market. The Golf would adopt an efficient “two-box” layout with a steep hatch rather than a formal trunk, which would be later added in the Jetta. The water-cooled engine would be mounted transversely in the front. Work on the Golf began in 1969, shortly after Kurt Lotz became head of Volkswagen.