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The Volkswagen Golf celebrates 50 years on our roads, refreshed Mk8 with ChatGPT imminent

A photo of a yellow Mk1 Volkswagen Golf in mint condition
Volkswagen Golf Mk1 The original VW Golf was launched in 1974

ANY car which manages to remain in production for 50 years can be considered a major success in a fickle automotive world where model names tend to come and go.

Launched in 1974, the Volkswagen Golf is still very much a household name today as it hits a half-century on our roads, having now outlived its last original competitor in the family hatchback sector pioneered by the Golf in the mid-to-late 1970s - the recently discontinued Ford Fiesta.

VW has sold more than 37 million Golfs to date. Now on its eighth generation, which VW has said will be the final internal combustion engine-powered version, the current Golf is due for a facelift later this year (read on for more details on that).

To mark its 50th birthday, VW France will be displaying pristine examples of the model’s first seven generations at the Salon Rétromobile show in Paris between January 31 and February 4, while in Germany, Volkswagen will show a Golf Mk1 beside the original EA 276 concept car from 1969 which led to its creation at the Bremen Classic Motorshow from February 2 to 4.

A photo of the VW Golf Mk1 and the EA 276 concept car from 1969
Volkswagen Golf Mk1 at 50 Golf Mk1 and the EA 276 concept car from 1969

Meanwhile, the updated version of the Mk8 is set to make its public debut at the end of this month. According to VW, the refreshed Golf will incorporate “visually refined features, new assist systems and powertrains, and next-generation infotainment systems and software” which will include an updated IDA voice assistant utilising ChatGPT.

As mentioned, it’s set to be the last hurrah for petrol and diesel engines in VW’s best-seller: an all-electric Mk 9 is expected to launch in 2028 and will likely be based on VW’s innovative, scalable new SSP platform, which is expected to be in use by the company by 2026.

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A photo of the refreshed Volkswagen Golf Mk8 GTI
VW Golf Mk8 refresh Volkswagen recently gave us our first look at the forthcoming facelift for the Golf Mk8, which will feature a ChatGPT-enhanced voice assistant

“It will be a true Golf in terms of packaging and driveability,” is what VW branding big wig Thomas Schafer told Car magazine about the ninth generation Golf late last year, in an interview which touched upon the model names that will continue to be part of the company lexicon going forward.

“Iconic names that are definitely decided and that will be carried into the future are Golf, Tiguan and GTI,” he revealed.

“The others we will look at as a case-by-case basis.”

The ID.2 is set to arrive in 2025 as Volkswagen’s most affordable EV. (Volkswagen)
The ID.2 is set to arrive in 2025 as Volkswagen’s most affordable EV. (Volkswagen) The ID.2 is set to arrive in 2025 as Volkswagen’s most affordable EV. (Volkswagen) (ingo barenschee )

We already know that the first electric GTI will be the ID2 GTI, the sporty version of its forthcoming ID2 all EV which was revealed as a concept last year and set to launch in late 2026 onwards – although many have already speculated that this car might eventually end up wearing a Golf badge, which would fit with VW’s plans to eventually phase out its electrified ID brand.

The electrified four-wheel-drive GTX brand is also being decommissioned as the company streamlines its badging.

“GTI is the two-wheel drive brand, and R is the four-wheel drive brand,” explained Schafer.

“GTX was just an interim battery-electric only one. Going forward, we’ve taught the world what GTI is, and we’ve taught the world what an R is. It would be ludicrous to re-educate people.”

VW GOLF MK1: FACT FILE

A photo of a Mk1 Volkswagen Golf
Volkswagen Golf at 50 An anniversary that is close to the heart of the Volkswagen brand: 50 years of Golf.
  • Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and Volkswagen, the original Golf was produced at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg at the end of March 1974, with its official home market launch taking place in May.
  • Prior to the Golf, the iconic rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive VW Beetle had shaped the Volkswagen brand for decades, with over 21.5 million units already sold.
  • With the arrival of the first Golf, a new era of vehicles with front-mounted engines and front-wheel drive was cemented, building on what began the previous year with new its sister models, the Scirocco and the Passat.
  • The Golf introduced a versatile rear cargo set-up with its hatchback tailgate offering easy access, complimented by a foldable rear seat backrest.
  • The Mk1 Golf was an immediate hit, with the millionth car sold before the end of 1976.
  • In total, 6.9 million units of the first-generation Golf - including all derivatives like the sporty GTI, convertible ‘Clipper’ and a Jetta-badged MK1 saloon variant - were sold worldwide.
  • The Mk1 Golf was so popular in its home market that it was even commemorated on a German postage stamp
A photo of a German postage stamp featuring an image of a Volkswagen Golf Mk1
Volkswagen Golf at 50 A VW Mk1 Golf postage stamp (Deutsche Post)