Volkswagen is celebrating 45 years of the Golf. The successor to the long-running Beetle first began production on its Wolfsburg assembly line on March 29, 1974. In December they arrived on American shores as 1975 models. Those first-generation U.S. models were badged Rabbit. It wasn’t until the second-generation Golf debuted for 1985 that Americans got the same Golf nameplate as the rest of the world.
The Rabbit nameplate made a brief return from 2006–09, so although the Golf name wasn’t a constant, Americans have had the opportunity to buy each of the seven generations of VW’s sprightly, compact hatch. In fact, they’ve snapped up 2.5 million of them. That contribution helped the Golf’s worldwide sales total exceed 35 million units, nearly double the total production of the Beetle, on its way to becoming the most popular model in Volkswagen history. Today the Golf is produced in five assembly plants and is exported to 155 countries.
Notable milestones in Golf’s American lineage include the first GTI in 1983, the VR6 GTI in 1993, and the Golf R that debuted in 2012. Many Golf models, particularly the GTI, are becoming collectible, just like the Beetle they replaced. As GTIs continue to hone their handling and add both power and efficiency, perhaps the most sought-after collectible Golf is yet to come.
1974 Volkswagen Golf MkI