Some things don’t ever need tweaking, refining or improving, and this is definitely the case for the VW Golf, which is arguably the greatest car of the 20th century. It’s one of the top three best-selling vehicles of all time, up there with the VW Beetle and remarkably, the Toyota Corolla. Named Golf after the German word for Gulf Stream, the classic Mark II model (from 1983-1992) with side body mouldings and forged alloys came to personify an era of success and excess.

VW Golf GTi - Adsum
The GTI was Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1985.

It was driven by the sophisticated parents of childhood friends of mine who turned up to our school sport’s day with Ralph Lauren jumpers casually slung over both shoulders and wicker hampers full of well executed sandwiches (with the crusts cut off). They’d been influenced no doubt, by David Bailey’s iconic ‘Changes’ television commercial, which was made in 1987 to promote the remodelling of the Mark II, with a leggy but tearful Paula Hamilton famously flinging her fur coat and pearl necklace into the gutter after some champagne fuelled bust-up with her husband. The advertising strapline “If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen” suited suave and discerning Europeans down to a T, many of whom were horrified to return to their beloved GTi’s in the supermarket carpark to find the VW badge had been robbed from the front radiator grill.

They had Mike D of The Beastie Boys to thank for that, who stormed into the limelight of hip hop folklore via MTV’s airing of their (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) video. His VW medallion had many a geography teacher haggling down at the Volkswagen dealership for a replacement. This, I think, was all part of the Golf’s magical mystique—it was universally appealing. Whether you were a fan of the Beasties or preferred listening to Brahms, it became the car that almost everyone coveted, regardless of social class, race or background.

Saab 900 Turbo - Adsum
Mike D of the Beastie Boys with the Volkswagon VW chain.

Small and agile, the relatively modest outer shell encased a rally-style four cylinder 1.8litre engine that could hit 100mph uphill without the dashboard shaking. In my opinion, modern day modifications to the design have sadly diluted the kudos and charm associated with the Mark II. Famous for being able to go round the clock more than once, this snazzy little carthouse just keeps on giving, clocking up the miles and growing old gracefully.

Words: Leanne Cloudsdale is a writer, lecturer and creative consultant.