We can probably all agree that the Mk1 Volkswagen Golf fits the definition of a classic car. Credited with saving VW from financial disaster, it enjoyed a ten-year career as one of Europe’s most popular models.
The Mk1 Golf was simultaneously modest but chic, desirable yet affordable. The GTi defined the hot hatch era and when it was replaced by the Mk2 in 1983, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Around 6.8 million Mk1 Golfs found homes and the convertible version lived until 1993. Who would have imagined being able to buy a brand new Mk1 Golf at late as 1993? Well, hold that thought because our Eurocentric view is only half of the story. VW have form for squeezing the very last drops of value out of their designs. T2 vans were still lurching out of the plant in Brazil until 2002. The decrepit Beetle which the Golf replaced in 1974 lived on in Mexico until 2003. The 1981 Passat B2 survived as the Chinese market Santana as late as 2012. It should therefore come as no surprise that the tried and tested Mk1 Golf also gained a new life in the sun.
Golfs had been rolling off the production line in South Africa since 1978. Built at the Uitenhage plant near Port Elizabeth, they boasted over 50% local content and qualified as a fully-fledged South African product. Rugged and affordable, they were built exclusively in five door form and boasted various market specific powertrain and trim combinations. All was well until 1983 when Wolfsburg announced the slightly larger and more expensive Mk2 Golf. Intended to take the brand up-market, it was welcomed in Europe as part of a comprehensive range of aspirational Volkswagens, but in South Africa it created a problem. With a more limited line up of cars to sell, VWSA were about to lose their entry level model. In most markets the Polo could have filled this role, but it was only available as a three door and there was no desire to tool up for local manufacture at Uitenhage. Consideration was given to engineering a cost reduced version of the old Golf, but the prototype was so sombre it was completely at odds with the expectations of the target market. Similarly, the business case to develop a poverty specification Mk2 just didn’t stack up. Instead, VWSA came at the problem from another direction and decided to give the Mk1 Golf a new lease of life.
The Citi Golf was the result of understanding the customer and the application of lively marketing. VWSA began by bringing a leading Johannesburg adverting agency, RS-TM, onto the project. Keen to differentiate the new model from outgoing variants the team turned to bright colours, bold graphics and updated material for seats and door trims. Three signature shades of blue, yellow and red were selected for the bodies. The lower quarters gained bold white stripes with matching white bumpers and valances at each end. White steel wheels completed the colour motif and the “Citi” name was added in a contrasting colour to the stripe on the rear doors. There was nothing discrete or apologetic about it and the focus groups loved it. Unexpectedly, feedback showed that whilst cost was still important to the target buyers, they were actually willing to pay a little extra for something that was perceived as fresh and trendy. That was quite a result considering Wolfsburg had shelved the car in other markets.
Power came from the familiar 65bhp 1.3-litre single carb engine. In order to reduce complexity and keep manufacturing costs to a minimum there was no accessories catalogue. What you saw was what you got, but VW improbably got away with it. Given the Citi Golf was essentially an obsolete model it’s surprising that hip urban dwellers took it to their hearts, but therein lies the power of advertising. Once the 85bhp Citi Sport joined the range in 1985 sales jumped again, and rather than quietly fading away the Citi Golf took on a life of its own. Gradually evolving, it gained a facelift grille and deeper bumpers in 1988 along with sheet metal changes to the C-pillar. More power was delivered in 1988 courtesy of the 1.8-litre fuel-injected engine from the European market GTi. Air conditioning became an option and quad headlamps with side repeater indicators followed. A multitude of special editions saw the range through the 1990s revelling in names such as Deco, Blues, Sonic and Bafana Bafana, the latter being the nickname of the national football team. Things took a big leap forward in 1999 with the introduction of fuel-injected 1.4 and 1.6-litre engines. 2004 saw major changes occurring with the inclusion of a Skoda Fabia dashboard, the deletion of front quarterlights and the addition of new curved tailgate glass. This was remarkable investment in a car that was twenty years past its original sell by date. 2006 brought new tail lights and further special editions flowing into the showrooms, with a final update in 2009 seeing the addition of a driver’s airbag. As if to underline its longevity, the Citi Golf had variously shared assembly lines with the Mk2, Mk3 and even the MkV during its long production run. By the time the curtain fell in 2009, a total of 337,000 Citi Golfs had been sold and it had carved its own niche within South African motoring culture.
Finding a Citi Golf away from its natural habitat is a rare event. It’s a curiosity guaranteed to divide opinion as it’s arguably neither fish nor fowl. To some it may be a welcome update of a classic model. To others it may be the equivalent of a new build Tudorbethan house complete with uPVC wooden beams and double glazed leaded windows. You can make you own mind up by visiting the Barons Annual Christmas Classic Auction on 11th December at Sandown Park, right here in the UK. Surprisingly you can actually choose from two Citi Golfs offered for auction, but I’ve selected the higher specification one of the pair. It’s a 2006 model in an attractive metallic blue, complete with the Fabia dashboard, six spoke alloys and deep body coloured bumpers. Seeing a Mk1 Golf on a “55” year number plate certainly prompts a double take and you would guarantee some attention from the VW lickers (that may be a good or bad thing depending on your viewpoint). With a full service history and only showing 80,000 km there is no reason why it couldn’t be pressed into service as a hopefully reliable daily, and it’s MOT’d until September 2019. These are a few pictures we’ve borrowed from the auction catalogue:
The guide price of £2,500-£4,000 denotes that its true value remains to be seen and I suspect the hammer price will very much depend upon who is in the room on the day. It looks like a tidy example, but as with all old cars you should always check carefully before putting a bid in. We see many imported South African cars advertised as coming from a “rust free climate”, but the sea there is just as salty as anywhere else so a good prod would be prudent, especially if it’s lived near the coast. If all is well, you could bag an unusual retro classic for not a lot of money. I’m not normally a VW stalker myself, but I find myself curiously drawn to it. Fish or fowl? Surf or turf? Old or new? The best of both worlds or the exact opposite? I’ll watch the results on this one with interest. For you to watch too, here’s the link for the auction: 2006 Volkswagen Golf Citi
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
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