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Reader test: 1978 VW Golf

2009-10-27 07:45

Riaan van der Westhuizen. Johannesburg

A total of 29 were sold new in 1978. Mine was built in 1977 and first registered in 1978. I bought her in 2008 with the intent to restore her to 100% of her former glory, putting her in storage until time and funds allow.

I brought her out of “retirement” recently to do some duty in the Johannesburg traffic, commuting to and from work every day and for the occasional run around to the shops. I’ve covered about 1 000 km since I bought her, which is a combined cycle with about 400 km highway and the balance city driving.

This particular LS model features a 1 100 dm3 four-cylinder motor and a four-speed gearbox. It does not have any luxuries, with only the bare necessities inside and outside. It’s a true “modern” classic in my opinion, rarely found standard these days.

The exterior of the car is dominated by its small dimensions and classic Golf styling. It was the building block for the still successfully selling Citi Golf. The skinny metal bumpers do not offer much protection against possible bumps and one cannot help to wonder how bad it would really do in a modern crash test. It is fairly high off the ground and the skinny (155) 13-inch tyres complete the classic look.

The interior is spacious considering the overall size of the car, this is mainly due to the “thin” doors and classic seats. The dash has a low profile and the facia is close to the windscreen, thereby creating additional space up front.

Rear seating space is limited, as is head room, and access to the rear can be difficult due to the two-door layout of the car. The seats are comfortable and more “lazy boy” than “office chair”. The dash only features a speedo gauge and a few warning lights.

With a factory-quoted 37kW from the 1 100 motor it is not a pocket rocket, but with a weight of only 740kg it gives a power to weight ratio of 43W/kg. This does compare well with modern day small cars. The four-speed manual is notchy, but still easy to work.

Acceleration is linear and low engine speed torque is not bad due to the eight valve head. Factory quoted figures are 0-100km at 18 seconds with a top speed of 150km/h. Fuel economy is a combined cycle of about 12km/l.

The ride is soft and comfortable due to the soft suspension. This though results in the car understeering when pushed hard with significant body roll in corners. Feedback from the road and steering is very vague. Brakes are soft and not really suitable for sudden braking; with no ABS it requires vigilant driving.


Considering it’s a classic - 32 years of age - it is a fun and rewarding drive.

It's perfect in some ways for the slow Johannesburg traffic, but not really as good as any of its modern equivalents with MP3 radios and air conditioning. Safety, where it lacks greatly, is also an issue.

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