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Women in Wheels | Gunhild Liljequist, the genius behind VW’s original GTi cabin design

2020-08-26 07:30

Lance Branquinho

Gunhild Liljequist,vw gti tartan seats,golf 8gti

Gunhild Liljequist

• VW Golf followers often forget who influenced the original GTi's cabin architecture. 

• Gunhild Liljequist was hired by VW in 1974. She was trained as a porcelain painter and chocolate box designer by trade.

• Liljequist believed that Golf required some signature design elements inside.

• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za


There is no arguing against the iconic status of VW's Golf. Even more so, the GTi. 

VW can be credited for popularising both the hatchback and hot hatch segments, but even the most ardent Golf followers often forget who influenced the original GTi's cabin architecture. 

Some of the Golf's most enduring design features came from the imagination of a very brilliant woman. Unfortunately, many South African VW fans are not familiar with her work. 

vw gti tartan seats,golf 8gti

Image: VW Newsroom

A true hot hatch innovator 

The lady in question is Gunhild Liljequist, who was hired by VW in 1974, as a 28-year old. She was trained as a porcelain painter and chocolate box designer by trade, skills which appeared to have hardly any applicability to the car world. But Liljequist would prove her worth - and then some. 

VW knew that its first-generation Golf had to be a massive hit on debut, and they were not afraid of being daring with its design. The German company hired Italy's brilliant Giorgetto Giugiaro as overall designer, making him responsible for the Golf's overall proportions and exterior styling. 

The car's cabin architecture would launch two design features that remained iconic, for decades. And both these ideas were delivered by Gunhild Liljequist. 

Despite doubts from VW management, Liljequist believed that Golf required some signature design elements inside. Her suggestion was the golf ball shifter, which was wildly original and also perfectly on trend. 

The golf ball-shaped and textured shifter top was an instance of brilliantly inspired design. It differentiated Golf from all hatchback rivals and connected the owner with VW's design values, each time they shifted gear. Aside from overall expensive milled metal shifters found on supercars in later years, the golf ball shifter became a valid marketing and design reference point for VW GTi ownership.

Gunhild Liljequist

Image: VW Newsroom

Daring to be different 

Beyond the shifter, Liljequist's other significant design legacy was the original GTi's seat pattern. Her awareness of fabric trends was influenced by British colour patterns of the time. 

Liljequist wanted the Golf GTi to have a premium and dynamic feel to its cabin, but knew that traditional black leather seats would be too sombre and expensive for a compact family performance car. 

The solution was a tartan seat pattern, which became known as "Clark Plaid" and celebrated the British lightweight sportscar interior designs of the late 1960s. These tartan seats were met with overwhelming industry and customer approval. 

Gunhild Liljequist,vw gti tartan seats,golf 8gti
Gunhild Liljequist at the 40th anniversary of the VW Golf GTI. Image: VW Newsroom

Liljequist eventually retired from VW in 1991, but her influence in the automotive design world remains enormous. 

VW still offers tartan seats on its premium high-performance Golf models. The brand will proudly continue Liljequist's legacy with the Golf8 GTi, which features a tartan-type fabric. 

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