Hot Hatch: 1981 Volkswagen Golf GTI

There were a number of cars that preceded the Golf GTI to launch the trend of the Hot Hatch, but the Golf is the car that is acknowledged as the car that defined the term. Barn Finder Drew Z spotted this particular GTI, so thank you for that Drew. You will find this 1981 Golf GTI listed for sale here on Bring A Trailer. The Golf is located in Marion, Massachusetts, and is offered for sale with a clean title. At the time of writing, bidding for this Hot Hatch has reached $8,000.

Finding a Mk I GTI in this condition today can be quite difficult. The kind of “boy racers” who tended to own these also tended to beat the poor little cars into the ground. This car was originally delivered new in France, but the current owner purchased it from the original owner in 2005 and then imported it to the USA. The car was repainted in its original Alpine White in the early 2000s, and the owner is at pains to point out that while the car looks good, it is not perfect. There are a few imperfections in the paint, including some orange peel, and a bubble near the left rear window seal. The stripes at the bottom of the doors would originally have been decals but were painted on during the repaint. The wheels also aren’t original, having been originally for a 1982 GTI. The grille is also not original, but the original grille and wheels are included in the sale.

The very first Golfs had some major issues with fit and finish of the interior trim, and trim items were renowned for coming loose with monotonous regularity. Volkswagen soon addressed these problems, and good quality control became a byword with the Golf. The interior on this Golf looks really nice for a car of this age. Those heavily bolstered front seats look incredibly comfortable, and apart from some minor stretching of the material on the seats, the interior looks really good. One of the things that I’ve always liked on these is that funky golf-ball shifter knob.

Under the hood is the great little 1.6l fuel injected 4-cylinder engine, which is hooked to a 5-speed manual transmission. This was the essence of what made the GTI such a legend. These little engines produced 110hp, and when coupled with a light car with agile handling, they produced some surprising performance. The car has been meticulously maintained, and the owner has quite comprehensive records to back this. To improve the handling of the car further than its already excellent traits, it has been fitted with a front suspension brace and Koni shocks. In 2017 the car also received new brakes.

As I said at the beginning, finding a good Mk I Golf GTI today is difficult. These are one of the most satisfying cars that you can drive, and driving them on a piece of twisting road is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. If you are looking for a reliable and economical car with surprising performance, then this Golf GTI might be the right car for you.


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  1. Rx7turboII

    Beautiful car! But my question is, since we didn’t get the GTI here in America until 1983, did they manage to get it earlier in France? Anyone know?

    Like 1
    • Pierre

      We had it in the mid 70’S. The GTI was also imported to Canada as early as 1979.

      Like 1
  2. doug

    They were sold in several other countries before the US. They were Golfs in all other countries, Rabbits here.

    Like 1
    • Superdessucke

      The Golf GTI first appeared in 1976. We didn’t get it in NA until 1983.

      Like 2
  3. LT1 Mike

    I love it. I owned a ’97 Jetta with a 5 speed and I was always amazed at the performance and the gas mileage. This body style is iconic, and the interior is really impressive along with the front grill and fog lights. I need a bigger garage….

    Like 1
  4. UK Paul 🇬🇧

    Yes, proper car. Brings back so many memories.

    Like 2
  5. DanaPointJohn

    I started a new job in November 1981, and was allowed to pick my own company car as long as it fell within a certain monthly payment. I chose a 1982 Jetta with the same engine/transmission set-up as this Golf GTI. What a wonderful car! When I left my job three years later, the Jetta was passed onto a colleague who drove it for another three years, then passed it onto another staff member. Easily one of the best cars I ever owned.

  6. Kobus de Wet

    Truly a remarkable vehicle which we had 3 of and they were all amazing and got passed onto our children for their enjoyment. What more to say but i would like this one but $ 8,000 for a second vehicle is too steep. Would spares be available in the event it was needed ?

    • UK Paul

      I might have a few .. I stuffed away some NOS bits away in the 90’s :)

  7. Martin

    They also make a quick race car – I hope….

  8. Lroy

    These cars were excellent, my mom had rabbit’s. On one occasion the local dealer sold a car out from under her. To make up for the “mistake” they gave her a loaner untill the exact car she wanted arrived. That was a big mistake, I thrashed that car, loaned it to anyone that wanted to thrash that car. Me and my buddies put that car thru holly hell. For 2 weeks straight nothing but abuse. It took all of it without a whimper trully amazing. So if you owned a black 4 door1981 Rabbit that feel apart, sorry.

  9. glenn

    this is a retrofitted rabbit.

    • UK Paul

      What do you mean by retrofitted?

      • glenn

        i dont recall round front headlights in that year if you watch wheeler dealers they just did one and returned it to euro spec and put on round headlights and indicators in the bumper

    • Marc

      Hey Glenn, I am the owner of the car, and it is definitely not a retrofitted Rabbit. While many folks have done that in the US, this is a legitimate European Golf. I bought it in France in 2005 and shipped it to the US in 2006. All Mk1 Golfs in Europe had round headlights. Please see the certificate of authenticity in the BaT auction showing delivery in France in 1981. Thanks!

      Like 8
  10. UK Paul

    They all had round headlights in Europe. It was a US thing to have the rectangular.

    Like 3
  11. David Miraglia

    Always wanted another Golf. Since my first two cars I ever owned were Rabbits.

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