As the successor to the famous Beetle – the air-cooled rear-wheel-drive workhorse which sold over 21.5 million units since its design as the Nazis' "people's car" in the 1930's – the Golf Mk1 revolutionized small car design with its lightweight construction, water cooling and front-wheel-drive set-up.
Marketed as the VW "Rabbit" in the USA and Canada, the Golf sold over 100,000 units in the States in its first year alone – the most successful European imported car to date, according to VW.
But the Golf really made its name with the Mk1's sport variant, the GTI. Launched in 1975 as one of the first small cars with fuel injection systems, the GTI was also one of the first vehicles to demonstrate that a small, cheap, practical runaround could also be sporty and fun.
UK motoring magazine Top Gear said many praised the original GTI as "the spiritual father of hot hatchery" and said the car was so light and nippy when it came out in the 70's it could outrun a Ferrari 308 sports car – but only on country lanes.
The soft-top cabriolet version of the Golf (or "Rabbit convertible") was also popular in the 1980's, when it became the ride of choice for rich young Californians in many US teen movies.
And during its 40-year history the Golf has evolved with each generation changing its design, packing different engines and innards and adding ever more new technologies, from anti-lock brakes to parking assistance.
The seventh generation of Golf, released in Europe in 2012 and on its way across the pond next month, includes a fully electric model (the e-Golf) with a range of 190km. It will soon be joined by a plug-in hybrid variant, the Golf GTE.
The name "Golf" is often assumed to refer to the sport, and VW have never ruled this out, saying at the car's release in 1974 "Golf stands for endurance, dynamism and perfect technology – just like in any 'sport of kings'."
But in fact the inspiration for the car's naming came from the European weather.
"We actually meant the Gulf Stream, to which Europe owes its good climate," Volkswagen said (Golf being the German word for "Gulf").
Other VW models, such as the Passat saloon car and the Scirocco, are also named after wind currents.
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