In 1976 Volkswagen introduced a new variant of the then relatively new Golf hatchback, the GTi. The Golf was developed in the wake of the first big energy crisis in 1973 and was meant to be a highly efficient solution to the impending end of oil. The GTi was by no means the first small economical sporty car. Certainly, the original Mini Cooper of the 1960s was the spiritual ancestor of the GTi, but VW took the concept to a whole new level with the GTi. They combined the Golf hatchback with a stronger engine, tighter suspension and some subtle styling tweaks to give birth to the GTi. The first generation GTi added fuel injection and screamed at 108 hp!
People snapped up GTis and modified them with ever stronger engines, bigger brakes and stiffer suspensions. The car was so successful that it spawned an entire market segment of "hot hatches" that continues to this day. In fact, the modern tuner cars epitomized by the Fast and Furious movies can probably be considered direct descendants of the GTi. Most other European car-makers even called their hot hatches GTi, like the Peugeot 207 GTi and many others. Everybody got in on the act, with varying degrees of success. Who remembers the Dodge Omni GLH? or the Escort GT? Of course the concept also brought some great cars like the Focus SVT and Dodge SRT-4 (maybe not very refined but damned quick and affordable).
As each Golf generation grew bigger, heavier and more powerful, the GTi eventually got more luxurious even getting the VR6 engine and all wheel drive. With the latest generation VW sort of got their focus back with a 2.0L turbo four cylinder and front wheel drive only. The original GTi proved inexpensive, quick, good handling cars that didn't guzzle gas were both possible and highly desirable. As much fun as the old GTOs and other muscle cars were, efficiency could be a blast too. Now if we can just get the cost of a Tesla Roadster down to about $25,000 we can really party!
[Source: Car Magazine UK]