This small hatchback might seem perfectly ordinary today, but when it was launched it was something genuinely new. Built with engineering from VW, DKW, Daimler-Benz, and Audi, this new model proved to be nearly as long lived as the original Beetle, with versions of the Mark 1 Rabbit/Golf being produced as late as 2009 in some countries. The simple two box, hatchback body style, combined with front wheel drive, and a transverse mounted water cooled four cylinder would be copied by every other car maker all over the world.
The Volkswagen Golf was designed to be the ultimate successor to the VW Beetle, whose sales were in sharp decline by the 1970s. There can’t be many times in automotive history when such a huge revolutionary change in car design has taken place, than when the Rabbit leaped ahead of the long running VW Bug in 1974. The archaic rear-engined, air-cooled Beetle was a car first sold in 1945, and its design dated to before the war. The MK1 Golf was a water-cooled, front-engined, front-wheel drive hatchback that set standards of design still used today, more than 40 years later.
The Mark 1 Golf/Rabbit was created using many parts recently acquired with Auto Union, and used in the new Audis. These in turn came from development work Mercedes had done in adapting a small water-cooled four cylinder industrial motor for use in an updated DKW F102 (launched as the Audi F103 in 1965). To increase packaging efficiency, VW engineered a gearbox to mount the motor longitudinally, like the British Mini, and ditched the trunk for an unconventional ‘two-box’ design with a hatchback, instead of a 'three box' sedan with a hood, a cabin and a trunk. VW did follow up with a sedan later, when they added a trunk tot he Rabbit and called it the Jetta.