A couple of weeks back, ahead of the new registration plate on September 1, we named the Golf GTI as one of our top 10 best new 63-plate cars. And with good reason: the latest generation of GTI is one of the best current hot hatches, offering the same winning combination of quality, practicality and great dynamics that has made the GTI such a favourite for so long.

In fact, it’s now 36 years since the Mk1 – the car credited with inventing the hot hatch as we know it today – first went on sale. What’s remarkable is that VW thought it was such a niche vehicle that the company didn’t even bother to engineer a right-hand-drive version for the UK, selling only left-hand-drive GTIs over here until 1979. But, once the company had realised what a winner it had on its hands, the rest – as they say – was history.

History, indeed, that VW is savvy enough to trade upon wherever possible. Some manufacturers might strive to disassociate themselves from their pasts, but VW knows the GTI brand is too valuable not to take advantage of it. And, if ever proof were needed, this ad provides it. It dates from 2002, and therefore features only four generations of the GTI, but it could easily be adapted to include today’s models and still work just as well.

The storyline is simple: a chap in an immaculate Mk1 GTI pulls up at a café in the ’70s to make a phone call . Turns out he’s on his way to look at a new car, but as he returns to his Golf after making the call, he realises he’s forgotten his keys and pops back to the café, which, as he re-enters, changes as if by magic to an ’80s setting.

By the time our man gets back to his car, it’s turned into a Mk2. He sets off, and along the way, of course, the backdrop changes once again, first to distinctively ’90s surroundings and then to a tongue-in-cheek version of the near future. Of course, the Golf changes, too, first to a Mk3 and then to a Mk4 GTI. Finally, the man arrives at his destination and pulls up next to the car he came to see, which is, of course… the Mk1 GTI he started out in.

While the ad might not be classic in terms of its age, it certainly is in terms of its content. VW’s marketing has always been special – understated, clever, and laced with dry, and sometimes self-effacing, humour – and, in this instance, the first two are taken care of by the complete lack of a voiceover and the beautifully-worked transitions from decade to decade; the latter comes in neat touches, like the changing of the cinema hoardings from Rocky to Rocky III.

The ad closes with the traditional VW all-black end-board, upon which the point about the Golf’s heritage, if not proven by the ad itself, is certainly made by the effortlessly simple tagline – ‘(1977-  )’. The message is clear: “we’ve been doing this for a while, and we’ll be doing it for a while more – make of that what you will.”

There is one minor hitch, though – as expertly pointed out by Mk1 Golf enthusiasts’ site VW-One: the rather lovely looking Mk1 GTI the man’s on his way to see in, err, the same Mk1 GTI (we’ll ignore the temporal anomalies just this once) turns out not to be a Mk1 GTI at all. It has an ‘S’ registration plate, but that would make it too early to be the right-hand-drive GTI that it purports to be. So, it seems VW dressed up a stock Golf to play the part. Scandal!

Teething errors of continuity notwithstanding, however, this is a great example of how to do memorable car advertising. And with a bit of luck, while VW continues to recognise the value of its GTI family history, we can look forward to more neat ads like this as the model marches on toward its 40th anniversary.

By Alex Robbins


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