Outside Europe, Volkswagen has continued to produce many classics from its range for ages. The Santana was produced in China for more than 30 years, the last generation of the Gol in South America for 14 years and, of course, the Beetle, whose final model rolled off the assembly line in Mexico in 2003 after more than six decades.

1974-1983, the first Golf in history (Golf I)

The first generation of the Volkswagen Golf also had a much longer international life. In Europe, the Golf I was offered between 1974 and 1983. In South Africa, it lasted 26 years longer.

Production of the Golf I began in 1978 at Volkswagen's South African plant in Uitenhage, now Kariega. In 1984, the Golf II was to follow, as in Europe. But it was more expensive than its predecessor, which made people reluctant to buy. Production of the Golf I was therefore relaunched under the name Citi Golf. The Volkswagen unit in South Africa realised that there was a huge demand for a small, affordable entry-level car.

Gallery: VW Citigolf in South Africa

Additional tools were imported from the Volkswagen assembly plant in Westmoreland, USA, in 1988 when production of the Golf I was halted there. The Volkswagen unit in South Africa decided to use only the 5-door body as the platform for the Citi Golf, as the tools for the 3-door body would have taken up space that could instead have been used for the production of the Golf II.

1984, the Golf I becomes the Citi Golf

The first concept for the "new" Golf I was a simple, lighter version of the original Golf, called the "EconoGolf". This concept was quickly abandoned, however, because it was too similar to the models of the 1970s.

VW Citi Golf in Südafrika
VW Citi Golf in Südafrika

After extensive market research, it was decided that the Mk.1 needed to be 'rebranded' to breathe new life into its design. The first three prototypes were painted bright red, yellow and blue, with white wheels, bumpers and door stickers, the latter with the inscription 'CITI' on the lower part of the rear door. Stickers with the inscription 'CITIGOLF' have also been affixed to the tailgate. The standard 1.3-litre engine was fitted with a slightly more powerful version, modified in South Africa.

The original Citi Golf was only available in 3 colours, a fact that was underlined in the contemporary advertising campaign with the slogan "Red, Yellow, Blue... Not green! The colour themes of the advertising campaigns in the early years of production were partly inspired by the works of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.

1985, the first sports variant

In mid-1985, a powerful new variant of the Citi Golf was introduced in the form of a 1.6-litre Sport carburettor engine with the advertising slogan "New Citigolf Sport, drive it home, Sport, drive it home". The Citi Golf Sport 's 1.6-litre engine was later replaced by a more powerful 1.8-litre carburettor engine. The launch of the Citi Golf Sport was accompanied by the introduction of a new colour, specially reserved for the Sport model.

VW Citigolf en Afrique du Sud

VW Citi Golf en Afrique du Sud (2023)

VW Citigolf en Afrique du Sud

VW Citi Golf en Afrique du Sud (2023)

1988, the first restyling of the Citi Golf

Originally, the bodywork was identical to that of the replaced Golf Mk.1, but in September 1988, as part of a local facelift, it was given a sloping grille similar to that of the Golf II, as well as more modern, lower bumpers with additional integrated lower skirts. The wings were also modified.

The modernised rectangular rear lights are striking on the latest models, while the front end is reminiscent of the latest Golf I Cabrio models. The rib in the C-pillar is striking; it was intended to conceal inaccuracies in the stamping of the C-pillar area. Beneath the familiar bodywork, however, lay the technology of the Golf III and Polo III.

VW Citi Golf in Südafrika
VW Citi Golf in Südafrika

1990, the appearance of the Citi CTI

In 1990, Volkswagen in South Africa reintroduced the Golf Mk.1 GTi under the name Citi CTi. Equipped with the same 112 bhp 1.8-litre K-Jetronic injection engine as the original Golf I GTi, the Citi CTi was the fastest Citi Golf ever built, with a top speed of just over 180 km/h. It was a welcome addition to the Citi Golf range, as it was aimed at younger drivers looking for a faster car at a more affordable price.

VW Citi Golf in Südafrika

The late VW Citi Golf dashboard

2001-2009, the latest changes

From around 2001-2002, all Citi Golf models were fitted as standard with quad headlights, rear windscreen wipers and wing/fender-mounted indicators.

In 2004, the Citi Golf underwent a facelift that included, among other things, a new dashboard borrowed from the Skoda Fabia I, the Volkswagen Lupo steering wheel and larger front side windows.

The 2006 facelift brought changes to the front bumper (with a second grille in the integrated apron) as well as new tail lights unique to South Africa, with a circular combination of tail and brake lights. Prior to this facelift, all Citi-Golf cars were fitted with early 1980s-style tail lights, very similar to those on European Mk1 models, but the new units were manufactured locally by Hella.

VW Citi Golf in Südafrika

Over the 25 years of the Citi Golf's life, hundreds of minor and major mechanical modifications have also been made to the model to meet stricter local emissions and safety standards. By 2008, for example, all carburettor engines had been replaced by more efficient fuel-injected engines.

Numerous special editions

Throughout the vehicle's production period, numerous 'Special Edition' Golfs were launched with unique combinations of equipment, including the Designa and the Citi.com, the latter of which can theoretically only be ordered over the internet. Another special model, called Deco, introduced colour-matched leather seats in the vehicle in 1995.

The VeloCiti model was one of the best-selling. Other limited editions were the Citi Billabong and the Citi Xcite. The latest special edition is the GTS, based on the original GTS. Only 375 Citi GTS were built. The Chico was another variant offered in the late 1990s.

VW Citi Golf in Südafrika

The penultimate addition to the Citi-Golf range was the Citi 1.8iR and Citi 1.8i (red 'i' badge), which were presented at theAuto Africa Expo in Johannesburg in October 2006. It featured enhanced design and equipment, including a full body kit, partial leather front seats and aluminium trim on the dashboard. The Citi 1.8i had the same equipment as the iR, with the exception of the body kit. The engine was a 1.8-litre fuel-injected unit which, although it had the same displacement as the legendary CTi, developed 8 kW more, bringing its power to 121 bhp (90 kW). 

VWSA claimed acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds. The car was also limited in production, with just 375 examples produced between 2006 and 2008.

2009, end of production after 25 years 

On 21 August 2009, production of the Citi Golf in South Africa ended after 25 years. To celebrate this event, a special version of the Citi Golf, the Citi Mk1, was launched. These are numbered from 1 to 1000 and feature a range of special equipment including a lowered chassis, 15-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows, a leather sports steering wheel with airbag and chrome leaf side strips. The colours available for the Citi Mk1 were Shadow Blue Metallic and Black Magic Pearl.

VW Citi Golf in Südafrika

When production ceased, the basic engine produced 72 bhp (54 kW) from a displacement of 1.4 litres. A total of 377,484 Citi Golf models left the South African factory. New registrations in South Africa reached a new record in 2005, and were around 3.5 times higher than those of the Golf V, which was also on offer, but much more expensive.

Importing a brand new Golf I into Europe? The Citi Golf was produced exclusively as a right-hand-drive car and only met the EU2 anti-pollution standard. It could not therefore be registered as a new car in the EU, where the minimum standard has been EU4 since 1 January 2005. In terms of safety, it could not compete with European cars either. In 2006, the base price of the Chico 1. 4 in South Africa was R67,780, while that of the VeloCiTi 1.6i was R98,800, equivalent to around €6,025 and €8,785 respectively.

The Citi Golf was replaced by the Volkswagen Polo Vivo, a simplified version of the Polo IV. And what about today? Naturally, most Citi Golfs have aged in the meantime and are considered to be "poor man's cars". But in Cape Town you can also see examples that have been very well looked after by fans.