Since then, Volkswagen has applied the badge to hot variants of every Golf generation since, right up to today's GTI, now in its sixth generation.
More than 35 years on from that first GTI, Volkswagen has brought us a video showing each generation on track, with immaculate examples from the company's heritage fleet.
They may be tied by common letters and the same VW badge, but there's not a great deal in common between the first and sixth generations. Even so, the GTI has undergone more of an evolution than revolution with each update. Each maintains the solid feel and understated styling, while the engines offer unlikely performance for a compact hatchback.
The first generation only had had a 110-horsepower 1.6-liter inline four to power it, but at a scant 1,785 pounds it makes a Smart ForTwo look overweight. The 2011 Volkswagen GTI might weigh over 1,300 pounds more, but with over double the power and a dual-clutch gearbox it's worlds away in terms of performance.
The video is only brief and doesn't reveal much of what each car is like to drive at speed, but we like to see classics and moderns alike hitting the circuit. They may be pampered press vehicles, but they aren't just constrained to a museum exhibit.