VW Golf Cabrio: Back to the future

  • Here’s where the Golf Convertible story began
  • Mark 1 version is smaller, lighter and nearly as quick
  • Heritage visible in latest mark six version

The VW Golf Convertible, like the hatchback, can trace its origins back through the decades.

The first hatchback arrived in 1976 and the soft-top convertible arrived three years later in 1979.

This particular example is a Mk1 Clipper version that was registered in 1987 and was well specced for its time (only the GTI was a higher trim model). It featured such luxuries as internally adjustable door mirrors, digital clock and height adjustment for the driver’s seat.

With the two marks side by side there is clearly a very similar design theme at work. The only major difference is the Mk1 has the classic roll bar that earned the early Golf convertibles the nickname ‘Strawberry Basket’ thanks to it looking just like one.

The latest version has replaced the roll bar with pop-up roll hops which deploy in the event of an accident. It also means there is a greater feeling of openness when the roof is down.

Size difference

Over the 25 years that separate the two cars the latest version has grown in size. The Mk1 is 3810 mm long and 1651 wide, the Mk6 is 4246 mm long and 2044 mm wide. Yet inside the cars there isn’t loads of difference in space, and both have room for four adults though it will be more of a squeeze in the back for adults in the mark one.

If you are wondering where that space has gone to then take a seat. Gone are the more sparse affairs for passengers to rest their backsides on and in comes much more sumptuous affairs. Ditto for things such as the dashboard, door linings and other interior fittings.

On road performance

Out on the road it makes a real difference with the modern car cutting out a lot of the road and wind noise. Also switchgear, gearstick and steering wheel seem much thinner and smaller in the earlier version compared to the more solid-feeling kit in the latest convertible.

The other factor that stands out is how quick the Mk1 is. While its 1.8-litre petrol engine and 90bhp may not seem the stuff of performance legend, it's quick off the mark and soon zips through its five-speed gearbox to clip along at a good old pace.

In fact, the stats point to a 0-60mph time of 10.8 seconds which is not a whole lot slower than the 2.0-litre diesel that completes the 0-62mph sprint in 9.9 seconds.

Driving experience

The biggest difference to shine through is the driving experience, however. In the Mk1 the direct steering, heavy clutch and harsher noise all delivers immediate driving sensations. You feel really engaged and it takes less to reach the limits – you know when you are doing 60mph. The handling is raw and the steering takes far more work to get the car around a corner.

It’s not sweat-inducing work but you realise just how much more sophisticated modern cars are. The brakes on the Mk1 require a lot of pressure and you have to plan your stopping much more.

You live the driving, and at first it is great fun in the older version. Over longer journeys that does start to wear though. The newer car feels less immediate to drive but that sophistication pays over long trips and is a lot less tiring.

Running costs

The Mk1 will cost you more at the pumps thanks to a claimed average of 33.2mpg. The 2.0-litre diesel has a claimed 62mpg but returns high 40s/low 50s in our test.

This particularl Mk1 is in very good nick and has racked up more than 93,000 miles. It has had a minor refurb such as new interior roof lining (the two-tone look is neat) but otherwise all is as it was when it was first registered in 1987.

Even the original Blaupunkt stereo radio cassette (remember them?) still works - not bad for a 25-year-old car. It also points to a strong reliability record that VW has maintained over the years and it bodes well for the current convertible. 

We think VW should have retained the pricing - £10,329.21 bought you this Mk1 Clipper back in 1987! Sadly inflation has seen that purchase price rise to £24,820 for this 2.0-litre diesel SE. If only some things remained the same.

VW Golf Convertible mark one Clipper

First ever Golf convertible has an easy-to-use manual fabric roof

VW Golf convertible mark one interior

Mk1 interior is a simplier affair - notice thin indicator stalks

VW Golf Convertible BBS wheels

Optional extras include these classic 13-inch BBS alloy wheels

Current mileage: 8,907 miles

Average mpg: 49.4 mpg