Golf Mk 3: Establishing an icon
In early 1992, the world was diversifying fast as empires fell, social attitudes were transformed and technology reached around the globe. How could the Golf keep up with the rapidly changing demands of the time?
The Nineties were colourful, bold and laced with attitude. One after another cherished icons were pulled down and old certainties were challenged, from the traditional nuclear family with “2.4 children” to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Grunge erupted from Seattle, Cool Britannia brought a new wave of British bands to the world and Rave supplied a subversive and ever-evolving bassline of House, Trance, Breakbeat and Techno. Meanwhile, on TV, a show about six New York twentysomethings stole the decade, while cinema churned out monster hit after monster hit, from Groundhog Day to Pulp Fiction to Titanic.
And then in 1993, the release of Mosaic, an interface for browsing something called the ‘World Wide Web’, captured the public imagination and opened the planet up to the power of the internet.
The new Golf Mk3 arrived quietly in the UK in February 1992, at the start of what was to be a very noisy year. In April there was a general election, in May England football’s first-ever Premier League season kicked off and by September the ‘Black Wednesday’ collapse of the pound had plunged the UK into a deep recession.
As with the Mk2, the design the Golf Mk3 was put in the hands of Volkswagen’s chief designer, Herbert Schäfer, who was noted for his clean, undramatic lines that imparted an air of solid reliability. His bigger Mk3 was slightly more curvaceous than the more angular Mk2, and featured distinctive new oval headlights and innovative safety features like airbags as standard for the first time.
The world may have been changing fast, but for Herbert some things were permanent: “The design takes precedence. We have found a look that is typical of the Golf: it radiates quality and safety."
Instead, the new Golf brought significant change where it really mattered – in reflecting the rapidly diversifying needs of its customers. The Mk3 would give drivers more variants to choose from than any previous mark.
Mk3 brought the first ever Golf Estate, launched in 1994, providing lots of space for families packing up and heading to Europe through the newly opened Channel Tunnel.
The Cabriolet made a comeback for the first time since the Golf Mk1, so on a hot summer’s day you could put the roof down and feel the wind run through your feathered bangs. The all-electric CitySTROMer also returned with an improved range of up to 55 miles, while the ultra-efficient Golf Mk3 TDi introduced the first direct-injection diesel to the range.
Some of the new Mk 3 variants were a bit more ‘out there’. The kaleidoscopic Harlequin Edition offered a distinctive mix of different coloured body panels, while a series of special editions were created to celebrate the European tours of rock heavyweights the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and Bon Jovi.
On a sportier note, French tennis star Henri Leconte provided the inspiration for one special edition that showcased an all-leather interior. And a partnership with cycling company TREK led to the creation of a Golf that came complete a limited edition mountain bike ready-mounted on the bike rack on the roof.
And finally there was also a Mk3 GTI, with a special edition released to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Only 1,000 were made with special chequered Recaro seats, red seatbelts and the trademark leather golf ball knob.
The Golf Mk3 had once again confirmed the model’s knack for moving with and reflecting the times. In 1992, the year the Mk3 was launched in Germany, it won Volkswagen’s first ever European Car of the Year award, to which it added the What Car? Car of the Year award 12 months later.
Originally billed as Friends Like Us, American network NBC was preparing to launch a new sitcom that would appeal to a younger audience. After overcoming a few obstacles, including having to sabotage a rival sitcom on CBS to secure the services of Jennifer Aniston, NBC finally aired their new creation in 1994 with a shortened title: Friends.
It became an enormous success that would dominate television for years to come. People not only fell in love with the characters but even their hair, character Rachel’s famous shaggy hairdo went on to become a staple style throughout the 90s.
Back in Britain as the Golf MK3 battled with rival hatchbacks for sales supremacy, another battle was raging in the charts that pitched Oasis against Blur. In August 1995 Oasis released Roll With It as Blur brought out Country House. Speculation about who would come out on top was rife, but it was Blur who would go on to summit the Top 40.
A year later, Girl Power exploded onto the scene when the Spice Girls zigazig ah’d their way to the top of the charts in a remarkable 37 countries thanks to their first single Wannabe.
Meanwhile, the Golf was enjoying sales success of its own. Over the course of its life 4.83 million Golf MK3s were produced and during its time the 15 millionth ever Golf was built.
1997 was a year of change in the UK. A General Election saw Tony Blair’s Labour party defeat John Major’s Conservatives in a landslide. It ended 18 years of Tory rule and beckoned in a fresh direction for Labour as they rebranded themselves under the New Labour banner.
Also looking for a change of direction in 1997 was Volkswagen. After a successful run, the Golf MK3’s cycle came towards its end in October as the MK4 started rolling off the production lines. Making its debut in the UK in 1998, the Golf MK4 changed the design inside and out and further cemented Golf’s place as one of the nation’s most loved hatchbacks.