2010 Volkswagen GTI: Hey John, Thanks for Inventing the GTI
November 18, 2010
Among all the handshaking and backslapping at the L.A. auto show, I saw my friend John Rettie, the expatriate British auto-journalist, and thanked him for inventing the Volkswagen GTI, much as I usually do.
Turns out he'd met an auto engineer just recently that had also thanked him for doing so.
Rettie didn't invent the Volkswagen GTI, of course, but he pretty well introduced it to America. As soon as the car with its innovative, 110-hp, fuel-injected, 1.6-liter inline-4 had been introduced by Volkswagen at the 1975 Frankfurt auto show, Rettie became a crazed enthusiast. When he came to the U.S., he filled the pages of the VW specialty magazines with stories about the Golf GTi. It would do 100 mph, only we couldn't get it in the U.S. He knew more about it than anyone in America, including the executives at Volkswagen of America.
Finally Rettie brought his own GTi to America and got Motor Trend to include it in a 1980 comparison test, where it stomped the competition (anyway, that's what I remember). Apparently it registered with Volkswagen of America, as he recently met an automotive executive who was a young engineer at VWoA in those days who remembers seeing the story and running it upstairs with some of his friends and putting it under the noses of the VW executives and forcing them to listen.
The story of the Volkswagen GTI's introduction in the U.S. as a 1983 model is a little more complex than this, of course, but there's no question that Rettie's enthusiasm was a key factor in inventing the GTI legend. The next time you think there's no place for crazed enthusiasts in the soulless world of product planning, think again.
Oddly enough Rettie also had a part in another legendary car for enthusiasts, the Mazda MX-5 Miata. When Mazda product planner Bob Hall drove up to Santa Barbara from Mazda's headquarters in L.A. in 1984 to buy a used Lotus Elan as a test vehicle for the planning team, he looked at two cars. The red car didn't leak oil but it was right-hand-drive in the British style, while the blue car leaked like a sieve but was left-hand drive in the American style. Hall picked the blue car, which proceeded to leave an oil slick on my driveway when he drove it around to show me some weeks later. The red Lotus Elan had belonged to Rettie. If Hall had picked his car, that damn oil stain wouldn't still be out there in front of my garage.
So anyway, thanks for the GTI, John. Without it, the BMW M3, Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru Impreza WRX might never have existed.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com