Thanks for all the fond memories

2009-11-06 11:17

SONGSTRESS Lebo Mathosa, US rapper Tupac Shakur and goalpoacher Lesley Manyathela are among a large group of young talent who have left this planet before turning 30.

And this week we also bid farewell to ­another legend following Volkswagen SA’s (VWSA) announcement that the Citi Golf range will be no more – after 25 years.

After only 25 years of production, the company said it has already ceased production of the vehicle and that the last 1?000 special editions came through its Eastern Cape plant at the end of August.

This announcement has been accompanied by smiles from critics who have wanted it to be discontinued because it lacked basic safety features such as airbags, power steering and anti-lock brakes. But on the other hand its fans are crying and believe it could have survived another decade.

It was back in 1978 when disco music was the “in-thing” and dance floors were ­populated by bellbottom trousers and Afro-styled patrons swaying to the sounds of John Travolta’s Grease, Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees and the Commodores. This was also at the time when the South African public was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the “new, small, colourful, funky and sexy car”, which had already been launched and became an instant hit with both the young and old in Germany four years earlier. Then the Mk1 arrived to these shores and became an icon for over two decades and outlasted five generations of the Volkswagen Golf range.

VWSA managing director David Powels this week helped paint a picture of Citi Golf’s history as he took the motoring media down memory lane at the company’s offices in Midrand, north of Johannesburg.

In 1982, just two years before VW was to launch the bigger, sophisticated and expensive Mk2 in Europe, the local arm of the company decided to find a way of continuing to provide an affordable vehicle to the market. The Mk1 was selling at R3?500 for the two-door and R5?150 for the entry-level four-door model at the time.

Powels said VWSA decided to release the Mk1 in another form as this was financially possible because the production line and equipment were already in place at the VW plant in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape. The new budget Golf was going to be known as Econo Golf with a four-door body shell.

By late 1982, a prototype was assembled and VWSA executives and their advertising company brainstormed ideas on how to market the new car. The team concluded that the Econo Golf was dull and had boring paint colours that did not say much about its personality for first-time buyers.

The advertising team – including well-known fashion designer Jenni Button, copywriter John Cooke, art directors Brian Plimsoll and Mel Miller and illustrator “Zippie” Zimmet – returned to their offices to work on a winning marketing plan.

Powels said Miller had red, yellow and blue lightbulbs flashing in his head and suggested that bright colours be used. He explained that Theo Wiggill, VWSA’s then marketing manager, took the name used by another motor manufacturer for their “city” car and modified it to Citi Golf.

“Brian Plimsoll penned the phrase ‘Get the freedom of the Citi’ as part of the ­proposed ad campaign, which led to the ad team coming up with the slightly changed spelling ‘Citi Golf’ being suggested. Suddenly everything came together and the iconic Citi Golf was born (in 1984).”

Prototype models were hand-built but management in Germany seemed to lack enthusiasm about the concept. Still the go-ahead was endorsed by the “top guns”.

In the 25-year history of the Citi Golf, VW has produced 377?000 units locally. When it hit the market in 1984, VW sold 300 units monthly compared to the more than 1?600 units sold as recently as July.

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