It should be a surprise to no one that in Brazil, world famous for its love of futbol, the most popular car nameplate for over three decades has been Gol – Portuguese for “goal,” of course. The Volkswagen Gol has been Volkswagen do Brasil’s entry level model since 1980, when it replaced the Beetle as the mainstream low priced car. In the 35 years since the Gol’s introduction, more than 5 million have been sold, a figure that exceeds 10 million when combined with the entire family of models derived from the Gol. In addition to having an appropriate name, the most popular car in Brazil – one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world – also was born with the most diverse set of Volkswagen genes ever combined into one design. It even used Ford engines for several years, before it matured into part of the Volkswagen engineering mainstream. Here is a brief look at the origins and evolution of this best-selling Volkswagen that is unfamiliar to Americans but a fixture in Brazil.
The first generation Gol debuted in 1980 with a drivetrain that combined the longitudinal engine front wheel drive system of the Audi 80/Fox with the air-cooled flat four engine of the Beetle, creating the only Volkswagen model with a front-mounted air cooled engine. No doubt some VW fanatics have created their own custom front wheel drive installations of air cooled VW engines, but this one was engineered by Volkswagen and mass produced. The chassis was a shortened version of the VW/Audi B1 platform of the larger Audi 80/Fox, not the A1 platform of the similarly sized VW Golf, developed by VW in Brazil and called the BX.
Introducing a third strand of VW DNA into the design was a two door hatchback body style that clearly owed much to the first generation VW Scirocco.
The resemblance was especially strong in the treatment of the roofline and tail, the main difference being the outline of the rear quarter windows.
VW in Brazil did not merely raid the company parts bin; they combined major elements of three completely separate VW/Audi designs in a way that the parent company in Germany would not have dreamed of doing. The Gol replaced the VW Brasilia, itself a unique creation of VW in Brazil, and it displaced the Beetle as VW’s most popular model, although the Beetle continued in production in Brazil until 1996.
Unlike Dr. Frankenstein’s combination of human parts, the Gol’s Beetle/Fox/Scirocco chimaera came together well. The Beetle engine fit quite neatly into its unfamiliar position in the Gol, with a lower fan housing to fit under the hood. The engine delivered its familiar power and performance, however, debuting with a single carburetor 1.3 liter producing 42 horsepower (shown), with a twin carburetor 1.6 liter producing 51 horsepower coming later. Acceleration was similar to the Beetle’s; slow by U.S. standards, but adequate in a country where small four cylinder economy cars predominated.
The first generation Gol lasted until 1994, with numerous additional engines used in place of the original Beetle flat four and the arrival of several additional body style using new names. The VW Voyage two door sedan appeared in 1981, with the 1.5 liter water cooled engine used in the Audi 80 and VW Golf, upgraded to 1.6 liters in 1982; the VW Parati two door station wagon followed in 1982, along with a four door Voyage in 1983, and the VW Saveiro pickup truck in 1983. In 1985, the Gol followed its siblings by adopting the 1.6 liter water cooled engine in place of its original Beetle engine. Sport versions of the Gol used water cooled engines first, in larger displacements: the Gol GT of 1984-86 with a 1.8 liter engine from the Passat, the Gol GTS of 1987-94 with the 1.8 liter engine and spoiler package, and the Gol GTI 2000 of 1989-94 (shown), whose 2.0 liter engine marked Brazil’s first use of electronic fuel injection.
The U.S. market received its only exposure to the Gol in 1987-93, when VW imported the Voyage sedan and Parati two door wagon into the U.S. as the VW Fox, with the 1.8 liter engine of the U.S.-market Golf and Jetta.
A joint venture between VW and Ford in Brazil called Autolatina, which lasted from 1987 to 1996, led to the use of Ford engines from 1991 to 1995. Ford 1.0 and 1.6 liter fours drove the Audi 80/Fox longitudinal front wheel drive system in most Gols during those years, with the GTS and GTI sports versions continuing to use VW 1.8 and 2.0 liter engines.
Squeezing an inline four and its radiator north-south into the short engine compartment required an offset radiator and a slanted engine, as was the case in the Audi 80/Fox/VW Passat/Dasher.
The second generation Gol introduced in 1994 still used the BX platform and drivetrain of the first generation, but with a larger and more rounded body. The Gol continued as only a two door hatchback and the Parati as a two door wagon, but four door versions appeared in 1997, and VW dropped the two door body styles in 1999. VW phased in its own engines in place of the Ford units in 1996 as the Autolatina joint venture wound down, and 16 valve versions of its 1.0 and 2.0 liter engines arrived, with the Gol GTI using the 16 valve 2.0 liter. The post-1998 economic recession caused further revision to the engine lineup, with VW dropping the 16 valve 2.0 liter and concentrating on smaller displacement engines, releasing a turbocharged 16 valve 1.0 liter in 2000. The second generation Gol was as long lived as the first, also lasting 14 years until 2008, with the Parati wagon continuing until 2013.
The Gol continues today in its third generation, which debuted in 2008 as a 2009 model. It continues to be Brazil’s best-selling model, as it has been every year since 1987. The BX platform and Audi 80/Fox longitudinal engine front wheel drive system are history. The Gol now is a transverse engine design built on a modified version of the VW PQ24 platform used by the 2001-09 VW Polo, falsely suggesting it is what its name implies it is – a shortened Golf. The Gol now is a far more modern vehicle that is closer to VW’s worldwide standards, but it’s lost the Brazilian uniqueness that defined its first 28 years of production.