No, that’s not a typo. The Volkswagen Gol (derived from the Brazilian for ‘goal’) has been the bedrock of Volkswagen’s South American operations for more than three decades.
Launched in 1980, the Gol replaced the Beetle-based Brasilia. With a chassis related to the Audi 80’s, it lasted until 1994, when it was replaced by a heavily updated version. That was finally phased out in 2013(!), though the third-generation car had been built alongside it since 2009.
A mind-boggling array of variations on the Gol theme have been produced over the years, but the range currently boils down to three: the three/five-door Gol hatchback, Voyage saloon and Saveiro pick-up.
It’s very much a budget car, prices in Brazil starting from around £6,000. So the technology underneath is old hat by European standards. The chassis is taken from the Mk.4 Polo, last seen over here in 2009. And the 1.0- and 1.6-litre petrol engines have been around for ever.
Its safety record is patchy as well, Latin NCAP rating the Gol as “highly unsafe.” It’s better when fitted with an airbag, but it wasn’t until 2014 that dual front airbags became a requirement in Brazil.
At least it’s well equipped, reasonably spacious and robustly made. It’s even a pretty handy rally car.
The Gol is the prime example of the approach the major manufacturers have been taking to the South American market, pretty much since they set up shop: repackaging out of date designs to suit the local conditions. It takes minimal investment and the profits are high, the original development costs having long-since been paid off. Cynical, perhaps, but business logic usually is.
Let’s be honest about it: by European standards, the Gol is rubbish. But it is exactly what tens of thousands of budget-conscious South American buyers want. Indeed, it hits the mark so accurately that its been the best selling car in Brazil since 1987 and in Argentina since 1988. Taking all variants into account, some 10 million have been built.