How the Volkswagen GTI got those plaid seats and golf-ball shifter

While the Volkswagen Golf might not come back to America next year, the plaid seats of the Golf GTI will get another run in the legendary hatchback. 

Formerly known as the Rabbit in North America, the successor to the Volkswagen Beetle launched more than 40 years ago, and the plaid seats in the more performance-minded GTI trim have been winning hearts and warming seats since 1976. 

But why plaid? Why ensconce a great car in a fabric pattern that, if worn on pants, might get a child of the ’80s such as myself mocked off the playground?

The GTI’s original designer cites the U.K.

“I took a lot of inspiration from my travels around Great Britain and I was always taken by high-quality fabrics with checked patterns,” Gunhild Liljequist, one of the German company’s first female designers, said in a Volkswagen profile. 

Blame the U.K. indeed, which is known as much for its fashion as its food. Even though the plaid pattern has grown on VW fans despite some plaid-induced childhood scars, it was a tough sell in 1976, tougher all the moreso for a female designer in a male-dominated industry. 

Liljequist’s ideas were met with resistance, even though the ’60s and ’70s were an experimental time inside and outside of automotive culture.

Over the decades, however, the tartan pattern has become as beloved as another one of Liljequist’s inventive icons, the golf-ball shifter. 

“That was a completely spontaneous idea!” Liljequist said. That sweet serendipity has stood the test of time, outlasting her 30-year career at Volkswagen. 

Plaid seats in the Volkswagen GTI

The titan black clark plaid cloth and golf-ball shifter on the excellent 6-speed manual transmission’s gearshift come standard on the base 2020 GTI S model, which starts at $28,490 including destination.

This beloved Euro hatchback with sports coupe moves and crossover-like cargo room will be redesigned for an eighth generation starting with the 2021 model year, even as other automakers scrap small car plans for North America. Volkswagen has yet to confirm if the standard Golf will be offered at all. 

But the GTI, with its plaid seats and golf-ball shifter, are expected to continue bearing the mark of an automotive trailblazer.