Some of the most distinguishing things about the Volkswagen Golf GTI are the plaid seats and the golf ball-style shifter. They’re iconic touches to an iconic hot hatchback, and they were the ideas from one Gunhild Liljequist, an interior designer who worked at Volkswagen for some 30 years.
Liljequist, as a Volkswagen press release tells it, was hired in 1964 at the age of 28. Her background was in porcelain painting and chocolatier candy-box designing. She worked in the colors and fabrics department in Wolfsburg, focusing on things like trims, interior detailing and paint hues.
As the automaker readied the first Golf GTI for production in 1976, Liljequist had the job of sporting up its interior. She went ahead and gave the car two distinctive but simple touches: Tartan seat insert and a golf ball-style gear knob.
“Black was sporty, but I also wanted color and quality,” Liljequist said. “I took a lot of inspiration from my travels around Great Britain and I was always taken by high-quality fabrics with checked patterns… you could say that there is an element of British sportiness in the GTI.”
The golf ball gear knob “was a completely spontaneous idea! I just expressed my sporting and golf associations out loud: ‘how about a golf ball as the gear knob?’” Combining two things you love into one? Can’t really go wrong there.
Unsurprisingly, Volkswagen reports her ideas faced some resistance at first. Probably because they were “creative” and “fun” and “different,” but I’m glad the higher-ups ultimately relented because these two interior features are some of the best I’ve ever seen.
I remember the first time I looked inside a Golf GTI and saw the plaid. It was utterly delightful. It brought a true pizzaz to the cloth seats, which by themselves are typically pretty mundane.
Liljequist retired in 1991, but it’s great her ideas are still being used today. When they’re good the first time around, you shut up and you don’t change them.