HOW PLAID BECAME PART OF VOLKSWAGEN HISTORY
Thanks to one woman’s pioneering choices that over the past four decades have become a symbol of driving enthusiasts worldwide, no car has a claim to fame quite like the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI debuted in 1976 and caused a sensation. Visually, only a few details distinguished it from the original Golf, but Volkswagen—influenced by one of their first female designers—succeeded in transforming this compact vehicle into an affordable sports car that captured the mood of the era.
Gunhild Liljequist—a porcelain painter and chocolatier candy-box designer—was hiredby Volkswagen’s Department of Fabrics and Colors in Wolfsburg, Germany in 1964. She was just 28 years old. Her position focused on paint hues, trims and interior detailing. When the first Golf GTI came into production in the 1970s, she was given the task of designing the various elements of its interior from a sporting angle. Liljequist’s genius centered on giving the GTI two simple, but distinct, textile elements: a tartan plaid seat pattern 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.”
And the golf ball gear knob?
“That was a completely spontaneous idea!” Liljequist said. “I just expressed my sporting and golf associations out loud: ‘how about a golf ball as the gear knob?’”
Even though her ideas faced some initial resistance, the tartan seat pattern, now known as “Clark Plaid,” and golf ball knob would become iconic parts of the Volkswagen GTI.
Humorously, for a woman who personally loved plainer black and white patterns, color was integral to Liljequist’s professional world throughout her 30-year career at Volkswagen. The 1960s through the 1980s were a highly creative and experimental time in car design. Liljequist’s work helped to influence some of Volkswagen’s most iconic paint hues, interior detailing, and trims.
Beyond the Golf GTI, Liljequist designed some special models of her own. Her two most notable and innovative contributions to the car world were her 1987 limited edition ‘Etienne Aigner’ Mk1 Golf Cabriolet—influenced by the luxury maker of handbags, luggage and various other leather accessories—and her discovery of an iridescent, pearl color that she applied to a car’s surface, using a transparent foil. This metallic quality of paint, widely available on modern cars today, is in part the result of Liljuquist’s experimentation in paint and coloring.
Gunhild Liljuquist retired back in 1991, but her legacy is literally stitched into the fabric of VW.
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