Best in class: the new Volkswagen Polo was crowned ‘Best Small Car in the World’ by What Car? upon its launch. It was based upon the plusher and continental-only Audi 50
Introduction to the UK market
The Volkswagen Polo was initially introduced to the UK market in February 1976 (autumn 1975 on the continent) in two trim levels, after being exhibited at the London Motor Show at Earl’s Court. The N was the no-frills base model and featured rubber matting, a single speed fan and wipers and a lack of external brightwork.
The more luxurious L range-topper boasted full carpeting, dual speed fan and wipers, grab handles, reversing lights, anti-dazzle rear view mirror and chrome bumpers, rather than the painted steel versions of the N. The L also had external chrome brightwork on the waistline, door handles and window rubbers. Both cars had 135SR 13 tyres on 4.5J x 13-inch rims, front disc brakes, a folding rear seat, a luggage compartment cover, electric screen washers and a 40bhp 895cc engine. Prices started at £1,798 for the N, rising to the £2,110 L. A 771cc economy export model was available in selected European markets, developing 34bhp @ 6000rpm (compared to the standard 895cc car’s 40bhp @ 5900rpm).
Top-of-the-tree: Polo L was the introductory range-topper costing £2,110 and had chromed bumpers and brightwork and an upgraded specification over the base model N
Debuting at the 1976 London Motor Show, the range-topping LS model was introduced, costing £2,699. Borrowing the larger Golf’s 1093cc 50bhp engine, the car was also better specified. Larger 145SR 13 tyres were fitted in addition to rubber bumper buffing strips, parking lights, front intermittent windscreen wipers, a rear wash/wipe system and a swivelling driver’s sun visor.
August 1977 saw equipment levels realigned for the 1978 model year. The N model now boasted an intermittent setting for the front wipers, while both this car and the L now gained the much-needed optional rear wash/wipe system of the LS.
Refined: Series 1 Polo interior identical to the Audi 50’s and featured comprehensive instrumentation, dual-speed fan and lighting controls on stalks which appeared on later Audis
The Derby was launched in February 1978 and was a traditional saloon based on the Polo, with both cars the same up until the C-pillar. The elegantly-style Derby’s larger-capacity boot was the big differential between the two cars. An increase of fourteen inches over the Polo saw a luggage capacity of 18.2 cu ft compared to the 6.2 cu ft of the hatchback. Priced at £2,850, the Derby LS’s specification mirrored that of the Polo LS and featured the same 1093cc engine.
Elegant: the 1978 Derby was a classically-styled three-box notchback based on the Polo, headlining a three-fold luggage capacity increase along with more powerful engines
In 1979 another range-topping trim level was introduced – the GLS. Superseding the LS, extra equipment included chrome headlight and grille surrounds, polished hubcaps, a quartz clock, a trip mileage recorder and a cigarette lighter. The coveted factory-fitted steel sunroof was still an option, while the Polo GLS shared its 1093cc engine with the LS. Celebrations marked the production of the 500,000th Series 1 Polo.
The Derby GLS supplemented the LS and extra equipment included chrome headlight and grille surrounds, polished hubcaps, a quartz clock a trip mileage recorder and cigarette lighter. The factory-fitted steel sunroof became standard-fit on the booted version of the Polo, which also boasted a 1272cc 60bhp engine, making its debut in Volkswagen’s smallest car range. The Derby GLS cost only £250 more than the Derby LS, making it good value.
In line with the rest of the Volkswagen range, the Polo range was facelifted for the 1980 model year. Although the model structure remained the same, new wraparound plastic ABS impact-resistant bumpers were now standard issue, along with a larger and bolder front grille and new dashboards with instruments grouped together under a Golf-like housing. In order to distinguish the two models, the Derby now received square headlamps.
Nip and tuck: plastic bumpers and bolder grille were the main exterior cosmetic revisions to the Polo and Derby in 1979 for the 1980 model year, while interior featured new instruments
The Derby range grew to four variants, with the S and CLS special edition being introduced. The S model was the Polo N equivalent but was powered by the 1093cc engine, while other changes saw the Derby GLS gain a rev-counter and digital clock.
Modern: facelifted Series 1 Polo and Derby had a new dashboard (still with the wood veneer panel across the centre) with improved ventilation and a proper radio-mounting slot
New decade, new Polo
It might have been the first year of a new decade, but it was to be the last for the Series 1 Polo and Derby. Production ended in October 1981, making way for the much-redesigned Series 2. By the end of its six-year production run Volkswagen had sold over 86,000 Polos in the UK. Total production over the six-year period reached 768,200 examples.