Learn how plaid seats and the golf ball shift knob became a staple for the hot hatch.

Almost everybody knows about the plaid seats in the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Eagle-eyed passengers will even notice your golf ball shift knob. But where did these features come from? 

Before the GTI’s birth in the 1970’s, VW was tasked with finding a way to pump up the standard Golf interior. Whilst brainstorming for ideas, Volkswagen looked to one of its first female designers, Gunhild Liljequist. 

Originally a porcelain painter and candy-box designer, Liljequist was hired on to VW’s Department of Fabrics and Colors in Wolfsburg in 1964. For being a candy-box designer her approach to the GTI interior actually involved some level of restraint. She didn’t let her design devolve into a silly caricature with door mirrors. Rather, her ideas involved two tight, simple design elements: the plaid seats and the golf ball shift knob.

The inspiration for the plaid seats came from one of her trips to Great Britain. She apparently took a lot of inspiration from the checkered patterns on high-quality fabrics that she came across. “Black was sporty, but I also wanted color and quality,” Liljequist said. 

The golf ball gear knob idea involved much more spontaneity than the seats. “I just expressed my sporting and golf associations out loud: how about a golf ball as the gear knob?” she explained. Little did she know that these ideas would become staples of the GTI for decades.

Her innovations in the automotive world don’t just stop with the GTI interior. In 1987 she designed the limited-edition Mk1 Golf Cabriolet ‘Etienne Aigner’, which paid homage to the well-known producer of luxury leather goods. Through creating a special Golf, she discovered an iridescent pearl foil that she could apply to the car’s surface to give it a special finish. Her innovation for the tribute car lead to the metallic paints we see on automobiles today.

Liljequist retired in 1991, but she left an everlasting impact on the automotive world.