Have You Ever Wondered Where the GTI’s Tartan Seats Come From? Meet Gunhild Liljequist

Car interiors are–there’s no other word for it–boring. And sporty cars are the worst offenders. All dark leather and darker carbon fiber, most sporty car interiors are about as much fun as a funeral.

But one car bucks that trend and has since 1976. The Clark tartan seats and the golf ball shifter have come to be as important to the GTI’s identity as the extra power and the red grille. And we have Gunhild Liljequist to thank for that.

Trained as a porcelain painter, Liljequist started her career working as a candy-box designer for Sarotti, a chocolatier from Cologne. Despite having, apparently, grown up as the lead in a Miyazaki movie, she decided to move to Wolfsburg in 1964, to become the first woman to work in the Department of Fabrics and Colors.

There, she set out work discovering new colors and setting industry trends. But more on that later. In the ‘70s, she was asked to help design the GTI’s interior.

“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 shifter, meanwhile, was a total spur of the moment idea, according to Liljequist. “I just expressed my sporting and golf associations out loud: ‘how about a golf ball as the gear knob?’”

The decision not only became one of the GTI’s defining characteristics, but it also preceded a wave of upholstery experimentation. Through the ‘70s and ‘80s upholstery in the Golf (and other models) varied enormously.

And that wasn’t her only influence on the automotive world. As a member of the department of fabrics and colors, she also worked on exterior colors. Liljequist says she would spend her days mixing up 50 to 60 different colors to find something new and exciting.

“I was always trying to come up with new colors, but it was very hard because most had already been discovered,” she told eBay Motors in 2015.

Entering the industry at a time when solid, highly saturated colors were the norm, she was looking for something a little more visually engaging and ended up finding a way to apply metallic paint to cars.

“I made quite a big invention,” she said. “It’s hard to spray on metallic colors so I created a transparent foil where you would put all the metal paint on and once it was dry, you would turn it around and there would be the most beautiful color. That was my invention.”

So next time someone is admiring the quality of your tartan interior, remember to thank Gunhild Liljequist.