They say that in life the only two things that are certain are death and taxes. Well, for the past 45 years, so was the Volkswagen Golf, the humble family car that has been an icon in its own right, and the continued success of which has inspired many imitators.

To date, over 35 million Golfs have been produced, making it the most successful European vehicle ever. To put that into perspective, that is an average of 780,000 vehicles sold each year, meaning that somewhere in the world, a Golf has been bought every 41 seconds, without interruption, since the start of production.

That was on March 29, 1974, when the first front-engined, water-cooled Golf rolled off the Wolfsburg production line to replace the rear-engined, air-cooled Beetle. Sporting sharp Giugiaro-penned lines, it was named not after the game or the Gulf Stream as originally thought, but a horse owned by then-Volkswagen head purchaser Hans-Joachim Zimmermann. It wore different names in other countries, including Rabbit in the United States and Caribe in Mexico, the latter being a Venezuelan term for a piranha.

Since then, several variants have been produced, including cabriolet, Sportsvan MPV, electric e-Golf and plug-in hybrid GTE versions. There’s also been a number of memorable special editions over the years, including three built in collaboration with Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi. These featured unique alloy wheels, special stickers on the rear flanks and even headrest embroidered with the bands’ names.

The most famous variant is the GTI, which gets chassis upgrades and more powerful engines – up to 230 PS in the latest Mk7.5. Visual hallmarks include the golfball-like dimpled gearknob and tartan seat upholstery, both of which are the work of Volkswagen’s first female designer Gunhild Liljequist, who joined in 1962.

But the crowning jewel of the lineup is the R, which pairs an even more powerful 290 PS engine with the security of all-wheel drive. Both the GTI and R were skunkworks projects that were not originally meant for series production, until overwhelming public response changed their fates.

The Golf GTI and R have become yardsticks for the hot hatch segment, too

The Golf is available in Malaysia in 1.4 TSI R-Line trim, priced at RM174,110 on-the-road without insurance. Equipped with the sportier R-Line appearance package, it is powered by a 1.4 litre TSI turbocharged engine producing 150 PS at 5,000 to 6,000 rpm and 250 Nm of torque from 1,500 to 3,500 rpm, sent to the front wheels through a seven-speed DSG dry dual-clutch transmission and an XDS differential lock.

Forty-five years, seven generations and 35 million customers – quite an impressive set of numbers, then. Happy birthday, Golf, and here’s to several more years of success.

GALLERY: Mk7.5 Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI R-Line