The Devil’s Golf
Making Your Mark

Whatever you do in life, somebody will have done it before you. And yup, somebody else will do it after you. So placing your own personal mark on anything can be a tricky balance – you’ll find it somewhere between jumping from the roof of a 10-storey building and gently dipping a toe.

When it comes to cars, everybody loves a project, from a full strip down to a fine tune. But what if you fall in love with somebody else’s work? Does that mean you have to leave it as is? Does it hell! The real trick is making your own mark and improving the DNA…

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-1

Older cars always take you back a little bit. Maybe not all the way to the late-’70s, early-’80s when the Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI pretty much created a genre. But the design cues that echo across the decades from back then always mentally transport you to another time. It’s what makes working with a classic so much more pleasurable, but risky for me at the same time. You have to get it just right.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-18

Richard ‘Fish’ Fisher from Chicago is a lover of all things automotive. I genuinely couldn’t pin him down to a specific model or marque if I tried, and trust me – I don’t want to. I like people who just like cars, four wheels and an engine. Hell, sometimes they don’t even have to have four wheels… Or an engine for that matter. I’ve been known to melt over a pile of parts.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-47

I’ve shown you another of Fish’s cars before, as a member of Chicago’s Risky Devil clan you’d think he’s only about street drifting and illicit midnight meets. But shh… don’t tell anybody – they’re into all sorts of cars! No, really. And although the BRZ is modern and Japanese the ethos is the same: well observed and well executed. There’s more where these came from too, but that will have to wait for another time to show you the rest of the garage.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-26

This Golf is something else though, and Fish is the first to admit it came to him looking very similar to how it does now. A case of almost, but not quite.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-11

The ’79 had been fully rebuilt in to the GTI clone you see here by Thomas Fries, having originally rolled out of the dealership as a diesel engine powered sunroof model. With factory white paint, it had seen nearly three decades of abuse in Pennsylvania before the transformation began.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-42

The theory being to give the Golf a European feel, with any modifications being limited to those that fitted with the factory look. I find that amusing given that this isn’t a genuine GTI, but that’s also the reason I guess Thomas wanted everything so proper – to add to the illusion. Remember what I said about how you have to be careful with what you do?

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-34

Rare electric Recaros work much better than big winged bucket seats, right?

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-2

And the overall finished article is stunning. The workmanship is really lovely and as the only Mk1 Golf I’ve ever owned was a Mars Red GTI, I’m loving this right now. But don’t think Fish hasn’t had any input. I mean, why would we think it was worthy of a feature if it was a straight up buy out?

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-13

Because Fish has done something that very few people succeed at. He’s taken an already built and some might say ‘finished project’ and made it his own. And if you didn’t notice a difference between those last two pictures, look again and I’ll see you in the next chapter…

Down, Down
Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-3

It’s the age-old case of man falls for an ex-magazine feature car and buys it. But the whole automotive experience is always better when you add something yourself to a project, and this is where it can all go wrong.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-32

Thankfully not here though, because Fish has been very selective about what he wanted to bring to the project. He found Air Lift Performance a few years ago now and since then pretty much everything he drives has been treated to one of their cutting-edge air suspension systems.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-14

But the trouble was they didn’t make a kit for the Mk1 Golf, so what’s a Fish supposed to do? Deliver the Mk1 a couple of hundred miles away to Lancing, that’s what. This way the development team in the workshop could get busy and create a bespoke kit which Air Lift could then market to everyone.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-24

The kit runs a VIAIR 380C compressor, four-gallon tank and 1/4-inch air lines which feed out to the four corners. It’s all mounted on a quick release panel in the trunk area, so it’s relatively unobtrusive and there’s certainly enough space back there for a couple of overnight bags or autojumble finds from a show. You can also see the battery hidden away because Thomas wanted a clean engine bay.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-39

And clean is a word that I keep wanting to use when looking at this build, because as a GTI clone it’s immaculate. The small tail light rear end adds to the simple lines of the Mk1. Plus here it genuinely looks like a Photoshop lowering job! Or is that just me?

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-45

I could talk all day about how much I like this VW. First there’s the era, then the styling, but for me it’s also that the air suspension means you can have that feel of originality that makes people in gas stations say ‘I used to have one like that’… Then air it out and have that satisfying look back over the shoulder feeling.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-28

The whole kit is based around Air Lift’s AutoPilot V2, so at the front there are double bellow progressive rate air springs, with progressive rate sleeve air springs at the rear. This makes it the most advanced pressure-based air suspension control system on the market at the moment.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-7

The big draw of air suspension for me is the fact you can sit it this low, then load up with four people and not worry about tyres rubbing like you would with coilovers or other more traditional suspension systems.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-33

You can program up to eight different settings that will respond with a press of the button, plus I really like that you can hide the controller too, because it keeps the cabin feeling like it’s a small German time machine, ready to skip back to the mid-80s. Thomas sourced different parts from all over America and even Europe to get the perfect mix of OE and aftermarket, the non-standard centre console coming from a Scirocco of similar era.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-29

It was under the bonnet that he let himself get a little buck wild though, and this was a big draw for Fish. As you may have noticed so far, the closer you look at what appears to be a simple build, the more you see…

Best Of The Rest
Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-30

Now I’m not a fan of chrome, but if I’m being completely honest with you it’s because I haven’t got the dedication to keep it clean. But sat against the vibrant red PPG paint finish, doesn’t it look sharp here? There’s more to this 2.0L motor than the finish though, as it’s a 16V that’s been balanced and the head has been ported and polished. There’s a lumpier Techtonics cam and some other performance upgrades you can read about in the tech spec. Again, it’s been kept old school with those twin Webers dominating the view – no throttle bodies or carbon here my friends.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-27

So although I don’t want to be responsible for cleaning it, I’m still a fan of what’s going on here.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-36

With the bonnet closed and the engine off it’s only a set auxillary gauges mounted by the driver’s side A-pillar that tell you anything is potentially different.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-37

These gorgeously-original GTI clocks were sourced and fitted up top too. I can’t think that VW would have encouraged their buyers to rev a diesel motor to 6,250rpm!

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-25

Throughout the build there are hints and clues as to what’s going on, Thomas’s original rebuild and attention to detail being perfectly complimented by Fish’s own approach of subtle change, but only if it’s worthy.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-20

So where as Thomas had fitted BBS RMs in 15-inch flavour, instead of going for some wild fitment or a new wave style, Fish has gone for the same design BBS wheels, but slightly larger at 16-inch diameter. Sure, it’s only an inch, but it would have been so easy to make a bold statement where only a subtle one was needed.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-10

As it stands the Golf appeals to everybody. It can be a timeless cruiser, track day tool, classic homage or proud show car.

Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-48

Now with this feature there’s another stamp in the history book to pass on. So at first it might not have appeared as the most groundbreaking build, but what it does so well for me is show the progression that a project can have. How it can be linked to different people and places, each of whom help it become more than before.

To which end, I don’t know what I’d do if it was mine. A 20v turbo? Too much maybe… Predictable even? It’ll be interesting to see what happens next in the life of this Golf. One thing is for sure, it’s looking like a bright future from here.

Bryn Musselwhite
Instagram: Speedhunterbryn

Cutting Room Floor
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Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-16
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Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-35
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Air Lift Mk1 Golf Fish-44


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Really want to see one of these with the new Golf R driveline in it


aussieANON Ooh yes, with a 500bhp upgrade!


I was expecting a V8 swap. lol


Emptypie Haha, don't worry we're working on getting one shot right at the moment!


Love it.... next you should find a MK2 jetta GLI


So oldschool, nice ride man, and that engine bay!!
But I'm really asking myself how these Air Lift Suspensions feel like/handle like? Don't know anyone here who uses these....


jdmRob We've done plenty of miles on them now, big fan right here, and my stuff needs to handle right.


Speedhunters_Bryn so, does it feel rather stiff than soft?


This car looks almost the same as this


I'm more than inclined to say it is the same car with different seats and airlift now fitted as the video is a few years old


So I looked closer, it is the same car.




Dunno if it counts as a "swap", but there were some 928s that were rebodied as Golfs!


Nah, more like Grandma's Golf... handed down to her grandson. But Speedhunter's famous misnomers aside. Thats a nice and clean VW.


I don't blame you guys in the slightest for accruing sponsors and advertisers, but I do think that some bits of the stories are starting to read too much like advertisements. 

On a more positive note, I really like the photography here.


My only negative note here is, don't show a story shot in the winter in August. I live in Michigan and the last thing I want to see on a nice warm August day is snow. And wasn't this the car at Air Lift in Michigan, or is this after your Michigan visit? Either way it's Michigan/Illinois snow, NO!

I like the car though, so clean.


Want this car!


Great car! I'd rather have a fully dedicated advertising section on the website (which I would visit for sure), than increasing embedded advertising in the articles. :)


In something that would weigh probably a tonne with everything done, even 300bhp would be stupid fast. 500 would be like yes I would like to win a drag race against every production car ever


EricSeanDelaney I concur. I'm from Toronto and this last winter sucked seeing this is going to give me nightmares.


jdmRob Speedhunters_Bryn It's not soft at all. In my experience it feels like a properly adjusted set of street coil-overs (read: not hammered to the ground with no lock rings).


Big Pooky Completely agree. You get the feeling this car (bought not built, I may add) was only featured due to the SH sponsors products. I mean, Fish is cool and all, but he bought a show car and added 1" larger wheels and some bags. If I was Thomas I would be pissed that Fish is getting the credit. 

Just my 2c.


D1RGE EXE Big Pooky


love. westmoreland headliner??


Would love it on my drive,but not so keen on the chrome in the engine bay.
Just my £2 worths!!!!!!!!




"So where as Thomas had fitted BBS RMs in 15-inch flavour, instead of
going for some wild fitment or a new wave style, Fish has gone for the
same design BBS wheels, but slightly larger at 16-inch diameter. Sure,
it’s only an inch, but it would have been so easy to make a bold
statement where only a subtle one was needed."
These are RSs, not RMs, so they're not the "same design BBS wheels" at all - RMs don't come in 16" stock, and RSs are three-piece rather than an RM two-piece.


Nicely done,it looks great! Couple questions though, having spent lots of time in Mk1s & 2s myself:  What did he do for axle clearance in front?  The only Mk1s I've seen this low have serious notches in their front frame horns to clear the axles. And as a tech, I've never understood why people run without timing belt covers. You're one piece of road debris away from lunching the engine. Maybe it just comes off for show?


aussieANON Speedhunters_Bryn

500 would be more like, look at me burning my tires standing still while everything else is halfway to the finish line :P


Another mk1 in speedhunters..... But not my 486whp mk1 gli.
Gorgeous cat.. But not really a speed Hunter.


You skipped out on my car in Hawaii and shit an m3 with body mods and no power. ;)


Carnage That of course is implying that you haven't got massive flares and like 255 profile tyres


This is a gorgeous car, very well though out (opposed to a good chunk of the monster cars featured).  Product placement was a bit too much, but thankfully the car more than made up for that little nitpick.


Your car obviously isn't as cool as you think it is.


You're right. It is just an old vw that isn't on bags with RS's


Gosh! Absolutely beautiful!


Damn it looks Clean and Awesome :D


I'm having a deja vu moment here...wasn't this car featured here before, with a similar title to boot?

turbo BEAMS ae86

built for vwvortex upvotes


Love it. clean mk1. not a fan of bags though.


Thank-you for your constructive feedbackkoko san.


Sorry DaveT and EricSeanDelaney - the snow made for a cool-looking shoot though!


You make nice articles and good fotos. But….  a big hairy one of that….

Please stop calling the last few images of an article "bonus images"!
Its ridiculous, superfluous and frankly quite annoying.


really nice built .
turbocharge it ,using the 2L Diesel Block,would also add a nice easteregg , as it was born as a Diesel