Project GTI: Plans & Progress

I can’t lie, progress has been slow on this. But for good reason…

When I had my previous BMW E90 project car, I made the mistake of getting overexcited and just doing things for the sake of it. Some of the modifications I made were ultimately reversed, so there was a lot of money wasted in the process.

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This is a mistake that I don’t want to ever make again, so to avoid doing so I’m constantly reminding myself about the purpose of my GTI. That is, it’s my one car to do all things, and that all changes need to either improve or at the very least not detract from it. I’ve spoken previously about the expense and difficulty of running anything remotely interesting in an automotive sense, which still rings true.

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That being said, I still want to put my own mark on the car. Being exposed to varying car cultures around the world on such a regular basis – through these very pages – has pushed me towards a slightly different path than most other MkVI GTI owners. I’m sure it’ll become clear over the coming months, but don’t worry, it will be tasteful and retain its purpose…

Sound & Vision

Since the last update, which feels like an eternity ago, I have at least made some progress. With a decent amount of mileage and seat time already put up – with much more to come – I started with some of the simple upgrades to make my life just that little bit easier. I enjoy technology so will always try and incorporate a modern touch where I can. Needless to say, the stock RCD310 head unit was the first on the list to go.


I was considering going for a more expensive aftermarket option, but when a used late-model RNS510 (Volkswagen’s factory radio/navigation unit) came up for sale in great condition and at a good price, I jumped on it. I’ve spoken to some people about the RNS510 and it seems like a bit of a ‘Marmite’ unit. Some love it, some hate it. With this being a recent revision, it features the LED screen and is capable of handling larger SD cards.

It’s also a hilariously easy swap, which took probably the guts of 15 minutes in my driveway with minimal tools.

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Once installed, there was no drama once the ignition was switched on. Everything booted nice and quick and the GPS locked on pretty much instantaneously.

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Because it’s a factory option, it seamlessly integrates with the rest of the car. A quick bit of coding was required (thanks, Rob) to allow the car and radio talk to each other, but it was literally the case of just ticking a single box within VCDS. There’ll be a running theme throughout this project, but you’ll soon discover that I like making sure that things work properly.  Cars are meant to be enjoyed, not endured.

After living with the RNS510 for a couple of weeks, I’m actually pleasantly surprised by its performance. It does exactly what I need of it plus a few bits more. It also leaves the option of future OE retrofits possible, such as the reversing camera which hides behind the rear badge or a Media-In port.

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The next bit of business was to address the headlight situation. I can’t really say that the stock halogen lights were poor, but they weren’t brilliant either. I also think that halogen lights can age a car quite significantly, so had been on the look-out for options since purchase (xenons were on my original wish list when shopping for the GTI, but proved an almost impossible option to find).

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I could have gone the full factory retrofit route, but it would have involved considerable expense and work. On my searches, I found a company in the UK that build its own replica headlights specifically for halogen-equipped MkVIs. These replicas are impossible to tell apart from the OE xenon lights and even feature the same LED daytime running lamps (DRLs). The added bonus is that because they are designed for halogen cars, they’re a perfect plug-and-play installation with no extra wiring required.

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I had to sneak in a a shot of Amanda’s ex-T50 Japan AE86 which is mid-restoration too. I’ll bring you a closer look at the car and a little bit about the history when it’s finished.

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Back to the Golf headlight situation… The replacement units’ fitment once installed was perfect too, and they only needed the slightest of adjustment to ensure that they sat the same on both sides, with the gaps to the body identical to the factory lights.

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All plugged in, everything came to life. Not only do these units feature the same 15-LED DRLs, but they also have 6000K HID bulbs and ballasts installed, along with a fully functioning bi-xenon setup. I’d prefer a slightly warmer bulb, but they match the DRLs perfectly.

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The beam cut-off and pattern, which is the most important aspect of any light, is absolutely superb. I was really surprised at this because completely exceeded my expectations. My E90 had custom-built lights with high quality aftermarket projectors which wouldn’t have matched these for sharpness.

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They’re comfortably sharper than the OEM lights too. There was a bit of trial and error with the coding aspect of the lights in order to get them working in harmony, but we (again, thanks, Rob) eventually got them to work the same as they should from factory, including the DRLs and automatic functions.

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And not a single warning light on the dashboard. You have no idea how happy that makes me.

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If you’ve made it this far, then I applaud your commitment to this post. Don’t get me wrong, I love these small changes but can appreciate that they don’t make for the most exciting of reading unless you’re truly hardcore. The remainder of this post will definitely make up for it though…

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Even though you might not see much happening, I’ve been pretty busy behind the scenes putting my plans for Project GTI into action. One of the first things I arranged when I bought the car was to dump the original wheels. As it turned out, they weren’t even OE wheels but replicas, which I was less than pleased about. The genuine VW Detroit or Monza style wheel comes in at 18×7.5-inch with an ET somewhere in the high-40s or low-50s. Mine were 18×8-inch ET35. Whilst they were more aggressive, I had no idea where they came from or how strong or reliable they would be. They would not stay on the car a minute longer than required.

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Regardless of RAYS being a Speedhunters partner, I knew I wanted to run the Golf on Japanese wheels from the get-go. I had considered sourcing a set of used Enkei RPF1s and having them re-drilled (or running adapters) for Golf fitment. I looked at Work Meisters too, but didn’t want the dished look.

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TE37s, despite their legendary levels of awesome, were too obvious of a choice and I wanted something different. It also helped that the wheel I finally decided upon came in the correct stud pattern, and I know that I’ve yet to see a set in person in Europe either.

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Say hello to my brand new 18×8.5-inch Volk Racing ZE40s in Diamond Dark Gunmetal; ET44 offset for those of you who are curious.

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I can’t tell you how long I spent just looking at them once they arrived, around a month earlier than I expected too. I’ve been through a lot of wheels over the years, but these are my first forged wheels. They’re lighter and stronger than anything I’ve owned before.

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The weight saving over the ‘stock’ wheels is something else too. Genuine Detroits weigh in at around 13.1kg (28.8lb) apiece, so I can only imagine my replicas were at best the same weight despite being a half-inch wider. The ZE40s? 8.1kg (17.8lb) each. That’s a saving of at least 5kg (11.0kg) of unsprung weight at each corner of the car, which is nuts.

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The difference in driving the car is immediately noticeable. Not an over-the-top difference, but definitely noticeable.

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With the tyres swapped onto the new wheels – I’ve retained the 225/40R18 Kumho KU39s for now – and the wheels re-fitted to the car, the tired-looking brake calipers and hubs stood out like sore thumbs.

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It doesn’t look too bad here, but the red calipers – in particular the fronts – had turned a shade of pink from the heat generated by braking.

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I cleaned the surface rust from the centres of the discs with a wire brush and then painted them with a direct-to-rust black paint. The calipers came up pretty good with just a quick polish using some compound that I had lying around. They’re far from perfect, but a huge improvement when you look through the wheel spokes. I’ll be upgrading the brakes in the near future, so this will at least tide me over until then.

I also used the opportunity to seal the wheels properly whilst they were off the car, something I should have done beforehand but forgot in my excitement.

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The finished result.

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For a car sitting at stock ride height, the wheels are a perfect fitment. Not too proud or too shy, but just right.

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I’ve actually become quite fond of the stock height lately. I longer grind my teeth or clench my butthole when approaching obstacles or rough road surfaces, which is nice. Although, I do park around 700 metres further away from the kerb when parallel parking. You know, just to be safe.

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The last few weeks have seen the car develop probably a little bit faster than I had expected, much to the horror of my bank account. So far, at least, every change has been pre-planned with probably more thought put in than I’d like to admit. For the first time though, I’m starting to feel like this is my car now. I’m really starting to bond with it too, something I was worried wouldn’t happen.

I now have a very clear idea in my head for how I want the car to look when finished and an approximate idea of the required level of performance too. Hopefully, by the time we next talk about Project GTI (it really needs a catchier name, I know) I’ll have had the opportunity to get some track time in and hopefully have freed up a few extra horsepower too.

Thanks for reading.

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos

Cutting Room Floor
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I'm really enjoying the "simpler" builds you've been featuring lately and i like the tasteful mods on your car. this line though  "Cars are meant to be enjoyed, not endured." resonates with me so much. i dunno if i'm just getting old or what but whilst i still appreciate the crazy builds; something simple but tastefully personalised, that doesn't compromise the original car is more what i seem to be into these days


Is it just me or has it rained every time you have taken your camera out lately haha - you really have to love the Irish weather :) 
Nice upgrades there Mr P, loving the wheels. What are you thinking with regard to braking? Would you go as extreme as the E90, or just upgrade discs and pads?


Love it. Not sure if you got my e-mail or not Paddy...
But more importantly, Queens of the Stone Age!


Also i'm pretty sure there's a rule that every 1kg of reciprocating mass saved, has the same effect of 3kg of static mass. So, if you've saved 5kg on every wheel (20kg), it's similar to taking 60kg out of the body.


ethosVeritas_Z32 Glad you're enjoying it. I don't think it's necessarily an age thing, just a realisation that you shouldn't have to settle or apply a 'that will do' attitude when creating something of your own. I'd love something more hardcore for track days as a second car in the future, but for the mean time this is more than capable.


LarryKehoe I don't think it's stopped raining in about six months, Larry.

I'm thinking something along the lines of Forge's 356mm six-piston front setup, braided lines all-round with better brake fluid and an upgraded pad / disc combination out back. Budget will be the ultimate deciding factor!


Tomo Pattison I've checked my accounts and can't see anything. I'm usually quite good at responding so try again to and I'll keep an eye out for it.

Yes, big QOTSA fan :-)


Wheels fit perfectly with the MK6, good choice indeed.


J45ON I've read that it can be anywhere up to a relationship of 6:1, but there's definitely a significant improvement in the car's characteristics.


EvolveWRC I'm really happy with them. I wasn't sure whether to go with the bronze or gun metal finish, but happy with the depth in the darker shade.


Paddy McGrath


Project Jellybean?


Dill Pickle Funny, I had a full discussion with Bryn about how you name your cars. I think we're both of the opinion that the car has to earn it and to just let it happen. Still, it hasn't stopped me completely over thinking it...


Great music taste Paddy!


Ah, the feeling when you finally put your stamp on a car, nothing quite like it!
The saying "if you can park your car and not look at it whilst walking away, you bought the wrong car" (or something), really rings true when you make your car your own, bet you can't help but stare!


AlvaroAlves It's definitely varied!


REKT_Disco Absolutely. I've been doing the look over the shoulder thing since I bought it. Honestly, never thought I'd own one. That might sound ridiculous to some, but it's been a massive challenge for me to get this far.


Great progress Paddy.  Plus that very last bonus image just made it into my wallpaper rotation :)


Love this projekt :)


Steve Hayward Thanks, Steve! It's a slow burner, but it'll get there in the end.


ThomasEgholmJorgensen Thanks!


Badass wheels !


CharlesSangollo I concur.


Paddy McGrath Dill Pickle That's how I got the name for mine; my car nut buddies christened it C/28 after I did my engine swap. (Camaro engine into a C series pickup) Some cars have a name before they're even built, but some find their title after years of good times and bad times.


I'm Rob..... Looking great paddy


Robgrimes91 Yes, you are Rob.


abezzegh87 I think they look more aggressive and suit what I have in mind for the overall look of the car.


Nice job, nice read and great pictures Paddy! I couldn't wait for this update when I saw the Raysboxes on your instagram. Your mods are very tastefully and tje darkgrey rimfinish is super sexy! Are you considering a Spoon rigid collar kit? That would be a very geeky jdm upgrade if you ask me :D anyway, awesome to see your car is improving in a tastefull way, keep us updated :D


You forgot the most important update to your car... The sticker on the rear glass which adds like 500 bhp! 

In all seriousness I'm really liking this project. I'm jealous


ssvirk You mean 500hp and 4WD. At least get it right... :-P


IsaacDC I was looking at a TyrolSport rigid colar kit, don't think Spoon do a specific one for the MK6? Unless I just figured out what sizes were needed...


Paddy McGrath is there anywhere you can buy those stickers in that size?

Really liking this project btw, i want to do the whole light wheels and simple mods approach on my scirocco too


Not at the moment, but maybe in the future!


What UK company produces the headlights? I drive a 4DR MK6 GTI and the mounting tabs on my head lights cracked when someone backed into me (rest of the car is okay don't worry) but I am looking for replacement/upgraded head lights.

35 I tought this was for the mk6 :) but on the forums I have read good things about the tyrols :)


MK6 is a 5K, unless there's some strange naming convention that I'm not aware of (which is completely possible). Price seems about right, still crazy money but you're paying for the R&D more so than the hardware.


In fact I m not sure either but the guy in the customerchat said it would fit :p Yeah, a lot of money for some small metal pieces that you can't even see, once installed :p


"Cars are meant to be enjoyed, not endured." THANK YOU Paddy McGrath. I'm in the same camp as you.
So many cars become worse after modifications, or have faults that are just lived with...a little care, attention to detail and these things make a huge enjoyment difference. 
Applaud your approach and will follow with interest all the way from New Zealand.


That light beam cutoff looks so crisp! I love the wheel of choice too!


Great build Paddy, but why does it look like you had to disassemble the whole front end if the headlights were, "plug and play"? Does it really take that much to replace headlights on modern VW's? I was curious as I'm looking to do a similar swap on my girlfriends 08 Wolfsburg Jetta here in the States. Keep the updates coming!




Those wheels are on point!


Great GTI! The wheels look superb!


fwittmann25 Thanks!


SnoozinRichy Cheers, Rich.


Aktifspeed Most modern cars require the bumper to be removed to change the headlights. It's worse than it looks, but we had them swapped over in less than an hour. 'Plug and Play' refers to no extra wiring, or modules etc. You use the factory plug and everything works straight away.


meal stub Yeah, it's really sharp. Very impressed.


Spanksy Paddy McGrath Thanks for the support! Yeah, when you realise that cars don't have to be a PITA, it really opens up a whole new world of potential.


Paddy McGrath Aktifspeed Thanks for the info Paddy... But you state,
"It's worse than it looks, but we had them swapped over in less than an hour."  Do you mean it's easier than it looks or it really is harder than it it appears by your pictures?


Wow...I really like it! I like that you went the OEM way for the head unit, it looks as if the car was made like that. Regarding those headlights, they indeed look like OEMs, and the beams look spot on.

The wheels are a very good option, they look brilliant (I'm very subjective here, since I like wheels with thin spokes a lot) ! Generally, I don't fancy black wheels very much, but in this case, they work very well, and the stock stance and fitment are just right.

You know what this reminds me of? An older Jetta that was featured here on SH a little time ago. Many parts changed on it, but the fact that they belonged to the VAG family kept the entire package looking right.

I remember your previous posts (I even wrote some comments on one of them), and I like that you took the time to make it nice.

Keep up the good work, and keep it fun!


STEFawnFLORES I too would like to know this, and whether they make some for the MK5.


Paddy I love your reads! Absolutely love your car as well.keep up the good work, and I can't wait to see the progress!


Dub_Stripclub Thanks!


Aktifspeed  Paddy McGrath It's easy, don't even need to jack the car or remove the wheels. Just get a friend to help as it's easier to remove / replace the bumper with two people.


Looking good! I am exploring the headlight/tail upgrade right now on my 2.5, only thing stopping me is the money involved. May I ask who the UK manufacturer you went with was? I have seen a few replica options but have been a bit hung up on which to go with. OEM is just too expensive in this case as you said.


I like your style! Haha, we built damn near identical cars.
Keep up the good work!


Thanks for the clarification Paddy and keep up the great work!


Love the look! If you ever consider sourcing RPF1's it is possible to get a set of 18x9 et35 5x112 straight from Enkei. I was able to get into a group buy organized by sprint auto works in CA. Anyways looking forward to following this series! I love JDM wheels on VW's.


I actually used to have the SH katakana banner on this as well! Except my banner was missing a small accent and it made it not make any sense haha, in Hawaii I had a lot of Japanese friends that reminded me on more than one occasion. I either peeled the banner off wrong or it was missing it from the go.


OEM+ style with a Japanese edge - I like it Paddy! I had a mk1 and a mk3 Golf before a slew of Japanese cars and I've never lost my affection for the.

Keep it up it's looking good.


That's sweet. I see what's missing too from your banner!


I think they're pretty similar to Ed's headlights, but will see how they hold up. I got them from who I think make units specific for LHD too.


Answer is above, no idea if they make them for MKV.


Awesome car and great choice on the rims! 
One question thou.... What do you mean by: "I also used the opportunity to seal the wheels properly whilst they were off the car..."? :)


nice!! props for not going down the "vdub" route! :p


Nikhil_P Not yet! XD


Afonsoae82gt I applied a proper wheel sealant (like a wax) to protect the finish and to make them easier to clean over the winter :)


day_old_tofu Thanks! It's going to be difficult to walk that tight line between subtle & OTT. Sort of relying on the Speedhunters' readers to keep me in check!


Always something to be said for keeping a build clean. I cringe when I see nice mods with lots of potential if only they had been properly executed. Patience is critical but damn difficult sometimes. 
Wheels are the break point when it comes to how a car looks, great choice on the ZE40's. Love how you have to get up close to see that they aren't actually black. Keep up the quality work Paddy and drive it like it's your last run. Your passion is inspiring.


Coming along nicely! 

I don't normally go for Jap wheels but they look really nice. Not unlike the factory motorsport wheels, but nicer. 

For mine, I couldn't go past black Talladegas off an R


hoplomachus The Talladegas are a popular choice, for good reason too.


sw3rvin Thanks, much appreciated.


I have to commend you on your impeccable choice of wheels and "tunes" :thumbs:


Matt Burgess Why thank you.


Loving the build Paddy and can't wait to see where it goes. Since I bought my MKV I've wanted to go down the German car mixed with Japanese style road but haven't had the funds to do anything so far. Hopefully next year when I get the mechanical issues sorted! Looking forward to the next instalment.


Great read as always..Driving a Dsg mk5 at the moment and its growing on me every day .


The ZE40s look great Paddy!


Alright paddy,
Loving following all of these, I know I've got a bit far back here haha but if you can remember where did you buy your headlights from? Been trying to seek some out all over eBay but non have come up that I fully trust
Thanks mate, keep it up!


There is no word that can explain how much I want a gti right now. Just to poke around and set it too my persona too ^_^