49HP, Three Pedals, No Limits
A Weekend With Kermit

This was never meant to evolve into a story.

In fact, it was originally intended to be the very opposite; a rare weekend off doing car things just for doing car things’ sake. Something which doesn’t happen very often, you’ll be hardly surprised to read.

The plan was simple, but there was an ulterior motive of my own which I should probably fill you in on so this all makes sense.

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You might have read at some stage that I happen to own a red Volkswagen GTI. I believe I’ve posted about it once or twice. To me, it’s a very special car because I never thought I would own something so capable that fills me with so much driving happiness.

Nothing has changed on that front, but when extraordinary is your only reference point when daily driving, it does eventually become ordinary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a GTI or a 250 GTO, if you drive it every day, it will eventually happen.

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When I had this realisation, my initial reaction was to try and come up with a new plan for the GTI, and to evolve it even further; lighter, more powerful, more track focussed etc. but this would completely undo the original plan which the car was built to.

Plus, it would still be my daily and making it lighter, more powerful and more track focussed would guarantee that it would wear thin on the commute where it spends most of its time.

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I tried then to find a new daily. Something which was cheap to purchase, cheap to run and cheap to insure that could take care of daily duties, and keep the GTI for the weekends and track days.

This was going well until it emerged that to insure a second car in Ireland, you have to start your no claims from scratch, as they won’t mirror or acknowledge your driving experience on your first policy for your new policy, so they can charge you through the absolute nose. Gangsters.

That was the end of that, then.

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So, I waited and thought about it some more.

In the meantime, events and work were coming at me from all directions until I managed to find one weekend where I didn’t actually have to work. That weekend was during the Goodwood Festival of Speed, no less, which Jordan confidently covered on his own. Again.

With this rare weekend identified, I hatched a plan.

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Outside of Speedhunters, I do the odd local press photography gig for car manufacturers here in Ireland. One of them is Volkswagen Group, who actually gave me my start in the industry many, many years ago by loaning me a Škoda Superb Combi to begin a portfolio. The man who gave me that opportunity was also called Paddy – but with the surname Comyn – who still works at VW Group Ireland today.

I owe a lot to him, mostly because I keep asking for things which other people would laugh at, but he has always said yes to for some reason. The biggest ask of all these was when I asked if ‘Kermit’ was available for a few days in July.

Again, for reasons still unbeknownst to anyone in the entire universe, he said yes. It’s worth pointing out that I did set one of his cars on fire before (it was totally fine) so you might understand my continued confusion on his reluctance to tell me to P.F.O. 

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So, that’s pretty much how I ended up the custodian of this 1978 Volkswagen Golf L, affectionately known as ‘Kermit’, for one whole weekend.

When new, its 1,100cc petrol engine produced 49hp, although I believe that some of those horses have long since been put out to pasture. It has four forward gears, three pedals, non-boosted brakes with no anti-lock and no power steering.

Essentially, what I’m trying to tell you is that this car is f*cking brilliant.

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The matter of it not being designated a performance orientated model from factory is irrelevant. Any car is a performance car if you believe it to be one.

Never has 50mph been so terrifying.

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Acceleration is a process which you are vaguely aware of, but whatever speed you do manage to accrue focuses your thoughts, as the brakes aren’t what anyone would consider fantastic. It teaches you patience and anticipation, while figuring out how much of the road you can use to help it around a corner.

Speed limits are irrelevant, because no matter how hard you try, you’re just not going to break them. Even the simple act of keeping up with more modern traffic becomes an adventure, requiring your full attention and maximum effort.

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You must take every opportunity you can to carry whatever speed you might have, as any you lose will take an eternity to recover. Don’t lift, stay off the brakes, use all of the road available and be brave.

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At no point over the weekend did I switch on the radio. Not because the engine sounds good (my girlfriend thought it sounded like a lawnmower) but because you need to give your whole attention to the experience.

Ordinary roads, which I regularly drive, had become extraordinary from behind the wheel of Kermit. I would find my heart racing and palms sweating after certain sections. If I was to try and drive my GTI on these roads with a similar amount of intensity I would end up dead or in a jail cell. That’s not an exaggeration, either.

Best of all, no one outside the car had any idea of the activity occurring inside to keep this momentum going. It’s guilt free driving.

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It’s such a contrast to the modern approach of car building where they’re creating more and more safety systems which are seemingly designed to allow us to pay less attention to what we’re doing behind the wheel. Active cruise control, lane assist, collision warnings etc. all play some part in reducing a driver’s responsibility.

Of course there’s a time and place for everything, I just hope beyond all hope that when people are being shuttled around in their Level 5 pods, that Kermit is still out there reminding us how great we used to have it.

This wasn’t meant to be a story, but I suppose that some of my most memorable Speedhunters moments started out that way, too. It also happened to play its part in reminding me of another great aspect of car culture which I had forgotten about.

But more about that another day…

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos

Cutting Room Floor
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Put a 911 engine in it and make a super sleeper LOL


I thought that I couldn't imagine how this car could be any more terrifying, but you came up with a way. Kudos.


Your welcome :)


There is something really refreshing to see a car like this. Amazing post Paddy.


Thanks, Andy.


Sounds a lot like Chris Harris and his 2CV. Great story. Just reinforces the old saying “more fun to drive a slow car fast than too......... “. And you’ve cleaned your palette for when you drive your GTI.


It's that palette cleanse which really impressed me, I was able to fully enjoy the MKI and when I got back into my MK6 it felt like a rocket ship.


I know exactly what you're talking about. When I'm in Fiat 600 with 22 HP in regular traffic; stretch every gear just to track traffic, keep the distance from the vehicle in front because you're on the drum brakes. And safety? No seat belt, no airbags, no ABS, no servo steering, you just have to have maximum concentration in the old "cans". But the pleasure of driving is guaranteed!


It teaches you such proper driving techniques as you have to think so far ahead. If you have to react to something, it's probably too late.


Sure who needs driver aids when you have the padre pio sticker!!


Padre is my air bag.


* adds Paddy Comyn on LinkedIn *


If you want to shoot something on Kermit, I can make it happen. We can even have a little man date!


No, I just want to steal your VW press gig! :D

Steph's American Friend

Awesome article! Did you take that aerial shot yourself? It's so wonderfully framed


Yes, second flight with the drone and surprised by how easy it is.


And this is one of the biggest reasons as to why old cars are better. :^)

Also, insurance companies are truly awful. One would think that having a license for printing money would be enough but no, it never is.


They must have been reading because they dropped my renewal by 24%


The photography in this piece is top notch. It's a simple green car in mostly green background, but the photos are simply spectacular!


BEAUTIFUL! you know I was planning to do a write up about humble things. I find that cars is not always about performance but more about the experience & the joy of driving! I think we are all spoiled with cars these days being so intuitive that we crave more of everything. I love this article & I love this car! Well done Paddy!


This is the quality of content I come here for. Not coverage of some hard parking rice cookers wearing rubberbands for tires, but articles about the experience of just simply DRIVING a car.

Bravo Paddy! Look forward to the next installment.


don't know about you guys but i used to speeding over in my honda blade 125cc bike, one mistake equals you're ended up like the (late) Marco Simoncelli and Nicky Hayden, respectively


Who would have though that not chasing speed would be the best article on Speedhunters for quite awhile.
Thank you. Oh now my tea is cold....bummer.


Real Irish problems


These older cars have more character to drive than the modern one's, simply because there no driving aids, everyone should have driven a car without powersteering, it's like using an analog camera, rethink how driving did go on in the old days.


Only 49HP, but it is FUN to drive because you can use EVERY BIT of it.
I prefer this more than some modern supercars with silly HP figures.


So badass! Cool car! Awesome photos! And what an honest write up! Love it! Thanks Paddy!


I just went from daily driving a mk1 rabbit to dd a mk5 gti and I have to agree that the mk1 is far more rewarding, although not nearly as comfortable.


Had a 35hp polo as the first car with no power steering, electric windows or abs and I can still remember the smile it put on my face every time I rung it’s little neck round twisty B roads - safe in the knowledge that I was only capable of doing just slightly more than the speed limit


Paddy, how many speeding tickets did you get?(ha ha) 50 MPH? Are you sure you can handle that kind of power?! Sometimes it is not about speed. It's just about driving. That road looks a little creepy though. Went to Waterfest yesterday. Boy it was cool. Only 102 degrees. Good thing I put a low temp thermostat and fan switch in the Jetta. And a new FCM. Good pics especially overhead shot. Personal helicopter?


For me its not so much about an underpowered car, as it is about a car with low weight and old styling. Extra power can be created, as is the case with handling and brakes. Doesn't matter what car it is, but in case of an Mk1 golf it should be easy.

What cant be recreated for a decent amount of many is the platform itself. Because lets face it: This car weights about 800 Kg empty, Compaired to the Mk5 weighing in at 1300KG empty (if your lucky, because actuall weight will be more likely around the 1450Kg empty). Thats a 500Kg to 650Kg difference. That translates to the direct feel of the Mk1. And lets face it: It looks better then the modern equivalent too.

I for one daily drive a classic and cant be bothered with a new car. I like the connected feel that old cars give you. But I am not a fan of the engine power, drum brakes, and handling. So thats why I alter those drasticly. Its also the car I drive to clients, to trackdays, etc. I just want to have a smile on my face when I drive the car. I want to feel that I've actually done something to get on my destination.

Thats what driving is really about. The way I see it is that driving should be a workout. Cant be bothered? In that case your not really alive. The spoils are only really for the victor....


Nothing quite like a bit of sketchiness to wake you up in the morning


Brilliant article Paddy! Reminds us of the pleasure and challenge of driving. My little Suzuki is by far and away the safest and most efficient car I've ever owned,but it lacks the connection my old Mazda 323,Ford Granada or VW CitiGolf CTi(Golf 1 GTi) had.

Thank you for one of those left field articles that help make Speedhunters so good


You must take every opportunity you can to carry whatever speed you might have, as any you lose will take an eternity to recover. Don’t lift, stay off the brakes, use all of the road available and be brave.

That's the purity of driving a old/classic car, it carry us to a flow state...
I own an '83 KP61 Toyota Starlet and I just agree with you, nice topic Paddy.


I feel the same whenever I drive my 106 Rallye!


You've touched on why I'm such a fan of the MK1 MR2. Not because it handles as horribly as a MK1 Golf. I assure you it doesn't. Both of my Golfs where terrifying experiences. Unlike Kermit, they where completely overpowered 76hp 1.6 liter cars. A big block Mk1 if you will. Like a 440 'Cuda of golfs. Just under the GTi/Hemi. All the weight, but not quite the handling kit. Too fast for it's chassis, and woefully understeered, until it tried to spin. Delivering understeer to the people isn't what it has in common with the old 'Yota though. No, what a MK1 MR2 shares with the early Golf, is how light and connected if feels, the sense of speed, and a limited amount of grip. The difference, being an incredibly light and responsive front end, and a rear that although it steps out, is consistent in the way it does it, and delivers an enthralling driving experience. If you have a chance to borrow one, I suggest you do so, provided you fit. I'd suggest a tin top 84/85, as it has a more balanced (read oversteery) rear end, which although it lets go earlier, does so more predictably, and controllably. It absolutely loves a good thrashing, and would probably entertain you for quite some time without costing you your licence.


Wow. Amazing article! I've been looking at Mk1 Golfs for nearly 3 years still haven't found one to buy here down under. Maybe I just lust over my parent's Mk7 GTi 40th Anniversary but I would love to build a Mk1 with a modern Mk7 engine.


I started looking here after driving this, and it's slim pickings. At least you shouldn't have rust to worry about?


we still have plenty mk1 golfs here in South Africa. 2 dr variants are rare but would still be damn cheap for you guys.
the 4dr would be very cheap


Hahaha. I wish. Most of them still rust but not as bad i guess. Saw one with the fender all rusted up. Pretty sure as long as I find one that hasn't been crashed the rust would be minimal. Oh also we do occasionally get snow so got to look out where the car has been for the last 30 years. Fingers crossed to hopefully find one soon


Its perfect just the way it is <3


Awesome pictures of that car in the Irish landscape! really beautiful.


Lovely car, I'm green with envy...

I drive a 2011 Mazda2 almost everyday. With 102 horsepower, it has double the power of Kermit, but also carries another 200kg of weight around. Just enough power to allow you to merge and follow modern traffic, but not enough for you to not have to focus on driving it. It's a delightfully fun car, particularly with the suspension and brake mods I have fitted. Obviously, not the same as Kermit, but something in the same vein and it can be a truly fun car to drive.


driving nirvana all over the place.


Well I've never been a fan of such romantic journalistic platitudes. You bought a GTI when there were quite a few lighter, more track orientated and hell even cheaper options available, still being great daily commuters. Why now complain about cars becoming less driver orientated? You among million others chose the least driver orientated hot hatch for yourself proving that car manufacturers are right producing even more boring cars every day. And by they way, Kermit sold so much back then, compared to its Italian or French rivals exactly because it was less driver orientated and was designed to allow its driver pay less attention. Quite ironic , don't you think?


It's not really ironic when you have all the information to hand, rather than just making assumptions :)


So cool, great article... and the customary coolant reserve in there for the mid-journey overheat... been there


wonderful opinion piece. In all honesty, I've come to realize that I greatly appreciate the slow cars I've owned. my first, a gutless pickup, was so pathetically slow that it was terrifying on public roads. every drive kept me alert, and it was rewarding just to know i fought the thing all the way from A to B and emerged victorious. hopefully my Plymouth K car will be the same way


Kind of why I don't care about numbers anymore. My 38hp Mini was more fun to drive than my 400hp S6 or my 911.


Right now my daily is a 91 Golf Cabriolet. Same body from 79-93. It’s a blast flooring it through corners and not loosing traction because in reality you’re only doing the speed limit. So much more fun to use %100 of the horsepower all the time.


Brilliant article, this is the kind of material I come to SH!