This is the best Mk1 Volkswagen Golf in existence right now.
Now, before you start steaming out your ears all red-faced and furiously tell me why you disagree, or even ask who I am to make such a statement, let me explain. My name is Mario. I’m new here, save for a few recent pieces you may have read, and my job today is to tell you why this little car deserves the praise I’ve just given it.
See, I feel the UK has some real gems, and I intend to share their stories. This is one of them. Have a read. See where I’m coming from.
I’ve met Alex Wright, the owner of the Golf, three times. The first two times we were far from sober, and the third time was the day of this shoot, having been arranged on that second occasion. That sort of sets the tone for the story if I’m honest.
Alex has had this car for 18 years. That alone is impressive seeing as most people can’t even hang on to a set of wheels for more than a year nowadays.
His car journey doesn’t actually start with VW, though. Alex’s first car was a Vauxhall Chevette, given to him by his grandma. You can’t be a British yute and not know someone in the Dub scene though; a mate of his at the time had a murdered-out Mk1 Golf G60 which was pivotal to Alex’s car journey. Sat on a set of brand new Ronal Turbos, this mean little Golf was peak ’90s scene vibes. Alex had to have one.
The Chevette therefore made way for a Helios Blue Mk1 GTI cabriolet. That stayed as Alex’s daily driver for a while, and it was perfect for him at the time. Quick, practical, nice to drive – hell, it was a GTI after all. He even went to see The Fast and the Furious in it when it was first released. That’s how old he is.
After a while Alex wanted a hardtop car and, coincidentally, someone had just put a restored, green GTI up for sale. It made sense at the time to get the cabriolet sold and to buy the hatchback, so Alex was soon driving around in a clean, straight GTI.
Smitten, Alex took his new Golf to GTI International just days after he bought it. On the way back though, Sod’s Law (Or Murphy’s) dictated that this good twist of fate had to be balanced out, and the Golf was rear-ended. The impact was violent enough to bend a frying pan that was in the boot, so it’s safe to say that the green car’s story came to an abrupt end.
For a few months after that, Alex was carless and used his bike to get around. Yet you can’t be a car person, with car friends, doing car stuff and not have your own vehicle. Enough was enough. That’s when the Helios Blue Mk1 came into the picture.Lowly Beginnings
It seemed like the perfect car on the ad: A GTI hardtop with the same Helios Blue paint Alex had on his cabriolet. The fact it was a Campaign Edition was almost too good to be true.
Well, it was too good to be true. Like a lot of Mk1s, it was plagued with rust; it was nowhere near as clean as the green car. Alex needed a car though, and he saw the potential it had. Also, it was a thousand pounds. £1000 for a Mk1 Golf GTI, no less. A Campaign Edition. I was born far too late…
Alex snapped it up and that was that; he was back in the game with a slightly modified 8-valve engine and some dodgy lowering springs. It picked up his daily duties again, but it didn’t take long for the modifying itch to take over.
A set of FK Konigsport coilovers and OZ Racing Turbo wheels were fitted, and the GTI was dropped as low as possible. It looked better but the rust kept spreading, and the had car failed its MOT, so ultimately it needed addressing.
Alex was fortunate enough to know a guy who he trusted to fix up the Golf’s bodywork and get it looking up to scratch again, so the car went in to chop out all the rust it had come with free in the sale. The GTI being his daily driver at the time meant that young Alex was once again using his bicycle to get around, hoping that the car would be finished as quickly as possible to get it back on the road.
The bodywork was far from quick though, and four months after having dropped it off he was still cycling around. He was livid, and by the end he just wanted his car back. You can therefore imagine the relief when he got the call that the car was ready and he saw it for the first time.
He didn’t have the highest of hopes, but he described the finished result as “absolutely mint”. With the body now straight as an arrow, Alex was finally proud of how the little blue car looked. There was little doubt it was one of the cleanest Mk1s in the UK at the time.
Edition38 was the car’s first show appearance, and it was also where it won its first award, claiming a top 10 trophy on the Saturday. That was way back in 2004. Or 2005. Alex says, “It was so long ago now it’s hard to piece together,” with a laugh.Settling In
The Golf quickly became a big part of Alex’s life.
These were cruising days, after all. Back when you’d first learn about someone and their car online, maybe meet them at a show, and then get their MSN details and have a chat.
The long gone Wheel-Whores forum is in fact how Alex got to know our favourite goth-flavoured Porsche/BMW connoisseur, just a guy with a track car Ryan Stewart, and Mr. Ben Chandler, who around that time was rocking a Euro-spec Citroën Saxo and triggering VW fanboys left, right and centre whilst still at Fast Car magazine.
The Golf was really central in Alex’s formative years, and he’s met so many of his long-term friends through it. It stayed pretty much the same for a good few years, save for the OZs making way for a set of Compomotive TH Racing wheels. It was a perfect all-rounder, being his daily, yet well presented enough to hold its own at shows.
Fast forward to around 2008/2009 and the years of daily use had started to take their toll on the Golf’s appearance. Using his work equipment to make some car-themed stickers as a side hustle ultimately led to Alex getting fired from his job too, just days before Christmas.
It was a low point in their journey together, but that didn’t stop Alex from coming up with big plans to get the Golf not just back to spec, but even better than it was before. A new job with a company van finally allowed the GTI to get some serious time off the road, and the friends he’d made through the car were all on hand on get it where it needed to go.
Alex and his armada of cargo-short wearing, Red Stripe-drinking lunatics set to work.Rebirth
There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and the fact that wheel choice, always, always makes or breaks a car. Alex knew exactly what he wanted the car to be sat on from the start, and he wasn’t going to settle for anything less. The Compomotives were sold to a guy in America, and replaced with the BBS E30s the car wears today.
It’s funny seeing Alex’s reaction when I ask him about people trying to get his wheel specs. He doesn’t know what the offsets are, but he says that he’d tell people if he did, purely to see them wrap their head around the sizes.
Zero-lip has become a trend in the water-cooled VW scene, because it gives the faces impact without much effort. Personally, I think it’s a weird looking cop-out, but I digress. Alex wanted dish. Four-inch lips all round the car, with four-and-a-half-inch barrels to create an 8.5-inch-wide square setup is unheard of on a narrow-body Mk1.
That’s because they do not fit. Not without extensive work.
Under the skin, there’s almost no original Golf geometry left. The strut towers have been chopped, with new camber adjustable top mounts on top of extended and raised strut towers. These allow the car to sit even lower at the front as the Konigsport coilovers themselves didn’t provide enough drop to meet Alex’s vision.
Alex, at this point in our chat, wanted to say that the vast majority of the welding was either done by his friend Latham, or by Ryan.
This new strut tower setup meant the BBS were now sitting correctly at the wheel arch, however the increase in negative camber was far more than desired.
To even things out, Alex proceeded to narrow the entire front track by 28mm, including the wishbones, the track rods and the driveshafts to reduce the negative camber whilst keeping the fitment at the top of the arch exactly where he wanted it.
The new suspension geometry was, however, worked out to have maximum tuck under compression, even with such little suspension travel. You may therefore be surprised to hear that the wheels or tyres do not hit the arches, even when being driven hard. And the Golf does indeed get driven very hard.
Mk1s can take fairly aggressive wheel setups at the back, so less work was required to achieve the same result. The whole rear beam was narrowed by 12mm, with the suspension pickup points altered to suit. The rear hub shims were then replaced with custom, hand-made items to allow the rear wheels to sit centred and true with the further reduced ride height.
Whilst redesigning the strut towers, the engine bay received a rework too. Everything that could be shaved, was, leaving as smooth a bay as possible without any big new box sections or “unnatural” shapes being added. The battery was moved to the boot, the wiring loom hidden in a wing, and every bracket and hole Alex could find was welded up and smoothed away. Even the washer bottle, expansion tank and heater were all removed to keep the bay as clean as possible.
Alex wanted the engine to be something worthy of presenting in the freshly painted bay, and he’d had his mind set on something special for a good few years.
The 16-valve G60 is the rarest, and until the 3.2-litre VR6, the most powerful engine VW had produced. The issue is that because of its rarity, it’s impossible to get an original engine. That’s why Alex decided to make his own.
Sat in the shaved bay is Alex’s own interpretation of a 16v G60. Built on an ABF 2.0-litre 16-valve block, a huge mix of both Bar-Tek and custom parts were designed and fitted in order for the cohesive conversion from N/A to forced induction to be possible. A Supersprint manifold and custom exhaust with a simple straight tip make this one loud little GTI. And then there’s the supercharger scream.
For maximum reliability, Wossner pistons were used to lower the compression ratio, which allows Alex to safely run the stage 1 ported supercharger. A G-Werks intercooler and a custom radiator setup help keep things cool when the engine’s driven hard.
With near enough 270bhp and weighing less than 900kg, this Golf absolutely rips, even at its ridiculously low height.
The exterior may not looks vastly different to a standard Mk1 Golf, but that was the whole purpose behind the build. Alex didn’t want a car that shouts about what’s been done to it, more a car that people look at in depth and more so appreciate the details the longer they look.
The minimalist approach extends to the bodywork with every boot badge being shaved and smoothed. The passenger wing mirror was also smoothed out and an early Mk1 driver’s side door mirror was fitted to draw as little attention away from the sharp body lines as possible. Even the arches were only rolled and pulled as mildly as possible to retain the original lines.
A single lamp front grille was fitted to de-clutter the nose of the car. The original GTI duckbill had to go, not to further simplify the front end, but because Alex’s Golf is just too low to be able to run one without it getting ripped off within five minutes. A smaller CL item takes its place instead, and it’s fared much better.
A full respray in the original Helios Blue gives the mad little car an elegant edge. The Guigaro-penned lines are set off by the deep blue coat, with the gentle silver pearl really popping against the warm Birmingham sunset.
The interior carries on the theme of simplicity, with a choice selection of the best parts. Having been stripped of all the original carpets and nasty ’80s materials, select areas of the inner shell have been left visible to show off some of the resprayed metalwork.
A pair of black fabric Recaro Pole Position seats and SCHROTH harnesses up front, complemented by black fabric door cards bring a modern feel to the interior of the ’80s pocket rocket. These are teamed with an Andy Robinson half-cage to provide some extra safety and security on the move, as well as to provide some contrast to the dark interior having been left in its raw, unpainted finish.
Brand new carpets and a simple three-spoke steering wheel round off the interior, with a few choice touches and a CAE gear shifter being the only details that Alex feels the Golf is wanting for.
This isn’t your typical huge budget, established shop build, yet the custom work put into it would make you think it is. Neither is it a quick, slapped together build for internet clout or for that ‘season’, yet every time it makes a show appearance people still go wild over it.
Alex’s Golf is the epitome of building a car for yourself. It’s the culmination of years and years of f**king about with your mates, working on cars together. Having never been swayed by this trend here, or that build over there, Alex is one of the only people I know who’s genuinely built the exact car he’s always wanted.
The car’s journey serves as a reminder, not only of how good it is to hang out with the homies, doing dumb car stuff and enjoying the process. But also that if you put in good work and know when to stop, the results are timeless. That’s why my favourite part is that Alex built the car to this point eight years ago.
It’s stayed the exact same way ever since. Perfect.
Photos by Saj Selva