Project Habu: The Slow Burner

It’s been just over a year since I took ownership of Habu, and progress has admittedly been slow so far.

I’ve explained why previously, so when compared to Project GTI, which saw 10 updates in the first 12 months, you might understand why this is only the third post dedicated to this white sled. Thankfully though, things have started to evolve.

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For the most part, the real reason behind the lack of updates is that the car is both very good and in use on a daily basis, so there’s been no urgency to make sweeping changes from the get go.

Maybe another part is that I often feel like the car doesn’t fully belong amongst some of the other icons contained within the SH Garage. When you can read about a Porsche, GT-Rs, a Ferrari, an NSX and two Peugeot 106 Rallyes, I’m not really sure that a white Golf estate will excite any of you on the same level it excites me.

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It does excite me though, and that’s what matters. I love it precisely because a lot of other people don’t, and that it flies under the radar is just an added bonus. A hint there as to where the name Habu came from, actually.

Still, one thing that unites all cars in the SH Garage is the careful consideration surrounding their intended use, perhaps with the notable exception of Mark using a single-seat Ferrari ex-race car to bring his cameras to work. There’s always an exception to the rule.

What I’ve considered over the last year is where I get the most enjoyment out of my car. I started to think about how I can improve the car under those specific circumstances without taking away from its day-to-day abilities.

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I adore a good backroad, away from the rest of the world, more than anything. Places so remote that you don’t have to really worry about meeting other cars, people or cyclists.

The thing about these places is that outright power doesn’t really help you extract any more joy out of the situation. Top of third gear is just a hair under 90mph (145km/h) in Habu, and at that speed you’re really only racing towards a jail cell or your own funeral on these mountain roads.

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As much time as I spend considering my own use, I often look to see what others have done with the same platform and whether they’ve had success or not.

Typically, most Golf R owners seem to grow tired of the factory power, so they choose to add more. When that novelty wears off, they either need to add more power again or they move on to another project altogether.

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While I do enjoy a healthy powerband, it’s not something you can exploit all of the time. Sure, it’s really nice to know that it’s there when needed, but when you’re just pottering around, 400hp might as well be 40hp for all the enjoyment it brings in 50km/h speed zones.

What I wanted to achieve with this particular set of updates was a substantial improvement in how the car feels and drives all of the time, along with an improvement in performance under the situations described above.

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First on the list was an upgrade of the factory steering wheel. The leather on Habu‘s original steering wheel had gone hard, shiny and was worn in places, so I swapped it for another OEM wheel that was freshly re-trimmed in smooth Nappa leather with white stitching, and also 2mm thicker than the original. When I received it, all I had to do was swap over the airbag, MFSW controls and DSG paddles, and then send my original wheel off as part of the exchange deal.

I’m a big believer in ensuring that your points of contact with the car are the best they can be, and a decent-feeling steering wheel goes a long way towards this.

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The real upgrades for this particular update however come from 034 Motorsport based outside San Francisco, California.

I installed their ‘Density’ engine and transmission mounts early in the life of Project GTI and was beyond happy with those parts, so it made sense to start Habu‘s journey with them. In the interests of full disclosure, 034 Motorsport supplied the parts here at a discount in exchange for including them in this project car update. I’m not under any obligation to say anything good, bad or indifferent about their products, so I aim to be as fair and honest as I can.

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The first parts chosen and installed were their Dynamic+ Camber Top Mounts with new OE strut top bearings.

These fixed top mounts offer 1.4 degrees of additional negative camber per side on the front axle without the noise, vibration and harshness of a traditional adjustable top mount. Due to the design of both the Mk6 and Mk7 Golfs (and possibly even before these), an adjustable top mount isn’t accessible without removing the entire strut from the vehicle, so these are much better suited in my opinion.

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The process, while simple, did take the bulk of the time allocated on the day to change both top mounts as the passenger side strut proved a bit stubborn being removed. Otherwise, it was straightforward and reinstallation was pain-free with everything going back exactly as it should.

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To be fair, it was always going to be pain-free for me as I just had to photograph proceedings and read a 2006 issue of the now-defunct UK magazine Jtuner, while John Stone went about doing the actual work.

A £10,000 Top Secret-prepared R32 GT-R in the classifieds and a D1 Grand Prix Japan report by some Italian guy were the highlights of this particular issue.

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The next thing to be installed was perhaps the most difficult upgrade you can photograph on a car – 034 Motorsport’s MQB Front Subframe Locking Collar Kit.

Despite the photography challenge, these collar kits make a massive difference on the Golf platform as the subframes do tend to move about in them. This combination of eight collars and four new stretch bolts completely removes the subframe’s tendency to shift around.

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The penultimate parts to go in were chosen to make the most of the recently-installed upgraded rear anti-roll bar, 034’s Dynamic+ adjustable rear sway bar end links.

The factory end links are plastic, so they naturally have a lot of deflection in them. They’re also notorious for seizing and being difficult to remove, so we skipped the ‘gentle persuasion’ stage and went straight to the ‘just cut them out’ stage to save time.

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The last, but by no least insignificant, parts to go in were the 034 Density engine and transmission mounts. This was a surprisingly straightforward job (or at least John made it look so) with only the transmission mount requiring removal of the battery and ECU trays for access.

These mounts are approximately 25% stiffer than stock, but don’t add any NVH into the car while minimising any movement in the drivetrain. The net result is a more direct connection with the drivetrain with longer lasting mounts.

As a courtesy, 034 also supplied me with their ‘Stage Two’ engine and transmission software. Their performance engine software has been optimised for US 91 octane fuel which is equivalent to the 95RON fuel available in Ireland. The previous software installed was for 98RON (approximately US 93 octane) and since we can’t purchase 98RON in Ireland, I had to use octane booster to make up the difference. This was proving expensive and less than ideal.

034’s quoted power figures on their website (383hp/520Nm) for 95RON fuel are similar to what the car was previously dyno-tested here, but I haven’t had the chance to get the car back on the dyno since, so will revisit this in a future update.

I will say that the car is still driving strong despite using less boost, and that 034’s DSG software in particular is exquisite and far more refined than the previous software.

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With everything tightened back up and fully aligned, I was able to get a better understanding of the difference that each part has made. I was ready to accept at least a small increase in NVH considering the amount of parts changed, but I didn’t notice any at all on a mixture of surfaces. This was an impressive start for sure.

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The laser alignment showed the car now has 3 degrees of front negative camber, which has vastly improved turn-in and steering feel. In conjunction with the thicker rear anti-roll bar and the new end-links, the difference between this car and a stock example is more than significant.

Where the stock cars can feel numb and prone to understeer, this provides more feedback to the driver and the car is far more eager to rotate around its front axle.

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The subframe collar kit has offered similar benefits to those found in my GTI, in that the front of the car feels so tight now. The first area I notice this improvement in is under braking, where without the subframe shifting around you feel a more direct connection to the brakes and tyres.

The car is also more composed over rough surfaces, and doesn’t ‘crash’ over/through imperfections as it has done before.

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While a choice selection of mounts, bolts and end-links won’t get you a whole lot of likes on Instagram compared to a bigger turbo, the improvement in the car is so much more enjoyable. Even at low speed, you can feel the tightness in the car and how eager it is to turn. The feedback through the wheel and chassis is much clearer than it was before.

That all of these improvements have come at no expense to the everyday comfort and enjoyment of the car is nothing short of remarkable. I am well and truly impressed.

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Finally, the last part of this update was a simple cosmetic fix which required some paint at Flipsideauto.

A previous owner (I can only assume) used to fit what I think was a bike rack, which damaged two very small areas on the edge of the boot lid exposing the metal beneath the paint. They were previously covered with touch-up paint, but I wanted to address them properly before they became an issue further down the line.

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It does finally feel like we’ve made some progress with this, and I’m absolutely delighted with the results so far. I do have a to-do list to work on over the winter months, which should see my RAYS Volk Racing ZE40s refitted, but in a new colour. I also have my eye on a relatively comprehensive detail and ceramic coating to help keep it as clean as I can, for as long as I can, but there’s a couple of preventative maintenance bits to be completed first.

It might not be the most exotic car in the world, but it’s mine and I’m glad of that.

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos



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My daily is a '19 Sportwagen S 6 speed on H&R/Bilstein and Rotiforms. Not my fastest car, but that's not why I own it, and I think they look damn good!
Would love more info/content on appearance items that are subtle.


I just fitted a new shift knob from Black Forest Industries in my 2012 VW Jetta SportWagen 2.5S. Its easy to install after studying some YouTube videos. Love the look & feel of it, but find the price for it a bid steep.


I think with these wagons, subtle is best when it comes to aesthetics. I've even removed the winglets from the front splitter and think it's made a big difference.


I love reading your updates. I have a 2015 hatchback (manual) and absolutely love the look of yours. Please keep the updates coming !!!! :)


I'll certainly try. Interesting to note that the wagon never came with a manual in the R model.


I think I'm onto the name now. SR-71's also 'flew under the radar'...


More like 'blasting through at rediculous speed'


Yes! They were also pretty quick at carrying a camera about :)


Very clever indeed! Do I win a prize for my correct guess?? haha


Sure, let me just grab something from the store.

Oh, wait.


I love reading your updates weather it be on project gti or project Habu. My daily is a EQT stage 2 16 mk7 gti dsg on h&r sport springs on vmr710. Ive had it for 4 years now and its been the best daily/autocross weapon Ive ever had.


I loved my GTI, they offer so much performance potential while remaining a car you can comfortably use everyday.


You helped me in understanding what the GTI is capable of and seeing your mk6 GTI is what inspired me to get my mk7 GTI.


Love seeing updates on this! I'm really enjoying my '17 Mk7.5 Wagon/Estate, and have just started putting together a "to do" list of mods for some mild weekend track use and daily driving duties.


It would be hard to look past a rear sway bar, camber top mounts and maybe a stage 1 tune to completely transform the car from stock.

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

When you can read about a Porsche, GT-Rs, a Ferrari, an NSX and two Peugeot 106 Rallyes, I’m not really sure that a white Golf estate will excite any of you on the same level it excites me.

Are you kidding Paddy? All those cars and none of them are a wagon, and I believe I speak for most of us when I say we all love a good wagon!


Thanks mate, and I (obviously) love a good wagon as well.


Great article, it's just a different feeling reading this when you have a Golf R of your own :)
How did you get to -3 degrees of camber in the end? I have a set of those top mounts coming (thanks to Black Friday) and I am not aiming for that much but since they're fixed there's not much wiggle room (pun intended) :)


I've been trying to dig out old alignment sheets to confirm, but I think it was around -1.5 before we installed the top mounts, which then add another -1.5

AFAIR, there's no camber adjustment on the front of these cars otherwise.


Love the update and don't be afraid to share more of Habu! I've been searching for a facelift (18-19') Sportwagen for about a year, but the prices are through the roof. A low mileage one is $5-8k more than it was a year ago. Some are more than than they were new.


I was very lucky that I managed to buy mine just before the prices bounced back up, don't think I could have afforded it otherwise if I'm being honest.


Habu is my favourite SH Garage car.
I’ve got an NM35 Stagea so also in the wagon life, love cars that are fun but still fly under the radar. I love reading about Habu as it gives me ideas on how to improve my Stagea without sacrificing daily comfort too. Keep up the good work


I don't think I've seen an NM35 in person yet, but there have been a few of the older models floating about over the years, including a couple with the R34 front conversion. Awesome cars.


I love this car! Its very simple visually but if you are into German cars, wagons, and Japanese wheels...this is pretty much all you need. Its interesting to see your choices after moving from that MK6 GTI...suspension is important!


It's a completely different thing from the factory (R & GTI), and the DCC dampers are so good compared to the stock GTI ones that it's hard to justify replacing them (until they absolutely have to be changed).

I do miss the versatility of air and how easy it was to have the car sitting just right without having to worry about scraping over things, but I'm not sure if I want to do away with DCC.


try hooking up with Kean suspensions in Belgium. i'm sure they can make you something


No doubt those Kean guys are top drawer, I just need to figure out what I need from the car first.