1983 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 with Optional VDO gauges
Here at PVW Towers, we are frequently asked what it takes to make a feature car. There are no hard and fast rules to this. This Gorgeous Mk1 GTI with a select few period mods is proof that sometimes less is more…
MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
Words: Graham Leigh
Photos: John Langley
If we had a pound for every time someone asked us how to get into the mag, we would be laughing all the way to the bank. Sadly we don’t but on a happier note, nothing raises the spirits more than a Goldilocks spec Mk1 (you know, “This Golf is just right” said Goldilocks excitedly). A Mars Red GTI is a strong, iconic starting place for a build but this feature shows how, sometimes, it’s about knowing when to stop rather than pushing the boundaries.
Derbyshire-based William Hague (no, not that one, this guy is only 27) is more used to modern metal with a day job as a car sales executive. In his personal life, he is a VAG man through and through, starting his driving career in a Polo 6N2. The plucky first car was upgraded with a Mk5 Golf TDI. It was with this car that the modifying bug really took hold: “It was an SE model so as standard it had the boring bumpers, seats, and pretty much everything else. The mods started with me fitting coilovers and I gradually developed it with GTI headlights, R32 rear, Mk6 GTD tartan seats, Mk7 steering wheel and AccuAir suspension. I had numerous wheels on it including genuine Helios alloys and BBS RS2 super concaves.” Various other VWs have passed through William’s hands including a 9N Polo Vortex and both a Mk6 and Mk7 Golf GTD. An Audi A4 2.0 TFSI now takes care of daily duties.
William started to get the retro car itch when he saw his best friend frequently swapping and working on cars. Various VWs came and went from his mate’s lockup including ‘breadvan’ Polos and Mk2 Golfs. William's cousin owns a Mk2 GTI and another pal had started a Mk1 project that caught his eye. “I always really loved old angular hot hatches and a red Mk1 GTI was a bit of a grail car for me. I originally found this Mk1 whilst looking on Car and Classic one evening. It was just what I wanted. I didn’t want to waste time selling my Mk5 so I asked the owner if they fancied a swap. Thankfully they were looking for a newer iteration so we did a deal. I was straight down to Surrey for the exchange.”
William’s plan for the car was always to keep it simple. The car originally came on steel wheels but after a year these were changed for Polo 6N2 GTI BBS wheels for a sportier feel. When a set of the coveted 15” Pirelli P Slots came up for sale locally though, they were duly snapped up. “I had heard they were quite rare and I always liked the OEM+ look. I bought the wheels and managed to find some centre caps which were an eBay bargain. I have kept the wheels since and I don’t think I will ever sell them. I have bought a set of BBS RMs for the show look but most of the time I leave it on the P slots as it drives much better and I love the look of it”.
«I always really loved old angular hot hatches and a red Mk1 GTI was a bit of a grail car for me»
The car came on old coilovers of unknown origin which were hard and seized. The decision was made over lockdown to upgrade to a set of MTS Technik/Eibach coilovers. These reportedly represent a sweet spot for a combination of value for money, comfort, adjustability and improved handling. In keeping with the ethos of the build, the stance is enhanced, purposeful and usable.
Despite part of the charm of this car being its simplicity, the build and journey to making it a reliable classic have been anything but straightforward. When the Mk1 was picked up, it was impressively solid but oil consumption was an issue. It was hoped that the comparatively easy task of fitting new valve stem oil seals would save the day. An inspection revealed that it needed a full rebuild. The bottom end was stripped and cleaned and fitted with Wossner pistons, new piston rings, lightened crank and new rods. The head was machined, new valves fitted and a Kent KS2 cam and vernier pulley increases the urgency of the already peppy eight-valve powerplant. All new seals and gaskets were fitted to ensure another 40 years of reliability. “It took a couple of years to make it right. After issues with ignition coils and timing, it is finally running amazingly thanks to the help of my dad and my mates”. A custom stainless exhaust is a nice visual upgrade and enhances that GTI engine note without being obnoxious.
The car came with retrofitted small chrome bumpers but these were at odds with the period look that William was aiming for. Tired-looking original plastic bumpers were included in a spares package that came with the Mk1. These were refreshed and restored by a local specialist and fitted up. William has an eye for a bargain that puts David Dickinson to shame and the BBS front bib spoiler was another eBay triumph. Ordinarily, this is a sought-after period enhancement that is sprayed body colour. Initially, the part was duly painted in Mars Red and fitted.
«It is finally running amazingly thanks to the help of my dad and my mates»
The appearance wasn’t quite in keeping with the subtle package though. “I thought it was a little too much so I taped around an indentation and Plasti Dipped the lower end black. It changed the look massively and blends much more naturally into the black plastic arches, helping the car flow better in my opinion.” New Hella front lights further uplift the fresh front end. William also has a Hella rear spoiler and heckblende which are rare cool parts in their own right but he seems to have made the right call for this particular styling exercise in leaving them off.
William has exercised similar restraint with the interior. He has a Wolfsburg and two BBS steering wheels in his impressive parts stash but has opted to leave the iconic quad dimpled 1983 item in place. Optional VDO gauges allow him to keep an eye on the freshly built engine whilst the deckchair striped pews do their period thing. “The interior is pretty much standard. The car is used and the interior looks used. It isn’t perfect and I wouldn’t want it that way. I like that it's honest and I don’t mind jumping in and out of it without being too careful.”
The build has taken four years to perfect and now William is keen to enjoy the fruits of his labour. William recalled with a smile that the car’s initial show was Fitted UK three years ago where it was belching oil and only selecting three gears. He cannot wait to put some miles on what is now a fully sorted example. With prices of Mk1s seriously on the up and the market demanding originality, could we be seeing more stock-looking cars with simple reversible mods becoming more commonplace? If they look as good as this, maybe that’s no bad thing.
«I like that it's honest and I don’t mind jumping in and out of it without being too careful”
DUB DETAILS 1983 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1
- ENGINE: 1.8-litre 8v original engine fully rebuilt with new gaskets and seals, Wossner pistons, new piston rings, new rods, lightened crank, head fitted with new valves and Kent KS2 cam, Kent vernier pulley, custom stainless exhaust
- CHASSIS: MTS Technik/Eibach coilovers, 15” Pirelli P Slots, Hankook tyres
- EXTERIOR: Mars Red, BBS front bib spoiler sprayed body colour with Plasti Dip lower section to mirror GTI bodykit
- INTERIOR: Optional VDO gauges
- SHOUT: Ellis Burton, Scott Burbridge, Josh Taylor, Luke Wilson, John Sherburn, Mick and my father, Chris Hague and anybody else who has helped along the way