R32-swapped 1991 Volkswagen Golf CL Mk2
No matter which generation it was produced in, everybody loves a bright red Golf GTI and Taison Shelter’s R32-swapped Mk2 example is a true knockout machine!
Words: Ted Dorset
Photos: Tony Watson
The need to work with tools began as a child for Thaison (pronounced ‘Tyson’) Shelter, a plumbing salesman by trade and a BMX/VeeDubber at heart. ‘Thai’ claims that he was “born with a wrench in his hand.” Hi father was a man of the tools, so it’s only natural that Thai would grow up working with his hands.
Like most of us as kids it was R/C cars and bikes that appealed early on. The Mk2 bug bit Thai a little later on when a buddy of his bought an 88 GTI 16v. That was a game changer! It’s safe to say that Thai thought that particular car and all that his buddy did with it was just the “raddest”.
It was actually Thai’s friend’s 16v that encouraged him to scoop up an ’86 GTI as a project! With his build in mind, he set forth on the Interwebs to obtain all the parts and inspirations he would need to get this one up to snuff. Living in Oregon and working in Las Vegas, however, made it hard for Thai to get parts regularly. So, on his off days he would haul parts back and forth to ensure he had all the parts he needed.
In his daily searching, thumbing through Facebook Marketplace looking for parts, he stumbled upon a guy selling a bunch of bits he desperately needed! As usual, the messaging started and on the last day before he was set to drive back home. This was a parts haul like no other, because as he turned the corner on the guy’s block, there she was, sitting under a tree! A ’91 Golf CL! Of course, he looked it over at fi rst, but he was really only there for parts. It was a shell, but it had a motor, the R32 was already swapped in. There it was, gleaming in 2013 Audi S4 Brilliant Red! No. He had to concentrate, because he was there for parts. He looked over the parts but kept glancing back at the shiny red thing under the tree. Like the apple in the Garden of Eden, it couldn’t be resisted.
Thai held his mental ground and got his parts, but then it happened. He turned and asked the parts guy about the car. “How much?”, Thai asked. The guy laughed in a way that made Thai feel like there wasn’t a chance in hell that he’d let it go. The laugh was followed by an inquisitive, “Well, I’m not sure. There’s a guy who wanted to fly out here from San Francisco to buy it, but….”.
This opened the door to negotiations. The parts were loaded in Thai’s van and numbers began to fly. Thai threw out a number for the car, which was sans the wheels he didn’t like, a reasonable counter was thrown back. Now here’s Thai on his 13-hour drive back home pondering how to explain to his wife, why he had this “hoard” of VW parts and the purchase of yet another VW…
Two weeks later the car is back home in Thai’s garage. The swap, smoothed engine bay, and paint had already been done, which had some odds and ends that Thai didn’t like. So, he took the car apart completely, down to the shell, and reassembled it all to his liking including rebuilding the motor in the process. It was having a cold start issue, which you can say was rectified by his OCD. With this, he’d now gotten it running, threw on the Bonrath single round grille/lights, the blick grille spoiler, some stock wheels, and hit the streets to show it off.
From the ground up, everything on this car has been reworked. For starters, it sits on BBS RSs in 8x16” fitment, which sport 2” lips on 6” barrels up front, whereas the rears pop with 3” lips on 5” barrels, all sporting gold bolts. These are actually the 5th set of wheels the car has had in the time Thai has owned it. A week before these pictures were taken, in fact, he reached out to a friend in the PNW VW Community, Chayo, who had these with white faces. He had them powder coated black and the bolts gold plated by another friend, Dave, at NW Wheel and Tire before fitting them up.
The fronts are hiding a G60 slotted and cross-drilled brake setup, while the rear sports stock GTI calipers treated to the same disc setup. When it comes to stance, the wheels are wrapped in 195/40/16s to give the ultimate stretch! The Mk3 subframe has had the rear motor mount cut and remounted to allow the motor to sit level in the engine bay. Talk about OCD!
The Air Lift air suspension setup is in no way free of Thai’s touch either. He custom build the manual management himself, so that everything can be hidden exactly how he wants it. The air tank is colour matched to the car and sitting in the rear interior on Freeland Fabrication stands with the compressor. Admittedly, Thai says that the interior was the hardest part of it all, with the custom roll cage being his favourite. The cage is completely custom with dimple die cut inserts.
The interior had actually been done and redone three times before it made it to how you see it here. It’s been treated to a Mk3 dash, but look closer to see the European VR6 cluster with yellow glass. Digital gauges in the centre help to display how the engine is doing. The car is black and red themed, and this is clear with the interior as well. Black carpet, red stripe GTI door cards, Driver’s Edition shift gaiter/knob, and black headliner. Black race seats with four-point harnesses with red stitching hold you firm.
The steering wheel is somewhat of an heirloom, as it’s graced the column of every car Thai has had for the past eight years. The rear has been treated to a false floor hiding the custom sub box in the spare wheel well. The body colour matched tank fits in beautifully with the cage and accents. But low and behold, the sickness has struck again, as since these pictures were taken, he’s swapped out the seats again for a pair of Momo XL Cups with body coloured back covers and red stitching. It never ends!
Naturally, Thai is very proud of what he’s built. The car is continually changing and evolving. Along with changing the seats, he’s done Audi TT knee bars and centre console with body-coloured console bars, the air tank setup has been redone by Freeland Fabrications and has shaved the hood vents. He says that if he had to go back, what he’d change is installing a Bonrath single wiper. He has started another Mk2 build for his 12 year-old son’s first car. His older son, 16, is into JDM cars and so he will help him build a Miata at some point, too. Thai states that he builds these cars because; “They make me happy. They calm me down and in my ‘Jesse Voice’, I like seeing the faces of others that see it for the first time. It’s an expression of myself and no one is exactly the same.” Well, Thaison, you’ve built one hell of a chariot here, you’ve brought it to the ring, and you floored us with it. Pow!
«They make me happy. I like seeing the faces of others that see it for the first time»
- ENGINE: 2005 R32 24v engine with 02A Transmission and an O2J shift tower with Diesel Geek short shift kit (in Mk4 shift box), custom air intake, full wire tuck, Fabless Manufacturing front cross member, United Motorsports stage 2 tune, EuroKraft harness, R32 down pipes with custom 2.5” exhaust (with V-band connectors), Remus rear box
- CHASSIS: 8x16” BBS RS01, Air Lift bags with custom management, AutoTech sway bars, G60 front brakes with slotted and cross drilled discs, GTI rear brakes with slotted and drilled discs, G60 axles and front control arms, bolt-in custom dimple die strut bars using Autotech bases
- EXTERIOR: 91 Golf CL non-Sunroof shell, full respray in Audi S4 Brilliant Red, fully shaved bay colour matched to body, shaved front fenders and hatch, Happich pop-out rear windows, Bonrath ‘Boser Blick’ bad look upper grille spoiler, Bonrath single 7” round grille, shaved front fogs in bumper, clear headlights sprayed yellow with glass paint, M3-style (clear / Red) with upper sprayed yellow with stain glass paint
- INTERIOR: Mk3 Golf dash swap, Audi TT knee bars, Driver’s Edition gear knob and shift boot, race style buckets with red stitching, 4-point harnesses, rewrapped headliner, Euro VR6 cluster with yellow matched cover, digital gauges (oil pressure, water temp, battery voltage, and bag pressures, old school steering wheel that's been in every car for the last 8 years, rear seat delete, battery relocated with custom battery box, 3-gallon air tank, colour matched Freeland Fabrication tank and compressor stands, GTI black and red stripe door cards, one-off full roll cage. Alpine UTE-73BT head unit, Skar Audio 5.25” speakers mounted in door cards, 3.5” mounted in dashboard, 4x5” mounted in rear trays and 12” subwoofer in custom fibreglass sub box in spare wheel well, false floor, Skar Audio amps
- SHOUT: My wife Samantha for all the support, my kids for helping and handing me tools, my dad for handing me wrench as a kid, my Homie Rich at 369 Custom Fabrications, Freeland Fabrication, Uriel Escalon, Dave @ NW Wheel and Tire, Good Job Rob, F%#K YEAH! Volkswagens & The Homie Ryan Gee, Tony Watson (for the rad pics), Collin at Techtonics Tuning, Ryan at 6651 for powder coating, Spencer and Anton at Quick Dry Restorations
«The Mk3 subframe has had the rear motor mount cut and remounted to allow the motor to sit level in the engine bay»
«He took the car apart completely, down to the shell, and reassembled it all to his liking including rebuilding the motor in the process»