3.2-litre R32 VR6 engined Volkswagen Golf Estate Mk5
Ryan Castleman’s Mk5 estate may be packing a world-first engine and drivetrain transplant, but this is more than just a power game. This guy wants it all… Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Matt Clifford.
The world has changed, and there’s no turning back. Whereas mankind was once satisfied to have progress drip-fed like a hamster’s water bottle, we now need to have everything, immediately, all at once. Look at how television has evolved thanks to streaming technology: back in the nineties, if there was a series we wanted to watch on one of the five channels we had access to, we’d settle in for a half-hour episode at a set time one evening, then wait a week for the next episode. (And if the phone rang, you’d miss it.) Today? The whole thing’s available to binge in one go. And when your favourite band released a new single, it might have appeared on two CDs, a cassette and a 7”, each with different B-sides, and you’d have to try out various shops to collect all the formats; nowadays you’ll have the whole bundle ready to stream from a single click. Your fridge can text you when you’ve run out of milk, Amazon will bring you more in a same-day delivery, and your doorbell will video it arriving.
All of this right-here-right-now culture has had an interesting effect on the modifying scene. We’re not talking about timescales here, but rather the notion of completeness. Look at the Golf estate spread across these pages – there’s no taster-menu approach here, it’s not a gentle project that’s been treated to a smattering of choice upgrades. No, this car has received it all, no stone has been left unturned. Its owner and creator, Ryan Castleman, has streamed the entire series of ‘How to take a mundane Golf and make it awesome’ in one hit and force-fed it all into the unassuming wagon.
He refers to it as a Jetta estate, and that’s fair enough; Volkswagen themselves sowed a few seeds of confusion at this model’s inception. The estate version of the Mk5 Golf appeared quite late in the life-cycle, because initially VW assumed that the Golf Plus and Touran would jointly fill the gaps. But when consumers realised that the Golf Plus was essentially just a Golf for people in tall hats and perhaps the extra space might be more usefully positioned round the back, a new version was developed which was basically a Jetta estate – it had the Jetta nose and front doors, and it was indeed sold in the US market as a Jetta SportWagen. What we’re getting at is that this is an interesting curio in the Golf back-catalogue. It was also a car that was offered to market as something functional rather than exciting, an everyday slogger for families instead of anything particularly aspirational.
But Ryan is an offbeat thinker. He had plans for the overlooked station wagon. And there were to be no half-measures here, this chap was fully committed to the idea. “I wanted a family-friendly car, and I’ve always thought estates can be amazing when done right,” he reasons, and there’s little room for argument there. “This car was completely standard when I bought it back in 2013; it was a basic-spec Bluemotion, running a PD105, in Red Spice.” Perhaps not a very exciting prospect at first glance, aside from the saucy colour, but this was never destined to remain a low-powered family plodder. Sure, it had been purchased with practicality front-and-centre, but for a dyed-in-the-wool modifier like this, there’s never any chance of things being left alone. Ryan had plans right from the start. And this is hardly surprising, given his upbringing: “My dad has always had a range of classic cars,” he explains, “so from a young age I was brought up around them. Due to my ingrained love of cars, I trained as a mechanic and have been modifying them ever since.”
It's fair to say he’s been doing exactly that with gusto, and no small amount of skill. It probably isn’t too much of a spoiler (since your eyes have no doubt already flitted to the engine bay shots) to point out that this Mk5 estate is now running a full R32 engine swap along with the 4motion setup, and that’s a ballsy move with what was once a base-spec 2WD 1.9 TDI load-lugger. Almost certainly a world-first, in fact. But shoehorning in a fat six-banger wasn’t the nascent gameplan. “No, initially I wanted to get as much as I could out of the original PD105,” he says, very much being a man up for a challenge, “but ultimately that was too much for it and I ended up going through three engines! The final time this happened, we were en route to Wörthersee and it let go somewhere near Stuttgart; during the two days it took to recover the car back home, that’s when I decided to do the R32 swap.” Well sure, it’s a perfectly logical response isn’t it? And being part of the everything everywhere generation, simply bolting in the motor and seeing what happened would never be enough. Ryan wanted to go through the whole car, and turn it into what an R32 estate would have been, had Volkswagen had the chutzpah to create such a thing.
“Once the car was back from Wörthersee, I have to admit I ignored it for a while and basically left it to rot until I built up the willpower to start all over again,” he continues. “But when the motivation returned, I started searching around for a full donor R32; I wanted to be sure that I had everything to do the job right rather than buying parts separately. The actual conversion only took a few months, although it all ended up escalating when a full respray happened along with other modifications, meaning one thing led to another. The massive 10-pot brakes didn’t clear the wheels, which then needed spacers, and that meant wider wings…” Yep, it’s the snowball effect of mission creep, we’ve all been there, but Ryan’s insistence on perfection meant that everything had to be properly addressed. The engine appears accurately native in the bay because he’s gone to great lengths to make it look as good as it goes – and with a custom exhaust system, Forge induction, and of course the entire R32 loom to keep it all kosher, it really does go… particularly since he’s grafted in the full AWD setup too. It truly is a full R32 stuffed inside a station wagon. The interior has been wholly made over to suit, there’s no poverty-spec scratchy cloth here: up front we find RS4 Recaros, with a leather R32 bench out back, and a tasteful retrim has brought all sorts of Alcantara to the party. There are Hertz speakers everywhere and proper sound deadening throughout, and the car was a nonclimate model so he’s grafted in the climatecontrol from a Mk6. A comprehensively premium experience as he grips that Mk6 GTI steering wheel and points the Jetta-shaped nose toward the horizon.
We love the ‘go’, but you’ve also gotta have the ‘show’, and Ryan’s expertise and creativity continues to nourish our fevered hunger. Yes, he’s turned the estate into a properly rapid street weapon with the cabin to match, but the way this thing cruises down the street and sits itself down on the showground is just as vital a piece of the puzzle. So the Spice Red has made way for a full repaint in House of Kolor’s own delicious Burgundy, its candy shimmer accentuated by a smattering of tasteful details. The USDM front grille is a classic upgrade to seamlessly lose the plate (and we love that it’s wearing a Bluemotion badge, cheeky boy), and if you’re trying to place that rear bumper, it’s a Mk6 Jetta item. Ryan’s added an Edition 30 splitter and custom sideskirts as well as smoothing off the high-level brake light and the aerial. And the aforementioned need for wider front wings? It was SRS-Tec to the rescue there, the quality fit-and-finish thoroughly in-keeping with such a thoughtful and considered build.
This naturally brings us to the question of stance. HP Drivetech bags is the tech here, working with Accuair e-Level and a VX4 manifold, and it’s what’s filling those tarmac-adjacent arches that’s been blowing people’s minds on the show scene. You’re looking at a set of Audi A8 winters, in themselves a very cool design, which have been converted into three-piece split-rims in staggered widths; Dan at Wheel Unique was the man on the refurb, and the polished aesthetic is a proper show-stopper.
“The car gets used for a variety of things, including as a daily-driver for the family, days out, and as a show car,” Ryan grins, evidently justly proud of his sublime creation. “I know that whenever I jump in this wagon it’ll put a smile on my face, and I’ve finally got to a place where exterior-wise it doesn’t have to be totally perfect, so that means I can drive it how it was meant to be driven.”
Good man, that’s what we like to hear. And if these rumours we’ve heard about building an R30T for it come to fruition, it sounds like there are plenty more adventures to be had. It’s a thoroughly modern build for a demanding world – everything addressed with laser focus, a full mechanical and stylistic download into an unassuming package. Because why should we settle for less when we can have it all?
«It gets used for a variety of things, including as a daily-driver and as a show car»
- ENGINE: 3.2-litre 24v R32 VR6, custom exhaust system, Forge carbon induction, Bentley oil cap, full R32 loom, 6-speed manual, 4motion AWD conversion
- CHASSIS: 9x18” (front) and 9.5x18” (rear) Audi A8 winters – custom-built into 3-piece split rims, refurbished by Dan at Wheel Unique and fully polished, 225/40 Yokohama Advan tyres, HP Drivetech bags, Accuair e-Level with VX4 manifold, Tarox 10-pot front brakes
- EXTERIOR: House of Kolor Burgundy paint, SRS-TEC front wings, USDM front grille, Edition 30 front splitter, Mk6 Jetta estate rear bumper, custom sideskirts, smoothed high-level brake light and aerial
- INTERIOR: Audi RS4 Recaro seats, R32 leather rear bench, full retrim with Alcantara headlining and pillars, Mk6 GTI steering wheel, Mk6 climate-control conversion, Kenwood double-DIN head unit, Hertz speakers throughout, fully sound-deadened
- SHOUT: “Thank you to the boys — Dave, Harrison, Pat and Mikey. My wife for dealing with me when I go wayyyyyy over budget on everything. Steve at Paintworx Loughbrough. And Dan at Wheel Unique.”