Tuned 2.1-litre Volkswagen Golf Mk2

Tuned 2.1-litre Volkswagen Golf Mk2

A car that’s been on the scene almost as long as we have. Back in 2003 Grant Fearby’s Mk2 was very brown, very wide and very cool. Little has changed, or has it? Words: Jimbo Wallace Photos: Ade Brennan.


Back in September of 2003 I was but a young buck recently employed to work on a niche motoring magazine called Golf+ (Wash your mouth out – Ed). It was the dream job of writing about modified VWs built by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. It was literally a life changing switch from being a civil servant to a fully paid up member of the press doing something that everyone involved loved beyond measure – still do!

Tuned 2.1-litre Volkswagen Golf Mk2

Aside from being in competition with a rather splendid magazine called PVW, which arguably always snaffled the cooler cars, there was always an ongoing quest to feature the superior machines. Anyway, in September 2003 a young chap by the name of Grant Fearby came to us with a brown Mk2 Golf built by himself and his Unit 21 collective of mates. At the time, they were turning out some seriously epic and award-winning machines, and G+ managed to bag the lot because we seemed to gel with the Newcastle-centric mob rather well. Fast forward some 18 years and I’m still writing about cool cars and meeting equally eclectic and interesting folk. In fact, it’s worth pointing out that in the same issue Grant’s Mk2 first appeared, I was forced to dress up as David Dickinson and carry out a feature entitled Bargain *unt, which referred to how to buy a cheap Mk1/Mk2 Golf and modify it for less than £3000. Oh, how times have changed…

Tuned 2.1-litre Volkswagen Golf Mk2

What hasn’t changed, well… not massively anyway, is Grant’s pursuit of utter perfection for his snarling 8v Mk2. “It was only on the road for around three years,” says the canny 46-year-old Newcastle lad. “Life kind of got in the way of messing about with it. You know how it is, getting married, a couple of kids and a couple of houses all kind of took priority over dicking about with the car.” That’s not to say he wasn’t grafting on other people’s projects constantly though, “I’m a sprayer and fabricator by trade, and I was constantly in and out of jobs. One day, a few years back, I’d just had enough, downed tools on a new job after three days and phoned my missus. When she said, “So what are you going to do now?,” I said, “I’ll just throw open the doors to Unit 21 (at the time a storage space and workshop that Grant shares with his pals Mitch, Jay and Boycie). “and see what happens.” Some four years later, Grant now has a three-year waiting list on his hands, so it’s safe to say that Unit 21 Restoworks has well and truly taken off for him. Deservedly so judging by the quality and attention to detail of his work and the ethic that drives him. Not only is he the most chilled out bloke ever, he loves taking things apart that probably don’t really need rebuilding. ~To be fair the Mk2 was still in good condition. It was dry stored for 16 years with not a spot of rust on it, but I was never really happy with what I did initially.”

Tuned 2.1-litre Volkswagen Golf Mk2

An original 1990 Digifant 8v with a PB motor onboard, Grant had already fabbed up the new metal wings with the extended arches back in 2003 to accept 9x16 Borbet A rims, but as he got to stripping the car back to a bare ‘shell and placed it on a rotisserie his plans quickly escalated. “Everything came off the car, even took the floor back to bare metal underneath and ran new brake and fuel lines inside the car,” Grant revealed. While he was at it, attention also turned to drastically re-smoothing the engine bay as he went at the scuttle panel, firewall and the inner wings with newly fabricated panels. Grant also re-routed the throttle cable, deleted the servo and master cylinder and replaced them with a home made dual master cylinder, bias bar pedal box – it is a true work of art and there’s so much time and love invested Grant hasn’t really got a clue how long he’s spent on it.

“I have and always will be about the old skool, I can’t be doing with anything made after 1992"

You can tell it was built a little while back because the engine remains an 8v that we recognise as belonging to the cars original form, something he’s capitalised upon with the deleting, re-routing and tidying of every possible exposed cable, pipe or unsightly millimetre of metalwork. Because this car sprung up as the ‘Cleaned’ phenomenon was really kicking off in Belgium and mainland Europe, Grant’s relentless quest has resulted in ‘minimal’ being taken to the extreme. It’s not all show either, despite the custom top fillrad, twin 45 Weber carbs, Mangoletsi inlet manifold and the highly desirable Schrick cam cover the level of polish and endless Autosol addiction, is backed up by plenty of shove.

While the Audi 3a ‘bubble block’ engine was out of the hole, Grant set to fully rebuilding everything – oversized Karl Schmidt pistons now take it out to a 2.1 and although Grant hasn’t really got a clue how much power it’s making, the noise and the theatre amplify the attitude beneath the bonnet. “I have and always will be about the old skool,” muses Grant. “I can’t be doing with anything made after 1992.” As the custom made stainless 2.75” exhaust barks into life and the carbs settle to that wonderfully retro, slightly lumpy idle there’s absolutely no doubt this car means business.

Of course, while he was busy spending a few weeks with the Porsche Herb Brown top coat Grant also managed to rework those mighty tasty arches, fitted OEM chrome CL bumpers and lost the passenger side mirror as well. It’s almost as if Grant could predict the back-dating that would siesmically shift the Porsche world with the likes of Singer, only he was doing it in the early noughties.

Most significantly though comes the story of those rims, “I’d always wanted a set of the Borbet A split rims, but of the handful of sets produced I could never quite stretch to the crazy cost of them. If, and when I found them, as I believe Borbet only made something like 750 sets in total.” Grant revealed.

Small wonder then that whilst browsing through a popular auction site, he’d regularly see sets in the lofty heights of the £4000+ stratosphere. “Then I clocked a set on eBay one night going for a very reasonable price. I bid the guy £100 less than he wanted and to my surprise, he accepted.” Laughed Grant. Only problem was they came in an anaemic 7.5x16 and he needed slightly more girth to make the Mk2 shine. Having commissioned a set of outer lips to bring them up to 8.5x16 all round, six months past and nothing happened, so they were scrapped in favour of a new set that were eventually manufactured by Harry at Image wheels. “Only problem then was the centre caps.

They’re even more difficult to get hold of than the wheels themselves, so when my polisher went through one, I had to have another one made to suit. That took a further six months, so all in all I spent about two years getting this set of wheels together.” beamed a jubilant Grant. Totally worth it though, mate. When mated with an extended back axle with stub axle spacers as well, those 235/35 Hankook S1 tyres occupy those arches with the same sort of capacity as a pie eating contest at St James’s Park, i.e – they’re full! Step inside and Grant’s rather obvious fetish for back-dating, and his outright love for the air-cooled side of Volkswagen's fi nest is evident. Simple, stripped back, pure – it’s a testament to the minimal.

An early Wolfsburg crest steering wheel kicks it off as the go to bit of retro glamour, while Mk2 Recaros are now clad in Moo cow that was presumably fed a diet of nothing but Ginger biscuits, Biscoff and the occasional tin of Heinz tomoto soup, or maybe not! Who knows, either way the interior also smacks of keeping things simple, and that’s a philosophy Grant can fully get behind, “Even though things look simple it’s often the most difficult look to achieve.

I love the air-cooled world for that, they genuinely seem to be so creative and are always pushing the boundaries for flair and inventiveness. Yeah, my car has been around for what seems like forever, especially if you remember the original version of it, but I can tell you now it’s better than it has ever been and I’m never going to sell it”

Having scooped and top ten prize at MIVW back in 2019, there’s no doubt Grant’s recipe is most definitely working. Will we see it back her in another 17 or so years? Here’s hoping…

«Only problem was the centre caps are harder to get hold of than the wheels»


  • ENGINE: 2.1 litre 8v, Karl Schmidt oversized pistons; Audi 3a bubble block, PB ported and polished cylinder with Schrick camshaft, Twin Weber 45mm DCOE carbs, Mangoletsi inlet manifold; Schrick cam cover; top fill radiator; custom made exhaust manifold and 2.75~ Stainless exhaust system; fully smoothed engine bay; fully polished 020 five speed gearbox; throttle cable rerouted; wiper linkage relocated
  • CHASSIS: Custom built 8.5 x 16 Borbet A split rims with Image dishes and new centre caps; Hankook 235/35 x 16 S1 tyres; Unknown stainless steel German coilovers; Powerflex bushes throughout; extended back axle and stub axle spacers; Eibach ARBs; custom DIY bias bar, twin master cylinder pedal box, servo and master cylinder delete from engine bay; Wilwood four pot calipers with 280mm G60 discs
  • STYLING: Fully refinished in Porsche Herb Brown; Mk2 Golf CL chrome trim bumpers and grille; custom metal arch extensions, passenger mirror delete; smooth rear boot plinth; Porsche door handles; fully detailed and rebuilt from the ground up
  • INTERIOR: Mk2 Golf Recaros retrimmed in nappa leather; early Wolfsburg crest steering wheel; stereo delete panel; golf ball gearknob, Beetle window winders
  • SHOUT: Friends, family and Unit 21 crew (@unit21restowerks)
«Getting married, a couple of kids and a couple of houses all kind of took priority over dicking about with the car»
Article type:
No comments yet. Be the first to add a comment!
Drives TODAY use cookie