Euro-look Series 1 Volkswagen Golf MK1 runs Polo 1.4 16v
After a brain injury left him in a coma, Mick Matthew’s stunning Mk1 Golf project was nearly his last. Luckily, he’s now back to full health and plans on enjoying his latest and greatest build to the full...
Words and pics: Dan Sherwood
Euro-look Series 1 Golf runs Polo 16v on bike carbs with carbon inlet in smooth bay
Superstition can be a very powerful thing. For the people who buy into the whole idea that our fate is somehow influenced by external factors such as what clothes we wear, the order of certain actions we make or simply the act of seeing something that’s slightly unusual, it can be a very real phenomenon that’s not to be taken lightly. But while there are countless items or situations out there said to doom us with their bringing of bad luck, on the flipside, there are also plenty of talismans we can use to counter them. Think four-leaf clovers, horseshoes and the slightly grisly rabbit’s foot. To people who don’t believe in superstition, they are just three disparate objects, but to those that do believe, these simple items can give them the confidence that life’s going to turn out alright. Now 44-year-old Mick Matthews is not what you’d call a superstitious bloke, but when the time came for him to call on a little bit of luck, we reckon his history of nine previously owned and modified Mk1 Golfs (or Rabbits, as they are known in the US – see what we’ve done here?), must’ve stood him in pretty good stead…
“I’d had two other yellow Mk1s in the past so was thinking about changing the colour to orange”
“Back in November 2020, I suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is basically a bleed on the brain,” Mick explains. “I don’t really remember much about it to be honest, as I was in a coma for just over two weeks. It was touch and go for a while as to whether I was going to recover.”
“It was very solid and rust free but the car was far from perfect"
But luckily for Mick, the doctors were able to sort out his noggin and nurse the VW-mad plumber back to health, which was a blessing not only for him and his family, but also for us equally Dub-obsessed petrolheads, as it means we get the chance to ogle over his latest and greatest Mk1 project that he finished before his injury.
“This is actually the ninth Mk1 Golf I’ve owned,” smiles Mick. “The first one I bought in 1996, after learning to drive in a 1972 Beetle.” Back then Mk1 Golfs were cheap and plentiful and, considering Mick’s humble Beetle beginnings, actually seemed like quite a modern car in comparison, with a few more creature comforts to keep him happy and much better reliability too. This early experience with VW’s boxy little hatch made a strong impression on Mick’s teenage brain and, other than a brief dalliance with a Corrado G60 in 2006, there has been a Mk1 of some description sitting on the Matthews’ driveway ever since.
“I’ve always enjoyed modifying my cars and the Golfs were no exception,” laughs Mick. “From lowered suspension, to paint jobs and even engine swaps, they were all highly modified. I like to do as much as possible myself, and had actually began building another Mk1 with a 2.3-litre V5 engine, but when I saw the yellow one come up for sale in 2017, I just had to have it, so I sold my previous build to fund the purchase.”
Based on a lowly 1977 1.1-litre N model, the previous owner had already swapped out the puny stock lump for a more modern 1.4- litre 16v AFH engine from a 1995 Polo 16v. Not only that, but it was running on a set of throaty Kiehin 600cc motorcycle carbs with a Reverie carbon-fibre airbox.
“I’d seen the car before on the internet and thought it looked like a great build so when I saw it was up for sale, I jumped at the chance,” remembers Mick. “It was very solid and rust free but was far from perfect, as the paint wasn’t the best and even though the engine was running and low mileage, the head gasket was on its way out and it was losing water.”
But Mick’s not a man that shies away from a challenge and parted with the Åí6500 asking price and took the yellow peril back to his Sheffield home to begin the process of perfecting the project.
“I already had a pile of parts that I’d acquired for the previous build sitting in my garage unused, including the of 8x15in Axis OG san alloy wheels that I’d for over 10 years but never fitted!”
But before Mick got too deep into the project, disaster struck, as he over-revved the engine, destroying the valves, pistons and rings.
“I didn’t know that you lose the rev limiter when you fit bike carbs and was giving it a rev-up on the driveway when I heard a big bang,” Mick winces. “As the head gasket was due to be replaced the engine was coming out anyway, but now it needed a full rebuild too!” While the motor was out, it gave Mick the perfect opportunity to give the Mk1 the kind of clean, show-quality engine bay that the naughty carb’d motor was crying out for. But before he got busy with the smoothing, welding, relocating, deleting and tucking needed for the minimalist look, he carried out a modification to the suspension that would prove invaluable to the way the car rides and drives.
“It was already sitting on a set of H&R Ultra Low coilovers, but didn’t drive or ride very well, as running the car that low was compromising the suspension travel and geometry settings,” Mick explains. “To remedy the situation I modified the strut tops by raising them two-inches with Porsche 924 top mounts,” he said.
He also fitted Noath Precision 50mm ball joint extenders and a rose jointed track rod flip kit, a standard GTI front anti-roll bar, ST Suspension ST rear anti-roll bar and a full polyurethane bush kit.
“The suspension upgrades have made a massive change to how the car drives and is probably my favourite modification of the build,” he beams proudly. And seeing the quality of the rest of the finished build, that’s quite some statement!
The engine bay alone took Mick around seven weeks to complete and, while he was at it, he decided to extend his sanding skills to the rest of the bodywork, prepping the stripped shell with the help of his mates Ogle and Scott Simpson for a full respray.
“I’d had two other yellow Mk1s in the past so was thinking about changing the colour to orange,” recalls Mick. “However, it was in such good condition I felt I should keep it original and just refresh the standard yellow, unfortunately I struggled to get anyone to spray the car as people were saying it was too much work!”
In the end, Mick struck gold with Ben at Sons Of Guns Spray Parlour in Rotherham, who took on the job and smashed it out of the park. The panels were first to go under the gun, with the shell following shortly afterwards. The whole metallic jigsaw was then reassembled in Mick’s garage at home. “While I was building the body back up, I sent the short block away to a local engine specialist to have it rebuilt with new pistons and rings,” Mick says. “I then did the necessary head work including installing new valves, springs and retainers before combining the pair back at home and preparing it to go back into the tucked bay.”
The Mk1 already had a Facet Posiflo fuel pump, Sytec fuel pressure regulator and a Mk2 distributor and ignition module from when the 1.4 engine was originally installed by the previous owner, but Mick added a new Jetex 50mm exhaust system, complete with a Titanium heat wrapped 4-2-1 exhaust manifold, a set of gold plated pulleys and engine bolts, a Porsche oil filler cap, an S1 top-fill radiator with slimline fan and Anti- Gravity lightweight battery.
“I also made sure to include an Omex Clubman rev limiter, to ensure no more overrevving issues in the future,” Mick reveals sheepishly. A sensible choice!
Once the motor was complete, Mick dropped it back in the bay and reconnected the Polo 5-speed gearbox. By this point, the Mk1’s makeover had taken almost six months and the show season was quickly approaching, so he took a week off work to smash out the rest of the build and get it finished in time for the car’s maiden outing at the 2019 Dubfiction show.
Like the minimalist exterior, which remains largely as VW intended with the exception of a pair of German postie-style rear lights, the interior is similarly sparse, with only a 350mm Momo Heritage Prototipo steering wheel with gold plated bolts and a series 1 GTI centre console with TIM Superdash LED electronic tachometer and water temperature gauges adding just a hint of sporty style.
“I worked every day until gone 1am that week to get the car ready for the show, but in the end all the effort was worth it as the car came away with a Top 10 trophy,” smiles Mick. “Then a few weeks later, it scooped the Best Mk1 award at the Mk1 Golf Owners Club AGM meet too, so I was over the moon with how well the build was being received.”
But just as the car was hitting its stride, the dreaded Covid lockdown stopped the world in its tracks and Mick’s magnificent Mk1 was consigned back to the garage.
“As we all know, most of 2020 was completely written off, but just as things were starting to ease, that’s when I was fell ill and ended up in hospital,” Mick explains. “My recovery took around fi ve months to get back on track again, but now I’m better, I’m keen to enjoy life and my Mk1 as much as possible.” And we don’t blame him! It’s not often you get a second chance at life, but with Mick’s awesome lucky Rabbit doing its thing to get fate on his side, that’s exactly what he’s got, and he’s not going to waste it.
- ENGINE: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, 16v (AFH), rebuilt and gas-flowed cylinder head, fully rebuilt block, Kiehin 600cc motorcycle carburetors, custom billet aluminium inlet manifold, Reverie carbon-fibre airbox, Ramair performance cone filter, Facet Posiflo fuel pump, Sytec fuel pressure regulator, Mk2 Golf distributor and ignition module, Omex Clubman rev limiter, 4-2-1 exhaust manifold with Titanium heat wrap, new flexi-joint, Jetex 50mm stainless steel exhaust system, gold plated pulleys and engine bolts, Porsche oil filler cap, S1 top-fill radiator, slimline fan mounted in modified radiator cowling, tucked wiring loom, Anti-Gravity lightweight battery. FWD, 5-speed Polo 085 manual gearbox
- CHASSIS: 8x15in ET25 Axis OG san gold alloy wheels with 165/50/15 Nankang Ultra Sport NS2 tyres, 25mm rear spacers, H&R ultra-low coilovers, Porsche 924 modified strut mount and gold-plated top cap, Noath Precision 50mm ball joint extenders and rose jointed track rod flip kit, seam welded lower arms, standard GTI front anti-roll bar, ST Suspension ST rear anti-roll bar, full suspension and steering polyurethane bush kit, GTI calipers and vented and MTEC grooved discs (front), standard drum brakes (rear), Series 1 1.1 non-servo master cylinder
- EXTERIOR: Standard 1977 Golf N shell, resprayed in original Riyad Yellow, semi-smoothed engine bay and battery tray removed, rear towing eye deleted and smoothed, base N-spec bumpers sprayed original LO91 silver with matching grille surround trim, Mk1 Golf diesel grille badge, N spec side and sill trims, rear arch spats removed, original flag mirror and near-side mirror blank plate, Hella H4 headlights, Postie style rear lights, clear rear window glass, original 1977 toughened glass windscreen with manufacturer running-in sticker
- INTERIOR: 350mm black Momo Heritage Prototipo steering wheel with gold plated bolts, N spec black and white check low-back seats, series 1 GTI centre console, TIM Superdash LED electronic tachometer and water temperature gauges, battery mounted behind centre console, original four-speed gearknob, original roof lining, carpets, doors cards and parcel shelf, ToricT-76 automatic seat belts (rare)
- SHOUT: ben_sonofagun at Sons of Guns Spray Parlour for the paint job, Joe Ogle and Scott Simpson for helping with the bodywork preparation, my partner Janet Wright for the love and support and putting up with countless projects over the years