1997 Volkswagen Golf Mk3 Cabriolet VR6

1997 Volkswagen Golf Mk3 Cabriolet VR6

West coast American photographer and friend of the mag, Mike Kippen, introduces his family’s latest VW project… a 1997 Volkswagen Golf Mk3 Cabby VR6. Let the games begin…

1997 Volkswagen Golf Mk3 Cabby VR6

It did not take long after getting my GTI on the road to realise that most of the events and drives would mean leaving my family behind – roll cage and race parts, it was not built for kid's seats or comfort. Like any car enthusiast, spending a lot of time browsing Craigslist, we stumbled upon this 1997 Volkswagen Cabrio VR6 for sale nearby at the shockingly low price of $2200! We fi gured, even if it is clapped out it is a decent price for the parts alone (this was in August 2019).

1997 Volkswagen Golf Mk3 Cabriolet VR6

We headed out the next day to check it out – low and behold, it was even better than we expected. If you could look past the bad tyres, cracked windshield and worn roof top… it was running and driving well, plus made all the right VR6 noises. The swap was very well done with super clean wiring, plus it had a full five-stud conversion, DE brakes, Raceland coilovers, 15” three-piece wheels and a catless 2.25” TT exhaust. Deal made, we drove her home and figured this would be a fun, summer car that we could put the kids in and take along to events. Sarah was so excited to have a fun car to drive on a regular basis and it did not take long for the mods to begin!

First, the car needed to be safe, so immediately we did an oil change, replaced the windshield, wipers and put on a fresh set of Yokohama S-Drive tyres. The car was an instant hit with the kids too, top down with the sound of the VR6 is a nostalgic experience. Likely the main reason for the cost of the car in the first place was the worn roof. It was ripped and torn and in very bad condition. Most Cabrio owners will attest, its not cheap to replace the top and we decided that it was worth the investment and to take the jump for a complete replacement top done professionally for almost $3000. All combined, it does not take long for you to realise you just spent almost 1.5x more money on parts for the car you just bought, but either way we were now invested and wanted to see this little Mk3 survive.

It only took about 3 weeks before we hit our first issue through – the engine shut off when we approached a stop sign and refused to start again. Using a tow strap, we got it back to my parent’s house nearby and diagnosed the issue as a bad crank position sensor. A quick swap of the sensor (had a spare at home) and the car started up and has been completely problem free ever since! Now almost a year and a half since we bought it and we have been very impressed by the car; it has been a lot of fun and a very reliable (to date). This car delivers on smiles per hour that are hard to beat.

Then Covid happened. With the world in lockdown, working from home became the new norm. I found myself regularly staring at my 2016 Golf R wondering why I just did an oil change on a car that I only drove 2200 miles in the last year, paying monthly for insurance and just letting it depreciate. Do not get me wrong, I loved the Golf R – but we found ourselves driving the Cabrio on a nice day and the Touareg on longer trips (more space for the kids). So, it was put up for sale and as they say, “the rest is history” — the Golf R sold quickly, and we welcomed the Cabrio into the garage as our second driver!

Let me affirm to you — it does not take much to motivate buying parts and modifications more than becoming one of the main vehicles and a warm garage to work in. And that is how we catch up to where we are today; Our VR6 Cabrio is going to get some love – the goal is to make it a GREAT driver’s car that is reliable, comfortable, and fun to drive on a regular basis. We do not want (yet another) project car or show car, so this is really going to be an exercise in self-control and ensuring the wife and kids are also happy with the outcome (Good luck with that, Mike – Ed).

First things first, wheels and suspension. As purchased, the Cabby came on 15” CSI three-piece wheels and very tired Raceland coilovers. Sadly, the car is just too low (yes there is such a thing), it scraped on absolutely EVERYTHING and the ride quality was horribly rough and bumpy.

I got lucky and recently came across a set of 16” three-piece Image Classic HTs wrapped in Yokohama S-Drive tyres – the very same set of wheels that a few Mk3 friends in the area have used before. Combined with a set of brand-new H&R coilovers, we find ourselves another $2500 into this project, but with a difference in ride quality which cannot be overstated. Combined with a good tyre balance and an alignment, the car is now drivable and handles so much better that it's now actually enjoyable on a twisty road. I must admit, I thought that I would be missing the Golf R more than I am, but for now the Cabrio is getting some love and thankfully its giving smiles back in return. Until next time…

New-to-Mike Image HTs needed a quick balance up before being fitted to car. Raceland coilovers were swapped out for new H&R items which are great. Quick wheel alignment is vital when fitting new wheels and shocks. Being a Mk3 guy, it's safe to say Mike has a good stash of suitable parts for the Cabby, including a crank positioning sensor, which failed early on. New screen, tyres and a $3000 replacement hood were first on the list… Those smiles aren't just for the camera. Cabby may be 24 years old, but is a lot of fun… Before: Cabby was a great base for a fun, family project. Just add love! Mike's a sucker for Image split rims having run them on his last Mk3. We can see why, too!

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