Volkswagen Golf GTI
My Project Car
The Story Behind The Car
After my second car, I knew I wanted a performance, sporty and iconic car for my 3rd car. While cars like the Nissan R32 GTR and Nissan Silva S14 where in my dreams, but (just a bit) out of my price range, and not practical enough for everyday use, I decided to go for one of my favourite generation cars, the Volkswagen MK4 Golf.
I decided I wanted to go for an older Volkswagen Golf, as I had a few friends who had them and always thought of them as cool, and they have a reputation of being reliable. The more I looked into different options for cars it became apparent that Golf's where affordable, reliable and easy(ish) to work on. So I pulled the trigger and bought one in May of 2020. I bought a Volkswagen MK4 Golf GTI 1.8t AUM from 2001.
I purchased this car with 75,000 miles, unmodified from a private seller. To find one unmodified and in good condition (which this example was) is rare and I am very lucky to have found this car. Originally, I just wanted to do some basic maintenance like an oil change, filters and spark plugs. That went out the window as soon as I started getting my hands dirty!
The gentleman I purchased the car off was extremely helpful and genuine, and worked as an aircraft mechanic. When the car needed work doing, he would do the work himself and bought genuine parts. He replaced the turbo and front brakes before I purchased the car. He informed me that the cam-chain tensioner in the engine was in need of replacing soon, as it made a small rattle on start-up, and he had intended to replace it. He had purchased the part and gaskets to do the job, and included them with the car! He just never got round to doing the job. He also informed the rear brake discs & pads would need replacing as they where worn.
After doing my research and purchasing parts, I decided to get the car to 100% and replace the tensioner, rear brake pads and give it a good service. Little did I know I'd get sucked into a hole of modifications and a few months of work...
Above are some pictures from when I changed the cam-chain tensioner. What I thought would be a 2-3 hour job, became a 6 hour test of patience with me and my dad figuring out how to get the dam thing out! This job was pretty involved for my first time properly working on a car! Being a bike mechanic I had knowledge of how to work through complicated mechanical problems and basic mechanic skills, but this job really got me hooked on working on cars. There's so much more to consider and you have to be so much more cautious working on the inner working of engines compared to bikes, with the much closer tolerances. I had to take off the valve cover, remove the intake cam and remove the cam timing chain. It was a great exercise for me and my dad, I think we did a great job. The engine runs smoother than ever, no check engine lights and I even gave the engine bay a good clean.
The next day I moved onto the rear brakes. Bear in mind I did all of this work on my driveway with the car on jack stands. I wish I had access to a ramp or lift, but jack stands got the job done. I ended up replacing the stock rotors with bigger, performance-orientated vented rotors, which required new calipers, which meant I could paint the calipers, and that I'd need new brake lines too. I found out the shocks and springs could ideally do with replacing while I had the wheels off, so I opted for H&R 35mm lowering springs to lower the car and performance shocks. The easiest way to perform the job was to remove the rear subframe/axle, which meant it was a good time to replace the rear subframe bushes too. So of course I opted to upgrade them to Powerflex poly bushes! A classic case of the upgrade hole, where the more you do the more there is to upgrade! I love the look of a wider stance on cars, so I got 20mm H&R hubcentric wheel spacers for the rear, and to top it all off, I balled out on a Miltek Catback exhaust. This made the car sound awesome and looks the part too, with polished exhaust tips!
All this work took a number of weeks, with the car being on jack stands 90% of those few weeks. Parts took a while to arrive and I had to juggle working on the car and working at my job full-time, while learning how to do the jobs correctly and safely. But I wouldn't change a thing!
That was just the rear axle. At the front end, even more modifications and maintenance took place. To match the 35mm lowering springs in the rear, I replaced the front springs too with the same 35mm H&R lowering springs, full Powerflex control arm bushes and painted calipers to match the rear. I then opted for 10mm H&R wheel spacers to keep the wheels even in the arches, as the front was already offset more than the rear from factory.
I really went 110% with this car. I chose to remove the steering knuckles to paint the with anti-rust black paint and install new ball joints, remove the lower control arms to paint them with anti-rust paint and install the new bushings, replace the inner & outer tie rods and boots as they where seized, replace both front axles as the CV joint boots was starting to perish and replace the axle nuts and shock boots & bump stops.
It was essential to bleed the brakes after removing the calipers, which I did with performance brake fluid of course! I also opted for 4 new Goodyear performance tyres, as the old tyres where mismatched and fairly worn. These along with all the suspension mods made the car handle like a dream!
After all of these jobs, I got the car professionally aligned, which is essential after having new suspension components and track rods. Being a professional bike mechanic, I have always been taught good habits like using loctite/grease/copper anti-seize and most importantly to use a torque wrench set to the appropriate torque for the component. This was no different for my car and I can safely say every bolt you can see I have torqued and checked by me, which gives me so much confidence in the car when driving. The technician at the alignment centre was blown away at the car, and offered me a job after we had a chat about all the work I had done to it!
The engine bay
After the car had sound suspension, steering and braking systems on all four corners, I put my effort into modifying and servicing the engine. I never wanted to get super high power out of the engine (until present day), but I wanted a solid powerhouse that was easy to work on. The stock vacuum setup on these GTI's is very complex to meet emissions regulations, but after some research, I found you can do an SAI/N249/PCV delete/simplification. I chose to do this and the car has passed the MOT emissions test just fine. It makes the engine bay so much neater, reduces the places for boost leaks and allows you to run an oil catch can - which I installed.
My main goal when getting the car was to do a good service, so I did a full fluid and filter change. Oil, coolant, power steering, brake fluid, gearbox oil, I even flushed the washer fluid tank, oil filter, cabin filter and a performance RamAir intake where all put in the car. I also changed the coil packs, spark plugs, battery, coolant reservoir and coolant pipes.
In terms of performance upgrades, there was the RamAir filter mentioned but also the turbo intake pipe (TIP) was changed for a high flow version, a diverter valve was installed and a flash tune was put on the ECU. This upped the power from 150BHP stock to 180BHP (not dyno-ed yet, just what the tune quotes).
Finally I decided to go over the top and paint lots of the components in the bay. I painted the valve cover, intake mainfold and some corroded plates to get that wow factor. I used high temperature paint and I think the end result is amazing.
Now the car's suspension, steering, braking and engine systems where all up to scratch, I turned to the exterior and interior of the car. I've got a replica R32 bumper installed, LED R32 headlights, black grill, short aerial, and wind deflectors, nowhere near as many mods as the mechanics of the car. Overall as a person I value performance, safety and longevity over looks, but I still really like how a car looks. Its just the exterior comes second in my opinion over the mechanical parts mentioned earlier.
I spent about 2-3 days completely 3 stage polishing the exterior paintwork and ceramic coating the paint after I got the bumper installed. I also completely deep cleaned the interior, shampooing and scrubbing the seats, carpet and headliner. Speaking of the interior, all I've really done there is install a boost gauge, Bluetooth head unit and R32 trim.
This car was a money and time pit from many peoples view, just not my own view. I love this car and I intend to keep it for as long as possible. I've put time, blood sweat and tears (literally) into this hunk of metal and it repaid me by getting me to college everyday for 2 years straight with no hiccups, it got me round the country on my bike with my friends whenever I needed it and got me to France and back with no problems. I've made so many friends from just speaking about it. I'm sure it will continue serving me and getting me from A to B with a massive smile on my face for the foreseeable future.
I smile everytime I get into this car, everytime I look at it, I smile driving it. That's all that matters to me.
My long term dream is to have a future workshop and enough time to pull this car to its shell, to its bare chassis, and rebuild it, assemble every nut and bolt, including the engine, myself. To get it to show car level. To make it a true dream build. Hopefully one day this will be a reality.