Wait! What? B18-powered VW Caddy? Yes, you read that right… and it’s on hydraulics. The rule book has been ripped up and drop kicked by this one. Purists look away now.
Feature from Performance VW. Words: Graham Leigh. Photos: Tony Matthews
Much of this B18-powered VW Caddy story is pretty familiar. Twenty-six year-old Jake Crocker, a builder and woodworker from Barnstable, Devon became interested in VWs during his childhood. “From a young age I’ve always been interested in cars and being able to mod them. I always loved watching West Coast Customs and seeing how far you can go with a car”.
At 18, Jake was the proud owner of a SEAT Arosa. He bought the Mk1 VW Caddy you see here shortly afterwards and would alternate between the two. Although the MTV influence shows through again with the ultimate goal of a second-gen Ford F100, the Caddy is by far Jake’s ultimate VW: “The Mk1 caddy has always been my dream Dub, I think mainly for the tailgate and how good they look slammed”. The modifying bug hit with the Caddy and that became an ongoing project as a string of daily drivers held temporary residency. A brief dalliance with a BMW E46 330d was followed by further VAG fayre in the shape of a Corrado, two Passats and an Audi A4.
As with many modified cars, the Caddy went through several iterations before the groundbreaking evolution that graces these pages. The car was bought back in 2013. At this stage, it was lowered on coilovers with the de rigueur flipped rear axle. Despite looking the part, the Caddy’s kryptonite of rust had to be addressed: “I got most of the bodywork done and had it painted white just six months after buying it. I drove it like this for a further year before putting it into storage and going travelling,” Jake said.
The gap year had given Jake plenty of time to think. He wanted to take the truck to the next level and do as much of the work as he could himself. The car was stripped to a bare shell and the real hard work could then begin.
By this stage, Jake had decided that he wanted a full hydraulic suspension setup. Although he is modest about his skills, this is a pretty involved process. The floor was chopped out and raised, then the arches were also brought up and widened to allow aggressive fitment, stance and camber as the photos testify here.
Ever the perfectionist, the nip and tuck process continued even after the car had been painted, once again, in the glossy white laid down by the talented Josh Day of JD Autos. “My mates who rent the unit with me came in one evening and saw that I’d cut half my floor out just 2 weeks from getting it back from paint. I think they were planning an intervention!”. The changes led to an improved fitment of the 4 bar link, hidden fuel filler flap and oak bed. The high-end hot rod feel of the polished wood boards, aluminium strips and brass fittings give a clue to Jake’s day job. The powder-coated 4 bar link at the front of the load bay manages to mix old with new. The hydro system features a Rayvern Hydraulics ram box and pump. Jake fabricated the rams and four-bar link himself.
The original 1.6-litre diesel engine was removed and replaced with the tried and tested 2.0 ABF 16v and twin 45 Weber carburettor combo. Although a fan of this set up in noise and performance terms, Jake just felt that aesthetically the busy, old school looking setup didn’t gel with the minimalist smoothed engine bay and clean uncluttered exterior (featuring a deleted swage line and fuel filler door). So what else might work?
“One of my mates joked about putting a Honda engine in it but I loved the idea! The weekend after, March 2019, I was London bound for a Honda Civic. Once home, the B18 VTEC engine was removed and, amazingly, was test fitted in the Caddy a week later”.
Getting the engine sitting perfectly and running was more involved but still, impressively, completed within a month. The metal body mounted engine supports were cut from the Civic and adapted to fit. In a successful bid to retain 4×100 hubs, Honda and VW driveshafts were shortened and welded together to provide the template for custom made items. The Honda also liberated its 5 speed LSD equipped transmission. A Crazy Quiffs pedal box was then drafted in to complete the package.
A H-Tune stainless-steel manifold was used and Jake fabricated a custom exhaust from here back to mate with the Caddy’s heavily re-worked chassis. A Ramair induction kit further amplifies the VTEC war cry. The Honda loom and ECU were used and adapted.
Jake states that the engine conversion was his favourite part of the build: “It just seemed very unlikely and very challenging but everything went together smoothly and it all just seemed to work out. I was very stressed about this part of the build but it became the most enjoyable and rewarding part”.
The interior works well and, much like the rest of the project, there was a vision and theme from the off. Jake had decided to use Honda clocks and an iPad but wanted the interior to be subtle. He fabricated a custom dash mating the Honda hooded binnacle with a fibreglass plinth. The finished article was flocked but incorporates a section of plaid cloth which is also used for the door cards, gear gaiter and rear bulkhead under the sliding rear screen. “It was a bit of a pain trying to hide all the hydro cables, B18 loom and brake lines in such a small cab but I got there in the end”. A deep dish wooden OMP steering wheel, custom shifter and Polo 9N3 GTI seats provide the icing on the cake in an interior that, again, successfully mixes the old with the new.
Back to the aforementioned retained 4×100 hubs. Interestingly a further JDM pinch of spice was thrown into the mix in the form of the rolling stock. The gorgeous Works Meister S1s originally adorned a friend’s MX5. A super aggressive et of -10 with a staggered fitment of 8.5/10J. Only the Honda centre caps give an external clue to the uninitiated. These 15” wheels confidently fit in with the dare to be different design brief of this build. A Corrado G60 front and rear disc conversion live behind the killer hoops ensuring that this truck can stop almost as strongly as it pulls.
Subtle finishing touches like the early powder-coated golf front bumper with oak inlay, rear bumper delete, crosshair crystal front lights and rear red and clear crystal clusters bring the car together in a well thought out, stylish way.
So what next for the Devon-based mould breaker? “I plan to turbo this Caddy next year. I also have another Mk1 Caddy shell waiting in the wings. I’m torn between winning back the purists with a factory standard build or attempting a RWD conversion”.
Somehow I don’t think this will be the last we see from Jake Crocker. It’s like he’s just kicked in, YO!
Tech Spec: B18-powered VW Caddy
Honda Civic B18 VTEC with five-speed Honda Civic gearbox with LSD, Honda loom, ECU and fuel pump, H-Tune manifold with custom exhaust system, Civic engine mounts adapted to fit Caddy bay, Crazy Quiffs pedal box, Fully smoothed the engine bay, custom driveshafts, Ramair induction kit
Mk1 caddy 1990 shell with lifted and modified floor pan to accommodate fully adjustable hydraulic suspension system incorporating a custom 4 bar link, rear shock towers, camber adjustable top mounts, bespoke rams, Rayvern Hydraulics ram box and pump, Corrado G60 front and rear disc conversion, 15” Work Meister S1alloy wheels et -10 all round with staggered 8.5/10J Widths, Honda centre caps, wrapped in Toyo Proxes
Resprayed in white, swage line deleted, fuel filler door deleted lifted and widened arches all round, load bed fitted with oak boards with aluminium strips and brass fixings, hidden hatch for access to fuel filler, sliding rear windscreen, crystal crosshair front lights, crystal red and clear rear lights, rear bumper delete, early Mk1 golf front bumper powder coated black with polished oak inlay
Custom dash mating the Honda hooded binnacle with a fibreglass plinth incorporating iPad, flocked but with a segment of plaid cloth which is also used the door cards, gear gaiter and rear bulkhead. Deep dish wooden OMP steering wheel, custom shifter and Polo 9N3 GTI seats, battery relocated to behind passenger seat