It’s no longer only cool to modify a Golf if its a GTI. In fact, more-door, base model cars with uprated motors are all the rage these days, as Tom Healey’s VW Golf Mk2 demonstrates.
Modifying a car subtly is something that’s really, really hard to get right. Many have tried, and most have failed. It’s a balance that’s hard to hit properly; too much and you’re trying too hard, but too little and it just looks like you haven’t bothered. But, when it all comes together right, the resulting creation can be regarded as a piece of automotive artwork; where everything works in perfect harmony, with understated mods blending seamlessly with rare parts, to create something that looks like it could’ve rolled out of the factory.
Such is the case with Tom Healey’s perfectly formed Mk2. Many of you will know Tom as the man behind The Low Collective, a German car show which celebrated its 5th anniversary this year, as well as carrying an awesome range of merch (free T-shirts in the post, right?). But as well as organising one of the fastest growing shows amongst these sceptre isles, Tom has a full time job as a supervisor at a company that supplies breathing compressors and respiratory compressors. So it’s even more impressive that, with the help of a few friends, he found the time to do 90% of the work on his humble Mk2 himself.
The story behind the car starts, as it so often does, with Tom wanting to buy something else. In this case, he had his heart set on a blue Lupo GTI. After days of backwards-and-forwards with the seller over the price, it became obvious that they weren’t going to be able to come to a deal. So he did what any self respecting petrolhead would do, and looked at something completely different.
After perusing various sites, Tom stumbled across an advert for a super clean, basically standard Polar silver 5-door Mk2. As a 1.6-litre 8v automatic, it was about as far removed from the 6-speed pocket rocket Lupo GTI he previously had in mind, but he was smitten. “When I turned up at the seller’s house to view the Golf, it looked even better in person. Five minutes into the test drive and I’d fallen in love. I knew I had to had it so I shook the guys hand, and bought it there and then.” And that was that. The end. Full stop. Over.
Erm, except that it wasn’t the end. Tom had big plans for the unsuspecting little shopping car. From the moment he saw the advert, he’d envisioned the car on the floor, rolling on something dishy. After three weeks, and at this point knowing the car inside-out, Tom decided that there was no way it would be going low on coilovers; it was just too good an example for that. So, air-ride it was to be.
The car was sent off to air maestros, Only Charged Dubs (OCD), for its transformation to take place. BC BR dampers with OCD’s own bags were agreed on, whilst the compressor and water trap were ingeniously hidden in a period correct picnic basket. The build really is a work of art, in keeping with the rest of the car. The attention to detail is exquisite. When he got the car back, Tom decided that the 16” OZ MSWs that the car came on didn’t quite tickle his pickle, so a set of super-rare 14” Tramonts were dutifully sourced. They needed a bit of love, but that could be done come the winter, right?
Well, after doing a full show season, Tom decided to pull the Mk2 off the road road for a ‘quick refresh’ over winter. Which turned into an epic, five-year long build, which saw the car changing beyond all recognition. Sort of.
It all started with Tom looking at smoothed bays online. “I attended a few shows, and soon got the eye for the shaved engine bays. I loved how minimalist they looked, especially when people keep the original tooling and press marks and yet how well they still functioned. I thought I’d just smooth and paint the bay, paint the original engine and box up and fit the Tramonts. Easy!” How hard could it be, right?
Well, looking at the pictures, you can see just how much work has gone into getting that bay looking like it does. Tom and friends Nathan spent hours removing the rain tray, and it’s so well done it looks like it could’ve come from the factory like that, which is the true mark of something being done right! “That’s one of the biggest jobs we did, and I couldn’t have done it without Nathan’s help. It’s a lot harder than it looks,” said Tom. They also spent many cold nights removing the battery tray, along with all the seam sealer, and welding up the loom holes in the firewall. It’s the little things that make all the difference.
The more eagle-eyed amongst you (or those that have their eyes open) will notice that that doesn’t look like the raging power plant of a 1.6-litre 8v automatic. Well, you’d be right; that’s a fully reworked ABF. On carbs.
It was inevitable that, once the engine was out for it’s repaint, Tom was going to start looking at engine transplants. With an ABF being the obvious candidate, it didn’t take him long to source one at the right price. He wanted to rebuild it anyway, and the lucky power plant found itself treated to a whole host of brand new genuine parts, including all gaskets, rings and seals. Once that was done, there was no chance Tom could put a ropey looking, oil covered engine back in the beautiful bay, so he took his time painting the block gloss black, with the head a contrasting aluminium silver. It’s a timeless look that suits the look and feel of the car perfectly. A set of fully rebuilt Delorto 45mm sidedrafts and a genuine TSR Racing exhaust manifold completed the retro ensemble, and on the dyno tuning run it pushed out a none-too-shabby 183bhp. Spicy.
With the engine complete, Tom had already decided that he was going to run an 02A gearbox setup. No biggie, other than necessitating a complete hydraulic clutch setup in a car that never had a clutch fitted. Tom actually kept the original pedal box in the car, adding on a separate hydraulic pedal.
With this ready to go in, it was time for the car to go to the bodyshop. The original plan was to paint the now smoothed and prepped engine bay, and touch up a couple of spots on the outside. But, this being Tom, the original plan went out the window pretty quickly.
In keeping with the whole OEM+ theme that he was aiming for, Tom decided to make a few subtle changes to the outside of the car. Nothing major, just cutting out the scuttle panel to smooth the third wiper hole that is the scourge of Mk2 owners everywhere. Whilst he was at it, he thought he might as well get shot of the rear wiper and washer holes. Oh, and the aerial hole in the front wing.
“If I’m going this far, I might as well go for a full respray,” thought Tom. Which is exactly what he did. Deciding to keep that original stunning Polar silver hue. The now heavily played with shell was entrusted to AK Bodycraft, who did a sterling job of making it look better than new.
Whilst all this had been going on, Tom had been squirrelling away ultra rare NOS parts, to compliment his build. The insanely rare NOS early seven-slat grille took pride of place, working perfectly with the chrome GL-spec window trims, and the NOS (there’s a pattern here) chrome bumper strips. It all came together to make the outside of the car look just right. He even managed to source a super poverty spec, none heated rear window, which is insanely rare. Even those of us that know Mk2s take a bit of time to spot all the little bits here and there, which is exactly what Tom was going for.
It was during the rebuild, when trying to install the heater box in the engine bay, that Tom did what all of us dread, and cracked the paint in his perfectly smoothed bay. After admitting defeat, the car was handed to Lee at Autoshack, who worked his magic and relocated the notoriously tricky box to the inside of the car, repainting the bay so you’d never know.
With the crisis averted, it was time for Tom to carry on putting the car back together. With the freshly built and painted engine and box installed perfectly, Tom realised that 183bhp would be far too much for the standard car’s solid front discs and rear drums to cope with. With the G60 setup thing a bit done, and Tom not one for doing things by halves, he decided that Porsche four-pots were the way to go. All round. Yup, this is running a full Porsche four-pot setup on the rear.
Tom described the conversion as being ‘quite a headache’ and caused many sleepless nights trying to fathom it all out. But it worked out in the end. Sort of, anyway.
Tom realised pretty quickly that there was no chance his freshly refurbished Tramonts were going to fit over those beautiful brakes. So the hunt was started for a set of 16” RSs. After a few nights trawling eBay, a set of ultra-rare 17” RSs were sourced, and quicker than you can say ‘this postage is far more than it should’ve been,’ the wheels were here. But, of course, there was an issue. “I offered them up to the car, and could instantly see they would need work to fit the rear. I wanted the 17’s to tuck, but only just, and I wanted the back of the spokes to be as close to the face of the caliper as possible.”
After some serious head scratching, Tom realised that in order to get the fitment he wanted, with the specs he wanted, there was only one solution: narrowing the rear beam. A whopping 25mm was removed from either side, but the results were oh so worth it. The wheels ended up being redrilled from 5×114.3 to 4×100, with the centre bore machined to the correct fitment. The lips and faces were ceramic polished by PUC Polish, and rebuilt face mounted with stainless hardware and 1/3 height nuts from the guys at Ehrlich Wheel Works. The results speak for themselves; they’re stunning. Perfect, in fact.
With the exterior coming together perfectly, it was time for Tom to turn his attention to the inside; and he knew exactly what he wanted.
With the car coming with a love-it-or-hate-it brown interior from the factory, there was never any question about losing that originality. It was far too cool. With thoughts of the usual Recaro A8s floating around, Tom knew quickly exactly what it was he needed to keep the interior looking right.
Those front seats are genuine Recaro N-Joy Fishnets. Retrimmed in Kinloch Anderson tweed, with biscuit square centres, they look like they could’ve been fitted as a factory option back in the 80s. Norman at East County Customs was the man trusted to do the work, and has done an incredible job. The rear bench, headlining, sunroof lining, sun visors and door cards have all been trimmed to match, and it genuinely looks and feels like a factory job.
The original brown carpets were left in situ, and all trims, handles and cubbies repainted to match the original brown dashboard. The finishing touch was the Nardi wheel, removed from a period Maserati, and bestowed with a Porsche horn push, to match the Porsche branded glovebox.
It’s fairly uncommon that people get it right with a car build, but to get it as right as Tom has is even rarer. The guys is nothing short of a genius! A modified car is, by its very nature, the sum of its parts. It could’ve been so easy for Tom to go overboard and ruin the build, but he hasn’t. The most apt word we can conure is ‘sublime’, and that’s just fine with us.
Tech Spec: VW Golf Mk2
2.0-litre (ABF) 16v four-cylinder with 02A gearbox, G60 flywheel and VR6 clutch, inlet manifold and head ports matched, twin Delorto DHLA 45s, custom throttle linkage, chrome 45mm trumpets (no filters), TSR racing four-branch manifold with Demand Engineering stainless system (one silencer), Sytec fuel pressure regulator, Facet Red Series fuel pump, radiator and cam belt cover by Fresh Reflection, gearbox mount raised 25mm to make the engine sit level in the bay
183 BHP and 151lb/ft torque
7×17 and 7.5×17 BBS RS 254 wheels (ceramic polished by Puc Polish) with 1” and 1.5” lips respectively. 5×114.3 re-drilled to 4×100 and centre bore re-machined to 57.1mm, stainless hardware, 1/3 height nuts by Ehrlich Wheel Works, chrome and silver BBS badges and face mounted build. BC BR dampers with bags by OCD all round, 3/8” V2 management with single compressor and water trap mounted in picnic basket, colour-coded air tank behind the basket G60 top mounts on the front. Porsche four pots with Ibiza Cupra 305mmx28mm discs (front), Porsche four pots with VR6 288mmx25mm disc (rear), Ferodo DS2500 pads all round, callipers painted body colour by Lee at Autoshack, full custom HEL stainless braided lines, VW Transporter 28mm master cylinder, colour coded, smoothed Mk3 servo with chrome non return valve, stainless hard line and black flexi AN fitting vacuum line. Ball joint extenders, chassis notch, tie rod flip kit, red Bugpack poly bushed through out, rear beam narrowed at the stub axle by 25mm each, Epytech rear hubs and carriers for the four pots, adapted pedal box to take a clutch pedal, back mounted G60 master cylinder up the steering column, reservoir mounted behind clocks in the dash
Body repainted in original VW Polar silver (LA7V) by Peter at AK Body works, engine bay has been dramatically shaved keeping original press and form contours, removed rain tray, engine bay painted by Lee at Auto Shack, battery relocated to the boot, third wiper hole deleted, aerial hole deleted, rear wiper and washer jet deleted, early door trims with late arch spats, NOS Hella lights, NOS seven-slat chrome front grille, small bumpers with NOS chrome trim, GL chrome window trim all round including front and rear screens, non heating element rear glass, all side windows original with number plate etched in from factory
Recaro N-Joy fishnets trimmed in Kinloch Anderson tweed. Square biscuit centres, original rear bench retrimmed to match the front seats, all original door cards trimmed in Kinloch Anderson tweed with new chrome strip dividers, headliner, sun roof insert, sunroof seal and sun visors retrimmed in Kinloch Anderson tweed, all tweed trim work carried out by Tom Norman of East County Customs, A, B and C pillar trims, door pulls, window winders, door pockets, mirror blanks repainted in the original brown colour, parcel shelf is left completely original, original carpets, new chrome in the original dash with 8000rpm/160mph clocks, V2 air control mounted in centre console, period Kenwood tape player (green illumination), Porsche 924 glove box lock, hydro handbrake to suit Porsche four pots, CAE shifter with custom knob to match steering wheel wood grains, genuine Porsche tie pin badge inlayed into the gear knob, Nardi steering wheel with Porsche horn button
Feature taken from Performance VW. Words: Si McNally. Photos: Matt Woods