We take a look at HavAir’s modified Mk1 VW Golf van…
When it first burst onto the global scene, one of the things the Mk1 Golf was most notable for was the fact that it was a hatchback. It couldn’t have been more different to the Beetle that it unceremoniously elbowed out of the way, and the Golf ably jumped onto the bandwagon already populated by the Renault 5 and the Fiat 127, taking the concept and trying to make it its own. Ford were certainly watching with interest, their Fiesta joining the party a couple of years later.
And it’s perhaps the Golf’s inherently hatchback-y nature that meant that, when a convertible version of the Mk1 appeared, it refused to die – while the original hatch was replaced by the Mk2 in 1983, and then the Mk3 in 1991, the Karmann-built Mk1 cabriolet remained on sale from 1979 right up to 1993. People just couldn’t get enough of them.
Obviously the Golf you’re looking at here isn’t a cabriolet (the steel roof is a bit of a giveaway, isn’t it?), although you’ll spot that it is wearing the factory bodykit from the late-model Clipper cabriolet. However, it isn’t a run-of-the-mill hatchback either; while it does sport a tailgate, it’s not a family runabout – it’s a van. A genuine Golf van, in fact, from 1982, which started its life as an Edenbridge fire tender. So the fact that it’s Mars Red is very appropriate – it’s just the right colour to fit in with those shiny bigger-brother fire engines it used to chase about back in the eighties…
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the 1980s of course, and this Golf van today does the rounds in modern-modified guise; while there are certain elements of it that are period-perfect, this is a bona fide 21st-century build, taking the classic platform and neatly contemporising it. It’s the work of HavAir, an air-ride specialist that you’ve undoubtedly heard of as they’re all over the scene, with many of their top-flight builds appearing in these pages over the years. Geoff Skinner is the head honcho, and mastermind behind this project: “Yep, it’s a genuine van, not a conversion,” he confirms. “I picked it up nine years ago. After its life as a fire service vehicle it had been left under a tree, I had to rescue it!”
There was a fair amount of remedial work to get the aesthetics up to scratch, as you can imagine, but Geoff and the team’s efforts have resulted in something beguilingly flawless. Well, almost. “I have to say that the van’s travelled all over Europe going to shows for the last couple of years, so you’ll need to forgive any imperfections,” says Geoff. But that’s just the doting curator in him talking. What you’re looking at is a straight-as-an-arrow Mk1, resplendent in a fresh coat of its original paint shade, rocking that Clipper kit like a boss. But yes, it’s been built to be used – it’s a promotional tool after all, so you’ll find a sensible diesel under the bonnet, as there’s a lot of miles to munch in the course of the van’s duties.
Sensible? Alright, perhaps sensible is the wrong word. You see, this isn’t the boat-anchor diesel that used to be fitted to Mk1 Golfs back in period. That 49bhp plodder wouldn’t cut the mustard here. No, the HavAir crew have shoehorned in a PD130 turbo-diesel from a Mk4 Golf; they’ve also uprated the intercooler, stuck in some bigger injectors, knocked up a custom 2.5” exhaust system, and had the motor remapped to 193bhp. So it’s not a plodder. It’s an absolute headcase. All that horsepower in a tiny little vehicle like this, coupled with all of that stump-pulling torque? The damn thing’s a riot.
And let’s not forget the real work this Golf has to do. As a promotional tool for an air-ride specialist, it’s got to have a pretty impressive bag setup, doesn’t it? And peering underneath doesn’t disappoint, as your gaze is met by bespoke HavAir struts, running Firestone bags and Air Lift 3H management. Lifting the tailgate reveals a glorious install too, showcasing the twin Viair compressors and three-gallon air tanks – along with the part that really ties the build back in to Fast Car’s 1987 roots: the audio. See, stereo installs used to be such a big deal on show cars, and while that’s still the case for some, you’re far less likely these days to find an ostentatious neon-lit boot build crafted from acres of fibreglass.
And what Geoff and HavAir have done here is to beef up the sounds but install it all very tastefully, to match the artful presentation of the air-ride componentry. We’re looking at a full Phoenix Gold setup, packing twin amps, a punchy 8” sub (and subwoofer technology has advanced massively over the decades, you get just as much meat from something like this as an old-school fifteen in the nineties), and 6” mids and tweeters in the doors. Which is perfect for all those Euro road-trips – Geoff can listen to The Archers or catch up with the Test Match Special in perfect clarity.
The final flourish for this build is the wheels, which are frankly gorgeous. If you saw this van on the show scene last year you’ll have found it rolling on Fifteen52 Snowflakes, but the rims it’s packing now have a retro supercar vibe, the 3-piece Autostrada Modena’s design being lovingly inspired by the Ferrari F40. Perfect!
TECH SPEC MK1 VW GOLF VAN
Original fire-service Golf van, Mars Red, Clipper Cabriolet bodykit, de-badged and de-wipered tailgate, early Mk1 taillights.
PD130 1.9-litre turbo-diesel (from Mk4 Golf), remapped to 193bhp, uprated intercooler, bigger injectors, custom 2.5” exhaust system.
7×16” (front) and 8×16” (rear) Autostrada Modena 3-piece wheels, Toyo tyres, bespoke HavAir struts and top-mounts, Firestone bags, 2x Viair 444c Black compressors, 2x 3-gallon tanks, Air Lift 3H management, GTI brake system with Mk2 16v servo and Mk1 239mm vented/drilled front discs.
Flocked dash, Corbeau RS seats with matching interior panels, boot install by HavAir, Phoenix Gold audio inc. 2x Black amps, 8” sub, 6” mids and tweeters.
Words Dan Bevis Photography Dan Pullen