Despite modified Mk5 Golfs being extremely popular, the Gen-2 Leon, which shares the same platform, is a rare breed indeed. Riki Jones-Heaton’s modified Mk2 Leon might just change a few people’s perception, though…
Feature taken from Performance VW. Words & photos: Jon Cass
While the Mk5 Golf is no stranger to the pages of PVW, for some reason the Mk2 Leon – which shares the same very capable platform – is a rare visitor to these pages. And that seems a shame as the 1P Leon not only came with those striking looks and a range of fine power plants as standard, it was also a strong performer in the BTCC in its day, often battling it out at the front of the pack. For sure, not many VAG cars can boast such a cool motorsport history, of winning races that had you sat on the edge of your seat.
Luckily, the Catalunya built Leon still has its fans who rate it above its more commonplace Golf sibling and among them is 27-year-old Rikki Jones-Heaton who’s taken his 2007 Cupra further than most would dare.
Beginning his car ownership inventory with a Citroen C2 when he was just 18, Rikki restricted his mods to 18” rims and rally mud flaps to keep insurance costs down but soon he moved on to a Mk5 1.4 Golf. “I was beginning to take note of the VAG scene by then and a Mk5 Golf seemed like the right choice at the time,” Rikki recalls, “unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be such a great car.” Sadly, the Mk5 was something of an impulse buy and a closer inspection revealed it had been subjected to a previous accident and not repaired properly, the crazy paving body panels providing a clue and the radiator falling out not long after confirming this. “It was also unbelievably slow, but the prospect of replacing it with something faster and that hadn’t been in a crash, by now seemed within my budget,” Rikki explains.
Despite this particular Golf’s shortcomings, Rikki hadn’t been put off by Mk5s and initially began looking towards the highly rated Golf GTi. “There was no shortage of Mk5s for sale, but I began to take notice of the SEAT Leon Cupras that kept cropping up as I loved the looks and they came with more power with the KO4 turbo as standard along with bigger brakes. I found Leons were often cheaper than the equivalent Golfs too,” Rikki tells us.
Not wanting to make the same mistake he did with the first Mk5, Rikki took his time tracking down the right Leon for him and after five viewings he’d finally found it. “An immaculate bright red Cupra came up for sale in Birkenhead, I rang straight away and put a deposit down that same weekend,” he recalls, “the salesman told me I’d been lucky as he’s had 100 people in the last few days wanting to buy this particular car!”
It was a good buy too, the Cupra felt smooth and like new, Rikki’s initial plans were to restrict the mods to a set of rims and lowering springs, but how often have we heard that one before? “Once I’d started attending shows and seeing what everyone else was doing, the more inspiration came to me,” Rikki smiles. As planned, the wheels received a subtle change, now being repainted black while the spoiler was painted to match too and a set of coilovers provided a lower stance. “After five months I’d got used to the power and opted for a stage 1 map with 300bhp,” Rikki tells us. “Two weeks later the clutch let go so I had an uprated item fitted and then thought I might as well go for even more power!” Stage 2 came next, along with a more than useful 350bhp, while polybushes, an induction kit, cat back exhaust, a facelift diffuser and an Autotech fuel pump and intercooler were also added to the mix.
The coilovers certainly improved the handling, but Rikki was keen to ensure his Leon would stand out at shows and so he soon opted for air ride. We should point out here, Rikki is happy to carry out any work on his car himself. With the help of his mate Duncan by his side the pair created a neat boot build to house the air tanks and compressor. In fact, the boot build is already on its third incarnation, they’re such perfectionists! Both Rikki and Duncan have enjoyed working on this car so much, they’ve now set up their own business called REDesign customs, providing air ride, audio and boot build installs. Their custom fitted air ride centres around an Air Lift V2 system with full performance bags and dampers, while the rim of choice by now was a set of 19” Inspiris. Rikki’s Leon was beginning to grab people’s attention.
The Barnsley-based tuning company Performance Direct is a familiar name to PVW, you’ll probably recall their mental bright green 1.8T Lupo GTI with silly power from a few years back if not one of their other jaw dropping creations. Having the advantage of living not too far away from the Performance Direct unit, Rikki had began attending shows with the team there and a trip to the 2015 Humber car show proved to be quite an eventful one! “We were all travelling in convoy and my engine let go at 145mph, showering my mate, Matty’s Passat R36 with oil and piston number four,” Rikki recalls, “my Leon now sounded like a Subaru running on three cylinders, but I still managed to limp the car to the show.” A call was made to the recovery services an hour before the show ended so Rikki wouldn’t have to wait around after the results had been decided. Incredibly, Rikki’s Cupra picked up a trophy for best club car that day despite its lack of oil and piston and he probably goes down in history to be one of the happiest guys ever to be recovered from a show!
A return to the gloom of reality the following day at Performance Direct revealed the engine had ran lean and melted piston number four, Rikki made the decision to send the TFSI to TSR Performance for a rebuild. “While the engine was out, I had the idea to try and tuck or hide every wire and remove everything that wasn’t needed,” Rikki tells us, “after work each night, I set about chopping and smoothing the bay and somehow everything worked out fine and nothing caught fire!”
Once the now fully forged 2.0 TSFI had been returned by TSR, Rikki took the week off work to reinstall the engine. An oversized induction kit, R Tech pvc delete, CNC inlet manifold and RS4 145 bar fuel pressure return valve were also added around this time as was the custom twin exit exhaust, fabricated by Performance Direct themselves. “Once the engine had been run in, I took the car to R Tech Performance for a few map changes, leaving it in the capable hands of Niki Gower,” Rikki explains, “a few changes to the exhaust were made and a new welly cooler developed for my particular car.” The result not only looks stunning, the figures are impressive too. Now with 377bhp and 400lbft torque on tap, this Leon is proving to be a real hoot to drive. The only downside to that smoothed bay being the complete removal of the air con and firewall insulation as the cabin now gets quite toasty inside, but it’s a small price Rikki is willing to pay! “To be fair, I didn’t think it’d ever run again after I’d played around with the wiring so much, so I’m happy to put up with the extra heat inside the cabin,” he laughs.
Any changes to the interior had so far been neglected, but luckily Rikki’s close friend Emily at Luxe Auto Interiors was willing to help out here. The steering wheel, centre console, dash, hand brake gaitor and door cards have all now been retrimmed in black flocked material or contrasting red and grey Alcantara along with that fresh boot build Rikki had built with his mate Duncan. A pair of supportive Corbeau bucket seats stick with the motorsport theme Rikki was now aiming for and that colour coded rear cage now looks right at home too.
Certainly, the biggest instant transformation around this time was for Rikki to opt for a set of 19” OZ Superleggera split rims in metallic bronze with gloss black lips and chromed copper bolts. We couldn’t imagine another choice of wheel suiting this car any better.
Rikki’s attention then returned to the bodywork where he chose to enhance the Cupra’s striking looks with tinted rear lights, aftermarket side skirts, front grilles, and a Mk1 Cupra front splitter to produce a much more menacing look. “I also managed to locate various carbon parts from Unique Carbon which I reckon suit the car better than the standard plastics,” he adds.
As we pointed out earlier, Rikki has taken his Leon further than most and you’d imagine he’s reached a stage he’d now be happy with the result, but then this guy doesn’t suffer from any lack of ambition or determination. “There are a lot of changes to come over the next year including a full 4WD set up as its not funny spinning the front wheels and unintentionally swapping lanes at 60mph,” he smiles. “I’d also like to fit a full cage and wide arches along with a fresh respray for that full touring car look.”
Should all this go to plan and knowing the crew at Performance Direct it probably will, we’d expect Rikki’s Cupra to create a storm in the coming show season. We’re just pleased he’s managed to unleash the Mk2 Leon’s potential and will no doubt provide inspiration for others to follow.
Tech Spec: Modified Mk2 Leon
2.0-litre TFSI fully forged engine, KO4 turbo, oversized induction, full stainless exhaust system, R Tech welly cooler, R Tech PVC delete, Audi R8 coil packs, NGK iridium plugs, CNC inlet manifold with runner flap delete, air con delete, hidden/ tucked wiring, high pressure Auto Tech fuel pump, RS4 145bar fuel pressure return valve, low pressure pump mod, carbon canister delete, custom twin-exit cat-back exhaust by Performance Direct, mapped by R Tech making 377bhp and 400lbft torque
OZ superleggera alloys, Air Lift Performance v2 air ride, poly bushed chassis, uprated brakes, wheels are finished with gloss black lips and bronze centres with chromed copper bolts
Mk1 Cupra Splitter, spoiler, aftermarket diffuser, aftermarket grilles, tinted rear lights, side skirts, Unique Carbon supplied carbon fibre parts including grille surround, wiper arms, slam panel, door handles and scuttle panel
Carbon fibre detailing, flocked dash doors and center console, retrimmed arm rest ,steering wheel and door cards in alcantara, full boot build by REDesign customs, Corbeau Bucket seats, colour coded half cage