It’s not the first time this heavenly modified VW Caddy Mk1 project car has been rebuilt. Disciple of perfection, Charlie Pearce gave it some divine intervention…

Since leaving school, 40-year-old Charlie Pearce has worked at his family business, a garage in Bath. This has given him a huge breadth of experience in the motor trade and his daily grind is never the same, carrying out anything from an MOT test to a full engine rebuild. Before he could drive, Charlie was already getting his hands dirty. His automotive journey started when he was just 15 with a Mk1 Astra GTE. Characteristically, rust took its toll on the poor little Vauxhall and it was replaced with a Nova SR which was the first car Charlie drove on the road. A brief foray into Fords was enjoyed in the shape of an Escort GTI before returning to the griffin with an Astra Coupe Turbo.

front on shot of Modified VW Caddy Mk1

Fascinated by VWs

Charlie explains how he eventually saw the light: “I started to go down the VAG route next with a Seat Leon Cupra, closely followed by an immaculate VW Golf Edition 30 which I really regret selling. With a young family and two dogs, it just wasn’t big enough. My current daily car is a BMW 3 Series Touring which does the job!” Although it took Charlie a while to convert to the church of Volkswagen in ownership terms, he explained that he had an early love affair with the brand: “From a very young age, I can remember going on holiday to Lyme Regis with my Gran and there was always an immaculate sky blue split screen VW Beetle there. I loved it and this is when I became super interested in VWs. I liked Beetles, campers and MK1, 2 and 3 Golfs and the scene in general.”

Charlie recalls attending a track day at Castle Combe back in 2012. A couple of early golfs at the circuit had caught his eye and he took to the classifieds to explore the possibilities. Whilst the Mk1 Golf was high up the wish list, he was sidetracked by the strangely appealing hard working commercial brother that is the Mk1 Caddy and then made the decision to go with the truck. “I love the look and shape of the MK1 & 2 Golfs but whilst searching for one, I kept getting drawn to the look of the Caddy, they are just that little bit different but still with the iconic MK1 Golf look.”

rear shot of Modified VW Caddy Mk1

Buying the VW Caddy Mk1

The modified VW Caddy Mk1 you see before you was discovered in an eBay advert in nearby Taunton. A typical old farm truck, it had been left languishing in the elements and muck. The bed had rotted through, as had the rear sills but with solid and un-dented rear arch tubs, and an otherwise sound body, the one owner, 92,000 miles 1.6D example was loaded onto the trailer after the princely sum of £550 had been handed over.

Trax show

Upon buying the VW Caddy in 2012, Charlie and his stepfather wasted no time and they soon had a new rear bed and inner sills welded into place. The car was then sent off to be painted (with the exception of the engine bay) in the retrotastic shade of VW Lofoten Green. BBS reps and coilovers completed the makeover and Charlie hit the shows for the next few years and enjoyed it.

Working at a garage with a strong local reputation is a good thing in many ways and Charlie was able to call upon his and his stepfather’s skillset, knowledge and facilities. The trouble with having high standards is that you’re often your own worst critic and the odd niggle that the project could be improved upon got increasingly louder until he took it off the road in 2018. Here, the truck was stripped and the second rebuild was to be the full show standard project that Charlie had been hatching the plan for.

Modified VW Caddy Mk1 engine bay

Mk3 Golf GTI engine swap for the modified VW Caddy Mk1

Charlie enjoyed the reliability of the trusty 1.6 diesel but it was never going to give him the hot hatch-level kicks he had become accustomed to with the plethora of modified metal that he’d previously owned. He decided to remove the hard-working little oil burner and weld up and smooth the bay whilst it was empty. A terminally rusty but mechanically sound Mk3 Golf GTI 16v was purchased for its ABF heart.

The engine was stripped and then sent to DY Engine Services for machine work which included lightening and balancing the crankshaft, lightening the flywheel, reboring the block to accommodate oversized Wossner pistons, and porting and polishing the head. A pair of Weber 45 carbs sing through a four-branch manifold and custom stainless exhaust. This little lot makes for a rev-happy 170bhp. “My favourite modification of the entire build has to be the twin Weber carbs. An ABF engine with a pair of these just goes hand in hand. The sound they make whilst driving makes me smile.”

mk3 golf gti engine swap

Chassis tidy up

Charlie welded and smoothed the ‘bay before test fitting the freshly rebuilt ABF and mocking up pipework. Once happy, the car was then stripped again and sent to TA Simcox for paint including the underside. Once back from the body shop, all suspension components were powder-coated matt black. BC coilovers were fitted up front which has eradicated the skippy ride of the previous cheaper units. Out back the axle has been flipped and two-inch lowing blocks fitted along with Koni adjustable shocks.

The ABF was installed and those gorgeous wheels bolted up. “As much as I like the look of a set of BBS, I wanted something a bit different so I opted for a set of Audi A6 winter wheels. Their simple design looks so good on a MK1. I bought this set from a guy I follow on Instagram which were straight with no kerbing. I sent them off to Rimscarnated, Chippenham to have the PCD redrilled to 4×100 and for ceramic polishing.”

aftermarket alloy wheels

Exterior styling modifications

Charlie was keen to keep the styling simple. A small chrome front bumper, new front grille with chrome trim, and non-GTI front lower chin spoiler complete the timeless face. The debumpered rear shows off the flawless paint whilst the black waistline trim breaks up those slab sides nicely. The OEM+ vibe continues inside the cabin with the original seats retrimmed with classic grey check centres and leather outers. New carpets replace the tatty originals and a Golf centre console with VDO gauges allows a watchful eye to be kept on the vitals.

Modified VW Caddy Mk1 interior

Modified VW Caddy Mk1 Transmission upgrades

A considered transmission package consists of an 02A gearbox using an 02J gear selector tower, Mk4 golf gear shifter cables and shifter assembly, hydraulic clutch conversion and a T4 TDI .658 fifth gear. A bias brake pedal box and Vauxhall 256mm vented front brake disc upgrade ensure that the lightweight commercial stops as well as it goes.

rear 3/4 shot of Modified VW Caddy Mk1


With the VW Caddy being stripped for its second rebuild back in 2018 and now gracing Performance VW for a well-deserved feature after years of hard graft, is perfectionist Charlie finally happy? “I knew this time it had to be right. With the fully rebuilt ABF running twin Webers, a fully smoothed ‘bay, fresh paint, new suspension and wheels, I have to say that I’m finally happy with the Caddy.” Amen to that.

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Words: Graham Leigh. Photos: Chuff Media.