When Ryan Maretsky confessed ‘Why not?’ was the motto behind his modified VW Golf Mk4, that explained quite a lot to us. Looking at the photos, we’re sure you’re probably getting that similar vibe, too…
Let’s play a little word association game. We’ll tell you a word and you have to quickly say another that has some sort of connection to it. No, it doesn’t matter if you’re reading this on the bus and other commuters will shoot you funny looks. Ok, let’s start. Chewbacca…Tornado…Fender. If your word associated with the latter happened to be the R32 here, then we’re here to help you look beyond those Berg Cup inspired protuberances to realize this modified VW Golf MK4 is far more than meets the metal.
Ryan Maretsky, a 32-year-old clean room manufacturer hailing from the eastern end of Long Island, has owned the modified VW Golf Mk4 you see here for a decade. “The first car I purchased with the intent to build was a 2004 GTI,” says Ryan. “I knew what I wanted, and the general look it would take.” With six months invested, a friend of his father mentioned they were planning to sell their R32. “Knowing what the car was, I immediately called him back and told him I would buy it. I put the GTI up for sale right then, stripped it of all its work, and went to pick up the R.”
Ryan’s car history
Ryan’s automotive history is somewhat short yet sweet, with his first set of wheels being a 1964 Mustang which was replaced with a more practical Toyota 4Runner for college duties. “My grandfather consistently drove off brands like Renault and Citroen when I was growing up,” Ryan tells us. “Plus, my father had a vehicle customization shop, so I’ve been into cars as long as I can remember, but have always had a particular liking for Volkswagens.” We’re glad he does. Enter the R32.
We’re in an odd time right now where values of nearly everything are rising to levels that don’t make much sense. The term ‘survivor’ seems to have become synonymous with an instant premium on the bottom line, regardless of humble origins. Oh your grandma has a taxi-spec 1.8 MK3 Golf with only 60k on it, but threadbare bolsters because she enjoyed Cornish pasties a bit too much? Yeah, that will be 10 grand, mate. You’re not going to find another like it. Sure.
Modified VW Golf Mk4 R32 history
While it may cause pain to some followers of the Cult of It’s Only Original Once, we are willing to bet most of our readership isn’t the type to wince at a hacked up halo. “To clarify, at no point do I regret anything I’ve done to or with this car.” The man hath spoken.
There isn’t enough space here to exhaustively recount the previous editions of Ryan’s R. However, we’re going to briefly walk you down the winding path that leads to present day. By his own estimation, he’s completed nearly 95% of the work on his own. “I’ve had the car ten years now,” says Ryan, “and have changed it 7-8 times. I always enjoyed the car looking OEM+, but after taking it to X amount of events, I wanted something that didn’t follow many of the common Volkswagen paths.”
For those familiar with the R’s progression, please feel free to hit the Skip Intro button. He enjoyed the way it came from the factory for approximately one month before fitting air ride, ditching the Aristos, and canning the back seat. Basic bolt-ons and minor aesthetic mods were periodically fitted over the course of the following few years. In 2014, the exterior lost the rear hatch handle, the emblems, bumper lights and other unnecessary body bits. Two years later, a set of BBS RS alloy wheels entered Ryan’s life that would change the R’s trajectory from mild to wild.
“In order to have the right style faces that fit with the R’s big brakes, with the correct disc size and PCD, I took a local set from a Subaru. They were the right wheels once rebuilt, but the offset put them sitting way outside the fenders. After test fitting the wheels to see that the faces were what I wanted, I got to thinking about a different path. Why make the wheels fit the car, when I could make the car fit the wheels?” And so it began.
Research & Development
Over the next two years, Ryan did enough personal R&D until he landed on the right style of overfenders and making them properly fit. He nonchalantly mentions menial things being addressed, such as some interior modifications and the air ride setup. But wasn’t until 2018 when the transformation to what you see here began.
“In summer of 2018 I decided to do some incredibly wide rears, the wing, and the shaved bay,” Ryan casually recalls. For many enthusiasts, one large project, be it bodywork or the like, is enough to separate the serial modifier from the Pep Boys accessory aisle crowd.
That shaved bay wasn’t as curious as it stands today. Sure, there are pieces that remain similar, such as the ruby red valve cover and beige-coated bits. But top and center, devoid of any intake manifold and commanding every ounce of your attention, sits a pair of turbos.
“The fun current trend is the mirror image twin turbos that you see on LS swaps and other V8s. The V8 is obviously more conducive to the mirror image design, being an exhaust manifold comes up on each side, but I decided if I was going to do this much work, I was certainly not going to hide it between the motor and the firewall. It would be on full display. It didn’t hurt that my motto for this entire car is ‘why not?’”
The rest of the engine bay is easily as impressive, with nothing escaping Ryan’s detailed presentation. Hard lines are used everywhere and the color coordination would make the Power Rangers proud. “All [the lines were] made specifically for each application by hand,” says Ryan. “I cut, bent and flared every single line for the entire vehicle.” The strut towers were also smoothed over, the tops presenting a very unusual lack of strut top mounts. “I have my fitment and wheel alignment finely tuned, so it’s usually not a worry to have it covered,” Ryan informs us.
“The strut damping and adjustable camber is under there, so if I need to adjust I have to drop the top plate down, make my basic adjustments and then refit it. I have camber adjust on the lower control arms as well so I can fine tune. I enjoy the smooth look more than I mind having to do extra work for an alignment.”
Attention to detail on the modified VW Golf Mk4 R32
You could spend half a day inspecting the engine bay and still not see it all, like visiting a museum on a class trip. “It was the definition of 10 pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack,” jokes Ryan. “The amount of planning and meticulous placement of parts, not only to ensure nothing interfered, but to simultaneously keep the shaved bay look, was to me, a triumph in itself. I specifically need to thank Jamie and Adam from Fabwerkz for all their help with the turbo setup, tuning, and time spent troubleshooting with me.”
Peer through the bay and you’ll see the lower suspension pieces and brake components have also been powder coated the same Edgewood Beige. “Kris and Kacper at KK Finishing Co powder coated every single part on this car that wasn’t a painted piece. They literally coated several thousand items, parts, beauty washers, you name it.” Take a look under the TCR-inspired chopped rear bumper and you’ll see the same level of detail for the rear undercarriage as well. Not one stone was left unturned. This is the real deal.
Working your way around the exterior, setting aside the flares and the wheels for future examination, you’ll find an otherwise standard looking R32 in that Ryan’s left the taillights, side skirts and door handles alone. The DTM-esque door mirrors are BRAND and the rear and side windows have been replaced with polycarbonate pieces featuring little sliders for drive through access. The elephant in the feature hanging off the hatch is more than just a talking piece. “I built linear actuators onto the rear wing,” says Ryan, donning his fanciest engineer cap. “They’re connected to a brain unit which I programmed using a gyroscope and an accelerometer, so as the car speeds up or brakes, the wing moves to adjust for better downforce or braking assistance.” While it hasn’t seen track time yet, Lime Rock Park isn’t too far and he’s not afraid of using it.
And with anyone that’s been on track before, the road racing version of “break a leg” is usually to keep the shiny side up. Have you noticed the intricacies of Ryan’s roof? This man left no canvas blank on his way to artistic perfection.
Thinking outside of the box
“I’ve always enjoyed lowriders and hoppers,” admits Ryan. “A lot of those guys do intricate paint designs and I enjoy the way that breaks up the main color on a car.” By taking advantage of the roof’s real estate, the sea of solid red is tamed without the need for added graphics, stripes or a wrap. “We used old school method of lace table cloth to do my roof,” continues Ryan. “The paisley design is left behind after you lay a table cloth or sheet out and ghost paint into the open areas. When you strip it back and gloss it, you’re left with the transverse design of whatever was on your cloth.”
Back to those wheels. The D-lng Designs turbo fans add a bit of flare to the fronts, while the rears are the beneficiaries of 7” lips. SEVEN. But one simply doesn’t just bolt a fifteen inch wide wheel to the hub and call it a day. Prior to the added width, Ryan relied on Clinched overfenders to cast a shadow over the poking tire. And if you think bolt-on means just that, think again. “They fit terribly when I got them,” says Ryan.
“They’re actually my third different set of Clinched overfenders. They have several styles in their lineup, as I’ve changed wheel widths and ideas, I’ve changed over from one model to the next. They need to be trimmed cut widened, etc, but that’s not a big deal to me. I love the way they look.” Oh, and if Toyo made a tire wider than 335mm for an 18” wheel, those hoops would find their way out back. Meaty.
There is one last thing to mention about the exterior, in case you haven’t been exposed to enough. The conventional floor jack was sent to the freecycle group and replaced with Nuke air jacks. That’s right, historic Le Mans technology has finally trickled down to the humble MK4 platform. “When [they] came out with their new style of air jack, which could run off my in-car air system, I knew this was the time. It was a significant amount of effort to plan them into the car, French them into the front floor, and set them to balance and actually lift the car. But to be able to pull a valve and have the car jump up makes it all worth it.” Talk about taking all the parking lot GTG points.
Interior upgrades on the modified VW Golf Mk4
Open the driver’s door and you’re greeted by a fire extinguisher. It’s that doesn’t signal this guy means business, then immediately close the door and move on. There is a familiar shade of that Edgewood beige that covers the roll cage, the metal floor mats, and even the R32 pedal pads, something I’ve personally never seen before. The seats are another thing altogether.
“You want to know something?” Ryan queries us. “Of everything I’ve done on this car, all the things to love or hate on, all the radical modifications, the ‘amazing details’ or the ‘ruining of such a pure car’, the ‘twin turbo comments’, it’s the ‘where did you get that wing?’, that’s the number one question I’m asked! ‘How un/comfortable are those seats?’” Ryan tossed us an invite to test them out next time we’re in the same vicinity. “They’re Kirkey aluminum seats for dirt oval racing. After spending years at the track, I always had a love for these seats. They’re like a mix between a professional race seat and an all metal low bomber seat. And, in keeping with the fashion of this build, I’d never seen them in another car so…”
If you’re able to look beyond the bum holders, you’ll start to notice the anodized red highlights peeking out here and there. The washers, seat frames, shifter and e-brake handle, it all flows. This is not accidental. The HVAC system was deemed unnecessary so the vents were sealed. There are 3D printed R logos in the ones on top of the dash, and there is a multitude of gauges and buttons intentionally placed where the other vents once resided. Look down and the striking lack of carpeting will catch your glance. “The interior floor was completely shaved along with the driveline tunnel,” says Ryan.
Out back, two hefty NOS bottles are on display flanking the air tank. They’re plumbed in and fully functional, too, providing a respective 50 and 100 shot of the laughing gas when the button on the dash is prodded.
It would be borderline offensive to use the car crash analogy to describe Ryan’s R, but the more you stare, the harder it is to look away. It’s a project, that after so many reincarnations, is put together that well. “Most of the things I did on this car were to draw attention,” Ryan affirms, “to make them think about how I did it, why it was done that way, or just to make them say wow. I enjoyed building this car, hiding small details and important parts, just as much as I enjoy everyone who will really look, study and get into the build.”
The ultimate version was set to be completed in just under a year’s time. “I wanted to have it ready for the following 2020 season. Add exactly two years to that original estimate, plans change, life moves, things happen, but three years later, almost to the day, I finished the car to my standards around 2 a.m., packed up, drove to L’oe show in PA and reintroduced the car to the community for the final time.”
So will this truly be the way Ryan’s R lives out its days? And will it remain in his care or put on sale like yesterday’s milk? “The R will most likely stay with me for a long time,” muses Ryan. “It’s been such an extensive project that I am very invested in. I don’t see any need to move on the car, so it will just be used and enjoyed as is. This was the final change for this car and it’s everything I hoped it could be. I have a bunch of other projects to move onto. I’m looking forward to actually working on something else rather than this car again for the hundredth time!”
Why not, right? Because he can.
Tech Spec: Modified VW Golf Mk4
3.2-litre 24v VR6 with 8.5:1 compression head gasket spacer; ARP head studs; intake and exhaust port and polish; three-angle valve job; back cut intake valves; VW block and crank; 264/260 camshafts; Supertech hd valve springs; lightweight Ti retainers and seat locators; mechanical tensioner; new timing components; forged pistons; forged rods; hd main bearings; sp lightweight pulleys; OEM VW MLS head gasket; ARP main studs; custom 3” intercooler with 90-degree end tanks;
80mm throttle body conversion; custom floating motor mod with Mk3/Mk2 style mounts (solid mounts); solid rear diff mounts; lvlk5 hardened axles. Coolant feed/return hardline -an stainless steel; hardline -an oil feed & drain; 25row oil cooler with shroud & fans; thermostatic oil plate; custom brake booster delete; custom fluid reservoir; Mishimoto radiator with custom shroud and front side push fans; two Garrett turbos; Tial wastegates; Tial blow off valve; Velocity stacks for turbos; short runner intake manifold; 1200cc injectors; custom charge piping; twin hood exit exhausts and wastegate dumps.
Ignition Projects coil packs; custom power steering reservoir; in tank fuel pump dw65; dual inline fuel filters; Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator; high flow fuel rail; surge tank; AEM 400lph; shortened and baffled oil pan; solid steering rack mounts; solid billet shifter end links; solid shifter mounts; Emu black custom tuned ECU; launch control; lambda add on; LSD trans and rear diff; ARP hardware for gears; 4th gear support; new bearings; solid steel shifter forks; Clutch Masters FX500; Mk3 coolant flange; Mk5 R32 valve cover; WOT & 2 step rev limiter; Vacuum distribution block; custom dipstick pull; custom power steering lines; Snow Performance water/meth with custom reservoir; direct port nitrous system; all lines converted to aluminum with -an fittings (no more rubber or soft hoses); all new allen head bolts/beauty washers and arp hardware .
13×18” and 15×18” BBS RS wheels with custom outer lips; powder-coated barrels and faces; spiked bolts; custom centre caps; custom front functional turbo fans; Toyo Proxes R888R 335/18 tires and tire stickers. Wide over fender setup. Air Lift Performance bags and V2 air suspension setup; Brembo calipers with large discs; front tubular control arms. Fully painted/powder-coated engine and components; transmission; rear differential; all suspension parts; trailing arms; tie rods; control arms; brake calipers and parts; driveshafts; shifter box; subframe; rear diff cradle; axles. Hardline brake lines with -an; ABS brain relocated. Adjustable rear control arms upper and lower; custom rear roll bar mounts; uprated roll bar. All new bushing bearings; hubs; shocks; ball joints; tie rods; brake parts; etc. All bolts replaced with Allen head/beauty washers and arp hardware.
Blasted to bare metal; full respray in original tornado red; bottom of car undercoated; shaved windshield wipers; custom rain tray cowl; Votex rear hatch spoiler; fully shaved engine bay; shock tower covers; custom paisley lace roof paint; full plexi window set; window lift mechanisms removed; Nuke air jack setup (jacks frenched into shaved floor); custom front lip and skirt extensions; custom trimmed rear bumper; custom active aero rear spoiler; underglow; rear license plate rain light; single reverse light; led taillights; VW/Hella projector headlights; custom ¼ hood with shaved notch; nos FK badgeless grille; Mattig cup mirrors; all bumper/marker lights deleted; rear hatch handle and emblem deleted; hood hinges deleted; side rub strips deleted; hella air horn; front and rear custom center jack points. All bolts replaced with Allen head/beauty washers and ARP hardware.
KM (no MPH reading) Mk4 R32 gauge cluster; custom dccd gauge cluster center screen; shaved front floor; shaved driveshaft tunnel; shaved trunk floor; interior blasted to bare metal; full respray in Tornado Red; custom iPad dash mount with Bluetooth connect to ECU for engine status readouts; HVAC controls deleted; radio moved to HVAC control space below iPad; full Alcantara headliner; Alcantara pillars/door cards/rear floor; all plastic parts flocked black; twin turbo door sill plates from 911 Porsche; powder-coated Kirkey sprint car seats with custom seat mounts; powder-coated KDN shift tower.
Custom OBP handbrake; Momo Alcantara steering wheel with quick release; sun visors/grab handles/interior lights deleted; smart rearview mirror utilizing rear camera; HPA Haldex touch-motion screen; air vents deleted; custom gauge pods and button pad in vent delete panels; interior led lighting; six-point powder-coated rollcage; rear X-bar; removable subwoofer box; custom audio setup; powder-coated five-gallon air setup with dual painted Viair 444c; two powder-coated NOS tanks with custom brackets and mounts; powder-coated pedals with custom accelerator heel extension; OMP powder-coated floor plates and custom foot braces; Crow five-point 3” racing harnesses; custom fire extinguisher mount; custom door pulls; custom Air Lift controller door mount; all hardware changed to Allen head bolts and beauty washers.
Feature from Performance VW magazine. Words: Bryan McCarthy. Photos: Mike Burns & Ryan McKeon.