Geordie lad, Keith ‘Mitch’ Mitchell is borderline certifiable. He’s a petrolhead of the highest order and his car is one of those that divides opinion.
“It’s a totally accidental car really,” says Mitch. “I bought the ’99 Lupo as a run around to give my Mk.1 Golf Driver an easy life. I’d fitted the Mk.1 with a Polo GTI 1.6 16v engine, so when the Lupo’s 1.4 16v engine started smoking like a Beagle I swapped everything over in a weekend, just to keep me on the road.”
Initially Mitch was happy to tool about like this with a dash of the rat-look vibe going on. But upon meeting Dave Elliot, a painter from nearby Sunniside, things took a turn towards the extreme makeover you see now. “I stripped and prepped the car with my mates at Unit 21 [a well known group of Geordie-based VW lovers],” says Mitch, “ready for the Storm Cloud grey top coat to go on.”
Yet the real catalyst for the project happened while overseas. “I went on a trip to Berlin with all of the Unit 21 lads and saw a Lupo 3L in a local dealership.” Now for those who don’t realise the 3L was a special mainland Europe-only model that majored on economy. But it also benefitted from a raft of unique lightweight panels and aero-efficient styling tweaks, not least the use of aluminium for the doors, bonnet and wings, as well totally different bumpers to reduce the car coefficient of drag.
“£1,500 later, at my local dealership, I had the lot ready to bolt on,” laughs Mitch. There’s some ingenious cutting, grinding and fab work to make the final offering look this smooth and subtle – particularly as the sills didn’t match the new flush mounting wings. But Mitch wasn’t deterred, setting about deleting the wiper and de-locking the tailgate before smoothing the new bumpers both front and rear.
It’s the quaint badge that really sets the back end off though. “It’s a Ten City Rally badge that I found on German eBay,” muses Mitch. “It represents the towns where a famous 50s Porsche race used to be held and, best of all, it fitted directly into the gap left by the VW emblem.”
But what about that engine bay, the hub of this crazy little car? “It suffered from a small electrical fire shortly after being painted in 2008, but I got a good pay out from my insurance firm which allowed me to plough the money back into making the car even better.”
Mitch admits the car festered for a while out the back of his gaff, but once he was settled in a new pad with a garage on side all hell broke loose. A solid month of evenings was spent stripping underseal, sanding, welding and flushing the inner wings, engine bay and underside ready for the extravagant fuschia hue. All the while Mitch conjuring up plans to make the engine install as clean as possible.
Only the true Lupo geek will realise the engine is now mounted from underneath, rather than with ugly mounts that bolt onto the chassis legs from above. “I had to make a special frame with towers on then use Mk.2 Golf engine mounts in a totally different way to the norm. Everything about this car is experimental,” says Mitch.
Indeed having discarded the drip tray, heater, ECU, header tank, battery and even the brake pipes, now re-routed internally, Mitch reckons he’ll never do another one. Given that he’s got no wipers and no heater, who can blame him?
Not that it makes any difference to his B-road antics as that highly strung engine is a compilation of VW’s best bits. “I bought a 1.4 S Lupo as another runabout, but I needed more power.”
So, his daily driver was soon on the receiving end of a Polo 1.6 GTI (ARC) block mated to a 1.4 16v head. “I knew I wanted throttle bodies from the outset, but the variable valve timing of the 1.6 head would have limited my choice of performance parts. So once I’d bought the Jenvey 40mm bodies and built the engine up myself, Autolink in Northants sorted the OMEX ECU and the mapping for me.”
So pleased was he with 165 brake in roughly 900kg that he ran that motor in and promptly switched it over when he got the grey one back from its second outing to, “have it coloured in”. This time with a fresh coat of Chile Grey 56 paint, also known as Fashion grey. Along with the fuschia under crackers it was looking every ounce the show winner, until the cambelt and crank pulley let go on the new engine, mullering all 16-valves in the process. “I bought another AFH head and stuck some lairy Schrick cams in it this time. But even then I had some issues.” Indeed the cam profile was so different they were fouling the head itself. The head was whipped off once again and given some internal clearancing to sort the shocking knocking.
There’s now ample go to spin those fully polished Porsche design Votex four spokes into the next century, particularly as Mitch does it from the comfort of a fat biscuit, twin grey stitched fuschia leather interior. As posterior pleasers go, Recaro Sport classics are hard to fault. With a smattering of high quality ICE and a much coveted 3L steering wheel it’s a cut above your average shopping trolley.
Eccentric? Hell yeah. Controversial? Why of course. Fast? You betcha. Mitch has built an animal. “You should see the faces of Scooby and M3 drivers as I sit with them into three figures. You can see them thinking ‘WTF’.” Amen to that brother.
TECH SPEC VW LUPO
Painted in RAL custom mix Fashion grey; ally GTI doors and bonnet; 3L wings with extended sills to suit; 3L smoothed front and rear bumpers; 3L grille and lights; Lupo GTI Xenon lamps with ballasts.
Polo GTI (ARC) 1.6 block; Polo 1.4 (AFH) clearanced 16v head; Sorg motorsport inlet manifold; Schrick 280/280 camshafts; Jenvey Twin 40 throttle bodies; concealed linkage, AAS stainless steel exhaust system; TDi style tailpipe; OMEX ECU; throttle position and crank sensor; custom made subframe and Mk.2 Golf engine mounts from below; custom extended wiring loom in chassis legs; deleted rain tray; reservoir bottles; heater intake; wipers; relocated battery; flushed engine bay; inner wings and underside all in RAL fuschia; Lupo Sport 1.4 ’box.
Modified H&R ultra low coilovers; fully polished 7×15-inch (ET35) Votex four spokes; modified suspension pickups; powdercoated rear beam; Polo GTI hubs; EBC discs with Greenstuff pads; Bridgestone Potenza RE040 165/50 tyres.
Smoothed colour-coded fuschia dashboard; Recaro classic seats; Mk.1 Golf-style seatbelt clamps; fuschia leather throughout with grey double stitch fat biscuit pattern; 3L steering wheel, Mk.1 Golf golf ball gearknob.
JVC Double DIN headunit; Rockford Fosgate four-channel amp; Vietta front door components; MB Quart 10-inch sub in custom enclosure.
To Grant Furby for hitting things with a hammer and sorting them out; Dave Elliot at ASP Body and Paint; Dave at Autolink; Mike the polisher; Darren Burt for custom metalwork; John, Gary, North East Powder coatings, Kish at Executive Trimmers; Nic the courier, and Jason Toner for help throughout.
Words and photos Jimbo Wallace