Modified cars are interwoven into Harley Smith’s DNA. Best of all, he does it all in a shed with buddies. And his modified VW Lupo GTi is a little stunner!
At a cellular level, you are a paranoid and self-destructive creature. You may remember the phrase ‘programmed cell death’ from your high-school biology lessons. The basic principle is this: when your cells are no longer deemed necessary they quietly disassemble themselves. But what’s most interesting is that every cell in your body is ready to kill itself at a moment’s notice unless it receives constant instructions from other cells to stay alive. This, essentially, acts as a pointed metaphor for the modern car modifying scene.
There’s a number of people out there who build cars solely to impress other people. These are the folk you see sat immobile in their cars at shows, rather than getting out to see what else is going on. Without the constant Instagrammed reassurance of their peers, their work is in vain. All me, me, me. Self-destruction is inevitable.
Harley Smith, thankfully, is not one of those people. You’ll be pleased to learn that he’s not all that bothered about what you think of his Lupo. “Almost all the work on the car has been done by myself, or with the help of my old man – ‘the General’ – at ShedWERX HQ,” he grins. “ShedWERX is basically all my friends who work on their cars in my shed.” And that’s as simple as it needs to be. No backslapping here, just a bunch of mates having a laugh. Any showground kudos or social media celebrity may be considered a bonus.
Indeed, humility is a theme that carries through this entire build. “When I first bought the Lupo, I had visions of having it on Schmidt TH Lines and air-ride, but figured that’d never happen as it’d be too expensive,” Harley recalls. “Little did I know what I was letting myself in for! Back then it was on Porsche D90s, with springs and a K&N, and I pretty much immediately started looking into coilovers and different wheels. The only problem was that I was living at my parents’ house at the time, and if I lowered it any more I wouldn’t be able to get up their drive!”
The obvious solution, then, was to move out. With that decision actioned, Harley found himself rocking a set of KW coilovers and Rota wheels. It ran like this for a while, but the lowering demons were always knocking at his door. “I rolled the arches, and ruined them because they’re aluminium,” he laughs. “So it was a trip to the body shop to have the wings sorted and flared, and while it was there I also had the roof, mirrors and spoiler painted gloss black as well as the interior trim bits. I thought ‘Perfect. It’s sitting how I want it.’ But I kept getting caught out on speedbumps and rubbish roads, inevitably leading to a smashed sump – that’s what you get for driving low cars in Cornwall. I bought a Stance-Solutions Static Plus kit, which introduced me to the whole air world. It was great, but I just wanted to go lower…”
Reduced altitude is like a drug, isn’t it? So to take his mind off the suspension quandary, Harley started looking for some new wheels instead. And wouldn’t you know it, he found exactly the rims he wanted in the first place – 8×15-inch Schmidt TH Lines in Candy Apple Red.
And yet Harley was unable to get suspension off his mind. “I bought a set of triple-bellowed rear bags, and chopped up my rear beam to make them fit,” he says. “With the rear aired I set off to Fitted UK for the weekend. Although after that journey I convinced myself (as did my wife) that I needed full air-ride, so I ordered the front struts. Luckily a friend was selling his V2 management too. But even with that, it wasn’t low enough! So it was out with the welder, and two chassis notches and some DIY engine raisers later, it was sitting right. Oh and the -10 degrees of camber, because I was now 9.5×15-inches out the back.”
Indisputably awesome as this was, sadly the fuzz didn’t agree and, after a £100 fine, three points and a court summons, Harley built the TH Lines back to 8 inches. But then he changed his mind and ordered a set of Modern Lines! And then, by his own admission, things got a bit crazy.
“I pulled the engine out to ‘clean’ the bay, and got a little carried away,” Harley smirks. Many cold nights in the shed followed with the grinder, welder and soldering iron, and the car stripped to a thousand pieces. “Everything was done at ShedWERX aside from the interior, handled by Darren Mansfield at Dub Shack Interiors, and the paint, by Duncan Russell at Sprayworks. Both are good friends and supporters of our club.”
The interior was trimmed to match the Corbeau RXR seats, Harley made a custom boot build, and while the shell was stripped he Dynamatted the whole thing. “Then,” he grimaces, “came the endless hours of shortening and extending the wiring loom, and plating all the engine bay. I wanted to keep everything like the ABS, heater matrix, power steering and so on, which is quite difficult when you’re trying to get that smoothed bay look. I think it’s turned out well though.”
With the bodywork perfected, Harley sent the Lupo over to Duncan to do his thing, along with the Modern Lines which received a coat of Candy Wine Fire red over a silver metalflake base. The wheels were machined to be face-mounted, simply because it didn’t seem to have been done by anyone else before, and with the wheels looking so good he opted to have the cam housing and gearbox painted to match. Like you do.
“Dunc ghosted the ShedWERX logo into the engine cover, which I thought was a cool touch,” says Harley. “When it was up at the spray shop, the rear bumper had a numberplate delete and the boot handle was smoothed off. Although I thought the rear was too smooth so I cut the bumper and made up a diffuser and some canards. Also I had to mould a numberplate light into the spoiler and machine up some discs that I adhered to the window, so that I had a rear numberplate! Dunc had smoothed the front end earlier on in the year, so we left that be.”
A few finishing touches were sourced from Stuke Designs, in the form of Civic skirts and a custom front splitter, and the job was a good ’un. The car now brims with custom touches, from the boisterous exhaust to the outrageous boot build, and it’s all been built with pride, passion and dedication. “I’ve learnt so much by doing it, and met so many awesome people and friends through the build,” Harley beams. “I’m just proud to say I built it in a shed with my mates!”
And that is the real key to this Lupo’s appeal. Yes, it’s fast, low, loud, unique and beautifully finished, but the most important thing is that it was built for its owners own gratification. When you see him at a show, he’ll be scampering around ogling other people’s cars, always on the lookout for new ideas. There’s no programmed cell death here. It’s all about propagating life.
￼TECH SPEC: LUPO GTI
Smooth front bumper; smooth rear bumper with number plate delete; smooth boot; gloss black roof; sharkfin aerial; gloss black spoiler; flared and rolled front wings; rolled rear arches; Stuke Designs custom front splitter and side skirts; custom rear diffuser and canards; smoothed and tucked engine bay; Candy Wine Fire painted gearbox and engine cover.
1.6-litre KAM Racing 4-1 manifold; decat and 6x4in oval tail; BMC CDA induction kit; JS Performance red silicone hose kit; aluminium radiator; RHBevo remap.
7.5x16in (front) and 8x16in (rear) ET21 Schmidt Modern Line, machined for face-mounting; in Candy Wine Fire over metalflake base; Radinox dishes, Basilica-style spiked hardware; 195/40 Yokohoma S.drive tyres; stud conversion; custom spiked wheel nuts; Air Lift Slam front struts; Firestone triple-bellow rear bags; KW shocks, Air Lift 3/8 V2, custom rear beam for bellowed bags; -5 degrees rear camber; -3 degrees front camber; G60 front brakes; Powerflex polybushed throughout; custom 20mm engine raisers; chassis notch both sides.
Corbeau RXR seats; rear bench, door cards, parcel shelf and boot build trimmed to match, black carpet; MOMO Jet 320mm steering wheel; MOMO boss; gloss black interior trim; Dynamatted throughout; Sony headunit; VIBE Slick front and rear door speakers; custom boot build with stainless hardlines; ceramic polished stainless tank surrounds and stainless ShedWERX logo; black metalflake one-gallon tanks; AirZenith OB2 compressor, V2 management.
Everyone who is in or a part of ShedWERX; Darren Harding at Locking Vinyl for all the club merch; Darren Mansfield at Dub Shack Interiors; Duncan Russell at Sprayworks for being a magician with a spray gun; Jay at BHP Events for giving me my first indoor spot at a show; my wife Lilly for putting up with the long hours I spend in the shed and supporting everything I do; and most importantly my dad, ‘the General’, for teaching me everything I know and helping me do what I love! You’re a hero!
Words Dan Bevis Photos Chris Wallbank