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Posted by Glenn Rowswell on 17th November 2020

The oil-burning variants of the Audi A1 may not be everyone’s first choice for a project – but as Sean Davies’ tuned Audi A1 TDi daily-driven show car ably demonstrates, it’s a strong base for a gold-standard build…

Feature taken from Performance Audi. Words Dan Bevis Photos Lukasz Markowski

The time-freeze is a classic cinematic device. Remember the scene in The Matrix where Morpheus is introducing Neo to the central concept of the Matrix code? He gets distracted by the woman in the red dress, then Morpheus freezes the scene? Iconic stuff. Film nerds can trace this behaviour back to the French silent movie Paris Qui Dort of 1924 – or, of course, there’s the Adam Sandler movie Click. Although it’s probably best to pretend that last one never happened. The point is that, thanks to this cinematic and televisual trope, we have an ingrained sense that when something significant happens, our brains should be able to stop time entirely for a moment in order to allow us to process what we’re seeing.

This low-down A1 is the sort of car that lets your complex thought processes achieve this. It’s no ordinary mixture of steel, glass and plastics, but something otherworldly, surreal, outstanding. Sure, you’ve seen Audi A1s before, they’re parked up on every residential street throughout the land – but have you ever seen one where all of the stylistic elements coalesce as artfully as they do here? The familiar and ubiquitous form has been reimagined into something suddenly unfamiliar. You’ll be needing a moment or two to gather your thoughts, we imagine. Step outside of reality and take a deep breath, and let’s regroup down at the next paragraph.

Better? OK, so we should take a look at the story behind this impressive little supermini. Brainchild of serial modder Sean Davies, it fuses a number of key elements – show-winning finish, performance tuning, daily-driven credentials – to create an admirable all-rounder. And it’s basically all his grandad’s fault.

“I’ve always been into my cars, from being around my grandad who was a mechanic, so I was always messing about with cars since I was young,” he explains. “I started modifying when I owned a Renault Clio, but quickly changed direction and wanted to build something to get into shows. Before this Audi I owned a SEAT Ibiza – that was static, and I thought air-ride would be better this time around as I drive the car daily as well as showing it.”

You can’t argue with the logic of that, and the primary focus from the off was to create something that looked great. Having been pretty happy with the old Ibiza, Sean was keen to continue operating within the Ibiza-A1-Polo-Fabia sphere of the little VAGs, and the A1 represented an opportunity to level-up into something more premium and elegant. Great looks from the outside, and a really nice place to be inside. So the decision was made.

This particular A1 caused a Hollywood-esque freeze-frame to occur for Sean as he was driving along one day and spotted it for sale on the side of the road. It wasn’t perfect, but what he was really seeing was potential; two days later he had the keys in his hand and his name on the dotted line.

“I wouldn’t say it was in bad condition,” he recalls. “However, quite a lot of the car did need repainting, and it also needed all the paint correcting for it to really be up to show standard. The spec was good though – it came fully-loaded from Audi other than the panoramic roof, so it’s pleasant to be inside as well as looking good.”

As bought, the car was all factory-stock aside from a front honeycomb grille, although Sean was quick to replace this with a better item as it had cracked. Things then moved on apace as the whole front end was repainted to freshen it up, the plastics gloss black and the Audi rings finished in body-colour white. The first truly seismic change was to fit that air-ride system he’d been talking about, which was carried out at home with the help of a friend, Ben; Sean had never tackled such a thing before but he figured it was better to roll up his sleeves and have a go himself rather than shelling out thousands for someone to do for him. Barring a couple of issues with air-lines which he’s had to rectify, he’s largely been proved right – the home-installed setup is the perfect accompaniment to daily driving. The A1’s running Air Lift front struts and rear bags with V3 management, along with a bit of chassis notching to help it properly kiss the tarmac when it airs out, and the effect is truly impressive.

“The air-ride went on in 2018, along with a set of Ispiri wheels, and I pretty much kept it like that with a stock interior for a while,” says Sean. “But by the time the winter came, I’d started to get a few other bits of the car repainted, before having all of the paint corrected and ceramic-coated. Then I really wanted to get the interior up to the same level as the exterior, to turn the car into more of a complete build.”

With this in mind, the front seats were ousted in favour of a pair of Corbeau RRS Clubsports, while the rears were junked altogether. In the back you’ll now find a custom boot build with a raised air tank, featured air lines and subwoofer; there’s all sorts of carbon-effect work going on with the interior trim, and the most arresting feature is the steering wheel, which has been cleverly reshaped before being re-covered in carbon fibre and leather with custom stitching.

Now, you’ll probably have noticed that we haven’t mentioned power by this point. This is Performance Audi after all, performance is baked right into the title. And since this car’s rocking the 1.6-litre TDI lump, you’d be forgiven for not being particularly excited. All show and no go? Ah, don’t be too quick to judge… you see, Sean’s already increased that stock 105bhp output by over 50%, with plans for plenty more. It’s the classic formula of mighty oaks and little acorns. A Stage 1 remap was the starting point, followed by deleting the DPF and EGR, and the restrictive exhaust system has been totally reworked; it now boasts a 3” downpipe, flowing into a straight-through 2.5” stainless system, which helps the derv to find a voice. All of this furnishes Sean’s right foot with a handy 160bhp – and again, he’s far from done with it. Wait till he bolts a bigger turbo in there…

“Yes, the turbo’s definitely on the list,” he assures us. “There’ll be a dual-exit exhaust with a fresh diffuser too, I’m planning it all out. As much as possible, I do all of the work on the car myself, and this winter I’ll be looking to respray the car and smooth the engine bay – I have a couple of colours in mind! I love the wheel choice at the moment – they’re staggered Mille Miglia 3000 3-piece splits, and I can only find one other set in the world – but I’ll be swapping something new on next year to freshen it up. It’s still very much my daily driver though, I do between 1,000-2,000 miles a month in it, and it does turn a lot of heads wherever it goes…” And that, of course, is the fun of daily-driving a show-stopper. Whereas some garage queens only get to enjoy the comedy double-takes of the cinematic time-freeze a few times a year, this A1 is able to shock and inspire awe on a daily basis. Take a look, rub your eyes, then look again. It’s the familiar A1 shape, but at the same time it really is something else.


Engine & transmission:
1.6-litre TDI (105), Stage 1 remap, DPF & EGR delete, 3” downpipe, Narco Tuning 2.5” stainless straight-through exhaust system, stock manual trans.

8.5×17” (front) and 9.5×17” (rear) Mille Miglia 3000 3-piece split-rims, 195/40 tyres, Air Lift Performance front struts, Air Lift rear bags, 3P management, chassis notch, S1 front calipers, Tarox Sport Japan 312mm front discs and Tarox Corsa pads, Tarox Sport Japan rear discs and Corsa pads.

Xenonz UK honeycomb grille with Audi badge painted to match body, front end resprayed with all plastics painted gloss black, rear bumper repainted and boot wrapped in satin black, Maxton Design splitter, TRC sideskirt extensions, TRC rear bumper spats, gloss black diffuser to match exhaust tip, fully paint corrected and ceramic coated, boot debadged.

Corbeau RRS Clubsport seats, rear seat delete, custom boot build with raised air tank, LEDs, subwoofer and air lines, steering wheel reshaped and retrimmed – half-carbon fibre, half-perforated leather with red stitching, carbon skinned interior trim, ambient lighting.

POWER: 160bhp
TORQUE: 262lb ft