The recipe for this ex-police VW Passat called for some WORK Meisters to be stirred in alongside tasty suspension and a tuned VR6, this was always destined to be a spicy fusion…
Feature from Performance VW magazine. Photos: Matt Clifford
Subtlety. It’s a much underrated quality in this day and age. With the hysterical excitability of social media, constant connectivity and fashionable one-upmanship, it would be easy for us all to end up with extreme, shocking and jarring cars that push the envelope of uniqueness to an absurd degree, wearing 14”-wide neon-blue split-rims and rhodium-plated Recaros, with carbon fibre bodywork hand-woven by the Kevlar-tipped fingers of virginal sirens.
But thankfully there’s a hardcore of tuners that keep us balanced, focusing on the details and allowing a more natural aesthetic flow to emerge – the purposeful look that’s achieved by the judicious application of quality upgrades. With this level-headed approach, equilibrium is restored and reason returns to the scene.
Ostentatiousness is happily balanced by subtlety, the yin and yang of the modifying world. It’s within the ingrained subtlety of Liam Baker’s tuned VW Passat R36 that the genius resides. To the type of person that isn’t into cars, they mightn’t give it a second glance on the high street, as they’d see nothing more than a sensible estate car. But to people like us? This thing is a riot of detail; a piquant fusion of clever ingredients, all stirred together to make something finger-lickin’ good.
The base for all this is an interesting thing in itself, the R36 being an obscure and (today, at least) much sought-after Q-car. What’s that? A ‘sleeper’ to the young ’uns; the term is derived from the Q-boats used by the Royal Navy in World War I – heavily armed military ships disguised as civilian passenger or cargo vessels. And the concept of the Q-car, or sleeper, is one that’s endured for generations – the idea that you can wrap up a whole bundle of hair-raising performance and handling prowess into a relatively unassuming package, thereby dropping jaws and raising eyebrows along with pulses as you blow away the competition in the traffic light grand prix.
This pseudo-sensible family wagon came from the factory with a full-fat 3.6-litre VR6 under the bonnet, packing close to 300bhp and frankly being very silly indeed.
This particular car, of course, is no ordinary Passat R36. Liam has worked hard to ensure that it’s some way removed from the concept of ‘ordinary’. “My previous Passat was a 2.0 TDi model, and it just wasn’t enough for me,” he explains. “I remember seeing this exact R36 for the first time at Spring Action Day 2019; I met the owner, Tom, had a good chat and kept in touch – and when I found out it was for sale, it was just the right car at the right time.
I wanted something a bit more special, a car that I knew you wouldn’t see many of. It has an interesting story behind it, as the car was in the police force for a few years of its life and it still has a few features from then. No, not the blue lights! But it was basically standard when I got it, other than the mirror caps and exhaust.”
Now, having acquired a VW Passat R36 that he’d had a long-held yearning for, Liam had plans, it was time for it to be tuned. Schemes and stratagems to do something a little offbeat. And much of it revolved around the concept of bolting on a set of WORK Meister S1s, simply because he hadn’t seen it done before, and reckoned it’d look pretty badass. (And he was damn right, right?)
Searching for a few weeks for just the right set of wheels, he eventually found the perfect ones for sale… well, perfect aside from the fact that they were drilled in a 5×100 PCD, which isn’t exactly a wobble bolt job when your car’s running 5×112. But Liam isn’t the kind of guy to see problems, he only deals in solutions.
“I ordered some adapters and gave them a test fit,” he continues. “It was immediately clear that the front would work, but the rear had too much poke with the adapters so it was back to the drawing board! Then I thought: what if I was to have some wheel hubs custom-drilled along with discs to 5×100, that could work… and I could also reuse the camber arms from my previous Passat. So I got two new wheel bearings, as they came as a complete unit with the hub, and had to use a spacer with a 5×100 PCD to get it bang-on. My dad took on that job for me, and he absolutely smashed it!”
Sitting pretty in theory, for sure, but with this massive hurdle crested Liam found himself slapped in the face with the fresh problem of tyre sizes. After all, he was looking at a set of staggered fitment rims on an all-wheel-drive car; with the Haldex system you’ve only got an 8% margin front-to-rear, and anything beyond that will see the car throwing itself into neutral and refusing to drive as a self-preservation measure.
“After doing a lot of research, and looking at tyre sizes and using an online calculator from willtheyfit.com, we figured out it was a 55mm overall rolling distance per rotation of the wheel and tyre that we had to play with,” says Liam. “I did some more calculations and went with these tyre sizes – 215/35 at the front and 225/35 at the back – still not really knowing how the car was going to react. I had the tyres fitted, put the wheels back on and tried it up and down the workshop and it seemed fine – so then I went outside and up the road and back, and it was all good!”
Nice when things work out, isn’t it? And the relentless rollercoaster of success just kept on rolling. The air-ride setup is a bespoke mix of Air Lift components, AccuAir management and a boot build by Only Charged Dubs, with Liam future-proofing the system by using quality braided lines throughout. With the drilled and grooved discs and calipers painted, the stopping power is usefully improved, and he has further plans to swap in a full Porsche Cayenne brake setup in the future.
The slick exterior aesthetic is largely thanks to a full respray in LC9Z-code paint, which is either Black Magic Pearl or Diamond Black depending on who you ask. (It’s a whole multi-marque VAG thing, don’t worry about it.) As a tasty custom touch, the painter was charged with the task of adding a whole bunch of extra flakes into the metallic mix, and the result is a shimmering paint job that really pops in the sun.
With the fat 4” pipes in situ, Liam’s augmented the rear end aggression with some diffuser fins between the tails. A headlight upgrade with USDM enabled works with a plate delete for that transatlantic vibe, and soon enough Liam will be adding a splitter and sideskirt extensions – the plan from the outset was to ‘keep it clean and make it mean’, and it’s fair to say he’s achieved that with gusto.
“The interior is pretty basic at the minute, but I have big plans,” he grins. “I’ve fitted a custom-trimmed flat-bottom wheel with half-Alcantara and half-perforated leather, along with some paddle extensions. The cluster has been updated to the newer style with blue needles and the black-and-white display, which looks a lot smarter than the OEM ones with the red screen. I plan to get some wingbacks and have custom upholstery done to match the blue/teal colour scheme, along with a few other nice trick bits.”
The attention to detail is what really characterises this tuned VW Passat R36 build, the pursuit of subtlety keenly matching Volkswagen’s own Q-car approach with the R36. But it’s reassuring to learn that, much as he’s made all this sound so easy, Liam is as fallible as the rest of us.
“This tuned VW Passat VR6 build was a lot of touch-and-go at times, where stuff just simply wouldn’t work,” he assures us. “It was a bit of a challenge, but I have learned a lot from it! I would like to thank everyone who was involved, whether that was being around when work was being done or just simply saying ‘you got this’ – and my biggest thanks have to go to my mate Scottie, as he helped me pretty much from the start; he’s been there basically every step of the way, coming straight from work and working late nights doing this build with me without asking, and always there with a helping hand.”
There you have it in a nutshell: friends, family, hard work and commitment. Ostentatiousness balanced by subtlety, the yin and yang of the modifying world. The still waters of Liam’s tuned VW Passat VR6 run very, very deep.
Tech Spec: Tuned VW Passat VR6
3.6-litre VR6, Stage 1 map, cat-back stainless exhaust system with 4” tips, remapped 6-speed DSG transmission
9.5×18” ET3 (front) and 10×18” ET7 (rear) 5×100 WORK Meister S1 3-piece split-rims, 215/35 (f) and 225/35 (r) Nankang NS-20 tyres, custom-drilled hubs and discs, Air Lift Performance Series bags, AccuAir E-Level management, custom boot build by @onlychargeddubs, 343mm (f) and 310mm (r) drilled and grooved discs, OE calipers painted in AMG Petronas F1 colours, camber arms
Full repaint in LC9Z-code Black Magic Pearl with extra flake, rear diffuser fins, OE-option chrome/brushed mirror caps, headlight upgrade with USDM enabled
xCustom-trimmed flat-bottom steering wheel (leather/Alcantara), extended shifter paddles, cluster update with blue needles and black/white display