Enjoy the Euro vibe? Here are some of the best VW project cars that you should consider for your next big build.
Volkswagen has always been a brand for the masses, but that doesn’t mean the German marque is short of models to get your pulse racing. In fact, the VW modifying and tuning scene is tremendously varied, meaning that there are all sorts of possibilities for you to consider when choosing a VW project car. Fortunately, I’ve picked out a handful of the best and collated them all in one place. So, if you’re suffering with indecision, hopefully this run-down of some of VW’s greatest hits should help you to reach some answers. So, that’s the intro covered, let’s dive straight in – here are some of the best VW project cars that you can buy on the used market today.
Best VW project cars
Golf Mk7 GTI – the ultimate VW hot hatch
If you’re going to build a FWD hot hatch, you might as well choose the OG. The Golf GTI wasn’t technically the first hot hatch to take the industry by storm, but it was the first to truly put the genre on the global map. The Mk1 will forever be a classic and the Mk2 (albeit having grown a bit fatter) is remembered fondly too. Many VW afficionados consider the Mk3 and Mk4 to have been the GTI’s downfall, though the Mk5 represented a dramatic return to form. Fast forward to the present day, and the Mk7 is considered to be the greatest Golf GTI generation of all time; the current Mk8 falling somewhat flat.
So, why is the Mk7 so adored? Well, the answer to that is twofold. Firstly, Volkswagen got the chassis tuning just right – something which is enhanced even further if you opt for an example with the optional Performance pack. This collection of optional extras includes better brakes and a limited-slip differential which helps the car to carry more speed through bends in a composed manner. And secondly, there’s the engine. The Mk7 makes use of the third generation of EA888 turbo in-line 4 motor, which is considered a modern-day tuning masterpiece. But don’t listen to me droning on about that, go ahead and check out our dedicated VW EA888 tuning guide to see what all the fuss is about instead.
Classic Beetle – the icon
From one icon to another, Volkswagen has given us some landmark model lines over the years. Ultimately, I couldn’t write up a piece on the best VW project cars without including the classic Beetle. This is, after all, where the VW tuning scene started. With power outputs that never topped double figures during its multi-decade production span, you’re never realistically going to make your classic Beetle fast if you retain its traditional air-cooled carbureted motor – which is part of the charm of these cars. Still, with the right mods, you can exceed the 100hp barrier for sure, which will help to make the car usable in modern traffic.
Instead the Beetle is in its element as a coastal cruiser, slammed show car, or heck – even reimagined as an off-road buggy. The point is, the Beetle community and aftermarket is incredibly strong, if you target some of the slightly slower-paced factions of car enthusiast culture. A clean exterior revamp and tasteful interior enhancements go a long way with these cars. However, given their age, be prepared that you may need to restore it as well as just simply modify it…
Corrado – left-field coupe cred
In my eyes, the Corrado is one of the coolest cars that Volkswagen has ever built. Period. Bursting with a late-’80s/early-’90s flavor of cool, the Corrado has a silhouette that lends itself so well to the modifying and tuning scene. Admittedly, it was never the quickest on its toes, but if you buy a VR6 version, it’ll have a decent amount of grunt as standard (between 174-190hp depending on spec) and a peppy exhaust note. With mods, you’ll be onto a winning powertrain for a clean street build.
Keep a particular eye out for the Corrado Storm and Campaign special editions. Admittedly, purists would rather that you didn’t modify one of these rare unicorns, but it’s still worth noting since these cars came with cool Classic Green, Mystic Blue, and Dusty Mauve Pearl color schemes. Mind you, these days it’s probably best to wrap or re-spray a basic Corrado in one of those colors if you really want a modified one in that hue. It’d probably be the cheaper option too. All in all, a Corrado would make for a great daily driver, stance car, or show build. You might even fancy using one as the basis for an amateur track car.
However, if the Corrado isn’t for you but you still like the idea of a six-cylinder VW project car, consider the Mk4 or Mk5 Golf R32s.
Lupo or Up! GTI – the go-kart build
There’s something incredibly fun about a small, lightweight supermini that’s been given just enough power to controllably fling around. It’s a terrible cliché, but the Up! GTI and Lupo GTI really do give off go-kart vibes. You’ll never break any lap records in them, but I can guarantee that every lap you do complete behind the wheel of one will be done with a massive smile on your face. You can rag them to eleven tenths pretty much everywhere without getting into too much trouble, just remember to be kind enough to keep on top of their maintenance. If you take care of them, these cars will take car of you.
Something like this probably shouldn’t be your only car – it’s hardly the most practical option, but if you’re in the market for some light-hearted fun on the side, it’d definitely be worth considering either of these models. How you decide between them could come down to simple aesthetics, or you might be swayed by the Up! GTI’s modern cabin features. Engine-wise, both are comparable, with the Lupo GTI cranking out 125hp from its N/A four-pot and the Up! GTI offering 113hp from its growly three-cylinder. Don’t expect to get too much more out of them through mods though. In fact, that’s probably part of the reason why these cars (more often in lesser non-GTI trims) regularly get turned into show cars instead, or receive ambitious engine swaps.
VW Transporter – modern #vanlife
Camper vans are almost as synonymous with VW as the Beetle and Golf are. The temptation is naturally to go for an old-school generation for the popular aesthetic. However, if you want a project van that fits into normal modern-day life, a 21st Century Transporter like this T5 makes more sense. Mechanically, you’re less likely to endure reliability woes on your adventures, and a modern van won’t struggle to get up hills like its predecessors might. Plus, the extra space inside and bigger potential for modern amenities means that a T5-or-newer Transporter would simply do a better job at being a camper van anyway.
Plus, there’s a massive aftermarket for these vehicles with swathes of dedicated enthusiasts laying in wait to help or advise. The movement is so big that we’ve even got a whole sister magazine dedicated to the VW Transporter lifestyle! Check out VWt here.
Part of the appeal of joining the VW scene is its classic model range. I’ve already mentioned the Beetle, but VW has a whole host of models in its back-catalogue that boast the sort of angular lines that work so well on Euro-style show cars. The Mk1 Golf is the go-to pick, but fans old-school Caddy pickups, Scirocco coupes, and Jetta sedans have proven many times over the years that these cars are just as worthy of pristine attention as the venerable hatchback.
Again, this type of project is all about the look and the style, rather than the actual dynamics. You could go down that route of course, but there are better VW project cars to start with if speed and agility is your goal. If you want to get a better understanding of what a ‘Euro-style’ show car actually is, have a read of our comprehensive show car guide (it’s right at the bottom).
Amarok – the overlander’s choice
Ok, so you like adventure, but not the campervan type of adventure. You prefer to test your ride’s off-road ability on the lesser trodden path, rather than tour the coasts and stop for picnics. If that sounds like you, you might be interested in this. VW’s best contribution to the overlanding community surely has to be the Amarok.
This modern pickup comes with the option of either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and a reasonable choice of engines. The basic original diesel doesn’t offer much to write home about, but the biturbo version extracts 161hp and 300lb ft of torque from the 2.0-liter four-pot. From 2017, a 3.0-liter TDI V6 was offered instead, which produces between 162-221hp depending on spec.
As for its off-road credentials, the Amarok has a body-on-chassis structure and features diff locks as standard. You can also choose between a single cab, or a crew cab if you plan on bringing some buddies with you. Throw in some aftermarket goodies like a lift kit, rugged tires, and body armor, and you’ll have a highly capable overlander.
Passat – VIP on a budget
VIP builds are effortlessly cool if done right. The idea is to look formidable on the outside, while enhancing the privacy and luxury of the inside. The mods themselves can be expensive by nature, but your base car doesn’t have to be in order to pull the look off well. I mean, just look at the wagon above.
Sure, something a bit more executive would be better, but if you want the VIP aesthetic on a non-VIP budget, regular common or garden Passats can rock the style surprisingly well. With the Passat, you can choose from sedan, wagon, or even CC coupe body shapes, and there are a fun selection of engines to choose from across the many generations. You’ve got everything from simple economy gas and diesel four-pots, right up to the VR6 motor and even a (very rare) W8! If the Passat doesn’t quite float your boat though, consider checking out these other VIP project car options.
Fancy a different marque? Try one of these instead: