Built as part of Meguiar’s Tom vs Dale build-offs, this modified VW Golf Mk2 is a masterful blend of automotive cultures.
Words: Alex Grant. Photos: Grant Marriott.
Popularity can be a double-edged sword in the modified game. Take the Mk2 Golf as an example; after 40 years as a staple part of the Volkswagen scene you’d be spoilt for choice when it comes to parts and advice, but with the flipside that you’d also have to dig a lot deeper for fresh ideas in the first place. There’s still plenty of untapped potential among the subtlest blends of new tech and classic influences, of course, but sometimes it pays to rip up the rules completely.
“If I was building a Mk2 for myself, then it wouldn’t be far off what we’ve done here,” smiles Tom Clarke, clearly buzzing at the slightly overdue end result of his most recent automotive brainstorming session. “There are loads of Mk2s out there winning shows, and I love every single one of them, but with this one I wanted to do something different. I wanted to create a conversation, something that would be brilliant for that Volkswagen world, and also escalate it some.”
If you’re familiar with Tom by name, you’ll also know that this sort of thinking is par-for-course. If not, then there’s a hint in the livery. The Golf is one half of the latest in-house project build-offs at Meguiar’s UK, and the third opportunity to lock creative horns with marketing executive Dale Masterman, who has been building a Ford Ranger in parallel. It’s a modifying grudge match born out of differing tastes that came to light working on early company demo cars. A process which has pitched Tom’s wide-body Renault 5 and flame-spitting Volvo Amazon against Dale’s low-riding Mercedes W114 and race-inspired Jaguar S-Type R. I’ve added a link to each car’s feature on the Fast Car YouTube channel – trust me, they’re worth the watch!
Tom’s car-building backstory
Creative differences are hardly surprising. While Dale grew up around his Dad’s hot-rods, Tom admits he “fell into” the automotive industry by accident. With only dull company cars on the family driveway, it was a neighbor’s meticulously detailed Mk1 Civic that sparked an interest, and the rest owes more to geography than genetics. The automotive world is pretty hard to avoid when you’re growing up close to Silverstone and its dense population of motorsport specialists, and they drew him into orbit too. After a weekend helping friends manning the Yokohama Tires sprint course at GTI International during the early 2000s, 18-year-old Tom wound up with a full-time job at the company and a working life surrounded by influential connections.
“I can’t hide the fact that I’m of the Max Power generation,” he laughs. “One of our customers was a shop in Milton Keynes, and those guys still are my best friends now. We’d do everything together; build cars, go to shows, go to Southend. So my car passion started when I was 18 and in my younger days it was always French cars, but Northamptonshire is quite Volkswagen-based. I’ve been fortunate to have friends building the best Mk2s in the country and we always had mutual respect for one another’s cars, but I’ve never built one myself.”
Far East inspiration
The Mk2 wasn’t a dead cert here, either. Loose ideas for a Golf weren’t set in stone until he found the right ingredients to step out of the comfort zone. Having been a big part of the Renault and Volvo builds, that process started with a “spitballing” session with Matt at Reflex Auto Design and an idea that stuck almost instantly. What about, budget permitting, injecting Japanese motorsport influences into the UK’s Volkswagen scene, with one of the country’s first Rocket Bunny kits? That would be pretty exciting, right?
“I don’t like to procrastinate,” Tom smiles. “By the time I’d got back to the office I’d already made contact with my Dutch colleague Paul, because the European importer for Rocket Bunny, TofuGarage, is a customer of ours. Within two hours I’d made the call to Alex at TofuGarage and 24 hours later he’d spoken to the Japanese team who’d supported us with a deal on a kit. It takes weeks to get here, so we ordered it before we’d even found a car.”
Speaking of budgets, those snowballing plans wouldn’t leave vast amounts for the car itself. Scouring classified ads was a careful balance between over-spending on a museum piece and bogging down in weeks of expensive body repairs, but luck was on his side. Hoping to borrow a trailer from MMR Performance, Tom discovered that owner Max had something even more useful lurking out of sight. A cheap, non-sunroof, three-door Mk2 bodyshell just waiting for the right home. Ideally, one with plenty of cleaning gear on site. The dots were easy enough to join.
“It had had one lady owner from new, then Max had owned it for 15 years and stored it under an oak tree,” he tells us. “It looked horrible, there was a lot of mildew and moss over the body, and it had been home to a litter of kittens through the winter so there was cat poo inside. But the tree gave it a constant, with no extreme sun, rain, or frost. It was a mega find.”
Better still, the moss wasn’t concealing anything unexpected. The body emerged almost unscathed from an initial jet-washing session needing only an outer sill repair to put it right, and, although interior had become an unsalvageable biohazard, its almost rust-free fixings at least made it easy to get rid of. Tom can’t help smirk remembering the look Matt gave him when he found out he’d be cutting up one of the cleanest unrestored Mk2 bodyshells he’d ever worked on.
Painstaking attention to detail
Despite saving time on restoration, the bodyshell was no shortcut – it’s a labor of love founded on Reflex’s experiences building countless Mk2s. By the time it arrived at Custom Cages, Matt had painstakingly deleted every redundant hole, bracket and panel in the cabin and under the bonnet – there were 55 of them in the engine bay alone. The FIA-spec six-point rollcage that followed is bespoke, designed in CAD based on a 3D-scanned model of the cabin including its 30 years of wear and tear. By packing it as tightly into the space as possible and stitch-welding it to the shell, the reward is a reduced need for gusseting and a cleaner finish.
If that sounds drastic, Tom had barely started. “This is the first genuine structural replacement carbon roof on the market,” he explains. “You have to remove the whole panel, then this bonds into the rain gutters. The original roof was absolutely perfect and it killed Matt to do it, so we reused the metal for the arch linings. With the Renault 5, the wide-arch kit had inner supports to add rigidity, and they broke off, so Matt fabricated an extended wheel arch for the kit to bolt onto. We’ve done the same with this.”
For all the visual impact of the Rocket Bunny kit, it’s a build that owes just as much to the tiniest details. Among them, the interior panels beneath the rear windows were re-shaped to allow the planned carbon fiber door cards to sit flat, while the fuel flap now extends outwards to follow the shape of the arches. After weeks of sleepless nights scrolling through images for the right spoiler, the perfect fit popped up at a classic car show – it’s a replica Lancia Delta Integrale Evo item, modified to fit the Golf’s narrower roof.
There’s an equal amount of insomnia in the choice of paint. Porsche Rubystone Red was on the cards from the start, but never as a standalone color. Instead, the livery is a nod to his roots; inspired by the Advan Racing war paint he’d seen working at Yokohama, though those black sections are also perfect for demonstrating detailing gear, and finished with reversed Meguiar’s graphics to blend a little of the drift scene into the Golf’s already eclectic mix.
“I really wanted to tie the color into the cabin,” continues Tom. “The idea was cherry blossom would link into the Japanese design cues and pull in the pink, but every time I looked at it all I could find was printed material and it wasn’t right. Then, at one o’clock in the morning on page God-knows-what of Etsy, this embroidered dress material came up. And I was like; ‘my God, yeah, that’s it!’
“The following morning, I came into work excited because I’d found this material, talked myself into going for it, then spoke to the missus who thought it was a bit over the top. Within a week I’d realized that ‘over the top’ was right, and what I wanted. It’s a really dense material so it can take all the abuse, and I’m really pleased with it. It’s so, so good.”
At this stage, it couldn’t be anything less than perfect. Having completed the seats, Hawkes Autoworks smoothed unwanted details from the dashboard before trimming it to match, and the hard graft on the bodyshell paid off during reassembly. The weave of the carbon fiber door cards is perfectly aligned from the front to the back of the car and mirrored on each side.
Wheels & suspension
Out of sight, the build team renewed every suspension part, and paired them with Still Static adjustable top mounts and a Noath tie rod flip kit to dial out bump steer. This helped to achieve a more track-ready ride height after installing H&R coilovers.
With more bodywork to fill out, custom wheels were a must. Image Wheels had been keen to help and had the flexibility to get the details right, helped by checking dimensions using wheels borrowed from the Renault 5, but the final design is unique. It’s a VR5 wheel, more usually found on a Skyline GT-R, but downsized in this case from 18 to 16-inches. That’s no easy task; the entire structure had to be re-engineered in CAD, but the staggered 9- and 10-inch-wide set fits the Golf’s swollen dimensions perfectly.
At least, they do after a final session of tweaking: “It was hard getting the ride height at the right place. Weirdly the top of the arch on the bodykit is higher than a standard Mk2 Golf. We’ve got H&R Ultra Deeps on it, absolutely maxed out, and if you max them out on a standard car then it’s dragging on the floor. On this, the arches sit right with the wheels.”
All of which left one final element to figure out. The shaved bay is home to some old-school tuning from J-Tech; a 2.0-litre ABF 16-valve with its a polished and ported head flowing air through Jenvey throttle bodies and a Milltek/TSR exhaust, and there’s no shortage of minute details tended to during the refit. The fly-by-wire actuator and expansion tank now sits in a new location to the side of the head, while the Forge radiator is shorter and wider than stock.
“I had a different gameplan – the inner chav in me wanted a supercharged R32 engine, because… noise and, err, noise basically. Within ten minutes of getting to J-Tech, Jamie had talked me out of it. He said he could make our engine bay look like Andrew Carter’s Mk2 – I’d given that an award at Players, it’s a work of art. Having had Jenveys on my 206, I was all aboard the excitement train again,” Tom laughs.
“But to have come at this and got it wrong would have been stupid, and everyone who has been on board with this has been on board with that. They’re die-hard Volkswagen guys, and they’d twitch sometimes, but I’d always tell them to just trust me and I’m really proud of everyone who worked on it. I just have a brain fart and people have to come on board, but to actually put out something like this is incredible.”
Having grown up watching some of the UK’s best Mk2 Golfs come to life, the bar was always going to be set high when Tom got a chance to build one himself. Motivated by a love of the Volkswagen scene but confident enough in the end result to bring die-hard enthusiasts on board, this mold-breaking Mk2 has found its own unexplored potential within the car’s 40-year status as a staple base car. Sometimes, all you need to do is rip up the rules a little bit.
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