500bhp AWD Syncro Volkswagen Golf Mk2



For all the advice, research and experience you’ll put into it, buying a project car is usually steered as much by gut feeling as it is by good sense. It’s that nagging part of the brain that makes us walk away from fundamentally solid cars, or overlook the downsides in others just because they feel right. Ironically, for Stephen Hunt, those early superstitions when he bought this car 18 years ago turned out to be spookily accurate.

“I’ve always been told green cars are bad luck,” he tells us, strangely at odds with an emerald-hued ownership period that’s outlasted some dust-to- dust car lifecycles. “I remember buying a green Rallye before this car, planning to get it in for a respray, but I got rid of it a week later.”

Needless to say, the path from A to B has been a little more winding than first anticipated. Rooted in an era before Instagrammable ‘break the- internet’ builds, what you see here is shaped as much by circumstances as any surviving shred of the original gameplan. But, if anything, it’s the sorest points of his car-owning history that have shaped it most. And they haven’t always been painted green.

Overlooking a brief tangent into classic Minis, Stephen has had at least one Volkswagen Group project on the go for most of the time he’s had a driving licence. The highs have been good – two of his Golf G60s wound up in these pages after he parted ways with them – but they’re mixed with lows deep enough that the impatient would have bogged down and given up. Instead, blown engines and crusty bodywork have been opportunities to learn, and you quickly get a feel for how patient he is when there’s an end goal in sight.

In this case, even the starting point wasn’t straightforward. “I wanted to do a 20-valve G60 conversion, so I searched Germany to find a donor Syncro,” he recalls. “It was around the time when we had the diesel shortages [in 2000], and everyone was scrabbling around for fuel. So I asked the guy if he could transport it to Calais and give me two cans of diesel to get home again. I wouldn’t have been able to get back otherwise.”

“With a short-runner inlet, like the R32, it should give another 100bhp. That’s the idea, anyway”

Starting with a G60 Syncro must have felt like a shortcut at the time, but the previous owner’s choice of Audi Cactus Green paint lived up to its unlucky reputation. Within days of getting it home, Stephen had lifted the factory engine and swapped it into his Mk1 – paired with a 4+E gearbox, and trailered the rest of the Mk2 away for it its uplift in valve count. Around 18 months later, the shell came home as a dust-covered financial black hole, barely touched on in the meantime.

 But it did, at least, offer some foundations; an overbored but otherwise bare 20-valve engine and Quaife box, good for putting down 500bhp once the rest of the ancillaries had been built around it. Or, at least, it was for a short period. “On the way home from GTI International when it was at Bentwaters [in 2003], there was a big puff of blue smoke and it started dumping neat oil straight out of the exhaust,” he tells us. “So we stripped it down, wondering why it was burning so much oil, and it turned out the block had been bored out to 83mm, but they’d put 81mm pistons in.”

 Junking the original plan didn’t mean starting from scratch, but it did give a chance for a re-think. The seed of inspiration came from a Quattro-converted five-pot Mk2, highlighting that the Golf’s front end had the space for some more commonplace high-performance Audi parts. The reward for switching from the standard transverse (left to right) drivetrain to a longitudinal (front to back) layout would, he reckoned, offer up enough space to wedge an S4 V6 Biturbo behind the grille.

Engineering challenges – as big as they were – looked like the lesser of two evils, he says: “I had a Mk1 Golf VR6 Turbo, bored out to 3.0-litres, and that ran a Haldex with an 02J Quaife gearbox. It split the input shaft on the transfer box and broke numerous CV joints. Everyone had done 20-valve conversions, so I thought I’d do something different.”

The Syncro bodyshell saved some of the hard work, already having the raised boot floor, re-shaped fuel tank and rear subframe mounts, but it didn’t avoid the need for some rare-model cannibalisation. Instead of Golf parts, the rear subframe was a near-straight swap from a German import B2 Passat Syncro, which also has a longitudinally mounted drivetrain, and the donor car also gave up its transmission tunnel, widened at the neck for the S4 bellhousing. Unfortunately, having reached the point of mounting the wide-angle V6 into its custom subframe, the end point suddenly bolted back over the horizon.

“We got the first turbo in on the left side, but we couldn’t get the other in on the right because there wasn’t enough room without chopping it about again. So it sat there for around five years gathering dust, until my mate rang me up one day and asked if I wanted to scrap it.

“The car had spent eight years doing nothing by that point, but I wasn’t going to scrap it. I’d sold all my other cars after a back operation, and I only had the Mk2 left. So I built a garage at home, moved everything around, brought the car back and decided to do the rest of it myself.”

It needed more than a few loose ends tying up. The build had stalled as a rolling shell and, although the S4 swap wasn’t possible, a lot of the groundwork for the longitudinal engine was already in place. Stephen also had a few of the right bits in store from other projects which could help it along – including, it happens, a 2.0-litre 20-valve bottom end rebuilt with specially-made Wossner pistons and uprated Pauter rods, and a gas-flowed head with Schrick cams to pair it with. Even then, he says, it was hardly plug-and- play. The new engine required further modifications to the subframe, later including a protective crossmember for the shallow sump behind. Its steering rack, now swapped to the right-hand side of the car, has been spaced to push it forward to clear the block and is linked to backwards-mounted hubs. Despite the longitudinally-mounted engine, there was still just enough room up front for a standard-size Rallyespec radiator and intercooler behind the grille. It’s an investment in avoiding headaches later on, as Stephen explains.

“Everyone had done 20-valve conversions, so I thought I’d do something different”

 “I wanted seats in the back, so I could take friends out in the car, or put the kids in there. So I tried to fit everything in the front without much modification, and everything is available off the shelf instead of having to get it specially made. The engine mounts are standard Audi, or polyurethane, and the only part I’ve had to make is the subframe. I wanted it to look as original as possible.” It’s also only re-engineered where required. The gearbox is a six-speed S4 unit, running an 034Motorsport clutch and flywheel and delivering power to the B2 Passat rear diff and driveshafts via a shortened and balanced Audi prop. On the dyno at Emerald, the engine makes 465bhp, fed by 19PSI of boost from the Owen Developments turbo and a healthy shot of super unleaded from the 1000cc Injector Dynamics injectors and Bosch ECU. Strong figures for an engine still restricted by its standard inlet and exhaust manifolds. “John at Emerald said he couldn’t believe how well it flowed and reckoned if I got the manifolds made in tubular it would run even more,” says Stephen. “Being longitudinal it’s a straight six-inch section of tube into the intercooler, and another out the other side into the inlet. So it’s one loop rather than three feet going around the engine, and I think that helped.”

Spurred on by light appearing at the end of the tunnel, the hunt was on by this point to dig out all of the right parts for the rest of the car,  and his luck was improving. The fully-functional Digifiz cluster turned up in France, complete with the correct CE2 loom and only needing a converter to switch it to a miles per hour readout. Because it’s mixing similar-era parts, the coilovers are an off-the-shelf FK kit for a Rallye, while the standard-size discs are clamped by lightweight Wilwood four-piston calipers up front. Previous projects had given him some ideas for how to finish it off. The Recaros aren’t factory-fitted, but using the Passat transmission tunnel meant there were no headaches bolting them into the car once they’d been re-trimmed in body-coloured alcantara and black leather. They’re from the same contact in the Netherlands who supplied the wheels – OZ Turbos, in a more aggressive, staggered fitment than the set he’d run on a previous Golf G60.

“The Golf is around two inches wider at each back corner, the bodywork seamlessly extended using a second G60 arch skin”

Needless to say, ten-inch wide wheels weren’t a bolt-on job, but a little custom work is hardly a deal-breaker once you’re in this deep. The Golf is around two inches wider at each back corner, the bodywork seamlessly extended using a second G60 arch skin. Because the previous owner had supplied some spare paint, RP Autoshop in Elmsett was able to rectify some storage scars without having mis-matched panels. It’s a Mk2 taken back to its simplest form; deleted badges, a two-lamp grille and doors that release via solenoid and a button under the wing mirror. A timeless combo.

 Just as well, really. After a 15-year wait, he’s taking no risks. “I haven’t really tested it yet – I like a fast car but I’m wary about braking things. I don’t want to start launching it off the line and have problems. I haven’t had any yet, other than going into a petrol station and hitting a raised bit of the floor, which took the sump right out. There’s a solid bar protecting it now, so if I hit a bump then it’s only the subframe I’m hitting.”

Of course, it’s never finished. Long gaps in progress with the Golf have given him time to turn his attention to other projects, and more opportunities to refine the ideas that first went into this car. Among them is an A3 built on B7-generation front-end parts, ready for a longitudinally-mounted engine. It’ll never see the road, but the neater steering setup is earmarked to be transferred into the Golf, along with an unusual route to more power.

“I broke a Passat VR5 as a donor for the A3, and the crank is forged in the 170bhp version, which I didn’t realise until I took it apart,” he explains. “Everyone is doing the R30 conversions, based on the R32 engines but using the smaller crank, and this is based on the same crank as the 2.8. I don’t think people realise what this engine is.”

“The mounts are the same as the 20-valve, but it’s about 50mm shorter which means I’ll be able to run a twin fan, and I’ve bored it out to use 84mm pistons – the same as the R30. The only special thing I’ve had to get for it is a copper head gasket. With a short-runner inlet, like the R32, it should give another 100bhp. That’s the idea, anyway.”

A lucky find, then, for a car that’s had its fair share of misfortune to get where it is today. As frustratingly accurate as those early superstitions might have been, it’s outlasted every other project that’s come and gone since. And we’d share Stephen’s gut feeling, that the best is yet to come.


ENGINE: 1.8-litre 20-valve AGU, 2.0-litre block, Wossner 84mm pistons, Pauter rods, A4 sump, Jabbasport gas-flowed head, Schrick cams, Wagner Rallye intercooler, Rallye radiator, Owen Developments HTA GT35R turbo, custom intercooler pipework, cotton air filter with custom heat shield, Emerald K6Plus ECU, 1000cc ID injectors, Bosch 044 fuel pump, Viper Performance hoses, custom stainless steel exhaust, Audi S4 six-speed 01E gearbox, 034Motorsport flywheel, clutch and pressure plate, custom subframe (front) with two extra engine mounts, widened B2 Passat transmission tunnel, B2 Passat Syncro rear subframe and differential, cut and balanced Audi S4 propshaft, B2 Passat Syncro driveshafts (front and rear)

CHASSIS: Crosshair headlights, Audi Cactus Green paint, Single-lamp grille, two-inch rear arch extensions, plastic trim removed, fully colour-coded bumpers, clear indicators, yellow-tinted fog lights, door handles removed and smoothed, door release buttons under wing mirrors, debadged rear

EXTERIOR: Crosshair headlights, Audi Cactus Green paint, Single-lamp grille, two-inch rear arch extensions, plastic trim removed, fully colour-coded bumpers, clear indicators, yellow-tinted fog lights, door handles removed and smoothed, door release buttons under wing mirrors, debadged rear

INTERIOR: Mk2 Golf Recaro seats trimmed in black leather and green alcantara, Digifiz instruments with MPH conversion, Raid steering wheel, Zeitronix wideband air-fuel gauge

SHOUT: Simon Scholey at ISC Racing, Matt Wright, my mates down in Basingstoke – Goldie, James, Will, Tom and everyone while I had the car down there.

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