Engine V8 LS Mk1 Golf V8 Six-litre V8 power, space frame and tubbed rear- end! The Mk1 GTI originally came with a 1.8-litre four-cylinder and people absolutely raved about it. Imagine what they’d think to Connor Hofford’s six-litre V8 example then… Words: Tony Saggu. Photos: Viktor Benyi.
There’s no replacement for displacement
etting traction can be a problem, it spins the tyres in all the gears and getting it sideways is always a concern,” explained Connor Hofford describing the gloriously perilous predicaments of piloting his horsepower happy six-litre, custom built Mk1 GTI.
Conner’s capers in mutant mechanics and far-out fabrication have produced what is without a doubt one the craziest custom Dubs we’ve ever seen or heard about; fuel injected Chevy V8 power, custom fabricated space frame chassis, rear wheel drive, fully restored show quality panelwork...and it’s street legal. This exercise in trophy winning tomfoolery would be a marvel of mechanical mischief if a skilled team of Hollywood hot-rodders would have pieced it together in a 'made for TV' mega shop. Hofford, however, had no such luxury, building the car from the frame up in his parent's cramped garage... on his own. Did we mention he’s only 23, too?
“It was just one of those crazy ideas you have floating around in your head,” explained Connor, “it didn’t make a lot of sense but I think that’s why I really wanted to build it.” While most of us may well have pondered the possibilities of stuffing a dirty great big V8 in a tiny Mk1, normally musing on the wrong side of a few too many beers, this Pennsylvania panel beater actually took the plunge, mixing equal parts lunacy and talent to get the job done. “I’ve always built cars,” insisted Connor, “fabrication and mechanics are in my blood, I work for a shop named Quality Custom Rides in Lancaster PA right now. I've worked there for over three years and I have learned a lot working on the cars day in day out, just picking up the skills to be able to get ideas out of my head and into the metal.” The passion for spinning spanners and massaging metal obviously goes back a fair way in Hofford’s history. “Before working at the shop I had a few different projects,” he told us, “The first would be a 1976 Jeep CJ7 that I built when I was 16. It was just a pile of parts I saved from the junk yard. I still have the jeep and it is powered by a Mercedes OM617 turbo diesel motor. It is lifted four inches and has 33" mud tyres and gets 30 mpg. The next is my 1981 VW Jetta Coupe,” he continued, “I traded a 1983 Rabbit GTI for that one. When I got the car I took it completely apart to redo it, I built an 8v 1.8 motor for it with lots of internal work. It’s also running dual Weber DCOE carburettors.
This car is also painted its factory colour... Sand Metallic. The car was built in nine months for a Mk1 build-off contest that was being held at the Mk1 Get Together in Ocean City Maryland during the annual H20 international show weekend. It was the only car that ended up being completed in time for the build off. I did pretty much all of the work but the body and paint work was done by my very good friend Alex Purcell.” With his brother Taylor also dragging home Dubs at a steady pace over the years, the Hofford household was never short of Fatherland fodder to be fettled.
“I found this GTI for sale on Craigslist in Manheim Pennsylvania back in early 2012,” confided Conner, “It wasn't in very good shape but I’d been looking for a Mk1 GTI for months and there just aren’t that many out there anymore.” The ‘84 vintage hatch was barely roadworthy, a lot of the interior was MIA and the tin worm had left the panels and much of the floor in a decidedly crispy condition. "I got it started and drove the car home at night in the rain after buying it,” recalled Connor, “a few miles down the road the hood flew open, denting the roof and bending the hood... the rear view mirror flew off, too,” he laughed. To add to the evening’s entertainment a faulty electric fan caused the wheezy geriatric four-cylinder to overheat and dump most of its coolant. Despite its catalogue of faults and foibles though, it was under the dents and deteriorating drivetrain still a GTI and Conner loved it, “I fixed the issues with the car and drove it everyday for a while... until I ran into more electrical and rust issues later on and had to park it up.” After some two years of slumber in storage the little red rust heap was dragged back out into the daylight and delivered to the Connor family’s garage. "I’d been thinking about repairing the rust and sorting out the wiring, but after going through it and having a really good look things just looked too far gone,” explained Connor, “It really needed a new floor and a complete new wiring loom.” Faced with a major restoration project rather than being disheartened, our man saw a host of interesting possibilities. “My friend Bob Hershey had built a V8 powered flip body Pro Street 1959 Fiat 500 a few years ago,” he told us, “it was crazy... 427 cubic inch, over 700 horsepower, just a totally radical custom car that blew people away, I figured if I was going to be rebuilding so much of the GTI I may as well go all the way and built something like that.”
The heart of the crazy creation would be the all important V8, and flavour of the month for anyone swapping an eight cylinder into just about anything in the land of the free at the moment is the General Motors supplied LS motor. Offered in a host of options, plentiful as pubs and cheap as chips, the LS series V8s seem to be cropping up hiding under the hoods of all manner of custom machinery of late... and why not, if your wallet is up to it and you know what you’re doing, squeezing two thousand horses out of an LS motor is not unheard of. “The motor was from a 2006 GMC Savana Cargo van that my friend's dad had been driving for work,” revealed Connor, “The motor had developed a mysterious squeaking sound that no one could track down. I bought the van for $700 and pulled the engine out. When I pulled the motor apart I discovered that the camshaft and lifters had failed and were the source of the squeak.” With over a quarter of a million miles on the workhorse engine a full rebuild was on the books, a cost Connor had calculated was well worth the money and effort, “Those vans come with the Vortec LQ4 variant of the LS motor... that’s the big six litre,” he winked.
With somewhere a little south of 2000lbs to lug around the powerplant would obviously need a good infusion of speed parts to help it on its way. Once the block had been stripped, cleaned and machined a healthier polished and ported pair of LS3 heads were attached, with a large duration cam thrown in the motor has power a plenty and a radical idle any dragster would be proud of. Racing pistons, a huge billet throttle body and custom free-flow headers feeding a minimalist exhaust system all add up to big power and monster torque. “I’m using an old school Muncie M20 manual transmission behind the motor at the moment,” smiled Connor, “It’s pretty much just a burnout machine.”
Surprisingly enough no one was offering a swap kit to slip the sizable six litre into the diminutive aperture under the Mk1 bonnet. “I was surprised too,” joked Conner, “The only way the project was going to happen was if I totally scratch built the chassis and floor,” he told us. “The first thing I did was cut the entire bottom side out of the car to make room for the custom chassis that I would need to fabricate. The chassis itself is mainly made from 2x3'' rectangular tubing with the exception of the 2x4" rectangular tubing that I welded into the rockers. The roll cage is made from 1 5/8" tubing. The chassis is very similar to the ones usually found under a hot rod or a Pro-Street car,” he continued, “It was hard to get started with building the chassis as I built it in my parent's garage and hadn't built one before. Placing the front cross member and the motor mounts was hard as I wanted to conceal the motor completely under the original hood.
In keeping with the dragster style Pro-Street theme the tube frame was augmented with a much needed 10-point roll cage and familiar quarter mile mechanics such as a custom 4-link rear suspension and Mustang 2 style double wishbone independent front suspension, a favourite for its compact size which allowed the antiquated McPherson struts to be binned. “A big requirement was to keep the 10" BBS wheels inside the rear quarters,” insisted Connor, “I wanted to retain that original MK1 flavour but with a twist.” A stout 9" Ford rear axle was mercilessly sliced and shortened before having the German hoops attached and being hung from the custom frame, the resulting half acre of rubber tucked inside the bodyline is the closest thing to subtle this Rabbit has to offer. The rear arches took a good deal of massaging, being stretched to accommodate the huge rubber, the sills also took some tugging in order that they might be stretched over the low slung frame.
Clued up Dub freaks will already have guessed that any GTI of an ’1984 vintage sourced from the US of A shouldn’t have such smooth seductive lines, the Westmoreland curse included hideous headlights, ridiculous rears... and those bumpers... oh those bumpers. “I’m not a big fan of that US-spec look,” Connor reassured us, “The whole front end was converted to Euro style round headlights and thin chrome bumpers, we had to fabricate the bumper mounts and clean up the valance too. I did all of the work on the car except for the body and paint work which was done by my good friends Geoff Wood and Rich Wright, their work really speaks for itself... the car was a wreck before they got it.” Messrs Wood and Wright smoothed the panels, stitched on a few choice mods and reapplied several coats of the OEM Royal red, a colour chosen for its classic early Mk1 character.
While creature comforts weren’t a notable feature in early GTI cabins, this particular extra hot hatch has taken the minimalist approach and added a few bare necessities. Hand formed metalwork is everywhere, the custom crafted aluminium transmission tunnel houses turn signals and a classic Hurst shifter topped with a vintage Kamei golf ball knob. Readouts of the vital signs come courtesy of a Racepak display strapped to the rollcage, while a few nods have been given to style the brief here is clearly business. “I haven’t had the chance to spend a lot of time in there yet,” lamented Connor, “I want to get the car out more and put some miles on it, as you might expect it’s a blast to drive once you get used to the power a bit.” We aren’t sure anyone would ever get used to the kind of speed and acceleration such an insane power to weight ratio offers, but one thing is clear, this little ballistic build has the numbers to embarrass most fancy supercars. The car has proved to be a major people pleaser too, “I was blown away by the response the car got on its first outing at the SEMA show last year,” enthused Connor, “It placed in the top 40 of the Battle of the Builders competition, top ten in ''Young Guns'', received a Mothers Polish choice award, and a Best VW award from eJudged.” The praise is indeed richly deserved, Hofford’s hot rod is equal parts insanity and genius, an eclectic mix of styles brought together by an unfettered imagination and executed with exquisite talent and a genuine passion for the art form... this is what burning the rulebook looks like.
ENGINE: 370 cubic inch (six-litre) GM LS motor, Iron block LQ4 bored .030, Callies Compstar H-beam rods, Diamond Racing flat top pistons, Texas Speed cam 231/236 111LSA, ported LS3 heads, stock LS3 intake, 92mm FAST throttle body, FAST EZ EFI 2.0 LS management, custom stainless steel headers by GPHeaders
CHASSIS: custom BBS split-rim wheels 4x15" (front) and 10x15" (rear). Custom tube chassis built in my home garage, 10-point roll cage, four--link rear suspension with narrowed Ford 9" rear axle, Mustang 2 style front suspension, QA1 coilovers all round
EXTERIOR: handmade aluminium transmission tunnel, Racepak IQ3 display mounted from custom roll cage, turn signals moved to transmission tunnel with inertia triggered turn signal canceller, Hurst shifter with vintage Kamei golf ball knob, VW air-cooled brake and clutch pedal pads
INTERIOR: One piece front clip, euro bumpers, euro radiator support, short early taillight panel, custom tubular bumper mounts, bumper mount holes cleaned up, stretched rockers to cover frame, side marker holes closed, polished flag mirrors and door handles. The original gas cap is now used as a main power disconnect switch and the fuel fill is now behind the flip down license plate. I also shaved the rear hatch and installed an electric popper
SHOUT: Huge thanks to Geoff Wood and Rich Wright for all of their help with doing the body and paint work on the car. Without all of their late night the car wouldn't have been completed in time for SEMA 2017. Huge thanks to my boss Mike Heim (owner of Quality Custom Rides in Lancaster Pennsylvania) for his help with the electrical system and for allowing me to bring the car to the shop to complete the project. Custom upholstery by Brad Wurzbacher of Lucky 7 Rod Shop, Stewartstown Pennsylvania. Huge thanks to my parents, Rob Hofford and Janet Malin and my brother, Taylor Hofford for all of their support over the course of the project. Thank you to all of the sponsors that have helped greatly along the way: GP Headers- Custom stainless steel headers Racepak- Gauge components, Fuel Air Spark Technology (F.A.S.T.)- EZ Efi 2.0 LS engine management system, Wilwood Disc Brakes- Brake system, Pete Teasdale- Engine block machining Ron Francis Wiring- Express wiring harness, Max Herr- Front wheel machine work
The $700 base motor was pulled from donor van, stripped, cleaned, machined and rebuilt with LS3 heads, a larger duration cam, racing pistons, billet throttle body and custom, free-flowing headers.
A stout 9" Ford rear axle was mercilessly sliced and shortened before having the German hoops attached and being hung from the custom frame, the resulting half acre of rubber tucked inside the bodyline.
The chassis is very similar to the ones usually found under a Pro-Street car. I built it in my parent's garage which was tricky.
The BASE motor was from a 2006 GMC Savana Cargo. Those vans come with the Vortec LQ4 variant of the LS motor... that’s the big six litre version.