Built to an uncompromising wishlist at Kraftwerx in Nova Scotia, this 650whp wide-arched track car might have its roots in Canada, but it’s a true product of the global Volkswagen scene. Words: Alex Grant. Photos: ECS Tuning.
WORLD IN MOTION
650WHP MK2 R32T - ULTIMATE Mk2?
Turbocharged R32 motor, all-wheel-drive, bare-metal build, Pandem kit, plus stripped and caged race-spec interior!
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ might once have been the mantra of carmakers’ motorsport efforts, but there’s a hint of irony to how that panned out with the Golf Rallye. Box arches and four-wheel drive were a gift to enthusiasts, but Volkswagen Motorsport arrived unfashionably late with its Group A entrant and, with reputation for supercharger woes, it never got a chance to shine in the environment it was built for.
Some 30 years forward and, while this didn’t start out as a Rallye, Paul Foreman can probably sympathise with the stressful process of evolving a regular GTI into a track-ready muscle car as the clock ticks down towards an unmissable deadline. This Mk2, which would become a standout at the 2018 SEMA Show was, even a year ago, never intended for that sort of Las Vegas spotlight. Dial in a parts wishlist no amount of eBaying could ever pull together, and the 3000-mile drive between car and owner while this all took place, and you start to get a feel for how impossible the whole thing must have seemed even a few months ago. Particularly as the Golf wasn’t dropped off at the workshop with an empty canvas and blank cheque. Spend even a short time talking to Paul and you realise that he’s played just as big a role in pulling it all together as the team at Kraftwerx in Nova Scotia where the build took place.
Nothing here is accidental, even the choice of business. “Loads of guys said I’m crazy for shipping my car cross-country for the build,” he says. “But, when you’re doing something like this, you don’t settle for someone because they’re close. The idea was to build a reliable, fast all-wheel drive Mk2 until Liqui Moly proposed the SEMA idea and it really picked up pace. When you get to that level, you want someone who can do it right, so shipping it cross country is the cheap part.”
For all that last-minute grief, this has never been a quick-flip project. Based in Pennsylvania, Paul bought the Mk2 as an unfinished project in 1997, a GTI with a turbo’d VR6 built at Momentum Motorsports in Vancouver, replacing the 16v he’d been using for drag runs and autotests up to that point. Power was no issue, especially by Nineties standards, but the Golf lacked traction and ideas hatched for something more ambitious. Unphased by trying something new, Paul and Shawn VanNeer at Momentum imported what would have been North America’s first 4Motion drivetrain from a donor Mk4 R32 in Germany and set about curing the shortfalls of front-wheel drive. Or, at least, that was the plan.
“Life got in the way,” explains Paul. “Shawn got married and had kids, we both started families and our time went into that, which put it on hold for a few years. The car, and me being part of the car world, stopped momentarily in about 2004, and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to get back into the scene.”
Progress didn’t halt completely in the meantime. The Golf lurked as a side project, amassing parts and gathering dust in various workshops across Canada as different people chipped away at the last of the work in evenings and weekends. It had almost slipped off the radar completely until, having just turned 40, Paul decided it was time to revisit the project, and was directed towards Kevin Misner and the team at Kraftwerx to tie up all of the loose ends.
“I bought from places in Belgium, Belarus, London, Germany, California, New York, Sweden… searching all over the world for what I wanted”
Only, by this point, it wasn’t just loose ends that needed tying up. The Golf arrived at the workshop in Nova Scotia on the back of a semi truck, in a 40-foot shipping container packed full of parts boxes, a stripped Mk2 bodyshell and a crashed Mk5 R32 donor car. And Paul admits it wasn’t just a case of bolting everything together and turning the key. “By this time, a lot of the work that had been done was 15 years old,” he tells us. “The car was damned near done, but there had been so much technological advancement, and so many new things on the market, and we were dealing with shit from the early 2000s. I had all this stuff bought but there were much better parts available. Kevin [at Kraftwerx] took what was usable, and we sold the rest to fund the build. He wanted to own the car, for it to be his work, and I understood that.”
This was an opportunity to start from a clean slate. And, while we’re used to obsessive engineering, it’s rare to meet someone prepared to be this ruthless in declaring desirable parts obsolete. “I still have a fully-built 3.1-litre 12-valve VR6, rated at 700bhp but never run,” Paul quips, curiously unphased by how impressive a garage ornament that is. “There’s a lot of money in it, and plenty of guys still run 12-valve, but I wanted that newer technology, and the reliability of not running a standalone ECU. Something you get in, turn on and just drive. Which is why we’d switched to the Mk5 platform.”
Of course, once creative mind meets can-do engineering, things tend to snowball. And, even before a chance meeting with a Liqui Moly rep got wheels in motion for its previously-unplanned trip to Las Vegas, Paul had gone beyond the idea of simply finishing the 4Motion conversion with the latest technology on board. Wide arches had been pretty much a requirement of the hardware underneath – space for full suspension travel when driven in anger, but also to get the body sat as low as possible with the wider track of the Mk4 axles when at exhibitions.
Naturally, Paul didn’t take the easy route. “I saw this black Mk2 with the Pandem kit at the Wuste show in Last Vegas, it was the first in North America, and it was beautiful. It looked like a Rallye on steroids, following the lines of the car without reinventing it or looking awkward. I had to have it, but it took a long time to find anyone who even sold them. Eventually I got hold of the guy with the black car, and he put me in contact with someone on the East Coast, who could ship it from Japan.”
The Rocket Bunny kit gave a useful three inches of extra width, but Paul and Kevin’s eye for detail meant it wasn’t a one-hit solution. Most of the chassis parts behind aren’t over-the- counter Volkswagen stuff, with a custom crossmember and control arms, camber plates, modified axles and alterations to the rear suspension to position the wheels perfectly within the larger arches. Scale Suspension coilovers, built for Time Attack, are a reminder that this isn’t some static stanced show car – even if it can cut it with the best of them.
There’s more of that function-focused ethic in the wheels. The Golf runs a set of custom-made 17" three-piece Rotiform BUCs and wide Toyo R1R road-legal track tyres – the only manufacturer with rubber fat enough to fill out the arches. Behind them, WIlwood four and six-piston calipers grab 307mm discs at each corner. Paul, it seems, isn’t intimidated by the prospect of hunting way beyond his back yard. “I’d spend every evening for months searching for the right vendors and parts based on looks, functionality and price,” he says. “I bought from places in Belgium, Belarus, London, Germany, California, New York, Sweden… searching all over the world for the parts I wanted. It wasn’t like I tried to buy stuff from the furthest place away, but it was who would call or e-mail me back. You’ve got to start there.”
This was a fine-toothed search. That Freedom Designs lower rear spoiler, for example, hasn’t been in production for almost 20 years, and the Hella spoiler at the top of the tailgate was no easier to source. He admits he got lucky finding a Belgian car on Instagram with an owner prepared not only to sell his, but to ship it to Canada.
Although the bodykit makes enough of a visual statement in itself, none of the minor details were left untouched. The Koobator wireless controls on the steering wheel mean the stalks on the column can be removed, for example, and the top-hinged OBP pedal box had to be modified to clear the rack – two days’ work, to avoid messier-looking floor-mounted pedals and reservoirs. And, while Paul managed to persuade a shop in the Netherlands to make a carbon fibre roof skin, removing the metal sunroof meant the entire original 20-year-old roll cage had to be replaced to avoid leaving a gap.
They’re tough calls when the clock is ticking but, incredibly, scouring Europe and North America for parts didn’t delay progress at all: “Partly by fluke, and with a lot of digging and the community giving out leads, I never got screwed over,” he says. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone took my money and either didn’t ship it or sent something that was garbage but that never happened to me, not even once. I had faith, and I didn’t get let down at all.”
The process was just as methodical over in Nova Scotia, including packing everything into the engine bay as a test-fit before the car was painted in September with weeks to spare before the deadline. That time spent shows in the finished product; the Mk5 R32 engine was rebuilt with stronger internals and a Garrett GTX 3582 turbo packed in under a custom exhaust manifold at the back of the bay, paired with a water-to-air intercooler and P-Motorsports short-runner inlet manifold up front. Skipping the three-month waiting time for the inlet meant talking a German owner into parting ways with a piece of his ongoing project to get the car finished in time – a small price for getting it just right.
Speaking of German imports, the R32 4Motion system eventually found its way under the car last year, now running a CRC Performance Haldex controller and SQS Sequential shifter with Peloquin limited-slip differentials. It’s earmarked for some dyno time in the coming months, but should be putting down a healthy 640whp, with all the hardware to really make the most of it. Having waited almost two decades, only meeting Kevin and the completed car when it rocked up in Las Vegas (a 62-hour drive from Nova Scotia in Canada) Paul still has a few months to wait before the hard work really pays off.
“We still have some work to do, but what they’ve accomplished in a short time, while maintaining such high quality, is amazing,” he says. “It’s not a trailer queen, it’s a good-looking race car with the performance to back it up. So it’ll be dynoed, tuned and taken to the track between now and the spring, when it leaves Kevin’s shop to come home. And we’re already changing the spec – are you ever really done?”
He’s probably closer than most. Unlike the Golf Rallye, this four-wheel drive track-bred machine arrived just in time to make a name for itself at an event better known for hot rods and supercars than 1980's German hot hatches. Volkswagen Motorsport might never have quite nailed the four-wheel drive Mk2-on-steroids formula on track, but a little of that DNA can still cut it 30 years on.
“We still have some work to do, but what they’ve accomplished in a short time, while maintaining such high quality, is amazing”
ENGINE: 3.2-litre VR6 24v from Mk5 R32, JE pistons, Integrated Engineering rods, Schrick cams, Supertech springs, ARP hardware, P-Motorsports short-runner inlet manifold, Garrett GTX 3582 turbo, dual Tial 38mm MV-S wastegates, Tial QRJ boost control valve, custom tubular manifold by Andy Krett, Vibrant Performance custom exhaust, DEI titanium turbo blanket and exhaust wrap, 870cc injectors, Nuke Performance swirl pot, fuel pump, regulator and filter, Vibrant fuel lines and fittings, United Motorsports engine map, CSF Racing cores for oil, heat exchanger and radiator, Sheepey Built water-air intercooler, PRP dual ice box/water meth container, Vibrant Performance HD quick-release clamps, Zealous Beauty washers, Mk4 Golf R32 Gen 1 Haldex with CRC Performance controller, SQS Racing 02M six-speed sequential shifter, Peloquin limited-slip differentials front and rear, Black Forest Industries motor and transmission mounts, Liteblox lightweight battery with isolator, firewall removed
CHASSIS: Scale Suspension custom-built time attack coilovers with custom spring rates and camber plates, Fabless Manufacturing tubeless control arms, Momentum Motorparts brake kit comprising WIlwood six-piston calipers (front) and four-piston calipers (rear), 307mm discs all round, custom-made 17x9 Rotiform BUC wheels, 245/35 Toyo Proxes R1R tyres
EXTERIOR: Pandem Rocket Bunny wide-body kit, custom carbon fibre roof, Golf Rallye headlights and grille, Freedom Designs lower rear spoiler, Hella Twin upper rear spoiler, PPG paint, Liqui Moly graphics
INTERIOR: Sparco Evo seats with GTI tartan centres, Schroth Profi XLT harnesses, OMP Superquadro wheel, Koobator wireless controls, CarbonTec carbon fibre door panels, AEM CD-7L display, Cartek PDM panel from Stable Energies, battery isolator, OMP fire suppression kit
SHOUT: Kevin and the team at Kraftwerx, Liqui Moly for the once-in a lifetime opportunity. All the sponsors who have helped along the way… you know who you are
“I wanted that newer technology… something you could get in, turn on and just drive”