Harlequin Right-hand drive VR6 homage to the most colourful Golf… If you thought the Golf Harlequin was an oddball creation then we can’t imagine what you’re going to make of Lee Docherty’s one-off homage. There’s daring to be different and then there’s this… Words: Elliott Roberts. Photos: SMC.
TASTE THE RAINBOW
o, you’re not mistaken, the Mk3 Golf Harlequin was only every available stateside and in left-hand drive formation. What you see here then is a homage to the American oddball but, well, on some kind of LSD trip, clearly. So you’d naturally presume its creator, 37-year-old Lee Docherty, from the sleepy village of Bonnybridge in Falkirk, is something of a nutter, too, but having met the guy on a number of occasions we can confirm that’s not the case at all. Well, either that or he’s really good at hiding his condition.
Looking at the lengths Lee has gone to to create this rolling work of art, it would be easy to think this was a well planned operation carried out with meticulous detail from day dot, but that wasn’t quite the case. “Yes, I intended to modify the car, but never planned to go this far. I was originally going to sell it after a year as I had another itch that needed scratching in the shape a Clio V6.” As it happens, things got out of control with the Mk3, though, in a major way!
Lee confesses he’s had something of a checkered past where modified cars are concerned: “It all started with a bunch of Fiats before I had a brief dalliance with a Skoda Fabia vRS,” he said. That was quite short lived, however, and Lee soon found himself in a cleaner than clean Focus RS: “I got to the stage with the Focus where I had cleaned it so much that I didn’t want to drive it, though. After selling that, five short hours later I found myself on the way to buy a Series 1 Escort RS Turbo, which had already been tuned to around 200bhp.” Lee claims he made a few upgrades to the RST but admits it felt wrong changing such a classic car. “I felt I needed something different that would allow me to make it my own without those concerns – enter the Mk3 Golf.”
Having become good friends with a certain Darren Burt around the same time, Lee claims that was the big changing point and where his real obsession with modified Dubs begun: “Darren made me see the light I guess and it just spiraled from there.”
The car Lee eventually sourced was a 1996 GTI 16v and, as everybody had said, after delving a little deeper it was pretty rusty below the surface: “The first thing I did was throw the budget out the window and put the car in for some rust repair,” he said. At that point all he had planned were a few cosmetics, some Porsche wheels and lowered suspension.
The whole Mk3 seed had actually been set many years earlier after Lee fell in love with neighbour’s Mulberry VR6 and he promised himself one day he would own one. I bet he never imagined it would wind up like this, though! “In the end I wound up having the car totally resprayed in the original Tornado red, throwing on some Raceland coilovers and a set of 16” Teledial wheels.” Lee began joking with his friends at the time that one day he would turn it into a Harlequin replica, but admits he never dreamed he would go through with it. “After a year of owning the car I got a bit bored and decided it was time to move on, so I bought a Passat Sport 20v and put the Mk3 up for sale.” The trouble is, the Golf would either break down or develop a fault before he could sell it, so Lee just wheeled it into the garage and forgot about it for a few months.
“I eventually came to the conclusion that the Mk3 wanted to stay so had to decide what to do with it. It was around this time that my friend Ed Johnston introduced me to Stu Elrick, who it transpires was the only painter crazy enough to take on my vision for ‘Project Harlequin’ as it had become known.” Lee reckons that had the car started out any other colour than red then he probably wouldn’t have gone through with the makeover: “The red base colour scheme is my favourite Harlequin combination by far,” he admitted. Having seen American Harlequins in magazines (but only the European Polo Harlequin in the metal), Lee decided it would be great to put his spin on a UK Harlequin version of the Mk3, so Stu was instructed to apply the Ginster yellow, Chagall blue, Pistachio green and Flash red in the correct places: “Technically it should be Tornado red, but I preferred the richer Flash red shade,” Lee confessed.
“Other than painting the car in the original four-colour combination the first thing we did in terms of mods was smoothing the front bumper, removing the rear wiper and narrowing the rear plate recess 2”.” This was back in 2012 and the project was only really just beginning. A set of super rare Autostradt Monzas were also added to up the stakes somewhat.
This is how the car remained for a while until Lee got itchy modding fingers again and somebody suggested he speak to Dougie at Trix with regards to an engine swap. Dougie is no stranger to these pages, his own ever-evolving Mk3 has graced our cover slot on two occasions alone. With Lee’s crazy ideas and Dougie’s hands-on skills this was clearly going to be fun!
“I’d always liked the clean look of the VR6 engine and if we were going down the smooth bay route then I figured it would be a good place to start, while also offering some extra power over the original two-litre 16v.” The donor engine came from a 70k mile 1995 Mk3 and slotted in a treat. Dougie has fitted a few in the past, so he knows all the tricks, too: “In the process we raised the engine 10mm at the gearbox mount and 25mm at the front mount, then the chassis was notched and the exhaust centre silencer removed,” he said.
This was all in preparation for the air ride system that was soon to follow and to help achieve maximum ‘lows’ on full drop.
While the bay was being smoothed the pair also decided to remove the expansion tank and fitted a US-spec radiator cover, plus a custom air intake was fabricated, too. “We also removed the original ABS system and fitted the set-up from a Ford Mondeo, which is hidden in the rear of the car.” Lee claims he worked closely with Dougie on and off for three years getting the install right, gradually changing and improving things as they went along before the engine and the underside could all powder coated in matching Harlequin colours.
During this period Lee began researching air ride system and by coincidence, he just so happened to noticed an advert online from Dougie who was selling the full-manual Rayvern kit from his car: “As the Mk3 was at Trix’s place anyway I made a quick phonemail to Dougie and ended up buying it from him there and then.”
As well as installing the air Dougie also added custom, multi-coloured brake pipes, Powerflex bushes, braided brake lines and a 288mm brake upgrade. “The brake calipers were also stripped and painted two-tone in Harlequin colours on each corner of the car. It wasn’t until last year that Lee hooked up with Billy Denholm at Complete Auto Solutions and more fun and games could begin: “After a catastrophic incident on the motorway coming back from Dubfiction, which left the old suspension system irreparable, we decided to upgrade to the Air Lift Slam system the car runs today, with full Autopilot v2 digital management. Let’s just say Billy is largely responsible for how the car sits in its current state.”
The ABT V1 wheels we added at this stage too but thankfully Lee decided to paint all four of these in gloss white. No doubt he was tempted to paint each one a different, Harlequin shade, but we’re glad he resisted the urge (although he did fit multi-coloured Lego dust caps as a compromise).
Even with a car as ‘out there’ as this we feel he could have easily gone over the top, and different coloured wheels perhaps might have been the tipping point!
During the same period the engine bay was being smoothed Lee also fitted a Vento frontend, US-spec side markers and had the rear arches cut out and flared to accommodate the 9.5” wheels he was running at the time. Those with a keen eye will notice the car also runs a full Votex bodykit, has had the side repeaters deleted, Lupo stubby mirror fitted, plus the Hella Blue Magic rear lenses.
As if the bodywork and attention to detail under the bonnet isn’t mad enough, we think the interior and boot instal quite possibly steals the show: “It’s without a doubt my favourite part of the car, too. Del at Optimus Automotive Trimmers UK has done an unbelievable job with the trim.
From the moment we met we were instantly on the same page and the ideas were flowing.” If you take a look you’ll notice each seat has been trimmed in one of the four Harlequin colours, with contrasting side panels and head rests. “Del even found a multi-coloured thread he’d wanted to try out for ages and it all made sense the day I arrived,” he laughed. As if that wasn’t enough, Lee fancied going one step further and asked Del if he could stitch ‘Harli Concept’ into each seat, in contrasting thread of course.
He continued the rainbow wash with a multi-coloured gearstick gaiter, handbrake cover, door cards, sun visor and the 280mm Momo Team steering wheel. “Michelle Waters, from Dubfiction, then sourced me custom seats belts, all four being in different colours and then Billy at CAS completed the interior with the full, Lego boot built.” The latter has got to be our favourite part of the project as it’s so unique and actually looks like the Lego alone is holding the whopping air tank in place.
And finally, after months (possibly years) of us chasing him, Lee was happy to let us shoot the car for this feature. So it’s finished then? “Yes, I can 100% say that for the first time in six years I’m totally happy with how the car looks. And besides, my wife Joanne says I’m not allowed to touch another project, so I guess I’ll stick to tinkering with my Mk6 GTD, the car I said I’d never modify.”
So what’s the Mk3 like to drive then? “It’s different. Seriously though, it’s a fantastic car to be in, the noise of the VR6 through the straight pipe exhaust is great and obviously it puts a big smile on everybody’s face.” Lee claims you always get people smiling and waving.
“Sometimes the looks of incomprehension, but it’s certainly a talking point. It’s amazing how many good friends I’ve made purely because of this car.” So you’d do it again given the chance? “Definitely. It’s been a huge experience, not always enjoyable, but if everything had gone smoothly then the car probably wouldn’t have half as much character. It’s not perfect, either, but for every little blemish I can at least tell the story.” Isn’t that what it’s all about, making friends and sharing stories? This is certainly an epic tale we won’t forget in a hurry. You probably feel the same, too!
As if the bodywork and engine isn’t enough, we think the interior steals the show
The red base colour is my favourite Harlequin combination by far
ENGINE: 2.8-litre 12v VR6 conversion, powder coated and painted in Harlequin colours, custom air intake, power steering bottle hidden down by chassis leg, expansion bottle removed, battery relocated to the boot, engine raised, wire tuck, Ford Mondeo ABS, US radiator cover, smoothed bay, straight through exhaust, Jetex back box
CHASSIS: 7x17 ABT V1 wheels, 20mm rear spacers, Falken 195/40 ZR17 tyres. Air Lift Slam kit with Autopilot V2 management, 288mm discs, two-toned brake calipers in Harlequin colours, chassis notch, custom multi-coloured brake lines, Powerflex bushes all round, Whiteline anti-roll bars, full underside powder-coated in Harlequin colours
EXTERIOR: fully resprayed in genuine Harlequin colours, smoothed front bumper, US smoked side markers, fog lights replaced with air ducts, Vento front, headlights split/painted black, phase 1 grille, Votex bodykit, Lupo GTI stubby mirrors, Hella blue Colour Magic rear lights, side repeaters removed, rear arches flared out 25mm, custom tailgate debaged, de-wipered, recess shortened
INTERIOR: full custom leather retrim, multi-coloured thread detail, Harlequin Concept embroidered logos, sun visors/door cards/gear gaitor/handbrake cover retrimmed in leather in four different colours, Momo 280mm steering wheel custom leather retrim, Mk3.5 Golf convertible dimpled dashboard, Air Lift controller mounted with Lego surround on dash, custom clocks by Euroglow, custom seat belts (one in each colour), Alcantara headlining and ABC pillars, grab handles painted in four colours, full boot build, Air Lift tank with Lego built round to look like supports, compressor sitting in Lego recess, 10” Hertz sub, Hertz 4-channel amp hidden in spare wheel well
SHOUT: Thanks to my wife Joanne for not divorcing me, Stu Elrick, Ed Johnston and Darren Burt, Douglas Flockhart at Trix, Del Barrie at Optimus Automotive Trimmers UK, Pete at Auto Tasak, Eddy at Treads, Billy Denholm and Erik Duncan at Complete Auto Solutions, Rab at Fast Fit Airride, Michael at Kleen Freaks, Michelle Waters and everyone else I’ve probably forgot to mention!