That eighties show. Auto Finesse goes ubër 80s with this 400bhp throwback Mk2 bursting with rare period parts! Part touring car, part Eighties throwback, and packing a 380bhp turbocharged 20-valve, Auto Finesse steps back into the spotlight with proof positive that you still haven’t seen every way to crack a show-stopping Mk2. Words: Alex Grant. Photos: Aron Vickers.
onsidering the Eighties gets put down as the decade taste forgot, it’s become hot property over the last few years. And that’s pushed values for the best performance cars up into six-figures, spawned self-tying Nike kicks costing more than a designer suit, and offered up a catalogue of well-loved classic films for Hollywood to ruin with crap modern ‘reboots’. And, if you’re imaginative enough to pull it off, there’s plenty of gear still to find.
Pause for a moment and try to work out how you’d explain this car without the aid of pictures; a mash-up of Eighties chintz and Japanese motorsport influences, laid low in ways that only new-school chassis tech would allow, it could only really have come from the collective imagination of James Batty and the guys at Auto Finesse. A team that manages to keep up a run of killer demo cars, between keeping up a booming global business in cleaning products launched off the back of a 12-year climb to the top of the detailing game.
Most of all, that’s about not confining themselves to norms. James admits he fell into the Volkswagen scene by accident, but modifying Wolfsburg stock has been a big part of raising its profile. His Moonshine runner-inspired Caddy made our cover in 2014, and the frame-laying BBS-kitted Mk2 that followed graced these pages too, so you’d be forgiven for expecting that the next in line might be a difficult task to nail down. But, when your three-week build drops at Edition38 only hours after the final bits had been bolted on, and pulls a crowd before it’s rolled off the trailer, it’s safe to assume you’re onto something good.
“It’s hard to do anything different in any car scene, but the Mk2 has been done to death,” he explains. “Every which way you can do them, they have been done. But I like all types of cars and I’m not strict on doing one thing – I’ve got more love for Mk1s as you can backdate them nicely, so a Mk2 is as new an old car as I’d go for. That’s why I’ve made my old car have have small bumpers, bodykits and Eighties styling. We were doing that before it got cool again.”
Actually, this wasn’t the result of some carefully-hatched plan to build a sister car for the BBS-kitted Mk2, or even an Eighties obsession. James takes a view that it’s easier to have an open mind with a project like this; keep an eye out for unusual parts as they come up for sale, shelve them until the right car comes along, and then work out how to bring it all together. While that might sound like a backwards way of doing things, he’s never had to settle for something second-rate in the name of following a specific plan. Let’s be honest, it’s not holding him back.
Of course, that became a bit easier with a couple of high-profile builds under his belt, and this does owe a little to its sibling: “We were in Belgium, at Dumpd, just after we’d finished the BBS car, and a friend out there said he had a new old stock kit. True to his word he had a Kamei X1 kit, still in the box, and it had everything; the badges, the sealant you stick it on with, every screw was brand spanking new.
It was like someone bought it, put it in storage and never touched it,” he says. “He’d bought the kit intending to use it himself, but he’d decided to do go into air-cooled stuff instead. More than anything he wanted to see it done right, so rather than sell it for lots of money to someone who wouldn’t bother with it, for him it was more about the right person having it and doing something interesting with it. He looked after us with the price, shall we say.”
Bodykits have had a rough time over the last 25 years, but this would have been cover car material back when legwarmers and perms were a big deal, and it’s not some poorly-fitting fibreglass bolt-on. Founded by an ex-Volkswagen engineer, Kamei had started out developing chin spoilers to give Beetles more stability at Autobahn speeds in the 1950s. The X1 kit is a bit more involved, but comes from the same thinking; shaped in a wind tunnel and designed to let the Mk2 slip through the air a little easier. It’s up to factory-fit quality, and at least partly functional, too.
For James, its bigger arches offered a different opportunity, and he knew exactly who to call for a set of something period-correct to tuck underneath them. Racingteam Hofman in Germany had supplied wheels for all of his previous projects, and happened to have a set of freshly rebuilt Ronal Racing rims just as the kit turned up. Staggered fitment, with a centrelock conversion kit, and lightweight magnesium centres, ready to go. The foundations were starting to fall into line.
“If you were trying to build something special you’d search for years to find some of those bits,” he tells us. “We’re lucky to have stockpiled a nice stash of parts for Mk1s and Mk2s now, so the hardest bit to find is a good quality shell to bolt them onto. If you set your heart on something, you’ll either struggle to find what you want, or you might end up settling. But as a business we’ve got a budget to work to, so we have to be careful not to get a rotbox. I don’t enjoy bodywork and prep, it’s a dirty job and it takes forever. Putting it together is the fun part.”
The shell did exactly that. One of the team found it on Facebook as a rolling shell in the sort of freshly-painted Miami Vice white that was too perfect to pass up, and with a load of nickelplated and powdercoated chassis parts already fitted. There was no interior or engine to bump up the cost, and, with three weeks to get it ready for Edition38, there was no bodywork to soak up the evenings and weekends it would have to be built in. It was the missing piece of the puzzle.
“We didn’t have a vision in our heads until we started putting it together, but we’d been collecting rare parts for a while, and it happened that most of them were race car parts. As the white lent itself to the race car look, it kind of built itself. Kind of a touring car, but slammed.”
Obviously, Kamei hadn’t designed the arches with air ride and aggressive wheel fitment in mind. So, while the Plush-supplied Air Lift kit was a straightforward fit, the need to get the Golf laying frame meant untouched 30-year-old plastic parts were never going to escape the scalpel. You can’t tell unless you’re looking up at them from ground-level, but there’s no return on the top section of the Kamei arches, and barely any of the Golf’s original arch pressing behind them. On the upside, it’s a car that can be driven hard, without anything catching.
With little more than a shell to work with, the rest was a blank canvas, and there was no need to be 100% faithful to the Eighties styling that had kick-started the build. James mixed in a bit of Seventies Japanese works touring car with the front-mounted oil cooler, and combined Kamei add-ons with what’s believed to be the only Voomeran rear wing in the UK. Stripped bare inside, a set of Bride Low Max seats turned up just in time to complete what shaped up to be a heavily motorsportinspired interior, pinned in between a CAE shifter, dished Nardi wheel and that aluminium pedal box. “The plan was always to have a roll cage, but that would have had to happen when it was just a shell. Because of the timeline to build it and drop it at Edition, we had to go with what we could comfortably do in the workshop, but the plan for next year is to have a show cage in there.”
Never bothered about making life easy, he admits white wasn’t the ideal demo colour for a detailing company, but the vinyl wrap is a better fit than you’d expect. Designed in house, the straight-off-a-shellsuit retro livery was applied at Identity Wraps and it’s a real talking point – a way of showing people that detailing doesn’t have to just be about shiny paint, and a bit of a contrast to the mile-deep gloss on its stablemates.
Not that you’re likely to notice if he’s got the bonnet up. Obscenely rare bodykits and lucky wheel finds aside, James has a thing for hoarding engines when they come up for sale – especially 20-valve turbos – so filling the smoothed bay was an straightforward choice.
As it happened, this one had already been rebuilt with stronger internals ready for another car. Keen to go a bit further, it got a wilder BorgWarner EFR turbo and 3" single-box exhaust from Track Slag to better tune it for a demo car. It’s not built to set records at the Nürburgring, but it’s got the hardware to go with the styling. “We wanted the engine bay to look wild so the turbo, while it’s huge and can run massive power, is calmed down a bit,” he tells us. “It’s making 380bhp at the minute, but it’s capable of much more than that. It’s more of a looks car – but it’s scary to drive. It keeps you on edge, and feels way faster than it is… and it is really fast. I wouldn’t drive it as a daily, but it’s fun if you’re in the right mood and want to go out for a blast.”
Actually, there are all-out track cars with lower-spec drivetrains than this. Knowing the right bits to make it work properly, it’s running a Mk3 TDI gearbox to give better ratios for launching without spinning the power away in first and second. That’s helped by a Quaife diff and VR6 clutch and flywheel. While James says it’s easy to do long distances in it, you never get far from that race-bred feel.
“The driving position is a bit low and you’re sitting really far back in the car, which is good if you’re driving it hard because you feel balanced between the front and rear wheels. But if you’re trying to park it anywhere, or at a petrol pump, it’s a nightmare because you can’t judge where you are as you’re so low.”
Small problems for a build that was literally still being put together as it was loaded onto the trailer for Edition38. And going down a familiar path means it’s had no problems since – having picked up third-best Mk2 at its first show, it got a session of road-testing to make sure nothing was rubbing or wearing, and it’s put in a year of graft on the company’s stands since. Having done the UK scene, it’s Wörthersee-bound in 2018, which should get people talking.
For James, though, it’s all about the build. “Our products hadn’t been developed from a business or chemistry head – we simply knew from our experience what we would want, and what our customers would want. It’s the same with our cars, that’s why we build them ourselves, it shows we’re living a similar life to people building their own projects and that we understand their needs. It gives us an edge.”
Of course, urge to build has already taken over. You get a sense that James gets bored quickly once a car is finished, and with six of them in the workshop there’s a mix of newcomers waiting behind closed doors to keep the guys busy – including a refit of the Caddy – so this has around a year left before it retires from the limelight. James may not be as fixated on the decade that style forgot as others in the scene, but this is one revival we’re only too happy to see come to life.
ENGINE: 1.8 20v turbo‑(AGU), Wossner forged pistons, Integrated Engineering rods, modified intake and fuel rail, High-flow injectors, BorgWarner EFR turbo on cast manifold with T25 flange, Custom intercooler and boost pipe, Custom 3-inch downpipe, Track Slag 3-inch custom exhaust system, front-mounted oil cooler, Custom engine management, Mk3 Golf TDI five-speed gearbox painted crackle black, Quaife LSD, VR6 Clutch and flywheel, solid Driveshafts
CHASSIS: 8x16 (front) and 8.5x16 (rear) Ronal Racing threepiece magnesium split rims, 185/40 Falken ZE912 tyres, centre-lock conversion, Air Lift Performance 3P performance struts, G60 brake conversion with Goodridge hoses
INTERIOR: Resprayed Ford white, Kamei X1 bodykit, DTM mirrors, Voomeran Cup spoiler with carbon skinned blade and black textured end plates
EXTERIOR: Bride Low Max‑seats, Securon‑harnesses, CAE shifter, floor-mounted hydraulic pedal box, Nardi Deep Corn steering wheel, boost, oil temperature and water temperature gauges, gauge dock in head unit slot, carbon fibre door cards front and rear, flocked dashboard, pillars and roof lining, rear harness bar/strut brace
SHOUT: Matt Waldock the man on the spanners, Track Slag for the exhaust, Turbo Dynamics, Identity Wraps, Plush, Voomeran, VW Heritage
I love girls, girls, girls, girls. Girls I do adore. Yo, put your name on this paper cause I would love to date ya. Holla at ya when I come off tour! Bride Low Max bucket Seats. 400bhp BorgWarner charged 1.8T. Customised Kamei X1 Bodykit Centrelock Ronal Racing wheels.