So far as race-spec Mk1s go John Rawsthorpe’s S3-powered example is as trick as they come! Words & photos: Jon Cass.
RAW DEAL MK1 VW GOLF 1.8T 20V
Track-ready S3-powered Golf with Quaife diff and 16" Compomotives
The humble Mk1 Golf has for many years been a firm favourite as a basis for a track car. That lightweight shell, predictable, sure footed handling and the limitless potential for upgrades make an attractive package for anyone thinking of building their own purpose-built machine for tearing up circuits. We’ve seen some crazy engine swaps and 4WD conversions, but when it comes to clever home brew engineering, John Rawsthorne’s Mk1 GTI is on another level.
John’s always been a fan of fast cars, even back in 1995 he was driving around in a 350bhp Sierra Cosworth with an array of modifications that would look right at home on the same car today. That significant switch to all things VW came in 2000 when his lifelong friend and best man, Dave Stell advised John to go for a Mk2 Golf GTI as his next car. “Sir Ivan Hirst, who was instrumental in reviving the VW brand after the war, was from my area and is buried at Heights church, close to my parents’ home,” John adds, “I guess I’ve had a VW connection all my life really," he told us.
John took his best mate’s advice and later in 2000, went out and bought himself an Atlas grey Mk2 Golf GTi 8v with Spax suspension and typical body mods of the era. Yep, the RS4 front bumper, single lamp eyebrow grille and Masitaly 17” rims were all there. A Mk3 Golf VR6 Highline came next, followed by a Bora (both receiving a wealth of mods) and in 2008 a return was made to the Mk2 camp with an Oak green 8v GTI this time. “My current daily for the last ten years has been a Mk4 Golf GT TDi, which has seen some gradual changes over the years,” John smiles, “I’ve recently bought some American-spec bumpers for it, but I haven’t yet got around to putting them on!”
And that lack of available time seems hardly surprising as this Mk1 rocked up in 2010 and has kept John busy through most of his waking hours, when he’s not at work, ever since. “Although I’d always liked Mk1s I didn’t exactly choose this car, my friend Roy wanted one and he asked me to help rebuild it with him,” John explains, “We located the car in Scotland, Roy paid for it, we trailered it home after work one night and pushed it into his garage in the early hours of the morning.” The totally standard ’83 GTi was complete, but in need of a full rebuild, “there was a dent under the passenger side front and the driver’s side rear arch and both doors were rusty,” John points out, “we made the decision to strip the car down completely.”
There were a couple of unfortunate mishaps during the strip down including a hole made in the bulkhead and part of the wiring loom being eaten by the dog, but nothing that couldn’t be rectified later. “As work continued, I began smoothing the engine bay down, using welded in plates over the chassis legs, “John explains, “I carried on up to the bulkhead, which I’d never seen done before and removed the rain tray.”
The original sunroof had developed rot around the edges so the decision was made to replace the whole roof with one from carbon fibre. “We managed to source one from Performance Trim after speaking to them at Ultimate Dubs in 2010,” John recalls, “unfortunately it arrived badly damaged and there was a long waiting list for another, so we kept this one and repaired it.” Cutting the steel roof out was a worrying moment for both John and Roy as they only had a YouTube video to use as guidance!
As work progressed the pair got wind of an early S3 engine complete with a Q-peng ECU down in London, “we took another long road trip in the opposite direction to last time to pick it up,” John laughs. Once back in Roy’s garage, John stripped the S3 AMK 1.8 20v unit down to a bare block to enable him to fabricate the custom engine mounts using pieces of steel found in his Dad’s garage. John’s Dad is an agricultural engineer, we should point out here and it seems obvious those fabrication skills have passed down to the next generation too!
Roy continued to source engine related parts, the shallow sump AMK comprising a standard K04 turbo, AGU inlet manifold, 2.0 turbo coil packs, 13-row oil cooler and a Forge PCV kit running to an R32 catch can. Look closely and this bay really is a work of art and a world away from a stock Mk1 GTi in every way.
The Weitec coilover suspension came courtesy of Awesome GTI and everything seemed to be going reasonably smoothly until one night, Roy dropped the bombshell he was moving house and needed to sell the Mk1. “He wouldn’t have been able to take it with him and asked if I’d like to buy the car and continue the project on my own,” john remembers, “I ended up swapping my beloved oak green Mk2 and some cash for a project that still had a long way to go.”
This turning point could so easily have resulted in the pair selling the project in an unfinished state. But John was determined to continue, “I’d put so much work into this already, I wanted to see it out until the end and soon the Golf was parked inside by small domestic garage,” John adds, “at least Roy’s neighbours could now get some sleep.”
Now there was just one person financing the whole mammoth project, John had to keep a close eye on its funding, initially tackling smaller jobs around the car. “I fabricated the trigger type handbrake which is made up from three hexagonal bars welded in a row, then a release trigger placed on to the original set up,” John explains, “I’m really lucky to have a good friend in Ste Wilkes who let me roam around his scrapyard at BNS Autos to find parts and come up with ideas.”
John’s fabrication skills also came in useful with the single wiper conversion, “I welded up all the original holes in the scuttle and bought a Storm single wiper kit,” he tells us, “I used the original bracket from the wipers turned over 180 degrees, then cut it down and welded a plate around the bottom.” This clever piece of improvisation meant the motor was now hidden helping to add to that smooth look.
Next, John decided to tackle a hydraulic clutch conversion; “I fabricated a box and welded it on to the steering column in order to utilise a T4 transporter master cylinder,” John explains, “this had to be altered as I went along to reduce the travel as initially it went too far. I stripped it all down again and fabricated an adjustable end stop for the clutch travel which has done the trick.” Whilst the steering column was out of the car, John converted the clutch and brake pedals to those from a Mk4 Golf and in turn fitted Audi TT stainless steel and rubber pedals while he also fitted a Comp Brake accelerator pedal.
Adaptors were then fabricated for the brake master cylinder in order to convert them to AN fittings. “I could use remote reservoirs and braided hoses now to keep things clean,” John adds. By now it wasn’t just car parts that were being considered to provide solutions, “I needed to make a 180-degree reverse pull throttle cable convertor,” he smiles. “I looked at a few options and discovered a Hope Technology front mountain bike hub, laithed down with the original bearing retained, would be the perfect solution!”
When it came to wheel options, John already knew exactly what he wanted; “I was continuing to remain faithful to Roy’s original vision, but I was adding my own ideas too and all along I was determined the Golf would wear 8x16” Compomotive MO 1680s with zero offset,” John tells us. Once fitted, these would protrude significantly from the standard arches, but this was only a minor issue as John was happy to fabricate his own flared arches to fit the wheels! “I did this by cutting the original arches off then using arch repair kits, which I welded on,” he explains. “It took at least a month, working gradually in the evenings to ensure all the arches lined up exactly and without warping the existing arches, the rear pair proving especially tricky. The windows had been removed by now and I was able to run a 6” spirit level through the apertures to line them to obtain the correct height.” Combined with the carbon panels, the wheels and lack of bumpers, this is now one seriously lightweight Mk1.
The larger wheels also meant bigger brakes were now possible, John electing to run 280mm discs up front. Yet again, he wasn’t planning on taking the easy route and instead used his contact at TarOx to have pistons and calipers designed specifically to fit, whilst also using a Mk4 Golf master cylinder and servo. “I moved the master cylinder and servo over by 75mm to give more clearance for the engine then needed to make a new bar from the brake pedal to the Mk1 box,” John adds. “This design was adapted from a Mk3 Escort courtesy of Jay Caddick.”
The interior of this Mk1 is nothing short of striking, everywhere you look there’s something unique and purpose-built to fulfil its role. The original Mk1 dash with a Audi TT lower half idea was binned as it would have been heavy and would no longer fit once the roll cage had been welded in. In its place there’s now a Demon Tweeks supplied Race Technology dash along with AFR, EGT, oil pressure and boost pressure gauges with an extra support welded in to house them. Demon Tweeks also supplied the Sparco Evo seats which sit on custom bases that John fabricated himself and use three-point Willans harnesses attached to the roll cage, the track car look was really beginning to take shape. “The roll cage I had to modify a bit in order to get it to fit, then I welded in another extra bar behind the rear seats to hold the battery and to add extra bracing to the car,” he adds.
Luckily the part of the Mk1 loom that hadn’t been eaten by Roy’s dog could be spliced into John’s own wiring; “I whittled down the wiring until I only had what I needed then made looms for the extra gauges,” John points out, “I painstakingly extended the ECU wiring to the engine and hid them under the front engine mount, the wiring also running between the inner and outer wings, down the chassis legs to keep them out of sight,” he told us.
The gearbox has been fully rebuilt complete with a Quaife ATB LSD by Bosher (the gearbox man at BNS Autos), while Adam, also from BNS, worked his magic fabricating a custom stainless steel v-banded 2½” exhaust system with two cherry bomb silencers. Would be rude not to! When the car returned a week later, John could then focus on getting the S3 engine running correctly. As expected there were a few issues! The small fuel leaks were easily dealt with, but the car kept losing live every time it was started; “This was because I’d wired the ECU to the wrong side of the X Relay,” John smiles. "Temperature issues were also overcome by relocating the thermostat into the top hose and the fuel pump suffered from cavitation so I lowered it slightly to resolve this.”
With everything now in place and the engine running sweetly, you’d expect John to be able to relax, but instead he did the unthinkable, “I stripped the car back down again as a 4WD plan was hatching and I still needed to spray the shell!” he laughs. “I looked at wrapping it to begin with which would have been easier but after speaking to several specialists I decided to bite the bullet and paint it myself!” Jay Caddick’s advice again came in useful recommending 3M bag sealer which once added to the Ford shadow grey paint leaves a bumpy, almost rustic matt underseal finish which John liked the idea of. “I bought a Devibliss spray gun and with some plastic sheeting and the roof masked off, I managed to spray the whole car either inside my garage or on the driveway when the weather permitted,” John added.
The project’s original deadline was to be just in time for John’s daughter’s prom, but due to a few technical issues it wasn’t quite ready in time. “It wouldn’t have made very practical prom transport anyway, but it would have been funny seeing the Golf lined up next to limousines.”
Already there’s an Audi TT quattro sat on John’s driveway ready to donate its 4WD system, while a Garrett GT3071R turbo and big injectors should see 450bhp. “I’d never begin a project like this again as its been so time consuming, but I’ve loved overcoming all the problems and fabricating my own parts,” John tells us, “I’ll continue to develop this car further for some time yet.”
The amount of design and fabrication work that’s gone into this Golf really sets it apart from the pack and we can’t help but be impressed by John’s skills to complete a project of this size, pretty much on his own. As we said, this Mk1 is a perfect example of home brew engineering!
I discovered a Hope Technology front mountain bike hub would be the perfect solution!
ENGINE: Early Audi S3 AMK 1.8 20v, running a standard KO4 turbo. AGU inlet manifold, cut and dropped to allow room for the bonnet, 2.0 turbo coil packs, Gates Kevlar racing timing belt, Forge PCV kit running two R32 catch cans (all AN10). Everything running braided hoses, all home-made engine mounts, including dog bone to Mk1 mount. ECS 14lbs flywheel and Sachs clutch. Quaife ATB LSD, solid drive shafts and lathed down Mk2 outer cups. Shallow sump, Torques UK alloy oil filter and thermostatic sandwich plate, 13-row oil cooler
CHASSIS: 8x16” Compomotive MO1680 wheels with zero offset. 280mm discs with TarOx six-pots. Weitec coilovers, front wishbones seam welded, home-made lower strut brace, fully poly bushed
EXTERIOR: Carbon fibre roof, tailgate and bonnet with aero catches, Newton filler cap, clear rear lights, smoked cross hair headlights, motorbike LED front indicators, JOM five-bar grille. New glass all round, with clear back window. Storm single wiper, genuine new front panel, towing eye deleted and replaced with VW Tiguan item, reverse camera, motorbike LED number plate lights, bumpers removed
INTERIOR: Sparco Evo 2 seats with Willans harnesses, Race Technology dash, Sparco cage, T5 design lightweight heater, carbon fibre door cards, TRS carbon fibre foot plates, Momo steering wheel with Snap-off boss, clutch and brakes converted to Mk4 (hydraulic clutch). Comp brake accelerator pedal (modified), Stack EGT, AFR, oil pressure and boost pressure gauges. Odyssey PC680 racing battery, home-made poly-carbonate sun visors and spare wheel holder. Lo-pro light-weight alloy scissor jack, Wolfsburg door handle winders, home-made trigger hand brake. Interior covered with 3M bag sealer
SHOUT: My Dad for teaching me the skills and my Mum for always being there. Roy for starting it all, Jen for being a very forgiving bank manager, Jen and Em for putting up with me. Ste Wilkes for the help, advice and parts, Beardy for the exhaust, Bosher for the gearbox, Jay Caddick for the paint advice and sharing his general VW knowledge, Dion for the dash, Jo and Hannah at VA who took delivery of a lot of parcels. John Glover and Al from Awesome in Manchester for their help in dropping parts off on their way home, Mark at BMS and Chris at TPS for searching through obscure parts to help out, plus last but not least Dave Stell
Look closely and this bay really is a work of art and a world away from a stock Mk1 GTi in every way