In the beginning It’s hard to believe that a chance visit as a kid to a small town called Leavenworth should lead to the bonkers creation you see on these pages, but that’s exactly what started Skyler Mogensen on his insane journey to VW nirvana. Words: Tony Saggu Photos: Viktor Benyi.
MK1 GOLF ODDBALL
Tuned TDI… Tubbed arches… Custom body… Retro interior…
just stood there in awe,” recalled Skyler Mogensen with the perceptible hint of a wistful smile, “it was like nothing else I had ever seen before.”
I LOVE WATCHING THE LOOK ON PEOPLE’ S FACES WHEN THEY LOOK UNDER THE HOOD
While most of us might struggle to recount and relate all the many and varied experiences, sights and situations that led us here; inescapably bound to a marriage where grease, gears and gasoline rule our very existence, Mogensen’s memory can chronicle the exact moment with unforgettable crystal clarity. “Growing up in Seattle, Washington I never really knew much about the Euro car scene,” he told us. “That all changed in a big way one summer when our family took a roadtrip to a little town called Leavenworth. We stopped for fuel on the side of the road… and it happened; a couple of really cool Euros drove by, then a couple more, followed by even more… there were hundreds of them. I can still remember the awesome sight, smell and sound of all these cars flying by.”
Young Skyler’s life changing roadside euphoria came courtesy of the Pacific North West’s answer to Worthersee, the annual Leavenworth Drive, a Eurocentric epic which descends on the quaint little Washington town, much of which is modelled on a Bavarian village. ”I saw the photos on the web later and just knew I wanted to be a part of it,” enthused Skyler.
Fast forward a few years and open mouthed awe and amazement still surround Skyler, although now the twenty something Arizona based custom car creator is on the receiving end of the jaw dropping disbelief. With the better part of half his life given over to 'the hobby', our man has finally translated that long remembered roadside revelation into finely crafted steel with a soul, he’s literally poured his memories into the metal to revive and relive the rapture. “Yeah it really is that,” nodded Skyler, “It’s that feeling and the passion that came out of it, this is the physical representation of all of that.” The Kandy coloured car adorning these pages represents over a decade of planning and at least five years of blood, sweat and overdrafts. Skyler admits he’s no professional car builder, he’s a commercial fisherman in fact, but he’s proud to take credit for most of the spanner spinning and metal massaging involved in this violet vision.
MY FIRST THOUGHT W AS JUST RESTORE IT, BUT WHEN I GOT IT DOWN TO THE SHELL I KEPT SEEING MY VISION OF A SLAMMED DIRTY DIESEL SOMETHING LIKE NO OTHER
“Growing up in a poor family we had to do things on our own,” he told us, “we couldn’t afford to pay shops to fix our cars so everything was a learning experience. My pops has always been mechanically inclined and because of that I remember we’d always be outside fixing his truck or the family van.” Not surprisingly once he’d torn up his L plates and got gainful employment the tinkering took a more serious turn, “I bought an old '1986 Toyota pickup and went to town on it,” he laughed, “I rebuilt the motor and threw some Webers on it… I drove that thing like it was a racecar.” A passing curiosity with VWs eventually lead to a healthy fascination… Leavenworth lit the fuse. “I always wanted to build a completely modified car but never knew what to create,” he recalled, “that’s when a friend showed me a Mk1 VW Rabbit and what they could become, I was hooked.” Tracking down a reasonable base car proved to be a lot more difficult than expected; the Pacific North West’s English style weather isn’t particularly kind to early iron, added to which Mogensen’s meagre budget ruled out most of the survivors. “It took a while,” he told us, “a long while,” Weeks of wading through the online classifieds eventually turned up a possible contender. “This Rabbit popped up on Craigslist and I immediately called the seller, Graham Shipley, he was a two hour drive away and had told me he had a few guys ahead of me coming to look at it. I told him I had a trailer and cash in hand and would most likely be coming home with it.” The seller told Skyler that he would have to get back to him later in the day. “An hour later I received a call saying he had another guy 30 minutes away wanting to look at it,” he told us, “but he wanted it to go to a good home because he still cared for the car.” Mogensen made an impassioned case, outlining his plans for the car which quickly won the seller over, “he said he’d tell the other guy it was sold, so I left with my pop’s truck and friend's trailer and we cruised down there and loaded it up!”
With the equivalent of about six hundred quid changing hands Skyler reckons he scored a pretty good deal, the '83 Mk1 was a non running base model diesel with a few dents and a sprinkling of rust in all the usual places, the interior was trashed, the trim was missing and the suspension was shot… but at least it was largely complete. “The first job was to get it running,” he told us, “It had been sitting for years but the engine still turned by hand.” Blowing out the fuel lines and connecting up a new battery soon had the hibernating hatchback back up and running, a little TLC on the transmission linkage even saw the Rabbit rolling. “My first thought was to tear it down and just restore it with a few mods, but when I got it down to the shell I kept seeing my vision of the car being a slammed dirty diesel, something like no other, I pondered it over and decided to go all out on this car.” Unfortunately the classifieds are littered with good intentions; half finished hulks, semi stripped swaps, non running long abandoned projects… all started with a glint in the eye and a vision of greatness, normally ending with a dent in the wallet and a turd under a tarp. Skyler was realistic about his abilities and his budget, he admits both were average at best, but this in itself was a main driving force behind the project.
“I chose this car because I had a vision of what I wanted it to become, it was a great starting point at a reasonable price,” he explained, “It was something I knew would take some time for me to complete, but I also knew I’d learn a lot from building this car. Every step of the way would be something new for me, something I’ve never done before.” The lad’s goals were lofty indeed and he reckons he’s surpassed even those initial high hopes, as a learning experience this is home schooling worthy of a cap and gown. “I cut the floor out and raised it three inches to lay the sills on the ground,” he explained so matter- of- factly as to be almost amusing. “All the metal work was probably the hardest part though,” he conceded, “I needed to make sure every dimension I was changing would work with everything else, also make sure all my parts cleared the body and other moving parts.” The amount of fabrication and metal massaging is indeed staggering; given the quality of the fit and finish it’s difficult to believe the build is the work of a self-confessed amateur.
“The front end was cut, tubbed and narrowed so that I could fully tuck the wheels,” continued Skyler, “I used the wheels I had got with my car for the mock up as I planned on running the same dimensions when I eventually bought some different wheels.” The rollers that eventually ended up bolted to the project, as so often happens, steered the build in their own direction.
“I wanted wheels that no one else had tried on a Mk1 before,” revealed Skyler, “Volk wheels are fairly rare on German cars to begin with but the C1s I was after are pretty well unheard of. I searched for six months during my lunches at work before finding a set,” he told us. “When I got them in the mail I found out the specs were different and wouldn’t work with the custom strut towers and tubs I had fabbed, I ended up redoing the whole thing hand forming new tubs and towers using a stretcher/shrinker to bend the curve I wanted.” Setting the sills on the street was the stated goal and Skyler was prepared to do whatever it took to get that perfect drop. The front shock towers were raised as high as possible under the bonnet, they were also brought in almost three inches on each side to make room for suspension shenanigans. “I raised the motor mounts three inches and the steering rack up three inches to keep everything clear from the ground,” he continued. “The original transmission had to go because it used an older rod and linkage set up that would hit the ground whenever I drove the car, to get around this I converted to a Mk4 O2J TDI transmission using the cable shifts to nicely tuck everything up above the surface. The front air shocks are a build it yourself kit from Air Lift,” he confirmed. “I was able to use those to build what I needed for my front end while at the rear I took the rear trailing beam and cut out five inches from the centre and welded it back together with plates and more support to prevent from breaking.” Custom mounts were cut and welded into place to situate the bespoke rear beam setup, the stock boot floor was binned and remade to aid the desired drop. “I built the rear to act as a swing arm with air bags on a C channel connecting the rear end of the trailing arms,” he explained, “The shocks are positioned in the rear tubs mounted to a stud I welded in and then connected to the original mounting shock position on the trailing beam. The rear spindles are mounted to a custom-built drop spindle to move the wheel back into its correct centre point and lower it even more.”
Needless to say the none too popular Westmoreland character of the bodywork was reworked to give the build that all important Euro flavour. The rear panel was converted to the smaller taillights while the front panel and both wings lost their marker lights and not so cool rectangle headlights. “The rear end was shaved and I put in another exhaust notch to match the stock one on the drivers-side,” explained Skyler, “I planned on building a tow hitch to be able to haul a small trailer with the car and still be able to slam the car to the ground, so underneath there is mount points to put a custom hitch. The front bumper was removed and I cut some centre core support vent to cover the bumper mount holes,” he went on, “Behind the custom bumper hole covers I welded in Mk4 tow hook mounts into both sides so I could tow or strap down the car when I needed to just by removing the covers and screwing in the tow hooks. The car also has a custom-built exhaust tunnel that allows me to tuck up the 3.5" straight pipe exhaust and have an exit out the side of the rear passenger quarter panel base.” All four arches received a little tugging while the bonnet got an old school 'angry boser' extension treatment, which Skyler reckons gives a particularly menacing look when the custom halo headlights are flipped on. The finishing touch to the reworked exterior is a signature paint job that is nothing short of divinely delicious. “It’s actually a custom mixed House of Kolor candy,” revealed Skyler, “ I was originally planning on doing it black or another straight factory colour, but my friend Alec Stenzaa who painted the car said if I’d built such a crazy car I’d need to stick to the scheme. He asked what my favorite colour was and I told him purple.” Our man was torn between a deep purple shade and a dark cheery hue, “Alec suggested we mix both colours so we tried different mix ratios till I decided on the final shade. I like the fact that at night it looks black and under the sun it pops.”
With a hand formed chassis, custom crafted suspension, lashings of body bespokery and a one-off paint job, the powerplant promised to be something a little rare and exotic. “I love watching the look on people’s faces when they look under the hood,” laughed Skyler, “when people come up and look at it they kind of get a confused look on their face till they figure it out or I tell them it’s a diesel.” Yep, nestled neatly in the shaved and smoothed engine room is essentially the same stock diesel the car left the factory with some three and half decades ago. It’s the unconventional almost shocking juxtaposition of mild and wild that adds an extra layer of cool to this candy creation, the drivetrain challenges your expectation and shows that a cookie cut in a different way to the rest can taste surprisingly sweet. “The motor is a different block but is the same stock motor,” Skyler explained. “I built a 1.6 bored 40 over, all new upgraded internals and put on a 1.9 AAZ head to improve air and exhaust flow, while reducing the compression ratio to run more boost. I built the exhaust manifold to create better flow to the Turbonetics T3 Turbo, the intake is made with equal length runners to keep better bottom end torque till it’s under boost.” He explained. “The injection pump was heavily modified by Giles at Performance Diesel Injection out of Markham, ON. He was able to make a naturally aspirated pump have the fuel cure of a turbo injection pump while surpassing its stock performance.”
The naturally aspirated pump was a must as with the motor being raised due to the sump scraping ride height the turbo pump would not clear under the bonnet. “So I basically built a heavily modified ECO diesel and it still gets great fuel mileage averaging about 50-60 miles per gallon on the highway if I keep my foot out of it.”
The cabin treatment is also reserved but exudes all the class this project demanded, albeit classically understated. The architecture is largely familiar Wolfsburg factory fare, restored and refinished with new age touches that blend almost seamlessly with the vintage charm, the early model Mk1 dash is treated to newer instruments with A pillar playing host to a couple more. The centre console may house newfangled pneumatic suspension wizardry, but the '70s style gauges and old world paddle switches maintain the correct period simplicity. “The rest of the air-ride stuff is hidden away out of view,” revealed Skyler, “The air tank is hidden in a custom metal box built into the rear of the car under the wood trunk, and the compressors are stowed behind the inner rear quarter panel cards.” There’s a kicking stereo install hidden behind the panels too, with a multitude of mids, tweeters and subs that supply tunes without clutter… Oh and that wood rimmed tiller… well that’s just class isn’t it.
Mogensen’s magnificent Mk1 makeover checks all the boxes and creates a few new ones, this down and dirty diesel is as clean as they come, mixing mild with wild and serving it up with a slice of attitude. Just when you thought you’d seen it all…
ENGINE: 1.6TD block with 1.9 AAZ head, Giles Performance injection pump, built internals, custom intake and exhaust, Turbonectics T3 turbo, 02J transmission in smooth bay. Custom exhaust with side exit
CHASSIS: 7x15” Rays Engineering Volk Racing three-piece C1s in 4x100 bolt pattern. Carbon fibre faces and reworked caps. Modified floorpan with raised floor, custom shock towers and rear tubs, hand rolled wheel wells and reworked boot floor. Custom rear beam with relocated mounts, Air Lift Performance struts, five gallon tank, dual Viair compressors, manual management
EXTERIOR: Custom mixed House of Kolor candy paint, Euro front wings, slam panel, grille and headlights, Euro rear panel and taillights, Halo headlights, shaved rear with custom lower valance. Smoothed engine bay, rain tray removed
INTERIOR: Early Rabbit interior, early dashboard, aftermarket gauge cluster, Nardi wood rimmed wheel, custom headliner, bench seat frame cut and made to fit around rear tubs. Custom wood trunk base with aluminium slats
AUDIO: Alpine stereo with Kicker speakers and two 10” Kicker subs in custom fiberglass boxes moulded to fit into the rear quarters behind the rear wheel tubs
SHOUT: I would like to thank my father and mother Eric and Angela Mogensen, my family, Carly Swanson, Alec and Arron Stenzaa, Jeff Scott, Michael Holstrom, Jay; Nick and Van Sarver, Alan Phenis, Kevin Hoglund, and the crew at AZEuros
Old-skool diesel installs don't usually look this tidy but then this isn't just your average TDI motor swap! Dreams can come true, they just take time and vision. Skyler's bodydropped Rabbit is a thing of beauty and totally unique as well…
THE REAR END WAS SHAVED AND I PUT IN ANOTHER EXHAUST NOTCH SO I COULD BUILD A TOW HITCH FOR A SMALL TRAILER