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Mario Verswyvel spent 20 years regretting parting ways with his first car before he had a chance to finish it. But it’s taken less than 12 months to make his teenage wish list a reality. Words: Alex Grant. Photos: Kevve.
We’ve all been there. It doesn’t matter whether it was a shed or something more showworthy, there’s something frustrating about modifying your first car. Sure, it’s the machine that gives you a new-found ability to go where you want but turning it into a project is usually a way to watch your wildest ideas get their wings clipped by minimum wages, crippling insurance and the eventual, inevitable lure of moving onto something new. So, what if you had the chance to go back and do it again? Properly this time, with a decent budget behind you, the skills to work on it yourself and the benefit of having spent years fine-tuning that all-important mental spec list.
Going by the inch-deep gloss of Mario Verswyvel’s Mk2 Golf soaking up the lights of snapper Kevve’s flash units, it’s an itch worth scratching. “This all started with a bit of nostalgia for my first car… I guess it got out of hand,” Mario laughs, slotting carefully packed Chemical Guys products back into their carry case. “I had a Mk2 GTI as my first car, and I sold it before I got it anywhere near where I wanted. I never got over that. I spent years wondering how it would’ve looked if I’d finished it… and now I know!”
He’s got every reason to be happy as there’s something about Mario’s car that has the power to stop you in your tracks. Not because it’s making a show of the performance underneath but because it’s subtly ticking all the boxes. Immaculate Oak green paint? Check. Huge power? Check. Killer static stance on one-off wheels? You get the idea. Getting here may have taken more than 20 years but it looks like it was worth the wait. And it’s not a car that disappoints once you get past a first glance.
“I knew exactly what I wanted: a nice OEM GTI, but it had to be very fast, turbocharged and Oak green,” says Mario. “Actually, I wanted this very car. I know the previous owner. I spent ten years trying to persuade him to sell it to me, and I’d almost given up on it. Then he put it up for sale just before I turned 40. The timing was perfect. I had to have it.”
As Mario runs me through the process of turning ideas into expensive reality it looks like his well-cooked plans have been left to run riot. The best example of this is the wheels. If you’re wondering why you’ve never seen a set of splitrim Zender Turbos with a centrelock before it’s because you’re looking at the only ones on the planet! Unable to find the wheels he wanted, he’s had a set specially made, turning to Mario Quets at MAQ Racing to work his magic on them. “I love centrelocks. They were always part of the plan,” Mario explains. “But the plan changed a bit. The original idea was to fit a set of magnesium BBS wheels from a 997 GT3 cup car but we test-fitted them and they were too big. I had an idea for what would work but knew it would take time, so we built the car while it was running 17-inch Compomotive THs, then swapped over to these when it was finished.”
MAQ Racing might not be the first to turn monoblock wheels into splits (Mario’s also had an E30 on upsized bottletop wheels which had been through the same process) but the added complexity of the centrelock conversion really shows off the quality of the work. It’s almost blank canvas stuff, the way the bolts are neatly tucked in between the blades, the invisible joins where the new centres were welded in place, all flawless enough to make you question whether they left the factory that way. It pays not to take ‘no’ for an answer.
“These were 15-inch Turbos originally. We upsized them to 17s with slightly staggered lips, which meant I could get the offset where I wanted it. Then we machined new centres for them,” says Mario. “It took three full days of CNC work, welding, spraying and assembly to get them this way. But I wanted something OEM+ which had never been seen before.
In addition to the hunt for the right wheels, the Golf’s offbeat spec list was keeping the two Marios busy, and replacing the concours-clean 16-valve engine was the source of months of overtime. Growing up in the Eighties and with the soundtrack of Group B Audi quattros ringing in his brain, the howl of a full-chat fivecylinder turbo was too tempting to ignore. So instead of following the straightforward route and fitting a 1.8T or looting something with an R badge, there’s a line of five cylinders under the bonnet with a monster billet turbocharger bolted just in front of the firewall. And it’s not from the donor car you’d expect. “Most people assume I’ve fitted a TT RS engine but it’s the 2.5-litre in-line five from a Mk5 Rabbit, imported from North America,” Mario says. “I don’t know why there are so few of them being used in Europe; they’re cheap to buy and very easy to find. MAQ Racing had three of them, and this one had never been used. Finding a donor TT would have taken longer, cost more and it wouldn’t be new.”
Satisfying a childhood want turned into a project all on its own. It’s an incredibly tight fit, packed full of bespoke parts and slowed down by the need to source information from the other side of the Atlantic when it threw a spanner in the works. The engine mounts had to be fabricated, the subframe reengineered to clear the oil filter, and the transmission was a parts bin job. Luckily the Mk6 GTI gearbox didn’t need to be persuaded to fit but Mario traded up to stronger driveshafts, a Sachs performance clutch and lightened flywheel to get the engine ready for more power…
A lot more power. The 2.5’s trump card is its compression ratio. At 9.5:1 it’s the same as a 1.8T and low enough to be ideal for boosting without costing a small fortune in forged internals. It meant there was no need to rebuild the box-fresh engine before bolting a turbo to the exhaust manifold. This wasn’t raided from Volkswagen’s parts bin; it’s a Precision Turbo with the potential to make 620bhp without burying all of the engine’s lowend torque under a load of lag. After all, what’s the point of building your dream first car if you can’t drive it anywhere?
Looking through the build pictures on Mario’s phone, it’s almost a shame that it’s so tight under the bonnet. The stainless manifold, barely visible at the back of the bay, is a work of art, as neatly built as the carefully routed boost pipework channeled at protractor-perfect right angles around the engine and into the Integrated Engineering plenum – another part which had to be imported. To give you some idea of how tight it is, fitting an intercooler behind the grille meant cutting the spot lamps back to just the lenses. Mario wasn’t going to be told he couldn’t keep a quad-lamp grille.
Even then, the engine wasn’t ready to be started. Having mocked up the bay, the front end was stripped and laid out on a pallet so the 25-year-old metal underneath could be stripped back, cleaned of unnecessary brackets and holes and repainted to the same gloss as the rest of the body. Mario didn’t get a blast of the turbocharged five-cylinder soundtrack until the KMS management was being setup on a rolling road. The important figures? 440bhp and 335lb ft at 0.9bar of boost. That’s dialled back to keep the engine well within its comfort zone, to be reliable and driveable enough to be used on the road.
Was it worth the effort? “Definitely. The sound of a five-cylinder is beautiful, and the power it makes is incredible,” Mario enthuses. “I’ve always liked to try new things. This was the hardest part of the build but I’d do it the same way if I had to start again. It’s really addictive. My daughter wants me to use it as a daily.”
There’s just as much attention paid to the bits you can’t see. The engine conversion meant swapping to Mk4 GTI front suspension and, in turn, that had meant offsetting 60mm longer shocks than the Mk2 was ever equipped with. Needing another one-off, Mario called on Fabrizio ‘BriaLow’ Berter to build a custom set of H&R-based coilovers to get the Golf sitting where he wanted. Fully adjustable, it’s running a 100mm drop, the wheels tucked under G60 arch trims.
If the engine was inspired by Ingolstadt, the Golf’s stopping power was imported from Stuttgart. A Porsche 964 Brembo brake setup is working harder here than it ever was on the donor car and, proficient with a CNC machine, Mario fabricated his own centrelock hub converters to hold the work-in-progress wheels in place. Unseen details, but so important.
Otherwise, it’s a fairly straightforward restoration, helped because Mario started out with a car so clean it could’ve been donated to the Autostadt in Wolfsburg. Stored in a heated garage for 16 years and never driven in the rain, you’d need a flux capacitor to find a cleaner starting point. But the Belgian perfectionist still wasn’t happy.
“It was in excellent condition when I bought it, but I knew it could look even better,” he smirks. “I wanted it to feel like a brand-new car, so I renewed everything – lights, windows, seals, wheels, brakes, engine… everything. Then I had it repainted in Oak green by my friend Carlo Orlando.”
That period-correct, heavily-optioned Mk2 Golf interior feels totally disconnected from the hooligan engine conversion. Anything even slightly worn was replaced with new, and Mario opted to keep the standard fabric seats rather than having them trimmed in leather, finishing the interior off with a 1980s Italvolanti steering wheel. It’s also a factory Digifiz car; the unit still works, though the KMS display next to it gives a fuller picture of what the engine is up to.
“Even with a clear idea of how the car would look in my head I couldn’t imagine how well it would come together in the metal,” Mario tells us. “To me, it’s perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing… well, I’d be tempted by a Recaro interior. But that’s it. Actually, I think I could get more power out of the engine, too… Other than that, I wouldn’t change it!”
You know, that’s starting to sound like a first car all over again. Mario may have a full deck here – three times its original power, brilliantly engineered and so subtly modernised that it’s lost none of that characteristic late-Eighties feel – but he’s still not finished. We’re just hoping that the lure of something else doesn’t move this one on before the final details make their way onto the car, or it’s another 20-year wait to get here again.
Literally every single area of Mario’s Mk2 is perfect in our eyes. It’s so good it could be one of our favourite Mk2s ever!
ENGINE: 2480cc ( #07K ) five-cylinder, custom engine brackets by MAQ Racing, MAQ Racing turbo conversion with #Precision-Turbo-PTE-5858 billet turbo, Tial wastegate, custom MAQ Racing three-inch exhaust system including manifold and downpipe, Golf Mk6 GTI intercooler, custom MAQ Racing boost pipework, Integrated Engineering valve cover, fuel rail and intake manifold, reinforced head bolts, #Bosch-EV14 550cc injectors, additional fuel pump, #KMS MD35 engine management with traction control, launch control and lambda control, Mk6 GTI gearbox, #Sachs clutch, lightened flywheel, modified Mk6 GTI driveshafts. / #Precision-Turbo /
CHASSIS: 8x17” ET25 (front) and 8x17” ET15 (rear) Zender Turbo wheels, converted to centrelock and upsized with 1.5- and 2.5-inch lips by ##MAQ-Racing, 185/35 Nankang NS-2 tyres, Mk4 GTI (front) and Mk2 GTI (rear) ##BriaLowUltralow H&Rbased coilovers, Mk5 GTI master cylinder, Porsche 964 calipers with custom brackets, 280mm discs (front) 254mm discs (rear).
EXTERIOR: Full respray in original Oak green, rear wiper and side repeaters removed, G60 arches.
INTERIOR: Factory 16v cloth interior, KMS display, ##Digifizdashboard, Italvolanti 16v steering wheel.
SHOUT: Carlo Orlando for the paint, ##MAQ-Racing(the best in Belgium!) for the wheels, brakes and engine, Fabrizio Berter for the suspension.
Adjustable top mounts allow the custom-made BriaLow Ultralow ##H&Rcoilovers to be angled just right.
Precision Turbo PTE 5858 billet turbo has been squeezed in between the fivecylinder lump and the firewall on a custommade manifold that’s such a work of art you could display it in your living room as a piece of modern art!Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.