- Post is under moderationNEW JACK HUSTLER
A lot of people talk about thinking outside the box when it comes to building a car, but few actually do. Jack Smith is someone who definitely walks the walk though.
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“As soon as the old stock colour started coming up all my ideas about painting it Silver went out of the window”
“It would have been so much easier to import a full car myself, but with the money I already loaded into the car I thought I’d just build one”
“It’s something different and I can say that I built it, there’s a sense of pride in that... it's art to me"
Jack Smith’s Mk1 may look like a genuine #US-spec Rabbit… until you notice it’s right-hand-drive. And that’s just the start of the madness…
A lot of people talk about thinking outside the box when it comes to building a car, but few actually do it. Jack Smith is someone who steps right outside of it... Words: Tony Saggu Photos: Si Gray
To say Yorkshireman Jack Smith has eclectic tastes in automotive faire would be something of an understatement, with less than a decade on his driver’s license the twenty something Rotherham based paint sprayer has auditioned more style and makes of motors than most. “Me, I love building cars, the make and model or even the style isn’t as important as actually making the thing,” he told us. “It gets my mind working, thinking of things that not many people have done before, you know, taking something bland and making it something amazing." His latest metal massaging makeover takes the shape of a German born, English market, Americanised runabout with a petrol to diesel swap, newfangled technology and old fashioned looks... if you’re looking for predictable, keep walking.
“I actually started with a Renault 5 1.2 five door before I could drive,” laughed Jack, “My dad bought it for me so I had something to work on. That went matt black on lowering springs with some P slot wheels.” Once the 'L' plates had been discarded French fancies were replaced with a little German flair in the shape of a shiny Red 1.0 Mk3 Polo. The rims and springs added gave the car the right look until Jack introduced the coupe to a spot of unintended custom bodywork, “It ended up in the window of a local computer shop...” we’ll say no more. Sadly the lad’s luck didn’t improve much with the wrecked red Polo’s replacement, “Yeah, I had a white Mk3 1.3 Polo coupe after that, almost identical to the red one but with wider arches on the front,” he recalled. “That had a Corsa go into the side of it.” After the two crumpled coupes Jack tried his luck with a five door, another Polo, another Mk3, and tempting fate another 1.3. Thankfully the blue-hued saloon worked out well and was only given up when Jacks present project came along. “I’ve had a Golf, a Vento and even a bagged Mazda 3 along the way,” he told us, “I currently have a daily Lexus GS300 that is VIP inspired on Weds Kranze LZX and D2 air suspension with a fair bit of camber.”
Switch hitting Japanese gangster rides aside, Jack admits if he’s honest it’s the Dub life that pushes his buttons. “I think it all started from seeing people I used to ride BMX with buying and modifying them,” he recalled. “I found a German modified VW magazine while I was on holiday in Europe years ago, I couldn't understand anything in it but the cars looked pretty cool and I knew I wanted a piece of that, I started getting PVW after that and as soon as I could drive I bought myself the Polo coupe.” The latest Smith built sensation which you see here began like many makeovers with a chance encounter, “I wasn’t really looking to buy a Mk1,” explained Jack, “I had the blue Polo at the time and was pretty happy with it. My mate Ricky had bought it and done a bit of welding and other stuff so he could sell it on,” he continued. “Then it eventually just came up on a local forum that Ricky was selling it soon and at a good price. I didn’t need another car, but who doesn’t want a nice cheap Mk1? I put the Polo up for sale straight away and got on the phone to Ricky.” At seven hundred quid the antique '83 Golf was a steal, it had plenty of issues in all areas but the Yorkshireman wasn’t daunted. “It was pretty tired looking,” he told us, “and it had the typical MK1 rust problems. The paint was very faded paint and honestly it needed a good general tidy up to make it acceptable.” The car ran though, not too bad either according to Jack, the alternator was a bit dodgy but the car came with coilovers. “I had to take it for a MOT and there with a decent list of problems for me to fix,” he recalled.
A couple of hundred quid’s worth of parts and a spit and polish would have been the sensible thing to do, the resulting ratty but reasonable ride would have kept most Dub fanatics satisfied and smiling. A steady diet of Max Power, Revs, Fastcar and Redline magazines growing up had put Jack in a different frame of mind though, not to mention a couple of older cousins who had done nothing to take the edge off the custom car craving. “There wasn’t a chance of it staying standard,” laughed Jack, “ Initially I wanted to make it like every other MK1 you see at shows, it was going to be silver on polished BBS RS's, but when I actually started working on the car all that changed.” Job one, after the coilovers had been wound down to the limit and a set of Minilites from the old Polo had been bolted on, was to give the car a good clean and go over with a polishing mop to restore the righteous retro Pragus Blue. “As soon as the old stock colour started coming up all my ideas about painting it Silver went out of the window,” recalled Jack, “The blue is just perfect, it suits the car so well.” The next few months saw the car more often than not in pieces on the Jack’s driveway, the Mk1 was a sweet little motor but it was teaching young senior Smith a valuable if hard lesson... it was old, and old things break down and stop working a lot. “One of the biggest reasons the car looks and drives the way it does now is that basically everything needed to be repaired or replaced,” explained Jack, “if I was going to fix something anyway I thought I may as well make it better.”
Straightening the generally abused and rust riddled bodywork set the direction of the project and gave the car is final character. “When it came to the look I wanted It was mainly the US cars that got my attention,” revealed Jack, “The American lads were doing really low cars, with half the floors cut out and full of exotic custom suspension work. I knew I'd never go that far as it was out of my skill set, but I knew after looking at their cars that I wanted to make my car look like an American style VW.” The internet had taught our man that when it came to true US spec, there was only one direction he could go.
“The Westmoreland Rabbit,” he smiled, “Once I started thinking about it I realised I’d never seen a US spec Rabbit over here. Everyone was making MK2/3/4/5s US spec, but I couldn't understand why no one had imported or made a Mk1 over here. It would have been so much easier to import a full car myself, but with the money I already loaded into the car I thought I’d just build one.” It wasn’t long before Jack realized that giving his German built hatch the American look was going to take more than just slapping a Rabbit badge on the boot. The American built Mk1s have a look all of their own with more than a few US only exterior details and body panels. “Getting the parts was no joke,” lamented Jack, “A lot of the bits like the Hella rear lights, turn signals, side markers and the grill I got from Mexico via dodgy websites and ebay. The front panel was found on VWvortex after months messaging people who were breaking cars for parts,” he continued. “It a big piece to post over so convincing someone to do it took a while, finally someone decided to do it for me. I can’t remember his name but the bloke was a legend. He only charged me about $60 then $60 shipping as I only got the top half of the front panel to save on shipping costs.”
The all important and decidedly unique Hella Projector headlights were apparently liberated from some sort of Jeep and sourced through the Edition38 forums for a reasonable £90. “The front wings were a major headache,” recalled Jack. “The driver’s side came from #VW-Heritage over here and only cost £30 delivered, it was a brand new genuine wing. I couldn't believe my luck when I found that.” The passenger side 'fender' however wouldn’t be such an easy acquisition, “The other side I was really struggling,” he explained, “Everyone wanted $500 for shipping and I couldn't justify spending that much for one wing. It took a lot of hunting but after talking to someone on #VW-Vortex from a place called Old-Skool-VW we worked out a way to get around the postage.” Clued up VW heads will already know that the major difference between the German wing and the Pennsylvania panel is the leading edge around the US spec corner light. “He agreed to cut me a spare wing up and sent me only the front part which wraps around the turn signal,” revealed Jack. “He cut it just big enough to fit in a USPS Fixed Rate shipping box. I think this was also $60 plus $45 shipping. Once it arrived I had to figure out how I was going to graft it into a Euro wing.” A good deal of careful measuring, delicate cutting and skillful welding had the wing looking every part the perfect stock American example. While the welder was out the rear panel needed to be similarly cut and shut to house the long rear lights the Yanks like so much. Unsurprisingly Smith has strapped on a pair of Westmoreland issued bumpers fore and aft to complete his American auto adventure, the heavy girder style steel protrusions are normally the first US styling faux par to be binned by Stateside Dubbers, in favour of the slim and sexy Euro examples.
Toned down with matt black paint and pushed closer to the body with custom crafted brackets however, it seems Jack has made VW of North America’s design department’s bumper blunder a thing of stylish beauty. It’s no surprise, with our man being a painter by trade, that the reapplied Pragus Blue top coat is smooth, silky and to our eyes perfectly refinished, Jack though, ever the perfectionist, reckons he could have done better. “I’d like to go back and redo the bodywork,” he told us, “Since I've gained more experience in the trade over the years, I've got more of a eye for detail now than when I first painted it, I was only in an apprenticeship back then.”
Jack told us the original 1.1 under the bonnet was on its last legs, pumping out more oil than horsepower. “I got offered a 1.8 conversion and tried fitting that, but it would never run and no one could figure out why it wouldn't start,” he told us, “I got so annoyed and decided just to rip it all out and find a cheap engine to chuck into it. I saw a 1.6 #GTD for sale for £150, it had everything including the fuel pump and turbo.” Jack admits his experience with engine conversions is pretty limited, but dropping in the diesel was a doddle, “essentially its four mounts, a custom downpipe and about six wires,” he enthused. “Obviously there's a little more to it than that, I had to get a gearbox and some other stuff, but me and my mate Kyle could take it out in less than two hours.” Although originally the cheap oil burner was just supposed to be a temporary engine to get the car mobile, Jack told us it wasn’t long before the diesel started to grow on him, “I soon fell in love with it,” he smiled, “ turning the fuel and boost up made it really nippy and it was still stupidly economical.
The kinda reason I decided to keep it and refine it,” he continued, “I took it out a couple of years ago to clean it up and smooth the engine bay. It still makes me smile when you look in the rear view mirror and see a cloud of black smoke.”
Despite the nicely detailed diesel swap and skillfully executed body conversion, Jack reckons his favorite part of the build lays elsewhere, “It’s without a doubt the wheels,” he smiled proudly, “The Fifteen52 Tarmac348 wheels, I wanted them the day they got released but I couldn't afford them.” A good deal of overtime and skipping a few nights out with the lads, as well as selling his Fifteen52 Snowflakes had the prized rollers bought though, to up the ante a touch the boys at the legendary California style haus custom made the rims in two piece with brushed centres and polished lips for the Mk1.“The suspension is a Havair strut kit with paddle valve management,” continued Jack, “I think they were the only MK1 struts available at the time when I was wanting to get air for the car. To be fair I've had them a fair few years and it’s all still working fine, which is not bad seeing I used to use this car daily as well.”
Raising the turrets and giving the frame a little notching love helps the bags put the little Mk1 in the weeds, “The wishbone mounts and sump sit on the ground now,” he assured us. “The front struts have been drilled out to give me more negative camber and the rear suspension has some camber disks behind the stub axle to do the same at the back.” The dropped and diesel swapped hatch from oop north is certainly unique, not just in the land of dales and moors either, Jack’s built himself something very different from a familiar platform and we reckon you would be hard pressed to find a twin on either side of the Atlantic ,” he smiled, “Its art to me, creating something special out of something ordinary.” We think he nailed it.
1.6-litre Mk2 Golf GTD lump provides plenty of smiles with the 'boost and fueling would up." Looks sweet too!
Air install out back is simple but clean and nicely functional. Well, what more do you need really?
"Heeeeres Jacky!" Jack's plan to chop Si Gray up with an axe thankfully didn’t pan out. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy...
Old-skool Cobra buckets work brilliantly up front with rears trimmed to match.
ENGINE: 1.6-litre GTD from a MK2 Golf, ‘fuelling wound up, boost wound up’, Mk1 Series 1 radiator, front mount intercooler, custom solid boost pipes painted gloss black, Mk3 8v GTI rocker cover painted gloss black.
CHASSIS: 8x16” #Fifteen-52 #Tarmac-348 two-piece wheels, ET5 front and ET0 rear with 165/45/16 Nankang NS2 tyres, #Havair #air-suspension struts, paddle valve management with a five gallon tank, #Viair-380 compressor, raised turrets, camber holes extended on front struts and turrets, camber disks on the rear hubs.
EXTERIOR: Full repaint in the original Pragus Blue colour, late Westmoreland Rabbit front end conversion with #Hella Projectors, late Westmoreland Rabbit Long rear lights, Late Westmoreland Rabbit bumpers refinished in matt black, Rabbit rear side markers, GTI plastic arches, GTI A-Piller trims, #Zender three-piece spoiler, flared and cut arches, partially smoothed bay with the scuttle panel removed and hidden wiring.
INTERIOR: Renewed door cards, new carpet, 80's Cobra bucket seats with the original rear bench trimmed to match, boot build fully carpeted with tank and compressor on show with hardlines. Gloss black painted Mountney steering wheel with a chrome centre.
SHOUT: I would like to thank Cayla for putting up with my love for my cars, supporting me and helping me out with them. Big thank you to everyone at Rollhard, they helped me out massively last year, I couldn't have met a nicer bunch of people. Also a big thank you to the guys at Autoperfekt for keeping my cars clean. I would also like to thank Brad for the welding, Kyle and anyone else that's helped me along with the build process.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.