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While some of you won’t get Darren Bates’ naughty ’90s-inspired Mk2 VR6, for those that were there first time around this supercharged terror will be right up your street! Words and photos: Jon Cass.
Ah yes, the ’90s VW show scene. The cars, the people, where are they now? It’s a question that’s been asked many times at shows and meets over the last decade and often results in an entertaining and rewarding conversations as many older show-goers have encyclopedic memories. Go on, ask a dedicated Dub-head about that Mk1 on three-spokes with the purple paint job you last saw in 1998; if they don’t remember it, one of their mates will. Chances are they might even know where it is now, that it’s due to make a return any time soon and that those infamous three-spokes are sat in so-and-so’s loft gathering dust. There’s even a group on social media now to help answer all our ’90s show queries and, to prove our memories aren’t that fuzzy quite yet, it’s got a lot of people reminiscing.
Now, I’m making this sound like these amusing stories and detailed memories are likely to fade away into nothingness if they’re not passed on to the next generation pretty sharpish, almost as though the ’90s show-goers are akin to surviving veterans from the First World War. Thankfully, though, this is far from the truth and more often than not, those same folk who were slaving away in their garage 20 years ago are still coming up with the goods today. The only real difference is there’s Radio 2 on in the background instead of Radio 1.
Proof of this is Darren Bates and his supercharged Mk2 VR6. He’s collecting trophies like there’s no tomorrow and is so full of enthusiasm, you’d think this was his first ever car, let alone show car. Yet, Darren has been modifying VWs since the late ’80s, beginning with a Mk1 cab which set the ball rolling and he’s never really stopped since. “I had to sell that one, but within a month I’d bought another as I missed the first one so much,” he smiles.
His next purchase was an orange Mk1 Cab which then became a regular sight on the show scene for the best part of the next 11 years – from the ’90s through to the early 2000s. It was bright, it was loud and it was heavily modified. It was certainly of its time and a highly respected show car to boot. Numerous trophies and magazine features proved its worth and Max Power (at the height of its popularity) voted it one of its top 100 cars of all time. Hell, even Mike Brewer had it on his TV show, Revved Up! The OEM fans might be shaking their heads in disbelief right now but back in the ’90s Darren was at the top of his game.
“I sold the Mk1 in 2006 and bought myself a Mk2 Edition 1 G60,” Darren recalls. “I soon bought a Mk1 Caddy and, sure enough, couldn’t resist the temptation to slot the G60 from the Mk2 into the pick-up!” The smiles were short lived as the caddy soon met its fate in a collision which sadly wrote it off. “To cheer myself up, I went out and bought a Pearl white Corrado with a grey leather interior and had a G60 in that one also,” Darren remembers. There’s a theme building here, as you’ve probably spotted, but a Noble M12 was soon to randomly shake that up and Darren then held on to the Brit sports car for five years.
“The call of the VW badge returned and this time, I went for a Mk1 Caddy in black with flames down the side,” Darren laughs. “I slammed it to the deck and got it looking just the way I wanted.” The down side of a slammed Mk1 on coilovers was soon realised after the first few potholes. “It was great fun to drive but my back was suffering with the harsh ride; it confirmed I wasn’t as young as I used to be!” The Caddy was sold before Darren’s spine shattered and he set about looking for a replacement: “It had to be a Mk1 or Mk2 Golf as they’ve always been in my blood. I just had to make sure it would be a little more comfortable to drive than the Caddy!”
Sure enough, his next purchase was this car here: an #1989 Mk2 Golf 1.6CL German import lefthooker which was promptly stripped down. The shell was taken back to bare metal to reveal the rot and a new front valance, inner wheel arches and firewall welded in place. The shell itself was repainted an attractive baby blue shade and new rubbers, bumpers, locks and handles were all fitted to the exterior. Underneath, the shell received new brake pipes and brake lines. In contrast to his extreme Mk1 Cab of the ’90s, Darren’s opted for a more restrained look for his Mk2, inspired by other cars currently on the show scene. Having said that, this is still eyecatching enough! “The small bumpers and lack of side skirts and wheel arch extensions show off the Mk2’s lines better,” Darren reckons. “And the welded metal plate across the tailgate gives a flush effect, which I prefer.” There are subtle details, too, such as the door handles with Volkswagen inserts. The overall finish is flawless and the look could be described as slightly oldskool, although that was Darren’s full intention all along. “I didn’t want to tread the huge bodykit and massive rims path but I liked the idea of dropping a few hints towards the cars that were around when I started on the show scene.”
Perhaps the flush tailgate could be included amongst them, although the smoked rear lights, frosted indicators and black painted front valance are definitely old-skool mods.
After owning a string of supercharged G60s, Darren knew this one also had to have similarly forced induction, though rather than use a familiar four-pot he wanted ‘Baby Blue’ to be a little different. “I liked the idea of a supercharger and a VR6,” Darren smiles, “the combination of instant power, bags of torque and an infectious sound were too hard to resist!” A 2.8 VR6 from a Mk3 was located, stripped down, polished and painted to show standard. Darren added new colour-coded blue Samco hoses, water pipes and HT leads. He also fitted a new chain, pulley and sensors.
A normally aspirated Mk2 VR6 is a hoot to drive anyway and some real bargains can be picked up now as people opt for newer 1.8Ts. Darren wanted his to have an edge over the NA VR6 and a V2 #Vortex-supercharger achieved just that. “I had to upgrade to 300 injectors and adapt the sump to incorporate the supercharger,” Darren points out, “but other than that it was fairly straightforward.” The usual Mk2 exhaust has three boxes but Darren preferred to have a custom exhaust fabricated with just two boxes to improve the output. The exhaust also boasts a quirky upturned tailpipe which always attracts admiring glances. A trip to see VR6 guru, Vince at Stealth Racing in Southam, proved to be very useful with the Mk2 subsequently producing 240bhp on the rollers. “I can’t recommend Vince enough, he couldn’t do enough to get my car running at its best,” Darren adds.
He’s also recently swapped the charger pulley to one ten millimetres smaller than standard and running at 6-8psi and another trip to Stealth saw it running at a highly impressive 291bhp. There are plans too for a Devil’s Own cooling system which should see performance improved even more!
To cope with the increase in power, G60 brakes make a good investment, though these are hidden by the Porsche 928 16” rims with a five-stud pattern. The stretched tyres enhance the classic Porsche design and Darren is well pleased with the result. He’s also happy that he can have the benefit of slamming his Mk2 into the weeds if he wishes, whilst still retaining a comfortable ride. We’re talking air-ride here, an option that wasn’t as readily available or affordable back in the ’90s. The Air Lift V2 airride kit is mounted in the boot and even has a colour-coded tank. It shares its home with a neat sound system containing neon lights: “They shine against the chrome of the compressors. It looks really cool, especially at night.”
Once inside, the Mk2 dash may look familiar, though it’s now been treated to extra VDO gauges and a Momo steering wheel with the addition of an iron cross insert for the horn. To the left of the dash sits a useful boost gauge linked to the supercharger. “I wanted the interior to be crisp and clean,” Darren points out, “that’s why pretty much everything inside is black.” This includes the carpets, doorcards, back seats and even the reclining Sparco race seats which cleverly manage to look both supportive and comfy! “The interior is an ongoing love-affair so this may yet see some changes over the next few years,” he adds. Going by the amount of trophies Darren and his Mk2 have won over the past year, it would seem no changes are necessary, but as we all know you ideally need to make progress to keep those trophies coming in.
“I’m often gobsmacked about the reactions it receives; people just seem to love it,” Darren smiles. “The paint, the stance and especially the supercharger are all regular talking points at shows!” And we’re not just talking small shows here either; how’s ‘Best in Show’ at the GTI Festival at Santa Pod for you?
Okay, he may have had some time off from collecting silverware since his well-known Mk1 was sold in 2006 but his latest Mk2 just goes to demonstrate that Darren hasn’t lost his magic touch. He can still produce a show-stopper; it’s just this one’s headunit might be tuned in to Radio 2 instead of Radio 1!
ENGINE: 2.8 #VR6 fully rebuilt, stripped polished and painted, blue #Samco hoses, blue HT leads, V2 #Vortex supercharger, 300 injectors, 2” custom stainless two-box exhaust system with upturned tailpipe.
CHASSIS: 16” Porsche 928 rims, stretched tyres, #Air-Lift-Performance-V2 #Air-ride with colour-coded tank, #G60 brakes, front upper strut brace. / #AirLift-Performance
EXTERIOR: Full respray in baby blue, Frenched tailgate, smoked rear lights, original door handles with chrome Volkswagen inserts, frosted indicators, black front valance, de-locked and de-badged.
INTERIOR: Black carpets, rear bench and doorcards, standard dash with #VDO gauges, Mono steering wheel with iron cross insert for horn, Sparco reclining race seats, baby blue Wolfsburg emblems on mats, #Wolfsburg badged door pins and window winders, ICE install including neon lights in boot, chrome compressors.
SHOUT: My girlfriend Ann for all her hard work, patience and, of course, cleaning!Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationBOP IT #VW-Golf-II / #Volkswagen-Golf-Mk2 / #Volkswagen / #Volkswagen-Golf-II / #VW / #Volkswagen-Golf / #VW-Golf /
Many think there’s nothing you can do to a Mk2 Golf that hasn’t been done a million times before. James ‘Bopper’ Moran, however, disagrees. He likes to look at things a bit differently, as his unique Mk2 demonstrates perfectly… Words: David Kennedy. Photos: Sam Dobbins.
Do you ever get the feeling some people out there in the car scene have had an unfair advantage in building the car they have? No, we’re not talking about someone having more money to throw at a project than the next guy, or a job where they can work on their own car after hours, although those people sure are lucky compared to the weekend driveway workshop crews out there. No, what we’re talking about this time is how they were brought up and how their parents influenced them in their younger years, be it intentionally or not. You see, one of the first questions we ask the owner of a car when we’re taking notes for the story, is: what got you in to cars in the first place? The influence of friends already involved in the scene, magazines or the internet are the most common answers but every so often someone will cite their parents as being the reason they’re a self-confessed car guy/girl today.
“My family wasn’t into modifying cars but I was always around motorsports,” James Moran, aka Bopper, explained. “When I was six or seven my father raced hydroplane boats. He took me on one of his road trips across the country racing but he was never into cars really. My stepfather, however, took me to a lot of IMSA road races. At the time all I wanted to do was stay at home and play video games or hockey but now, man I look back at all the experiences I had sitting in GTP cars and asking hundreds of questions and the drivers answering me.” If that wasn’t enough of a cool upbringing, his neighbour was the local backyard hot rod dude and would often show the young Bopper around what he was working on.
Before we get too far in to the story on the amazing Mk2 you see before you – one of the freshest Mk2s (and we don’t just mean the colour) we’ve seen in years – we need to get one thing out of the way. Why Bopper? “Well when I was young between the ages of three and five, I was told that I was a very bad kid. I use to hit my older sister all the time on the head,” he laughed. “My aunt always would say ‘stop bopping her’, and it turned in to Bopper and it stuck. I grew up known as Bopper. All my family and friends have always used that name. It makes me stand out. If you don’t know me by the name Bopper then you don’t know me!” Right, that’s that sorted. Let’s get on to the car, shall we?
“It all started in 1995. I was 17 and driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass and I met my friend Mike Beier. He had a black 16v Scirocco, which I got to take a ride in and a month later I bought my first VW. I was hooked.”
The word ‘hooked’ doesn’t do it justice. Three months in to owning his first VW, an ’84 Mk1, he blew the stock motor and swapped a 2.0-litre 16v in. Since then, well, let’s just say things have only got more impressive with each subsequent build. With a 2.0-litre 16vT Caddy, a twin-G60 Mk2 and a rear-engined 20v Mk2, not to mention he also put together Frank The Biz’s (look him up) hidden turbo setup in ’04, it’s safe to say Bopper likes to put a unique spin on stuff. “I had started building a 24v VRT Haldex’d ’79 Mk1 Rabbit that I wanted to finish before my 40th birthday but it got out of hand (you don’t say? ~ All), so I bought a clean Mk2 to use as a daily and, well, this is what happened to that ‘daily’!
“I wanted something original, something that would represent me and my new company, BackFire Fabrication. I was told there was nothing I could do that hadn't already been done to a Mk2 and that although I was a good fabricator I was irrelevant in the current car scene – so I decided to make my mark.
“I was inspired by all the people that made crazy cars – Dubsport, the Edition 38 guys, Big Ron, Scott Norton, there's many other people in the VW scene that I have a great deal of respect for – but my biggest goal was to strike up conversation in the VW community: love or hate it.”
Bopper found this Mk2 up in New Hampshire, not too far from his Connecticut home. This was back in 2011 but, he didn’t actually start the project until the H20 weekend of 2013. With his friends away at the show, Bopper was able to roll the car into their shop and get to work. “I told them I would have all the metalwork in the bay done before they were back,” he explained. Talk about setting yourself a challenge!
Our man Bopper, though, sure does like a challenge. Starting out at a Porsche restoration shop as an apprentice straight out of high school taught him the ropes in machining, bodywork and engine building. Then he opened a VW/Audi shop in ’99 with a friend which ran to 2004. After moving in to industrial fabrication, he started working for ProMod drag teams which led to a job building Porsche race cars. As far as honing your skills go, backgrounds don’t come much better!
Bopper tells us he spent the first three months of the car’s total build time working on the engine bay and the bodywork. “It’s what I pride myself on, if someone comes to me to work on their car they will have an engine bay that is totally different to anybody else’s. I built this car to show what I can do,” he explained. “I wouldn't call mine a completely shaved bay, I would call it an honest smoothed bay. I got a lot of shit for leaving the heater, not shaving all the holes in the frame rails and making a low profile air intake. I like the look of having all the original body dimples in the frame rails. I was trying to make this a driver: the engine bay looks super clean and shaved but everything is functional.” Makes sense to us.
There’s so much going on in the engine bay that we honestly don’t know where to begin. We love the way the custom intercooler wraps around the radiator and the shaved Euro-spec valve cover with no oil cap or oil cover. Plus the whole front end is attached to the Westmoreland front for easy one-piece removal. Yet, in car with a bay so clean you wouldn’t believe the motor even ran, this car’s got plenty of power. The 1.8T boasts a GT28RS turbo on a beautiful tubular manifold with a custom inlet mounted up front, the whole thing mounted on custom mounts and running off AEM Infinity 6 management. It may be colour-coded perfectly with the right mix of colour and bare metal and clean enough to eat off, but with up to 328bhp and 312lb ft at 27psi, it’s definitely not just a pretty face.
Remember we said earlier that Bopper was told there was nothing he could do to a Mk2 that hadn’t already been done before? Well, one look at the bodywork shows he’s proved them wrong. The colour, a custom mint green shade, is out there enough but we’re also huge fans of the Westy front with bi-Xenon projectors fitted inside, the front arches mounted on the rear to bring them higher on the body than the regular rear arches, the single DTM mirror as well as the selective shaving. “I prepped 85% of it and painted 100% of it,” Bopped said proudly. “I’m no body man but I’ve done bodywork before and I wanted to prove I could do it all.”
But our favourite thing about Bopper’s car, aside from the engine bay, the bodywork and the colour (okay, so we like pretty much everything on Bopper’s car) is the air install. Now over the last few years we’ve seen people display their tanks and compressors in many different ways. In the early days of air-ride, at least in the VW scene, it was all about keeping things stealthy and hiding as much as you could.
Most air installs were mounted under false floors or in the spare tyre well. Then, as people became more creative with them, they started to mount the tank on show, then the compressors, too. Now, in the vast majority of show cars, the air install is a crucial part of the interior’s overall look. Tanks mounted this way and that, compressors tucked in perfectly trimmed hideaways, hardlines everywhere, themed installs, there’s really nothing that people won’t try. Bopper here has pushed things one step further though. “I wanted to design something that meant I could still use the trunk for things but at the same time, show people what you could do with an air setup,” he explained. “People tend to lose their minds when they notice what I’ve done with the cage. I love it.” What Bopper has done, if you hadn’t figured it out yet, is turn the cage in to a 4.5-gallon tank for his air-ride. “One of the most fun times I had building the car was when I got the air-ride working with the cage. To have a concept work and have it look awesome was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
A vintage fire department steamer gauge, a nod to Bopper’s day job as a fire fighter for the City of Meriden where he lives, mounted on the cage just finishes off the back end perfectly. Where are the compressors, though? You won’t see them, no matter how hard you look.
Amazingly, Bopper has mounted the compressor behind the rear driver’s doorcard and the battery behind the other so, with everything else hidden, other than the fire department pressure gauge mounted off the rear cross bar, there is no sign of the car being on air-ride at all. How’s that for ingenuity?
The rest of the interior is just as cool, too. The SPG buckets have had their backs colourcoded and then trimmed in black leather and suede with colour-coded stitching by Love’s Trim. “They really knocked the seats and doorcards out of the park. Their work just brings the whole thing together beautifully,” Bopper smiled. The custom-made race shifter setup looks awesome, too, tying the whole interior’s part show/part go look together perfectly.
Speaking of tying things together, Bopper’s choice of rolling stock might not be the obvious one but, in typical fashion, it just works. “I love these Crenshaw wheels. I was surfing the internet one day and came across them and had to have them,” he explained. “They are twopiece with magnesium centres, super light, and The Shine Lab did an awesome job repolishing them. I wanted to have something different other than BBS RSs or RMs on the car. BBSs on Mk2s look amazing but I just wanted a different look and I think they suit the car perfectly.”
The wheels just about sum Bopper’s car up. Different from the norm but so well-thought-out it’s hard to think why it’s not been done before. We guess that’s the sign of a true innovator: they make doing things differently seem so easy. “I’ve had two stand-out moments with the car being finished: the first was taking my eightyear-old son out in it and seeing his face light up; that is a moment you just don’t forget,” Bopper smiled. “The other is when I debuted it at H20 in last year. I arrived late at night and we were staying with a bunch of guys from other VW shops from all over the US. It felt awesome when I popped the hood for them to be staring at my car using flashlights for like an hour, going over every little detail. I just loved it! “Really, though, it’s the first time since 2005 that I’ve had a VW that was nice to call my own. I was so caught up with working on other people’s cars that I didn’t have time for my own stuff. Now that it’s not my day job I enjoy it so much more.”
What’s next for our man Bopper then? Well, this Mk2 is finished although we predict he’s not a guy to leave anything alone for too long. “I’m working right now on another Mk2 GTI. It's a bright blue metallic car and it’s going to be a big bumper with G60 arches. The motor is going to be just as crazy, except I’m going to do a twin G60 again,” he smiled knowingly. “So get ready…” Bopper, we can hardly wait!
ENGINE: 2004 1.8T engine, Eagle rods, #ARP main studs, Eurospec Sport head bolts, head taper ported to fit a large port intake manifold, custom BackFire Fabrication high-flow intake manifold with centre inlet, tubular stainless steel exhaust manifold, GT28RS turbo, custom stainless 3” downpipe and exhaust with hidden inside exit, #Bosch-EV14 long nozzle 550cc injectors, single line fuel rail feed, Bosch 044 and Bosch four-bar regulator located in the rear of the car, custom BackFire harness, AEM Infinity 6 management, custom underdrive pulleys, Clutch Net four-puck racing clutch and pressure plate, custom fabricated 23x7” intercooler with end tank made to wrap around the radiator. Twin Forge blow-off valves, custom BackFire motor mount spacers, BFI Mk3 green motor mounts, 02J transmission with Phantom grip and bolt kit, custom shift cables with ball joints for motorsports shifter, motor and transmission colour-coded.
CHASSIS: 7.5x16” Crenshaw Classic two-piece wheels with 165/40/16 Federals tyres, Air Lift Slam Series suspension, V1 management, Prothane suspension bushings, G60 11” brakes with Euro-spec four to five bolt hubs, Adaptec 5x100 to 5x120 adapters, Mason Tech Great Plates, 3.5-degree rear camber shims.
EXTERIOR: Custom mint green respray, pulled arches, shaved side markers, shaved rear emblems, front plastic arches on rear, early Golf small-door trim, custom Westmoreland badgeless grille, bi-xenon projectors, 16v lip, removable single wiper, single driver side DTM mirror, passenger mirror delete, shaved rear exhaust cut out, red taillights, European-spec small bumpers, ’85 rear window glass with no third brake light.
INTERIOR: SPG seats with colour-coded backs, trimmed in black leather and suede with mint colour stitching by Loves Trim shop, matching trimmed doorcards, #Sparco Camlock seatbelts, BackFire custom motorsports shifter with Durlin shift knob, #Vortex centre console, AEM True Boost gauge and air/fuel meter, Autometer air intake temperature gauge, radio dash delete, custom LED speedometer gauge lights, hidden battery behind rear passenger’s doorcard, hidden #Viair 450c compressor behind rear driver’s doorcard, custom 2.5” aluminium polished roll-cage that functions as a 4.5 gallon air tank, custom stress bar with vintage fire department steamer gauge, ’85 rear pillar covers with no seatbelt holes, power windows, door locks, sunroof and trunk release, Memphis Bluetooth audio adapter directly into Kenwood Excelon X700-5 amplifier, Hertz 6.5” HSK165 components speakers, DXC100 4” dash speakers, Hertz EXC 570 5x7” rear speakers.
SHOUT: First off I want to thank my wife Melissa and my kids James and Caleigh for helping me out and being there while I built this car, BNR Motors in Meriden CT for letting me do the bodywork and paint in their booth, Brian Hall and James Juaire for helping me get my rear quarters straight, Air Lift, Igor at Clutch Net, Jay Bird at The Shine Lab, a super big thank you to Kip Love from Love’s Trim shop, my car would be half of what it is without the interior that he made, my cousin Bobby who stayed up the last week with me almost 24 hours a day to finish it, Scott Norton, Kevin MacDougall, everybody else that helped me get it ready for H2O and Sam Dobbins from More Than More. Check out Bopper_backfirefab on Instagram or www.backfirefab.comStream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.