- FREAK OR UNIX?
Having picked up the coveted PVW COTY, Unix Performance is back with a bang for 2015. Does its R36-powered Golf Rallye have what it takes to win you guys over again? Having picked up the coveted #Volkswagen Car of the Year honours a few months ago, it looks like Unix Performance is back with a bang for #2015 . Does its R36-powered Golf Rallye have what it takes to win you guys over again? We’re certainly sold… Words: Elliott Roberts. Photos: More Than More.
At just 32, Remi Marcel Laflamme doesn’t just own one of the best tuning shops in Canada, he’s got one of the finest collections of cool modified VWs, too. Now you might say the two go hand in hand but, as we’ve discovered over the years, it’s only the true enthusiast-run shops that continue to build reworked classics rather than churning out a string of somewhat soulless, nu-wave creations. It’s safe to say Unix Performance is about as enthusiastic as it gets. That’s why Remi and his team of merry men who work out of Quebec City are pretty much a household name on the North American modified #VW scene.
Rather than focusing on simply churning out remapped vehicles and making money that way, Remi and the team specialise in taking the best bits from the nu-wave cars and installing them into older generation VWs in a way that not only complements the older cars but also clearly pays the bills, too. Some say there’s no money in engine conversions nowadays but Remi and the guys have mastered the art and, as a result, have never been busier. The chaps have the ability to not only offer a full roll-in, roll-out onestop conversion service but they also seem to be able to turn customer cars and their own projects around in lightning fast time whilst still retaining quality. While Remi isn’t about to give away where these super powers come from or how he makes things work, he is more than happy to take some time to talk about his latest creation (which debuted at H2O International last year) and how Unix earned the reputation it is now so proud of.
On top of the Car Of The Year acclaim, Unix has been responsible for producing a whole host of other jaw-dropping PVW feature cars recently, whether they have been company demonstrators or customer cars. It’s funny, people are always asking us what we look for in feature cars, as if there’s some specific list of ingredients they can tick off in the hope it will bag them a car worthy of these pages. Sadly there’s not. We always struggle to try and define exactly what it takes but what we should do is just send them in the direction of Unix’s Facebook page.
That’s what separates Remi from most others tuners; he understands what it takes to not only create a complete car but also what it takes to make it stand out from others without turning it into a rolling billboard or ruining it with over-thetop bolt-ons. This is illustrated perfectly by his latest masterpiece, this seriously reworked Golf Rallye that, from the outside, appears to be stock apart from some shiny wheels and a suspension job.
Now modified Golf Rallyes aren’t new and they’re certainly no strangers to these hallowed pages either (I’ve been attempting to finish my own for the last five years!). It’s common knowledge, however, that the stock Golf Rallye was, well, pretty average when it came to performance. It looked incredibly butch and aggressive but sadly its performance stats didn’t match those pumped-up arches. Most Rallye owners are more than happy to admit this fact and 99% of them you’ll meet have chosen to do something about it. The thing is, ten years ago you could pick up a Rallye for a few grand and they were pretty damn common (well, as common as a car which was limited to a production run of just 5000 can be). As a result it didn’t matter that everyone was swapping the original 8v motor for some something more powerful, like a #VR6 or a 1.8T.
These days, though, well a lot of cars have been crashed, scrapped or modified to the point of no return and with prices of unmolested examples starting to go sky high it takes a brave (some might say slightly deluded) person to strip one down and create a totally one-off, customised example. We can only imagine, though, how excited Remi must have been when he finally got his mitts on what some call the Holy Grail of performance VWs because if you thought they were rare over here in Europe then imagine how few ever made it Stateside – where they were never officially available. Indeed, most of those that are in the US only arrived there in the past few years.
Remi claims he was reading PVW even before he could drive, which makes us feel ever so slightly responsible for his obsession with modified VWs and this Rallye project: “My dad also introduced me to cars at an early age. He ran a bodyshop under our family home, so I was always stealing tools and pretending I knew what I was doing. It was always the European cars that appealed, too.”
It was actually 12 years ago that Remi set up Unix Performance and he hasn’t looked back since. “It makes me feel old to think we’ve been in business that long but then I still feel like I’m a kid, so I guess that’s a good thing,” he smiles. You soon discover Remi does a lot of smiling. Looking at his collection of cars it’s not hard to see why but it’s clear this larger than life guy is just as passionate about his job now as he was way back when he set up shop all those years ago: “I had originally just been working on friends’ cars but when you have a real passion for something and realise you can pay the bills, too, well, you couldn’t ask for more.”
For us over here on the other side of the Pond Unix seemed to totally blow up out of nowhere around five years back, although Remi claims that’s probably down to the internet: “We were in the scene for some time before but the internet and forums helped us build our name globally. That and the fact we also started attending larger shows.”
There have been some major cars to come out of Canada in the past but recently Unix really seems to be flying the flag for the Canadian modified Dub scene. No pressure then. “I’m my own worst enemy,” says the French Canadian. “I push myself to always do better and I’m never happy with what I have. People say I have got some kick-ass cars but when I look at them I just see the small problems or faults in them, so I put pressure on myself.”
Despite his high standards Remi, though, started out like many of us, with some less prestigious metal: “I’ve always owned modified European cars. If I still owned those cars today then sure they’d look crap but I was happy at the time. I owned a GTI with a big metal spoiler on the roof, then a B3 Passat wagon painted in Laguna blue which looked like a big Smurf crap. You’ve got to start somewhere, though!”
Enough about the past though, how the hell did he locate the Rallye over there when they were only ever available in Europe? “Someone gave me the heads-up that there was a guy located around three hours away from me that was selling one. He had imported it from Switzerland with the help of some guys in America but after owning it for some years was now ready to sell it.” The car was topdollar.
According to Remi, Rallyes are actually legal to import into Canada now as they’re over 12 years old. It’s only the US where things get a little grey. “I called this guy maybe twice a year for three years to see if he would consider lowering his price until eventually he did and we agreed on a deal.”
Like a lot of VW geeks, Remi claims he had always wanted a Rallye since he was a kid: “It was always my favourite and the fact they’re so rare over here just added to that. After my last Mk2 I told my friends the only time I will ever own another Mk2 is when I find a Rallye.”
Apparently when Remi eventually got the car back to his shop it wasn’t in a good way: “The previous owner had already begun to do some stuff to the car but nothing was finished and it a bit of a mess from sitting in a garage for three years. He had done some serious damage and the paint wasn’t good either.” According to Remi the engine had already been swapped for a 225bhp 1.8T but that wasn’t complete, and the dash had been changed to a Mk3 item which had resulted in metal being cut out. “I had to buy another car to use to replace these metal areas as I wanted a good, original base to start my own project from,” Remi says.
Remi was always going to put his own spin on the car from the start but he’s a great believer in if you’re going to mess about with what VW originally created then it needs to be done in such a manner that should anybody from VW see the car then they would appreciate what had been done, you know?
So to begin with the motor came out, along with all the other bits the previous owner had added so Remi could inspect the shell for damage: “I always like to do most of the work on my car myself or oversee the stuff one of our guys does. I got a lot of cool friends who are always there to help and owning a onestop- shop helps a lot to be able to do everything on the cars in-house.” One of his friends who they call the Lion (we didn’t ask) helped a lot on the bodywork and Remi’s brother-in-law also helped with a lot of the interior. It’s a real family affair at Unix, whether they’re blood related or not!
When you look under the bonnet, the engine and bay may look like a work of art but Remi is the first to admit fitting the motor in there wasn’t easy: “Fitting a new engine that doesn’t bolt straight to the OE mounts, a transmission that is very different to the original, and later injection technology into a older car is never easy but we love the challenge and damn does it feel good when it’s working and working right!”
Remi reckons he never keeps track of how long these things take because otherwise you can find yourself rushing. “If you ask my wife, she will probably know down to the second and tell you that I put too much time into it,” he smiled. The engine itself was robbed (not literally) from a low-mileage 2011 Passat: “It was practically brand-new, so we just stripped it to powdercoat the block, painted a few parts and removed a few bits that weren’t needed.” They never received the genuine R36 Stateside, just the 3.6 VR6 with Tiptronic gearbox but there was very little difference between the two. “I finally found this one in a junkyard so bought it, swapped the transmission and upgraded it to R36-spec,” said Remi.
When it came to choosing a colour for the car, despite having some lairy colour-changed demos in the past, Remi knew there was only one shade for it: “It’s the factory Graphite metallic. It’s one of my favourite Rallye colours.” Remi claims it was hard to resist the urge not to smooth stuff out and basically show off the skills his shop can offer customers but it would’ve been sacrilege to shave everything. “Sure, I wasn’t able to resist shaving the rear wiper, rolling the arches and doing a mild shaved bay but that’s probably what the plus in OEM+ is for,” he laughed.
As we walk around the car, it soon dawns on us that this is pretty much the ultimate Golf Rallye. It’s how the Rallye should have left the factory all those years ago: as a fast-road track day slag that’s as close to a ‘RS-style’ Golf as you can get. Coincidently the über-rare Recaro R8s were found online by his good friend Russ Thomas (whose Mk2 Jetta was featured back in PVW 10/10): “They were located in Italy and had been previously fitted in an RS Porsche. The guy was actually the original owner of the seats and was super-cool to deal with, although they did take around four months to arrive due to us having them shipped over by boat!” Remi admits that owning a set of A8s was another childhood dream realised. “This was where my brother-in-law, Dan (who heads up the upholstery diving of Unix), stepped in to take care of the trimming.” Dan stripped the seats down in order to achieve Remi’s OEM+ look using all-new materials that give an original period look with a nu-wave twist. The cage, which isn’t just a work of art but also received a coating of Alcantara, was made in-house by Unix, as was the cool aluminium shifter which is hooked up to the 2008 R32 DSG gearbox. “We used the Rallye as a test bed to produce our prototype shifter, which we now offer for all DSGs,” Remi explains. “It’s cool to transform the DSG shifter knob into a more race-inspired item, which is also fun to drive with.”
When it came to the four-wheel drive system Remi wasted no time in whipping out the original Syncro setup in favour of a later Haldex system: “We’ve done the beam conversion for many years at Unix, which involved simply swapping the Syncro beam to a Haldex differential from a 2004 R32, so it was pretty easy. I also modified the Syncro beam to have the camber/caster adjustment, then powdercoated it.”
If that swap was one of the easiest parts Remi claims the wiring side of the engine swap was the hardest: “Fitting the engine was tricky enough but then we had to do the harness: 3.6-litre FSI injection, plus DSG transmission, plus OEM Mk3 door lock, and all the stock Rallye electrical options made the harness a real pain in the ass but after spending some time on it we were able to make a good looking harness.”
Remi claims that his favourite part, though, has got to be the exterior: “The boxed fenders just do it for me and the fact the car is straighter now than when it left the factory. The paint is awesome and the little mods are really tricky to spot at first.”
We reckon another reason Remi loves the exterior has to be down to the way the car sits, which was more than just bolting-on a set of coils and some off-the-shelf wheels: “I carried out a lot of modifications to the chassis because I always planned to take the car on track in 2015. The shocks are KW V3s which were fitted along with uprated roll bars and tie bars. All bushings are from Powerflex. I reinforced the front control arms, added one of our popular ball-joint extender kits, modified the rear Syncro beam to have camber/caster adjustable and then put a set of 12’’ discs on the front and 11’’ on the back with Porsche calipers all-round to stop it.”
When it came to rolling stock, well, let’s just say Remi had a little trick up his sleeve. After taking a closer look we were convinced they were one-offs but Remi soon corrects us: “They’re not one offs, they’re two offs. We made two sets of them; one for me and one for my best friend Pav, who was on the cover of PVW some years ago with his black Mk2 Golf with a red interior. Mine are stepped to 17’’ and Pav’s are flat-lipped in 15”. Both guys knew if they were wanted to up their game then going fully custom was the only way to go: “A lot of my friends work in the machining industry, so we had the idea to make a custom wheel set for many years. Well, the time felt right so we drew them up and finally made it happen. We kind of wanted them to be like ‘unicorn wheels’ – only one set of each! That’s why we won’t make any more of this design.” Remi claims Unix will create some new designs in the future. What better way to finish a customer build than to be able to top it off with a one-off or limited edition set of wheels?
So is Remi now happy with the car or is there more to come? “The choice for Rallye suspension is quite limited and the KWs came brand-new with the car, so they were effectively free,” he replies. “I modified them to achieve the amount of drop I wanted but I will probably change it for Clubsports or maybe fit a set of our Midjet race air struts in the future. We’ll see…”
Remi also says he’s already begun work on an Integrale-style bonnet which might be cooling a supercharged R36 by the end of the year. “We are designing a new supercharger kit for the R32 and R36 right now which will use a hidden Rotrex charger. My wife is already running a blown R36 and it’s awesome, but that’s on her Mk4 and there is far less room for that ’charger on the Mk2,” Remi reveals.
Like we said, these guys don’t mess around when it comes down to turning a project around. “I bought the Rallye just before Christmas 2013 and it was finished in time for H2O back in September 2014,” Remi tells us (that kind of puts my five-year and counting Golf Rallye project to shame! ~ Ed). “We were only working in the evenings and on weekends, which is crazy. I’ve never done a entire project so fast. I must thank my wife for understanding my addiction.”
We ask Remi what’s next for Unix? “I’m completely redoing my Mk1 Golf at the moment. This time I hope it will be the last time. I have also imported one of the few remaining 1974 Audi 100LSs from the US and am thinking of converting it to RWD and putting in a 700hp engine – all this in a stock-looking body.”
Life is certainly never dull at Unix Performance. We’re probably not the only ones who wish they were based a little closer so we could swing by every once in a while to watch the madness unfold and get a get a glimpse at how these guys work in real time.
The Unix Rallye looks equally as mind-blowing in full flight. In typical Unix style, the mods have been carried out in a way that complements the original vehicle.
Dub Details #VW-Golf-II
ENGINE: #2011 #R36 engine, #2008 #R32 #DSG gearbox, R32 #2004 #Haldex conversion, Unitronic #ECU flash, billet pulley, custom cold air intake, twin 2.5 stainless steel downpipe, 3” oval exhaust.
CHASSIS: 9x17” one-off specification Unix Billet Felgen with 195/40 ZR17 tyres. KW Variant 3 coilovers, Powerflex bushing all-round, Autotech sway bars, Unix ball joint extenders, Unix Syncro to Haldex conversion, rear beam with camber/caster adjustment, Unix roll-cage, Unix front pillow ball camber plate, reinforced control arm.
EXTERIOR: Stock Graphite metallic respray, engine bay OEM+ style shave, rear wiper deleted, French Rallye fenders logo, smoked front headlight, clear glass conversion, Happich pop-out rear windows, Audi tilt and slide sunroof.
INTERIOR: #Recaro A8 front seats, #VW-Golf Mk2 CL one-piece rear bench, Unix roll-cage covered in Alcantara, Nakamichi period-correct headunit, Digifiz cluster, Personall Alcantara steering wheel, Unix motorsport DSG shifter, complete interior in a Rallye looking grey Alcantara with black leather.
SHOUT: Unix Performance (unix-performance.com)
The paint is awesome and are really tricky to spot the little mods.