The Golf Next Door – An Excercise in Simplicity

For any guy, the “girl next door” implies a good-looking woman who shows subtle beauty. She probably uses little makeup and is no slave to fashion. However, that doesn’t keep her from being a major hotty.

With that in mind, we think we know of a Mark II (Mk2) that qualifies as the “Golf next door.” This particular gray 3-door GTI was one of the personal projects for Brad Beardow, formerly of fifteen52design and now a member of the VWvortex staff.

While some may argue that VWvortex pays too much attention to Brad’s personal cars, it should be noted that we highly respect Brad and especially his ability to put an intricate level of thought into the particular modifications he performs on a car. There’s almost always something new to be seen, and his rides are hardly a showcase for any one line of products, making them much more characteristic of many reader’s own cars.

To many, the ultimate driver’s Volkswagen is the A2 GTI. The second generation Golf platform is one of the most popular due mainly to its overall light weight. While that can be said for the A1-chassis as well, the A2 is often found to have more potential due to its compatibility with newer components from later VWs, even if it is a few pounds heavier than the featherweight Mk 1. Also, the marked increase in stiffness that the Mk2 enjoys over its earlier brethren is well worth the relatively small penalty in additional weight.

One of the most endearing qualities of the Mk2 chassis for Brad is the overall simplicity of the design. It was this main idea that he chose to focus on and actually take to a new level. But the real story begins with the purchase of this particular vehicle and the intention for it to serve as Brad’s “beater” while some pretty radical work was being done to his ’97 Driver’s Edition GTI. It was a reasonably clean example of a big-bumpered GTI, and at the time, that suited Brad just fine. But unlike some of VAG’s recent UK ad promos, some things are not always better left alone…

A gracious offer by Les of Eurotech Racing in Tampa soon had Brad considering a VR6 swap, and when confronted with “an offer he could not refuse,” Brad said “Let’s do this,” and the work began. Eurotech is a busy shop, and when it looked as if Brad might be without the car a bit longer than expected, he started thinking that maybe a full-bore Mk2 project was the way to go here. Body and interior surgey were now in the cards, so Brad thanked Les for the work he’d already done (basically most of the driveline conversion), took the car back to Sarasota, and proceeded to undo all of Eurotech’s work in order to prep the car for its brand new look.

The 1991 8V 3-door GTI was stripped to its shell. A friend with a particular talent for bodywork as proven with Project X, Jason Reid, set to work on a goofy new idea Brad wanted to try. Jason sourced Brad a second car, a base ’85 Golf, to act as donor for much of the work that was about to be performed.

The most obvious change performed to the GTI is the larger flared fenders. While appearing totally factory, the trained eye will spot the difference. This effect was achieved by cutting the flares off of the donor car and welding them onto the GTI, then molding them in so well that it’s tough to spot the change.

While it might have been easier to fit the black plastic fender flares, the end result is one that is much more subtle and a cornerstone in this car’s move towards simplicity. However, it didn’t end there.

The side mouldings and American sidemarkers were also removed, and the mounting holes were filled. The weight-line that extends from the base of the rear side windows across the C-pillar was smoothed away, mimicking more recent Golf designs like the Mk3 and Mk4 cars. A rare set of Happich pop-out rear side windows were added for good measure, and to help rationalize on of Brad’s more questionable decisions that was on the docket for later (keep reading…).

At the rear, the simpler ’85 hatch replaced the original in an effort to drop the rear spoiler and third brake light, while the rear wiper was removed and filled. Jason’s talents particularly show with his treatment to the license plate area, filling it to the size of the plate itself, and relocating the lock and latch to a position tucked up above the license plate. Below that, he filled the opening for the exhaust and the tow hook, simplifying the car even more.

Choosing a color was just as important for Brad as any other change made to the car. Like everything else, it needed to de-emphasize flashiness and to add to the subtlety. Nimbus Gray, a hue from the Audi TT’s color pallet was chosen because it appears as almost a dark primer gray, while retaining a very subtle metallic tinge, which is actually a type of pearl applied in the clear-coat.

To compliment this, Brad took several other measures with the Golf’s appearance. The big bumpers were replaced with unpainted European small bumpers. The GTI’s dual round grill with its red trim was replaced with a basic black single round setup like those found on base European market Mk2 Golfs.

The amber bumper-mounted turnsignal lenses were replaced with tinted clear units Brad sourced from Germany, while at the rear custom all-red taillights are functional and simple; the polar opposite of many of the clear units making their way onto modified cars today. All badges were removed with the exception of the Volkswagen roundels, which were added in matte black at the front and Nimbus Gray at the rear in order to blend with their surroundings.

With so much attention to detail on the visual impact of the car, it might be easy to overlook the Golf’s performance capabilities. That certainly hasn’t happened here. Brad wanted to showcase an ultimate setup for the car that would demonstrate several top upgrades that he once sourced for his own customers at fifteen52. As a basis for this, Brad never looked back on his decision to convert to VR6 motivation. He’s been developing these large displacement motors for years and has built quite a reputation for doing so.

The common Mk2 VR6 swap typically involves a Corrado SLC donor car. The SLC was the only A2 chassis based car to be fitted with the VR6 and Volkswagen’s plus suspension, effectively ASR traction control, as well as the 5X100 5-lug bolt pattern. Unfortunately, good Corrado parts cars are few and far between these days and tearing apart a perfectly good Corrado is sacrilegious to a guy like Brad.

Racking their brains about the problem, Brad and Les devised the idea to use a much more common Mk3 VR6 donor, sourced by Eurotech. This decision meant more readily available parts, though it would also lead to some packaging issues that needed to be ironed out. Onto the Mk 2 were fitted virtually everything from a newly found 1997 GTI VR6 donor. The newer rear beam, larger capacity fuel tank, fuel pumps, rear brakes and complete front suspension were all installed.

The third generation GTI’s longer driveshafts and control arms created a track that was wider than that of the original Mk 2. This made lowering tricky and necessitated some sort of fender widening, which ultimately led Brad to the aforementioned widebody setup seen here.

In moving the VR6 over to the older chassis, Brad also made use of the Mk 3 donor’s subframe, mounted with Volkswagen Racing motor mounts at the rear and a Turn 2 urethane mount up front. From the GTI VR6, Brad also sourced the wiring harness and fuse block, making use of the newer harness for a much easier install.

For the most part, the VR6 motor was left stock. A Z-Engineering supercharger (not pictured here) was installed to help gases going in, while a Techtonics exhaust specifically designed for Mk 2 VR6 conversions helps move the gases going out. This setup creates prodigious amounts of power at the wheels (around 220bhp), and the next objective was to get that power to the ground.

Quaife supplied the car’s 6-speed transmission, with their own limited slip differential and a 3.95:1 final drive ratio. This numerically high final drive actually leaves the car cruising at higher revs in 6th gear than the donor car previously did in 5th at an equivalent speed.

There are those who will tell you it’s a sin to add a VR6 driveline to the Mk2 chassis, as the end result will invariably be a slow responding, understeering pig. Simply put, Brad disagrees – and rather strongly, as a matter of fact. While a VR6 Mk2 might make short work of its front tires on a fast road course, the truth of the matter is that in the real world where we live and die for the brief moments combining treacherous corners and open road, suspension set-up and wheel alignment play a critical role in creating an obedient and fun-to-drive Mk2 VR6.

The VR6 Mk3 control arms received a full set of VW Motorsport bushings, as did the rear torsion beam, and all four hubs were connected to a set of dampening-adjustable Koni coilovers with custom spring rates. A stock VR6 front anti-roll bar was complemented by a Neuspeed adjustable 28mm rear anti-roll bar – set on full stiff. Combine this with some pretty aggressive alignment specs (over 2 degrees negative camber on the front, for example), and having the heavy battery now placed in the spare tire well, and let’s just say that this is one VR6 Mk2 that turns in and rotates quite nicely, thank you. Now Brad will be the first to admit that he’s compromised a bit of ultimate handling for a very low stance, but he’s mitigated some of the bump-steer problems with the aforementioned custom spring rates, firm dampening, and aggressive alignment specs. For good measure, the old-school VW chassis has benefited from a Neuspeed front strut tie-bar (modified to work here), and their very effective triangulated rear tie-bar.

Stopping is arguably more important than going, so Brad did not neglect the area of braking with this tidy Golf. Even with the big motor, this car’s lack of A/C (in Florida???), rear seats, and a whole bunch of other “useless stuff” still has the vehicle tipping the scales at less than 2,500lbs, so Brad decided he needn’t worry about monster rotors with mega-piston calipers. Plus, he absolutely refuses to put anything larger than a 16” wheel and tire combo on any Mk2, so he ultimately decided that the DE 11.3” front, and 9.4” discs with some Hawke “rotor-eater’ pads would do very nicely. Add some Neuspeed stainless-steel brake lines and some DOT-4 Ate Super Blue fluid, and you’ve got a car that is more than up to handling all the steep mountain passes, and hell-reaching canyons that Florida is known for.

And speaking of wheels and tires, Brad has shod his Golf with a set of 16×7.5” Compomotive MO wheels teamed with 205/40-16 Yokohama rubbers. These wheels aren’t exactly Volk-light, but they’re heat-treated, motorsport-tough wheels that will crack before bending, and this means a lot to Brad as he’s not the type to spend time worrying a whole lot about potholes, curbs, and the errant armadillo.

On the inside of the car, Brad continued to choose from the best of the A3 VR6 donor car and adding to the functionality of his new beast. By starting with the A3 dash and adding updated dial faces, a ’93 model glove box, as well as retaining the adjustable steering column he created a nice, clean view of what was going on right in front of him. He then added a Sparco steering wheel and Recaro SRD seats covered in matching cloth. He ordered from Suncoast VW a Golf K2 shift knob, as the golf-ball knob has always kind of tickled Brad’s sense of humor, but he didn’t want one that said “GTI” on it – the K2 item has the shift pattern, and nothing more. Then, with an air of finality he removed the aforementioned back seat. The stereo system was kept simple by using a stock A3 head unit , a Clarion 6 disc CD changer (tucked neatly in said glovebox) and a set of Boston Acoustic Speakers. In keeping with the rest of the car, the theme for the interior is functional and light with no clutter to take the driver’s mind off of the driving experience.

While this car is one of the least flashy GTIs you’ll see during the show season, that doesn’t keep it from also being a total hotty*. And, like the most striking girls-next-door, it was only a matter of time before it made its way into the spread of some national magazine or website somewhere for the public to see in all its glory. We only hope this car inspires more of its kind as it is one of the most tastefully done Mk 2s we’ve ever seen.

*Note: The term “hotty” has been recently added to the Webster English dictionary. Unfortunately, you probably won’t see a picture of this Mk 2 next to it.

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