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1996 Volkswagen Golf - Right First Time

It's incredible to believe this Golf VR6 is actually Kris Bonagura's first car!

Feb 4, 2008

First cars aren't supposed to last. That's why they're first cars. Beat-up, beat-down, as well as hand-me-downs are the norm for your first set of wheels. Sure, you may lust after a Porsche or some other high-end car, but you're probably going to wind up with something anemic, boring, and cheap. Like any sane person, you ditch it as soon as you can to move up the automotive food chain.

Eurp_0709_06_z+1996_vw_golf+driver Photo 1/16   |   1996 Volkswagen Golf - Right First Time

Kris Bonagura, a Chrysler service advisor from West Orange, NJ had other plans. As a self-professed car guy and VW enthusiast from an early age, he set his eyes on a black '96 Mk3 Golf four-door. "I used to love Beetles and stuff like that when I was little," Kris recalled. "So when I got my license I wanted to get a VW, and I ended up with this Golf as my first car."

Sure it was an 2.0 8v auto, but that wasn't a bad start. And for somebody like Kris, it's a blank canvas to transform into a work of art.

It's unusual for somebody's first ride to still be around, much less one that looks as good as this. Dark and smooth, yet quite aggressive, it looks like something you'd see cruising to Wrthersee. It has a real Euro-vibe, but it didn't happen overnight. The process has taken him nearly five years.

"The car has gone through a couple of different stages," he said. "It had the big Mattig bumper, the big Rieger rear bumper, the M3 side skirts and DTM Kreuz wheels. But I kinda wanted to change it up, and wanted to go with a cleaner look."

The original four cylinder and slush-box had remained through all his previous mods. But after the stressed 8v motor finally gave out, it presented Kris with the perfect opportunity to makeover the car.

Eurp_0709_05_z+1996_vw_golf+engine Photo 2/16   |   VR6 transplant is mildly tuned

The two-liter was removed in no time, and a VR6 swap provided new life for the four-door. Kris then enlisted the help of his buddy Chris Palumbo to install the motor and complete the conversion to a five-speed.

The engine remains largely stock, with the exception of an internally-ported intake manifold and an aggressive side-exit exhaust.

"I like the way it sounds with the stock air box," Kris explained. "With an intake, it got a little raspy." The mild tune won't last forever though, as a forced induction is on the cards.

With the car sporting new power and a fresh lease on life, Kris got around to perfecting its appearance. He contacted Northfield Collision to carry out the modifications. "They've been a really big help to me," Kris said. "They did all the bodywork on the car since I've had it."

Eurp_0709_20_z+1996_vw_golf+bumper Photo 12/16   |   1996 Volkswagen Golf - Right First Time

Kris put together a complete European front end, including radiator support, bumper, fenders and a badgeless Jetta grille, plus smoked E-code headlamps. A bser Jetta hood with shaved washer nozzles was also sourced.

The Euro front bumper was shaved and smoothed of its indicators and lower air ducts. An ber-rare Abt Sportsline front spoiler was then mounted below. A matching set of Abt side skirts are also on the car, which was one of the last sets PG Performance had in stock; Kris lucked out and got them brand-new.

The German-tuner theme continues at the rear with a European bumper, (smoothed and shaved, of course) plus a Bonrath diffuser and JOM window spoiler. In the wrong hands, or on the wrong car, this combination could prove disastrous. But here, they look perfect.

Once completed, the sheet metal was covered in three-stage House Of Kolor paint. Its specific name is "Ice Violet Metallic Black Pearl," which is similar to the Black Magic Pearl used on the 20AE GTI. "I wanted to go one step above Black Magic Pearl," Kris said, "And this is like a Black Magic Pearl on crack."

Eurp_0709_03_z+1996_vw_golf+front_view Photo 13/16   |   The stance is just right, thanks to staggered offset, spacers and coilovers. Jetta front end is pure Euro in both parts and inspiration GLI-style chrome strip is clever addition

The paint looks stunning. It looks almost normal under most conditions, but once the light hits it just right, the paint explodes with a shimmer of purple and silver. As a nod to the Mk4 GLI, a chrome strip runs along the edge of each bumper and down the side moldings. It's a unique and simple touch that really adds to the overall look of the car.

With the aggressive bodywork and wild paint, Kris knew it could fall flat without the proper wheels, so he didn't skimp on the size or offset. The JLine SDMSL2 wheels are 17x8" all round, with super-aggressive offsets of et20 front and et-4 on the rear. A pair of 10mm spacers were used on the rear so the center caps weren't pushed out of the wheels. They were then wrapped in 205/40 Dunlops.

The wheels may look a little larger than a regular 17" because they use a flat-lip design, which allows for a slightly larger center than a more traditional step-lip, multi-piece wheel. "I've always been a big fan of flat-lip wheels. I think it kind of gives the car a classier look," Kris said.

The Golf is dropped low on B&G RS Line adjustable coilovers. Rather than raise the car to compensate for the wheel offsets, Kris had Northfield pull the fenders as much as possible.

The dark 'n moody theme continues inside, where the stock beige interior has been swapped out for black, from carpet to headliner. The dashboard was removed and replaced with an early European Vento dash. The standard seats were replaced with a pair of leather-covered Koenig K5000 racing seats, and the rear bench was trimmed to match.

Eurp_0709_09_z+1996_vw_golf+backseat Photo 14/16   |   Everything inside is leather of suede

Suede covers the A-, B- and C-pillars, plus portions of the dash. A four-point FK roll-bar was installed for safety, and is naturally finished in black. An assortment of Isotta, Abt and Momo interior parts complete the look.

When it came to choosing the interior color, it was a no-brainer. "I didn't want it to pop out," he said. "I mean, the interior is done, but I didn't want it to distract from the exterior. I didn't want somebody to walk past at a car show and say 'look at all the stuff it's got going on.' I wanted to keep it clean and classy, so everything is leather and suede inside."

With such a smooth and refined look, you'd expect a swathe of in-car electronics, but they're limited to a Pioneer head unit with 7" flip screen, a PS2 and Infiniti Kappa components. There was more, but a thief made off with the rest.

Despite this loss, the end result has put a smile on Kris' face. For his first car, this Mk3 has been transformed into a genuine showstopper. And he's not done yet: the interior and engine bay are being redone. Why not? Kris has no plans to get rid of his first car anytime soon: "I'm going to hang onto this one as long as I possibly can."

Eurp_0709_17_z+1996_vw_golf+car_and_driver Photo 15/16   |   1996 Volkswagen Golf - Right First Time

Tech Spec
1996 VW Golf
Owner: Kris Bonagura
Location: West Orange, NJ
Occupation: Service Advisor

Engine: 2.8 12v VR6 with ported intake and exhaust manifolds, K&N drop-in, cat-less exhaust, polished valve cover

Drivetrain: five-speed manual conversion

Brakes: 280mm G60 front brakes, stock rear

Suspension: B+G RS Line coilovers, polised FK front and rear stress bars

Wheels & Tires: 17x8" front, 17x8 rear JLine SDMSL2 wheels with flat-lips, color-matched centers, chrome bolts and 10mm FK rear spacers, 205/40-17 Dunlop SP Sport tires

Exterior: European front bumper with shaved indicators and lower ducts, Euro radiator support, rebar, front fenders with square side markers plus JOM vent on passenger side, bser Jetta hood with shaved washer nozzles, badgeless four-bar Vento grille, Abt Sportsline front lip and side skirts, shaved door handle recesses, Euro rear bumper with smoothed and shaved tow hook, Bonrath rear diffuser, shaved Bora-style Euro hatch, JOM rear window spoiler, pulled fenders, shaved Fuba antenna, painted House of Kolor Ice Violet Metallic Black Pearl

Eurp_0709_12_z+1996_vw_golf+front_seats Photo 16/16   |   1996 Volkswagen Golf - Right First Time

Interior: Koenig K5000 front seats, leather GTI rear bench, early Vento color-matched dashboard, suede A/B/C-pillars and knee boards, black leatherette headliner, Isotta R-Evo steering wheel and shifter surround, Momo hub adapter, Abt Sportsline shift knob, chrome Cabrio door pulls, FK four-point roll-bar

Audio/Visual: Pioneer 7" TV head unit, PlayStation 2, Infiniti Kappa speakers

Thanks: Leah Andreottola, Mike at B&G, Chris Palumbo, Steve at Tunershop, Billy at Northfield Collision

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