Doing what you love for a living is the ultimate goal for many people. Whether it's saving lives, creating art or owning your own business, it's what most of us strive for. It can be a double-edged sword since it's possible to forget what made you love it in the first place when it becomes the daily grind.
Matt Kappen from Hershey, PA is a lifelong VW enthusiast who was living the dream of running his own shop. "I got into it back in the late '80s after driving VWs since I was 16," Matt began. "You could buy a Rabbit and really get into it and do something fun."
Working alongside his father, Matt founded G&M Performance, doing repair, service and performance work - turning out some great project cars. But the constant stress took its toll, and Matt was looking for an exit. "It was seven days a week, 18 hours a day. It was constant. It really burned me out. It came to the point where it wasn't fun anymore, so I sold [the business] and got rid of everything I had left over," he said.
Matt spent the next couple of years devoting time to his wife and children, never touching a wrench or attending a show. Luckily for us, he got that familiar itch and began looking around for something to play with. One of the first cars that made an impression on him was an '85 GTI 8v turbo, decked out in an Oettinger kit.
With this inspiration, Matt knew he wanted it to be all-wheel drive, but since the Golf Rallye was a more frequent sight on these shores over the last few years, he decided to build something a little more custom. A red '89 Golf CL was selected and the project began.
"I wanted something VW might have built," he said. "I built it as if it were a Motorsport car they might sell off the dealer's floor."
Matt used his arsenal of skills to take care of most of the work himself. First on the list was to dump the wheezy 8v engine, drop in more power and convert the car to Syncro all-wheel drive.
"I honestly didn't know what motor I'd use when I started," Matt stated. "I was actually going to a do a 16v turbo, and then everybody was telling me I'd make more power with the 20v. So I decided to try it."
A stock-block 1.8 20v was dropped into the smoothed-out engine bay, along with a custom turbo system. A Garrett T4 turbo provides the pressure, while a Garrett intercooler was squeezed behind the radiator support - keeping the front end clean without needing any cutting or a larger bumper.
Matt's friend Joel Brown fabricated the trick tubular exhaust manifold and intercooler piping. A Tial blow-off valve and wastegate keep the boost in check, while an Autronic electronic boost controller dictates pressure.
An Autronic SM4 engine management system controls the engine parameters, with a Walbro 255lph in-tank fuel pump feeding the 83 lb injectors. The entire system was built to NHRA spec, so Matt can take the car to the track and put it to good use!
The engine management was sourced through friend Kevin Black, who sells and tunes the Autronic systems. Although the current tune is a base map, Matt's sure of the engine's potential. "I have the boost turned all the way down and it's still making good power. I haven't dynoed it yet but it has to be making over 300hp, since it's faster than my Rabbit 16v hp turbo, which made 340hp," he asserted.
The Syncro drivetrain was imported from Holland, including the rear subframe and Rallye transmission. "I started with the standard Syncro, using the Rallye gearbox and rear end, but I worked out I could do the Audi TT Haldex system for a couple of bucks more, and that would handle a lot more power," he told us. "But it was a nightmare."
Custom mounts were needed to lower the TT's 02M six-speed gearbox about an inch, allowing it to mate to the driveshaft. Custom brackets then mounted the Haldex rear end in place of the weaker Syncro unit. Surprisingly, it mated to the standard rear axles without an issue. There was still the problem of controlling the electronic Haldex system itself, but the versatile Autronic system was up to the task. "I was trying to get a standalone controller for the Haldex, but couldn't," Matt said. "It was a long process and we eventually built our own control board for it."
Kevin and Matt integrated the systems so the Autronic SM4 now controls the Haldex AWD, feeding it information such as wheel speed, boost and more. With the system fully operational, the little red Golf has incredible grip and traction.
An FK Konigsport coilover system sharpens the handling, but one of the most significant benefits of the AWD set up is the independent rear suspension, which gives improved handling and a superior ride. "I'd never want a regular Golf after this," he enthused. "The ride is so much smoother... I was amazed by it!"
A complete brake conversion from a Corrado G60 was installed, including the master cylinder. Zimmerman drilled rotors replace the stock items, and Mintex pads give more pedal feel for street performance.
Matt had previously purchased a set of Kodiak wheels for a 911 Turbo project, so knew exactly what he wanted for the Golf. A set was built to his spec, measuring 16x8.5" front and 16x9" rear, with gold centers and polished lips.
"I really like them. They look great, are easy to order and are fairly inexpensive."
They lend the perfect motorsport influence to the car, looking both classy and purposeful. They're mated to 215/40 Hankook K104 tires.
Naturally, a stock exterior wouldn't do. But Matt stuck to his original factory-racer vision and extended the OEM fenders by 2" all round, giving a subtle but aggressive appearance.
Despite it being his least favorite color, Matt retained the stock red paint and simply resprayed it. The side moldings and exhaust cutout were shaved beforehand, while small Euro bumpers, a 16v chin, Euro tail lights and a narrow-slat single round grille were installed after the painting was completed.
Matt made sure we knew how special his Golf is by locating a rare OEM Syncro badge to compliment the grille.
"I found it on eBay UK, but that was a disaster itself. The guy didn't want to sell or ship it here," he griped. "But it was worth it because it finishes off the car."
On the inside, there was only one seat choice for an OEM motorsport themed Mk2: the Recaro Trophy, as fitted in late GLI 16v cars. Matt had a perfect set from his Rabbit 16v turbo that were looking for a home, so he pulled them out of storage.
Brown leather covers the seats and door panels, courtesy of Jeff Clark, to complete the '80s color combo. He also had "Syncro" stitched in place of the Recaro logo, while a sought-after VW Motorsport shift knob and boot complete the makeover.
One of the coolest parts on the car is the VW Digifiz dash, because it's hard to find with all of the necessary parts. "You're supposed to have brackets and a wiring harness for it," Matt informed us. "[Without it], nothing works."
Matt and Kevin spent an estimated 100 hours tracing every last wire and function on the Digifiz cluster so it works seamlessly with the Autronic management. A large investment in time, but surely worth the effort for the complete integration of the vehicles' electrics, from engine to drivetrain to interior. It demonstrates the attention to detail that puts this motorsport Mk2 above the pack.
Matt is quick to credit the hard work and skills of Joel Brown and Kevin Black in helping him create his ultimate Mk2.
"If it weren't for Joel and Kevin, the car wouldn't have turned out this way. They did everything exactly the way I wanted," he said. "I wanted something I could drive everyday, but then I went a little further," he chuckled.
Although Matt may never dust off his shop-owner hat again, it's good to see we didn't lose a talented member of the community.
Here's hoping we'll see him at an autocross or drag strip, or maybe even a show this season. The car's certainly a contender, no matter where Matt takes it.
1989 VW Golf CL
Owner: Matt Kappen
Location: Hershey, PA
Occupation: stay-at- home dad
1.8 four cylinder 20v turbo motor with Garrett T4 turbo on tubular exhaust manifold, 12x30'' Garrett intercooler with hidden 2.5" and 3" polished stainless intercooler pipes, 50mm Tial BOV, 44mm Tial wastegate with V-band clamps, 3" polished stainless exhaust with V-band connections, ABA throttle body, custom intake hidden under car, Walbro 255 lph in-tank fuel pump, 83 lb injectors, uprated fuel lines, Autronic SM4 engine management and electronic boost controller, solid front motor mount, polyurethane side mounts, smoothed engine bay, hidden wiring with one-plug engine disconnect, A/C removed, battery relocated to trunk, Flaming River battery switch under rear bumper
02M six-speed Audi TT transmission and shifter box in custom bracket, Haldex rear unit in custom brackets, custom front CV axles, manual steering rack
FK Konigsport coilovers, VR6 strut bearings
Corrado G60 11'' front brake upgrade and rear disc conversion using 22mm G60 master cylinder, Zimmerman cross-drilled rotors and Mintex Redbox pads
Wheels & Tires:
16x8.5" front, 16x9" rear Kodiak wheels, 215/40-16 Hankook Ventus Sport K104 tires EXTERIOR: 2'' wider steel flares, shaved side moldings and exhaust cut-out, factory passenger mirror delete, 16v chin spoiler, small Euro bumpers with red strip, Euro amber side markers, stock Euro tail lights with working foglight, narrow-slat single-round grille with Syncro badge, polished Porsche 944 Turbo door handles, Happich pop-out windows
brown leather Recaros, door panels and split rear seat, Digifiz instrument cluster, VW Motorsport shift knob and boot, Momo Prototipo steering wheel, Corrado pedal box, armrest, chrome door handles and window cranks, black '87 GTI 16v headliner, no sunroof
Joel Brown, Kevin Black, AP Tuning, Jeff Clark