While we've tried to construct as many new project cars as possible over the last few years, it's true that most of them have been late-model cars. What's more, we're guilty of not really having what could be considered a budget build, either. But all that is about to change.
After many requests, we decided to pick up an older model, just to show what can be done with a few well-planned changes. But we didn't want any old car; we wanted the much-maligned Mk3 two-point-slow. After all, if we could turn that into a fun, desirable project, we could do it to anything...
Why not a VR6 model? Well, the 2.0 cars are more common, cheaper and easier to work on than the VR6. They're also close to bulletproof. But if a problem does arise, replacement parts are plentiful. In fact, almost every Golf or Jetta model sold from 1994-99 is a potential donor car for mechanicals, interior parts, whatever you need...
Once our work is complete, we hope to have built something that will transform the lowly base-model Mk3 Golf into a car that's nimble, relatively quick and lots of fun to toss into corners. It won't all be mechanical though; we have a few cosmetic changes to bring the car visually up-to-date as well.
Having decided on a suitable car, we needed to find one. By coincidence, a woman walked off the street into a friend's shop, asking if he wanted to buy her Golf. The mileage was very high and it had sat for a year or two, but it seemed worth a look.
He visited their farm and found the car was basically sound but the doors were held shut with bungee cords. It appears the door latches wouldn't stay closed, so they'd drive the Golf around their farm with the bungee cords, and park in a barn at night. This continued until the clutch blew, and after sitting for a while they decided to sell it.
Paying $400, the car was brought back to the shop, where we picked it up. Door latches were sourced from a junkyard - you can retain the original handles and locks when you change the latches, so you don't need a new key. As a precaution, we replaced the water pump, timing belt and fitted a Sachs clutch.
We now had a Candy white '95 Mk3 Golf Sport 2.0 8v. It had a tad over 225000 miles on the clock and needed some attention, but the vitals were looking good.
As an early Golf Sport it had rear disc brakes, sport seats, dual-chamber headlamps, fog lights and tinted tails. The dirt, dust and grime was hiding surprisingly decent paint, but the car was sitting a mile too high and needed a lot of love elsewhere. Exhaust leak? Check. Bald tires? Check. Bad brakes, soft suspension? Check, check. However, these were areas we'd intended to upgrade anyway, so rather than fix them, we'd simply improve.
One of the nice things about this particular example is that it has the very first OBD1 ABA 8v engine with a forged crank and piston oil squirters, which ultimately makes it slightly more durable than the OBD2 variety. That said, the OBD2 ECU is considered to be easier to tune, so there's no single year or model to look for.
Since they all have their unique advantages, the one already sitting on your drive, or for sale down the street, is probably the one to start with... Obviously, you want to make sure the service work is up to date before starting on the modifications, but you shouldn't have to look long to find a good 2.0.
Despite our optimism, we're realistic. We clearly had our work cut out. But we'd have the help of the guys at New German Performance in Aberdeen, MD, plus a selection of parts from some of the best in the business. So we were confident of having this humble hatch transformed in no-time.
For starters, we have a host of engine upgrades from the guys at Techtonics Tuning and Euro Sport Accessories. Euro Sport also supplied suspension parts, and we'll install FK Automotive coilovers, sway bars from Neuspeed, wheels from Discount Tire Direct with Falken tires. Stopping will improve thanks to EBC Brakes, while FK wheel spacers, interior parts from Shutt and Sly Machines dress-up film will complete the picture.
In the end, we hope to prove you don't need a million-dollar car (or even a $5000 car) as a starting point for a solid, fun project. Stay tuned as we take Project 2.slow from hooker to looker in five easy steps!