Words & Photos by Henry Phull
Most of my closest friends are notorious for their love of Mk1 Volkswagens, and because of this I am forever surrounded by Golfs, Jettas and Caddys of that generation. I suppose they will always be my favourite sort of Volkswagen, probably because they’ve been forced upon me! Who knows… Anyway, taking a liking to anything else usually doesn’t go down well with the die-hard Mk1 enthusiasts. It would seem Mk2s, Mk3s, Mk4s and so on, just don’t cut it. I however am not one to judge so quickly. See, I’ve always had a soft spot for Mk2 Golfs. A few months back I was down in Taunton in Somerset shooting Louis Nobbs’ Mk2 Jetta, word spread that I was in town and a few other locals were interested in shooting with me, including Cj Smith, who I knew owned an absolutely stunning Mk2 Golf GTI on air, which I had noticed at last year’s Edition38 show. I jumped at the opportunity to meet up and take some photographs.
Built in 1991, Cj’s GTI is one of the later Mk2s produced, leaving the factory with a facelift which included the ‘big bumper’ upgrade, turning the GTI into a truly sporty looking hatchback. Cj had never really been the biggest fan of the bigger bumper cars, but this time thought it was rare, especially finished in Capri green which would help the car stand out from the crowd. It looked good in all the classified pictures and had a great history, so as soon as he went to look at the car in person, he knew it was the one. After that, everything fell into place.
The car was a completely original example, untouched and unmolested. Thankfully it wasn’t your typical GTI that had been ragged to death in the past by a boy racer owner. The standard GTI spec’d 1.8 8v lump was in adequate condition and running well, so Cj decided to leave it as is, apart from the addition of a cheeky K&N filter and full stainless exhaust for some much required extra noise.
Cj’s main focus was to get the car sitting as he wanted it… on the floor. There were obviously two options, coilovers or bags. Having owned a few small bumper Mk2s in the past that were static and ridiculously low, he’d been through it all already… including getting pulled by the cops into a VOSA checkpoint and smashing a cats eye on the way in, which didn’t seem to go down so well with them! For this project Cj did his research and only found a handful of bagged examples at the time, so thought it would be amazing to build one himself. Unfortunately this meant he had to give up his Mk1 Jetta which he owned and cherished at the time, but ultimately for a very good reason.
One body modification that has totally transformed the appearance of the Mk2 is the addition of G60 arches, which are much wider than the standard GTI ones, specifically sourced by Cj to give the car a far meaner look, and allowing them to sit flush with the lips. Onto those beautiful wheels, which took a while for Cj to decide on, spending ages running in circles in his head to find the right wheels for the car. He knew he didn’t want the common BBS RS or RM, as he’d run them both on previous cars. After trying a couple of Monoblock wheels, the car just didn’t look right. Finally, he bit the bullet and purchased another friend’s set of BBS E76 15×9 splits and added 185/45 tyres all round, resulting in outstanding fitment. Together with gold centres and genuine BBS lip stickers, Cj has done a fine job pairing these wheels with the rest of the car. The gold just works so strongly with the Capri green paintwork.
Air suspension has become extremely popular, this year especially, and it’s no surprise… it can completely transform a car, like it has done with the Mk2. You’ve got two options, pay a company to install an air ride kit for you, or attempt the build yourself. When you think about it, it’s really not as difficult as some people think. Getting it sitting correctly, and low enough, can sometimes be more challenging though. Due to previous experience with air, Cj decided to take on the project himself, and the result is obviously very impressive for a home build. Luckily a friend at the time was breaking his bagged Seat Ibiza Cupra, and although the air kit from the Ibiza wasn’t ideal for the Mk2, it still meant Cj was able to purchase air ride components for a fair price.
Cj eventually opted for top of the range management for his air build, utilising Air Lift Performance‘s AutoPilot V2, one of the most advanced controls on the market and a popular choice for its ease of use. In addition, he’s used an AccuAir tank along with two VIAIR 380c compressors for a rapid ‘airing-out’ process. Taking a look into the boot and you’ll notice a beautifully simple set up featuring fully carpeted turrets and a matching retrim on the back of the rear bench. Another nice touch are the awesome polished copper hardliners turning this into a classy affair. Hidden away underneath is a compartment for storage, and a false floor within the spare wheel well hiding the AutoPilot V2 manifold and ICE components such as the amplifier.
Cj believes you don’t need to go ‘all out’ on a boot build. He’s all about keeping things clean and simple. Having built numerous setups on his and friends previous cars, including audio installations, he’s now offering his services to anyone interested. So if you are based in the South West and are looking for a simple yet clean build, get in touch with him. After seeing his Mk2 and a few other cars rocking his work, he is clearly the man for the job.
A glimpse into the cabin, and it looks like a standard ultraviolet GTI interior, apart from a subtle US heater display panel and speaker faded switch in addition to a Kenwood 90s flip down headunit hooked up to JL Audio speakers all round. The AutoPilot V2 controller is nicely tucked into the ashtray, so it can be hidden away to keep the OEM look. You’ll also notice a 280mm Momo Team steering wheel and boss, for a more sporty and satisfying driving experience.
We took the shoot to a quiet industrial estate so we could completely take over the road, a chance to fully take in the Mk2’s presence. It truly is a thing of absolute beauty.
With a lot of car enthusiasts, boredom can strike at any moment… with constant classifieds and eBay temptations lurking, you’ll eventually want something new. It happens to us all. Cj built the Mk2 to perfection, doing literally everything he wanted to the car, to the highest standard. Hell, everything that was OEM on the car has been kept genuine Volkswagen, including the the wiring loom tape! When you’ve gone into such fine detail, going further becomes a struggle. Two years of ownership took its toll and unfortunately the Mk2 has now been put back to standard and is up for sale. Cj’s just picked up a new project of the air-cooled variety, a 1972 Beetle in ivory white, which he is also planning to put on air! I’m looking forward to seeing him work his magic on the new addition. Knowing Cj, it’s going to be good.