A Life Sentence – Ryan Powell's 1997 Volkswagen Mk3 Golf VR6

Words & Photos by Henry Phull


If you’ve been frequenting Slam Sanctuary and the specific portion of the car community we tend to focus on, then you’ll know that the Volkswagen Golf has long been one of the most popular chassis choices for styling and performance modifications. However, choosing which model to go for can be challenging unless you have your heart set on one or the other. Ryan Powell opted to build himself a Mk3 which we are showcasing today. Despite being a huge fan of the Mk1 and Mk2’s, the later Mk3 had some of the newer technology that the older cars lacked – but still not completely reliant on computers. It’s the model that is classed as ‘old but new’ – the last of the classic Golfs before they became completely modernised and overrun by troublesome electronics. In a momentary lapse of reason, Ryan almost found himself buying a Corrado VR6, so clearly the engine played a strong part in Ryan’s decision to go with the Golf, which was to become a huge part of his life.



Passing his driving test at the age of twenty, Ryan’s driving debut started quite late. Think ‘Max Power’, and you’ll get an idea of how his motoring days began… the first car being a Vauxhall Corsa which was rolled within the first three weeks of ownership. It was then swiftly replaced by another Corsa which was also written off from being driven into a wall! So, two Vauxhall’s down the scrap yard in record time… Ryan soon decided it was time to upgrade to something he actually wanted and would take care of. He has always been in love with Volkswagens before he could even drive, drooling over his older cousin’s issues of Performance VW and even going to car shows and meets with him and mates. A look into insurance quotes showed that Golf’s were finally within his threshold… the search was on.



After searching for a few weeks Ryan came across the car you see today, just down the road from him in Portsmouth, although it was completely standard at the time. Unfortunately the Golf was a non Highline model, but it was finished in ‘LO41 Straight Black’ – a desirable colour, in addition to being a rot-free, low mileage VR6. Being right on his doorstep, there was no way Ryan was going to let this one go… A deal was done and his VR6 base was ready for the upcoming years worth of modifications.



Ryan has owned the Mk3 for over four and a half years now, so it’s naturally been through a few different stages and looks. Unsurprisingly he wanted to get the car on the floor as soon as possible, starting on coilovers with a set of KW V1’s then later upgrading to GAZ Custom Ultra Low’s which drove great, but with the height that Ryan ran the car at, plus the amount of travel left on the coilovers, the Golf’s arches were taking a significant beating. With constant bills for sump repairs, sub frames and arch work, a switch to air ride was on the horizon to save money (and the car) in the long run.



About a year ago, Ryan bit the bullet and forked out his hard-earned cash on a full Mk3 AirREX strut kit with Air Lift Performance V2 management, which he fitted himself on the driveway. Once he got his head around everything, he reckons the fitting part was a pretty simple task. Whilst some people would just bolt on the air and be done with it, Ryan told himself that if he was going to be on air ride he wanted the car to properly lay frame – this meant a bit more work and messing around. A few visits to Coltech Classics in Poole for some chassis notching, as well as an engine raise so that the sump sits level with the subframe, and the car now lays frame whilst fully air’d out. A little additional work can go a long way.



The first set of wheels Ryan ran on the Golf were 16″ 8j Mercedes 8-holes which he absolutely adored, but when the chance to own some genuine splits arose (located just 10 minutes from his house) he jumped at the chance… 17×8 & 17×9 BBS LM’s with ET35 all round. Although with a 5×114.3 centre bore, it meant that Ryan had to find somewhere to get some adapters made up, and opted for Adaptec Speedware in the USA – after running a set on his previous Mercedes wheels he already knew that the quality of their work was excellent. With the wheels and adapters mounted, Ryan went through a few different tyres to get to the optimal fitment, resulting in 185/35/17 up front and 195/40 at the rear which allow the car to sit just right.



Body wise, Ryan has added a few special touches to complete the car’s look. Firstly, you’ll no doubt be wondering about the front end.. Hella Quad headlights really make it unique – Ryan admits that the lights get a varied feedback – but the car was built for him and nobody else, so why should other people’s opinions matter, right? He’s managed to pull them off and distinguish his car from the crowd. Along with the headlight swap, the car rocks a Vento front bumper with a smoothed plate recess and GL splitter. At the rear you’ll notice a shortened plate recess and a tasteful Votex spoiler. To tidy up the rest of the exterior, Ryan fitted brand new wings, replaced all the door handles with colour coded items and even changed the window glass rubbers all round.



After running the car with its original paint for a few years, Ryan wanted the shell to be perfect, resulting in a full respray in the original LO41 colour to keep it OEM. Before it hit the paint booth, the wings were completely flattened to allow for maximum clearance all round. Ryan fully prepped the car himself before handing it over to the paint shop, and even had to put everything back together himself afterwards. His good friend Chris Phillips then gave the car a complete detail to make that new paintwork pop like it should.



The attention to detail Ryan has taken with the outside definitely follows throughout the interior, making this Mk3 a lovely place to be. He first swapped out the original interior for a set of leather Highline seats, but found himself sliding all over the place due to his ‘spirited driving’. These were quickly swapped out and replaced with a pair of Recaro’s. To match these, Ryan sourced a Vento rear bench and had it retrimmed in the same material, along with the gear and handbrake gators. The roof lining was then dyed black, the carpet changed to black, and the A, B and C pillars replaced with Highline items.



You wouldn’t even notice if you weren’t a dedicated Golf fanatic, but Ryan even replaced small things like grab handles with B4 examples and sun visors from a Mk3 Cabriolet. Furthermore, he installed a US spec rear centre console with cup holders and a boot switch which has been fully wired up. The rather ugly original Mk3 steering wheel was binned in favour of a Momo Team 280mm wheel – which Ryan says vastly improves the driving experience, but not the parking!



The audio set up in the car is moderately basic, with an Alpine bluetooth headunit and upgraded Hertz HSK 165XL speakers – but when you have the sound of that VR6 engine note to listen to, who needs an expensive audio set up? Of course, the tank and components for the air ride had to be installed into the boot, and after attempting it himself Ryan realised he was no carpenter. He decided the best place to take it to on the South coast was Shakey at Studio Incar, who created a basic tank install with plenty of room leftover for a usable boot.



Ryan, a massive fan of the VR6 in its stock form, opted not to do anything out of the ordinary under the hood. The engine is all about the noise in his opinion, with a dream of supercharging it in the future just to improve the sound even more – power gains seem to do nothing for him. Unfortunately on the night before Players Show and Deutsch Connection a few years ago, the head gasket gave up and the car barely made it to the shows. The engine was inevitably rebuilt, with a set of 263 cams and the addition of a K&N panel filter with a slightly modified air box. With the work done, Ryan has a worry-free and usable VR6.



Unsurprisingly, the best way to increase the VR6’s sound was to upgrade the exhaust system. After becoming fed up of the previously fitted exhaust whistling like a turbo at 4,000 RPM, Ryan had a full custom stainless steel Powerflow system installed, which sounds incredible. The custom system also meant it could be fabricated to sit closer to the floor to allow yet more clearance. Ryan likes to push the Golf to its limits, so stopping power is rather vital. The factory brakes on the VR6 aren’t anything special so Ryan changed them for a set of Skoda Octavia VRS brake callipers and carriers allowing him to run 312mm discs, along with braided Goodrich hoses and dot 5.1 brake fluid.



Ryan’s job sees him working at Southampton docks on car transport ships, so he’s constantly driving all sorts of vehicles including exotics like Aston Martin’s, McLaren’s, Rolls Royce’s, Bentley’s, etc… Yet it is the Golf that puts the biggest smile on his face. Four and a half years is a significantly long time to own a project car in comparison to most of the people we’ve previously featured, but this one has been kept fresh with an ever-evolving appearance. Despite the toned-down approach to building the car (you could say that it’s a sleeper of some sort), it still breaks necks and stops people in their tracks wherever it goes. All those years ago when Ryan was drooling over Volkswagen’s in those magazines – he’s now created something that puts everyone else in awe with his stunning example of a Mk3 that sits just perfectly.

To bring you the best shopping experience this website uses cookies (Click to here view our Privacy Policy)