A ‘simple’ lockdown project that seems to have spiralled out of control. Yep, Auto Finesse definitely has Caddy issues… as V2 of the AF truck fetish continues to evolve with this bagged VW Caddy.
Feature from Performance VW. Words: Jimbo Wallace. Photos: Matt Woods.
There’s something so simple, so raw and just so god-damn-right about a Mk1 bonnet with a snarling valver lurking beneath it. No matter what happens with more contemporary turbocharged and bigger capacity, multi cylinder VW engines the trusty ol’ valver can still be relied upon to dish up the goods when it comes to period correct induction roar. We know that for the purists there’s nothing more invigorating than the off-beat, high RPM intake growl of some open trumpets in the morning. Sure, it might not necessarily make all the ponies or generate the same amount of twisting torque as VWs new-age offerings, but for relative simplicity, ease of install and that all-important 7500rpm redline the good ol’ ABF lump remains a no-brainer. Add the cacophony of open trumpets to that mix using some thoroughly modern tech to govern the ignition and the fuel delivery, with an aesthetic nod to retro carbs of old, and the overall recipe is one of utter old school perfection. For many, that roarty 16v remains the perfect swap for the Mk1 chassis, and who can blame them?
Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, let’s rewind to pre COVID times when life was more sociable. “We’d had this white Caddy ‘shell kicking around in the yard for a while,” says Auto Finesse primo mechanic, Matt Waldock, “It didn’t really pick up any pace until the start of Lockdown when one of James Batty’s (head honcho at AF) pals volunteered to spray the truck to keep him busy while everyone was locked away and staying at home. Luckily Stuart had a massive shed in which to carry out the paintjob, but before that could happen most of this bagged VW Caddy, V2, was dry built by Matt to ensure everything bolted up correctly, leaving nothing to chance – the same ‘built in a barn ethos’ that underpins the famous R32 Auto Finesse VW Caddy still rings true with this substantial resto. “The truck had already been on the receiving end of NOS wings, bonnet, tailgate and pickup bed, so it didn’t need a lot of welding or bodywork as such,” says Matt, “it was remarkably solid to be fair, but we had to switch out the rear leaf springs for a bolt on Eurowise four link back axle setup to accommodate the Air Lift bags and separate KYB shocks.”
The lower chassis legs at the front were also notched out to allow for driveshaft clearance to permit the perfect drop when those sills seek the tarmac. While they were at it the arches were also rolled to allow for the wider lips of a set of stunning BBS E50 Porsche fitment wheels in 7- and 8×17” dimensions – cheekily rebuilt with a reverse mount face up front and a standard fitment rear setup. Naturally those luscious hoops are mounted on PCD adapters to allow for a millimetre perfect arch, lip and face ratio when the compressed air leaves the system.
“As with any resto it’s the bits you’ve lost along the way that are always the most difficult to replace,” says Matt, and with a serious lack of clips, bolts, catches, latches, seals and belts to make it roadworthy there was only one place to turn. Yep, you’ve guessed it – VW Heritage. Despite having a large stash of OE parts hoarded away in boxes, the Heritage crew helped resurrect V2 from the dead by supplying the rest. “We always spend time focusing on the smallest details for these builds, but cleaning and restoring can only go so far if the parts are missing altogether, Heritage were absolute lifesavers,” Matt rationalised.
Prior to the paintjob the plan was always to 20vt the build, but as time ticked by it became clear that the Mk3 2.0 ABF route was more in keeping with the retro vibes team AF were pursuing. Epytec gearbox mounts were drafted in to bolt a 5 speed 02j cog swapper in from a Mk4 Golf and rather than mess with the pedal box or graft in a hydraulic master cylinder setup, the trusty SEAT Cordoba hydraulic actuator and clutch cable were fitted. “We tried to keep things simple with this build, James didn’t particularly like the feel of the pedal box in the burgundy Caddy, so we retained the Mk1 servo and master cylinder, but fitted uprated Tarox four piston calipers with 280mm discs up front and Mk4 calipers with Mk2 rear discs and stub axles out back.”
Although the team at AF seem to play down this bagged VW Caddy build a little bit via their social media and YouTube videos, it’s an absolute detail fest once you glimpse underneath and see that everything, and we mean everything, is better than brand new. That same no-stone-left- unturned approach has flowed throughout the project since the Air Lift 3P management, five-gallon hidden tank and custom mounted dual Viair 444c compressors (all tucked up beneath the bed) look totally mint and unused, just like the underside they’re bolted to. One thing is for sure, Stuart’s Porsche Crayon grey paintjob has come out looking sublime, even though James assures us that it, “isn’t quite as show worthy” as many of the other AF builds – including the insane Chevy 3100 Stepside, R32 Skyline GT-R or 3.2-litre Caddy, to name but a few.
Looking around it sat in the AF Detailing Academy it’s clear that many man hours have been spent on DA-ing and buffing to bring out the very best from the “barn built” paintjob. Anyone who has watched the numerous Big Detail guides on Youtube will be fully aware that this truck has received much love when it comes to compound and pad work from the team of buff daddies (and lady) at their Bishops Stortford HQ.
It’s cliched to say that attention to detail is second to none, but you get the impression that nothing sees the light of day from Auto Finesse until everything is absolutely bob on. That’s why Matt has extended and tucked all of the wiring loom into the inner wing, throwing in a CE2 fuseboard for good measure as well as a standalone Link Monsoon ECU to control the fuelling and the sequential spark coilpack from a VW Polo GTI for a more precise bang. No doubt the eagle eyed will have noticed that the old dizzy hole has been blanked off now that there’s a crank trigger, cam sensor and TPS as part of the overall upgrades. But why go to so much trouble to only run twin 45 carbs, many of you are probably thinking? Well… think again. Those twin 45s are part of Jenvey’s latest Heritage series of throttle bodies that deliver all the aesthetic benefits of carbs with all the best bits of new age fuel injection technology. Combined with a custom tubular 16v conversion manifold, a fully refreshed, built back stock ABF lump and a custom 2.75” stainless exhaust system the Caddy is yet to be fully mapped, but estimates suggest it will make north of 190+hp with relative ease. Not that it really matters because no one will be able to see them if they’re going too quickly and judging by the amount of track specific machinery lurking at AF HQ, they’re not lacking machinery to throw around at high speed when the time comes.
Still, when it comes to drawing attention, Team AF took it to the next level by employing the services of Neil and Mandy Melliard, the signwriting gurus behind Pro Sign, to freehand the 80s inspired stripes and also paint on the Auto Finesse logos. Yep, they really are painted on there, there’s not a dot of vinyl anywhere near this build. Neil also did the shift knob for the CAE shifter while he had a few minutes going spare – what a legend! While we’re talking about attention to detail, check out the sheathing for the shifter cables as well, see what we mean? Not surprising then that the interior almost manages to outshine the exterior pop by aping the Singer style for which their DLS lightweight cars have become synonymous. Having mopped and polished every square inch of the paint it would have been a shame to cover it up, so custom leather mats were produced to leave plenty of exposed metalwork inside to amplify the gloss to 11, “We took a risk with the interior colour, but it’s definitely paid off,” James muses. Mk2 G60 Recaros now benefit from a headrest delete as the orange leather with satin black eyelets go all in for the Singer aesthetic to elevate the level of this build even higher.
Need proof that it’s one of Auto Finesse’s best yet? Just look at the side exit exhaust cutout, lovingly scuplted into the opposing sill of the Burgundy Caddy so that when they’re parked next to each other they maintain mechanical symmetry. Sure, James might play this build down a little bit compared to the outright extravagance of some of the other projects from AF, but we can’t help thinking he’s being falsely modest. Twist the key, scooch into the leather, grip the Trieri steering wheel and wait for that slightly lumpy idle as the bodies settle down. What’s your name? What have you had? Reach for the lasers. Safe AF.
Tech Spec: Bagged VW Caddy
Fully rebuilt 2.0 16v ABF engine (Mk3 GTi), Jenvey Heritage ITBs, custom tubular manifold, custom R-Tec stainless-steel exhaust system, modified underslung throttle linkage, Polo GTi coilpack, dizzy blank plate, O2J gearbox (Mk4 Golf 1.8T AUM) with Quaife LSD, uprated 440cc injectors, custom extended wiring loom, Link Monsoon ECU, custom map, smoothed and repainted engine bay wire tuck, scuttle tray removed, battery relocated behind passenger seat
7×17” (f) and 8×17” (r) Magnesium BBS E50 Classic Porsche Racing wheels, 5×130, custom built with new barrels and lips (reverse face front, standard rear), 185/35×17 Nankang NS2R tyres, Air Lift Performance 3P air-ride kit, front chassis notch, Eurowise 5-link rear beam, Tarox 4-pot calipers and Mk2 Golf GTi discs, Mk4 Golf GTi rear calipers, custom braided hoses, custom copper nickel brake lines throughout, Mk2 Golf GTi stub axles, custom 4×100-5×130 hub adaptors, custom air tank mounts and hidden compressors. All standard arms, hubs, bushes replaced throughout
Stock body, modified wheelarches, sliding rear window, NOS front wings, bonnet, tailgate and bed, bare ‘shell respray in Porsche Crayon with custom pinstriping and signwriting by ProSign
Mk2 Golf G60 Electric Recaro front seats, custom trimmed in burnt orange leather with custom rivets, CAE short cable shifter tower, Trieri steering wheel, custom leather mats, stock dashboard, stereo and speakers blanked, Mk1 Golf GTi dials, Momo steering wheel boss