This Mk3.5 cabrio has been a relentless four-year odyssey for apprentice trimmer Max Hawkes. And with an eye for detail and the passion and tenacity to see it all through, he’s achieved his dreams of a super-intricate show stopper…
The pursuit of effortlessness is something that really characterises the modern world. A huge amount of effort goes into the act of making life simpler – just look at the radically reworked interior of Max Hawkes Mk3.5 Golf cabrio for proof. He can take his phone out of his pocket and leave it on his custom wireless charger, and it’ll automatically start working with the wireless CarPlay function on his cutting-edge Kenwood headunit. How clever is that? This act of casual simplicity is shored up by an incredible level of complexity and effort, and that serves as a symbol for the car as a whole. Classy, crisp, tastefully finished… what appears at first glance to simply be a nicely looked after 1990s Golf reveals ever-deeper layers of graft and sweat the more you look. What we’re observing here is four years of solid effort, the upshot being one of the most comprehensively modified VWs on the scene today.
The story begins, somewhat unusually, with Max being gifted the car by his parents as something to practice his interior trimming skills on, and it’s fair to say he picked up that baton and ran with it. “They probably didn’t expect me to take four years to start trimming it though,” he laughs.
VWs were in his blood from the start, having grown up around various classics that his dad was working on, and Max’s first car – a Lupo – provided a solid learning curve. Road-trips with mates to buy wheels, fitting coilovers on the drive, this is the stuff lifelong memories are made of. Around this time he started an apprenticeship at celebrated trimmers d:class Automotive, which was when the cabrio arrived on the scene. Then another Lupo appeared, and a ’65 Beetle, and a 6N Polo rally car… but all the while the Mk3.5 had been lurking in the background waiting for its time to shine.
“My dad bought it from a painter he used to work with, where it was being used as a work van and family car, so the interior was absolutely destroyed,” Max recalls. “It was completely stock, a 2.0-litre Colour Concept in Jazz Blue. The carpets were soaking wet with hydraulic fluid from the roof, and it had a few mouldy surprises around the interior. We also found endless toys and Lego men dotted around – which have been decontaminated and kept safe! Yet, for a Mk3 of its age, it had very little rust so it proved to be a perfect base to work from.”
And without further ado, Max got to work. Having run budget coilovers on all his previous projects, he was keen to try air-ride with this one, so job one was to fit a used Air Lift setup with 3P management, and this was quickly followed by addressing that questionable Jazz Blue finish. So he began to prep for paint and, since there’s no point doing things by halves, he also set about rolling the wings flat and filling in the indicator holes, relocating the repeaters and welding the aerial hole. The car received a smattering of USDM chic too, with the front bumper and rubstrip providing a transatlantic flavour along with the ‘twindicator’ headlights. (And if you’re wondering why they’re Mk4 headlights – the Mk3.5 cabrio was a facelift of the Mk3, which kept the same body but adopted the styling of the Mk4. Clear? Great).
With these details taken care of, the shell was handed to a professional for a fresh new coat of Sahara Beige… and with the old 2.0 8-valve engine removed anyway, he figured he may as well swap in a 2.0 16-valve ABF. Why not, eh? The GTI-spec motor was treated to twin Weber 45s for an old-school twist, having been stripped, cleaned, serviced and painted. It sits in a beautifully smoothed bay, a custom manifold-back single-box exhaust helping it find its voice, and having had an astronomical quote to sort the wiring loom, Max opted to do it himself. “This was by far the longest and most confusing part of the entire project,” he says, “although it did lead to one of the funniest memories – accidentally having the horn wired to be permanently on every time the key was turned, making my girlfriend jump out of
While all this was going on, he’d been putting a lot of thought into wheels; Max knew he wanted something custom and deep-dished, and ultimately landed on the idea of Porsche cookie cutters. These were reimagined as 16-inch three-piece splits, with the arches reprofiled to house their broad and staggered girth. “DR Services helped with widening the rear arches,” he explains. “No cutting of the outer arch skin took place, they were panel-beaten out to be at least 1.5-inch wider than factory while keeping the original look – meaning most people probably wouldn’t even notice this has been done! The inner arch was also cut and reshaped to allow for clearance of the tyre in the arch when aired out.
“Once the car was wired and water-tight, it was then the last push to go to a family friend’s business, JKM Motor Services,” he continues. “They did an outstanding job making the car run perfectly for the first time since we ripped out the old engine. It then went for its first MOT with the new engine, where it passed first time and was legally roadworthy! And then came the deadline: Players Classic 2019 at Goodwood, where I was on the stand for Kenwood. The final stage of this build was where my expertise lie – the interior build…”
This is where things start to get really juicy. Such is the level of detail, Max reckons he put well over four-hundred hours into the retrim, which frankly just boggles our minds. First stripping everything out, he meticulously planned where to fit the sound-deadening and position every element of the comprehensive suite of Kenwood upgrades he was planning. “One of the biggest modifications was to fit a doubleDIN headunit into the singleDIN dash,” he explains. “I wanted this to look as original as possible, as if it was factory. With the help of John Mandeville, the entire centre section was modified and reshaped to accommodate the brand new, state of the art Kenwood headunit”.
The DMX8019DABS Multimedia System is one of the most advanced releases we’ve ever seen, the new headunit is the pinnacle of Kenwood’s popular DMX range, and the one with a monster spec that you’ll inevitably end up drooling over in Halfords when it hits the shelves this month. What makes this slimline mechless system so special? Well forget the term ‘game-changer’ for a second and think ‘wireless Apple CarPlay’!
That’s right, this box of tricks is the very first from Kenwood to use wifi to offer Apple CarPlay without the need for a hard cable connection. The future’s wireless and Max is already ahead of the game. “I also created a wireless charging facility in the base of the centre console, so that I could effectively charge my phone while maintaining connection to wireless CarPlay featured within the new stereo.” explains Max.
The doorcards were then extensively modified, carpets replaced in a more old-school style, and then a thorough design laid out for the retrim: Max wanted all of the stitching to flow from one panel to the next, a cohesive aesthetic with each piece drawing the eye to the next. Brown leather was chosen, with contrasting cream twin-stitch to tie the interior and exterior colours together. It’s extremely cleverly done, with the stitching visually isolating the driver zone from the passengers, while the side sills run alongside to tie in the B-pillar and rollbar, finishing in the rear quarters and over the rear seat. The details are mind-blowing too – the fusebox cover has even been lasered with the original fuse order. The attention to detail is staggering.
“Aside from the stitching, I used a CNC machine – courtesy of d:class – to perforate the speaker grilles on the doorcards and rear quarters,” he goes on. “The pattern consists of a range of varying-sized triangles, inspired by the Kenwood logo, which expand toward the speaker itself. The CNC machine also produced the centres of the seats; this was a hard part to design, as I needed to ensure that it remained simple and fit in with the rest of the theme of the car, while also showing the capabilities of the machine. A lot of people may not notice that the perforation in the seat base fades from front to back, and also has a body-colour beige within the holes. The embroidery in the seats is perhaps not so subtle, but is an ode to all the companies that have helped me along the way.”
With the Players Classic fast approaching, Max decided to trim two of his custom wheels in matching leather, before trimming the original hoodbag to match. Everything on the car that could be refinished was, with our hero using a full six hides of brown leather. “My colleagues and boss helped massively, but nearly all of the retrimming was done by myself,” he says. “As a final flourish, I got my friend James Giddings to re-cover the BBS steering wheel – he said it was the hardest wheel he’d ever retrimmed in his entire career, a fact he pleasantly reminded me of every single day!”
The finished product we see today is sumptuous, fabulous, impeccable, and it’s key to remember that it was really all about the build: this Golf has basically been Max’s whole life for the last four years. A group of close friends helped keep him sane and pitched in where they could, but around 90-percent of what’s been achieved was all Max’s own work, and it really is a phenomenal achievement. Four-hundred hours painstakingly retrimming the interior alone, as well as finding cunning places for all of those Kenwood speakers, and of course that super-clever head unit; then there’s the flawless bodywork, the custom wheels, the hot-to-trot carb-fed ABF… the level of work and creativity in this car is simply unbelievable. So when you see it at shows – which you will – bear this fact in mind: it takes a hell of a lot of stress to look this relaxed.
TECH SPEC: VW GOLF MK3.5
Full respray in VW Sahara Beige, smooth USDM front bumper, ‘twindicator’ USDM modded headlights, brand new front wings rolled completely flat – with aerial hole welded over and side indicators relocated to USDM front rubstrip, rear arches rolled and panel-beaten wider by 1.5-inch to keep OEM look, custom brown mohair roof with tinted rear window
2.0-litre 16v ABF, twin Weber 45 carbs with Pipercross filters, manifold-back exhaust system with single rear silencer and twin upswept tips, custom expansion tank, battery relocated under rear seat and swapped for 2x race batteries, ABS delete (replaced with bias valves), top mount covers retrimmed, heater matrix inlet trim cover, gas strut trimmed, scuttle panel wiper clearance smoothed and trimmed, custom Pipercross cabin filter, engine bay smoothed, scuttle panel removed with chassis legs and side panels welded in – painted Sahara Beige
7.5x16in (front) and 8.5x16in (rear) custom Porsche cookie cutter split-rims – one side painted brown, one side trimmed in leather, original Porsche centre caps painted/trimmed to match with laser-etched Porsche crests, Air Lift suspension with 3P management, rear beam relocation plates (to centralise wheels when aired out), new OE calipers and discs all round, chassis notch for driveshaft, front balljoint extenders (to allow car to sit lower), custom power-steering lines and bottle
Dash centre modified to fit Kenwood doubleDIN wireless CarPlay headunit – heater controls and all switches moved to allow for larger unit, 12v socket relocated to glovebox, dash trimmed to owner’s design, dash speaker grilles trimmed with Kenwood speakers pattern (designed by owner), lower glovebox trimmed inside and out, fusebox lid trimmed with laser-engraved fuse list, BBS steering wheel retrimmed with custom hand-stitch style, all interior plastics (apart from dash driver zone) painted to match leather, centre console retrimmed including wireless phone charger, all stitching flowing into dash as one loop to highlight driver zone, front windscreen surround and sun visors trimmed, front and rear doorcards trimmed with owner’s custom-designed Kenwood speaker covers perforated and embroidered, front door pockets with leather inserts (for softer touch), window switches relocated from doors to centre console, speaker grilles modified with leather covers, full custom carpet set in brown twin-loop, retrimmed matching leather hoodbag, front and rear Recaro Colour Concept seats retrimmed with seat centres CNC machined perforated, stitched and embroidered by d:class automotive
Kenwood DMX8019DABS wireless CarPlay headunit; Kenwood KFC X174 front door speakers, Kenwood KFC PS1095 rear quarters, Kenwood KFC dash tweeters, Kenwood X301 4-channel amp, Kenwood PSW8 under-seat subwoofer, Kenwood DRV N520 dash camera
“I would like to say thank you to James Horwood, Bryan Butler, Craig Searle, Drew Stanley, Harry Pitcher, Kieran Bicknell, Dan Guiery: for the hours that they have put into helping build this car! Another massive thank you needs to go to Keith @Kenwooduk, for giving me the kick I needed to get the car done in time for Players Classic. I couldn’t have finished in time for that deadline if I didn’t have John Mandeville, David Price, James Giddings, Laurence Burchall and Andy Young and others at D:Class helping out. The bodywork wouldn’t have been complete without Angus for painting, Dave Rush on metal work and Barry for last minute crises! The wiring wouldn’t have been completed without help of a lot of people, mainly John Newman who knows so much about Volkswagens it’s unbelievable. Thank you to UK Hide, Pipercross, JKM, Meguiar’s, and Laser Cut London for the services and products that they supplied. And finally thank you to my parents for buying the car for me to begin with, and also Zoe for dealing with me through the past four years!”
Words Daniel Bevis Photography George F. Williams