At the Blechworx workshop, rare Rallye steel is subtly going under the knife – and that’s as much about preservation as it is about presence. Check out this modified Mk2 Golf Rallye.
Feature taken from Performance VW. Words: Alex Grant. Photos: Jape Tittinen
If, like us, you’ve been around this scene long enough to have had one eye on the Rallye as a “some day” purchase, then it probably hasn’t escaped your attention that ownership isn’t as accessible as it once was. Survivors are scarce, parts are obscure, and Eighties nostalgia is inflating prices quickly enough to turn good ones into bubble-wrappable investment opportunities. Faced with the chance to turn long-developed project plans to life, the stakes have become so high that we wouldn’t blame anyone for throttling back a bit in the name of preservation.
That’s as much about preserving character as it is about cash, because the Rallye wasn’t cut from the same cloth as its peers. Most early Golf owners have an affection for this box-arched homologation special – and the ease at which it’ll put down large amounts of extra power – but it never really set the world on fire when it was new. Regulation changes and a reputation for unreliability cut short its motorsport career, while the 5000 roadgoing versions were left-hand drive only and with a tonne of bespoke engineering involved, came with a sizeable premium versus the almost-as-quick, and much better known, regular-bodied Mk2 16-valve GTI.
In other words, this was never an ownership experience you’d buy into on a whim. Nor was it the small step up in performance from a GTI that the book figures would have led you to believe – particularly once power-hungry enthusiasts got hold of it. The Rallye was no ordinary Golf, and its presence hasn’t softened one iota in the last 30 years. Particularly when it’s been as sympathetically enhanced and preserved as the fully restored, subtly re-worked car you see here. Volkswagen cut no corners turning its best-seller into a rally-bred weapon but, at the Blechworx workshop near Berlin, Sören Liebchen has found ways to dial that obsessive engineering up a notch or ten. It’s a customer car, but you don’t have to spend long talking to Sören to realise that hasn’t stopped it becoming a labour of love.
“I had a Mk2 Fire & Ice as my first car, and I loved everything about it; the shape, the go-kart driving behaviour, the sound it made… everything,” he tells us. “Most of my friends had Golfs too, and we worked on them together, which really had an effect on my love of VAG machinery. But this was my first big project, and the car that showed the quality of my work to the scene. So it’s not just a Volkswagen guy’s dream car, but it symbolises Blechworx, and it means a lot to me, too.”
Previous owners hadn’t been quite as kind to the Golf as Sören’s friend, nicknamed Posti, who bought this car as a semi-neglected project around three years ago. The factory Tornado red paint had disappeared under a few other colours since it left the showroom, and the latest roughly-applied shade of Olive green was showing signs of rot in some undesirable areas. It was a complete and salvageable start point, but old scars and its new owner’s eye for perfection meant there’d be no chance of a quick and simple restoration.
“It’s a rare car, and we wanted it to look brand new from every angle, so the problems started right at the beginning,” Sören says, laughing. “You can’t buy anything new any more, and used parts are hard to come by. So I had to rebuild every panel by hand, and for everything else we had to spend hours searching the Internet or writing to friends to get what we needed.”
Results like this don’t come about after a trowel-load of filler and a willingness to settle for “that’ll do”. Sören discovered a talent for sheet metal fabrication when he was in his teens and was a factory-trained Skoda and Audi body technician before taking the risk and branching out on his own – ‘blech’, for those who aren’t fluent, is German for ‘sheet metal’. So the Golf was taken back to bare steel to avoid building on top of bad work; each dent was massaged out of the metal by hand, and each spot of rust replaced with new or fabricated panels. Given that this went as far as renewing the under-body protection, it’s as fresh where you can’t see as it is where you can. Perfect panel gaps and straight reflections up top – both better than they were from the factory, we’d imagine – give some idea of the fine-tuning that went into it.
Of course, there’s more to this than a by-the-book restoration. Once the shell had been taken back to its bare bones, Sören and Posti targeted any non-essential exterior trim pieces for deletion, taking care not to over-simplify and soften the Rallye’s distinctive styling. It’s a process that went far enough to involve cut-and-shutting the front bumper to shorten the plate recess and chopping out a rot-free factory roof panel to get rid of the sunroof – unnerving work on such a rare car, Sören admits. Some of the biggest jobs you’d be forgiven for not noticing at all, short of having another Rallye alongside to check exactly what has changed.
“We wanted to get the car even lower and fit nicer wheels, but without changing the design at all,” he says. “This meant widening the front wings, and we focused on doing this in a way that nobody should notice that they have been widened. We added 2.5cm to the width, but across the horizontal part, which kept the original shape. Then we painted the shell in its original colour, but a fresher and better-looking shade – it’s Audi RS Misano red.”
While Sören brought the bodywork back to life, Posti had been scouring the internet and calling in favours to rebuild the Golf to the same meticulously high standard. At its core, the project is a nut-and-bolt restoration, right down to the brake and fuel lines, and included swapping out the rear glass for one without a heater element. New-old-stock headlights are hardly the easiest pieces to come by, considering how exposed they are to stones and front-end shunts, but there’s no sense resorting to half-measures once you’re in this deep.
Posti also took a zero-tolerance attitude to interior wear and tear. Instead of taking the relatively easy option and putting it in for a retrim or new seats, he worked with Sören to scour the Internet for the most immaculate Rallye parts he could lay his hands on. Custom red-pinstriped seat belts and the lightweight Lupo 3L magnesium wheel – a component of another odd-fit Volkswagen engineering project – are the biggest deviations from factory spec, but actually there’s almost none of the original interior left.
Temptation had drawn its owner elsewhere by this point. Having built up the rolling chassis, Posti used the newly-restored Rallye to fund a new project, but luckily it didn’t go far. He’d been picky about future owners having put so much groundwork into the build, passing it on to another of Sören’s friends, Matthias Schubert. Judging by the ideas he’s brought to the build, we’d say he chose well – the finishing touches are mostly his.
Those ideas don’t come more surprising than what’s under the bonnet. Four-wheel drive grip and easy power gains mean few Rallyes have gone through 30 years of road use without at least getting a chip and pulley. This car, though, is as mechanically standard as the 45-degree twin tailpipes imply, putting down a little more than the 160bhp it left the showroom with, thanks only to a custom air intake. In turn, the brakes are as Volkswagen intended – there’s no need for monster stoppers when you’re not over-stretching the chassis.
Instead, it’s all about presentation. Matthias wanted the engine bay to follow the rest of the car, carefully emphasising what makes the Rallye unique. So the G60 was hauled out and painted in factory-style black and silver, rather than having everything chromed, and the bay was systematically stripped of every unsightly bracket, hole and component. Oil breathers were re-routed out of sight, a top-fill radiator does away with the expansion tank, while the washer nozzles were deleted during the body restoration, making the plastic tank obsolete. Think of it as a display cabinet for the supercharged for-pot, and you’re pretty much on the money.
Sören admits this became obsessive: “We ran the wiring harness into the left chassis leg, the cooling lines into the right chassis leg, and relocated the coil into the interior to clean the bay,” he explains. “But it’s a very nostalgic and pure driving experience – astonishingly quick and with lots of traction.”
Custom arch work offered almost a blank sheet for Matthias to go all-out with the Golf’s stance. On the advice of Rallye owners Holger and Henne from German forum Watercooled Customs, it’s a static drop using a set of H&R Deep 100-180mm coilovers, supplied to order by K-Custom in Germany – now the suspension partner for all Blechworx builds. The aim was to get the body as low as possible, without compromising the Rallye’s all-weather tractability.
But he didn’t have to search anywhere near as hard for the wheels as you might expect. Matthias ran a set of gold-centred BBS E50s until last year, before setting his sights on these Ferrari-fitment BBS E28s he’d spotted in Posti’s lockup. He was able to talk him into parting ways with them for the Rallye, shipping them to Jens at Felgen Renninger for a full rebuild. Now crackle-painted, the magnesium centres are bolted into one-inch outer rims and paired with one of Jens’ centre-lock conversion kits to slot them under the Golf’s blistered bodywork. It’s a timeless choice, but touring car tough in its execution.
Despite using only the thinnest band of rubber – 165/35 Nankangs stretched across their seven-and-a-half-inch beads – those motorsport-derived arches aren’t quite as generous as they look. “Because they’re Ferrari wheels, we had some trouble getting the rears to fit,” Sören explains. “Jens had to mill the hubs on the back, and they fill the wider arches at the front. But they’re perfect for the car. When we take it to a meet, it doesn’t matter what tuned cars people have, the Rallye is always a main focus.”
Of course, it’s a focal point that’s not quite finished yet. But are any projects? With its first show season out of the way, Matthias is back on the hunt for rare parts to finish the build. By the time this summer rolls around, the plan is to swap the original rear windows for Happich pop-outs, and the feelers are out for a set of Rallye Recaros to complete that concours-spec interior. Sören says his friend is also a little more open-minded about adapting the way it drives.
“Matthias is looking at fitting air ride, and we considering fitting a new engine – probably a 1.8T, R32 or TT RS five-cylinder turbo – to improve the reliability,” he explains. “The G60 is fast, but it’s inconsistent and can cause a lot of trouble. Even though the conversion takes some of the nostalgic character away, it would make this a perfect working car – something you can get in any day, start it and drive it without any problems.”
Based on what we’ve seen so far, whatever makes its way into the front end of the Rallye isn’t likely to be chosen on a whim. Three years into this still-evolving build, and a collaborative eye for detail is rightly putting Blechworx on the map. That seems a much better investment opportunity than a spot in a climate-controlled lockup.
Tech Spec: Modified Mk2 Golf Rallye
Factory 1763cc ‘1H’ G60 engine and five-speed gearbox, induction kit with custom inlet, engine bay cleaned with wiring and coolant hoses hidden in the chassis legs, scuttle panel removed, ECU, battery and coil pack relocated, body-coloured brake servo, top-fill radiator
7.5×18 BBS E28 wheels with gold crackle-paint magnesium centres restored and milled by Felgen Renninger, Felgen Renninger centre-lock adaptors, 165/35 Nankang AS-1 tyres, H&R Deep 180mm coilovers by K-Custom
Full restoration in Audi Misano red, sunroof removed, washer nozzles, badges and rear wiper removed and smoothed, front towing eye relocated, narrow front and rear number plate tubs, Porsche 944 door handles, non-heated rear window
As-new original Rallye interior, Lupo 3L steering wheel, red-stitched gear gaitor, red pinstriped seat belts