MODIFIED VW GOLF MK1: RARE OF THE YEAR

How do you top an immaculate, Florida blue modified VW Golf Mk1? For Richard Stringer, the answer lay in this uber-rare, 1975 Lofoten Green swallowtail. 

Feature from Performance VW. Words & Photos: Jon Cass.

Back in the June 2016 issue of PVW, the team ran a Mk1 Golf double feature with Ben Searle’s stunning Mars Red example and Richard Stringer’s Florida Blue series 1. The pair had taken wildly different routes when it came to mods and it was cool to see both cars side by side, the mixture of red and blue paintwork adding to that already distinct contrast in cars.

Fast forward 6 years and both those cars have since found new owners and reassuringly are still around, Ben taking on another Mk1 project more recently. Richard meanwhile has been kept busy with this mega rare 1975 manufactured Lofoten Green swallowtail!

Brought up on a diet of classic cars and motorbikes for as long as he can remember, it was around 11 years ago when Richard first stepped into the ever-changing world of Mk1 Golfs and this is his fourth to date. “My dad has always had something he’s restoring or building and I guess that’s rubbed off on me,” Richard smiles, “currently my dad is building a Porsche 550 replica with a 914 engine, the bodywork hand made from sheet aluminium like the James Dean original while I’m restoring a 1966 Triumph Bonneville.” The Porsche 550 is a complex project as you can imagine, but Richard’s Dad being the perfectionist he is will come up with the goods. In fact, we’re told he has had so many enquiries about the car he could start his own 550 production line!

Modified VW Golf Mk1

Its easy to see why Richard has set the bar so high when it comes to his mk1 builds. The Florida Blue series 1 which looked perfect in our eyes was treated to a respray along with more smoothing in the engine bay while the cam covers and carbs were also upgraded after the PVW feature! “By that stage I felt I’d done all I could with that car and it was sold to a collector who bought it to replace his own Florida Blue modified VW Golf Mk1 which had been destroyed in a fire,” Richard explains.

“Shortly after I’d sold the ‘78 a good mate of mine, Adam Baggott bought a ’75 swallowtail project and I knew straight away I had to have one,” Richard laughs, “the hunt was on, but finding a genuine swallowtail isn’t so easy.” Right from the off, Adam and Richard expanded their search beyond the UK to various European, Australian and American websites. “After a few weeks one popped up for sale in the Netherlands, I messaged the guy straight away, he never replied so I found him on social media and tried to make contact that way,” Richard continues, “several weeks passed and I’d still not heard from him until I woke up one day to find he’d replied and that the car was still for sale!”

Modified VW Golf Mk1

The following day Adam and Richard began a road trip via the channel tunnel over to the Netherlands to check out the Mk1 rarity, “The guy selling the car must have thought we were joking when we said we’d be driving over from England, I think he was surprised when we turned up,” Richard laughs. The swallowtail wasn’t to be found in a garage or dealership either, it was being stored inside a barn located within a working wood yard! “It was covered in tree sap and sawdust, but you could tell it was a really clean car with no rust,” Richard remembers, “I couldn’t speak Flemish and the guys there could barely speak English so a deal was struck through Google translator.”

It would be an agonising full month before the Dutch Mk1 would reach UK shores, made even more difficult as Richard had wanted to keep its arrival a secret. “When I got the car home, I gave it a much needed wash and it was obvious the paintwork wasn’t up to scratch,” Richard recalls, “I phoned Jon at JH Pro Paint and had the car booked in for a respray.” Both sides and the rear were soon repainted in the original L61H Lofoten Green, which also happens to be the same shade as Alpine Green as found on air cooled VWs from the same era. Jon worked his magic and once a full machine polish and ceramic coating by Detailed by Dale had taken place, the green paintwork looked stunning once again. “I decided to fit a set of rear postie all orange and red lights, the same that were used on early VW postal vans in Germany,” Richard points out, “in place of the steel wheels I fitted the BBS RS ceramic polished rims I’d had on my Florida Blue Mk1.” Doesn’t get much better…

Armed with these minor sympathetic mods, Richard was now ready for his fresh into the UK swallowtail to hit the show scene by storm. And that it did, picking up awards from VW Action, Dubfreeze, Deva Dubs, Elsecar at the races and Early Edition. “I also won at the Mk1 Golf OC AGM show and my car was chosen to be on their stand at the Classic car show at the NEC,” Richard tells us, “this then led me on to become a committee member of the Mk1 Golf OC.”

Despite the car remaining relatively standard that year, its originality and the differences between a ’75 L swallowtail and slightly more commonplace later Mk1s were bound to attract admirers. The basic but highly attractive cognac trim, bronze glass and tiny 1100cc FA block all remain original while this Golf L also benefitted from a clock on the dash, temperature gauge, chrome door handles, chrome bumpers, chrome inserts around the windows, a cigarette lighter and glove box lid. Yes, the basic specification of most family cars was pretty spartan way back in 1975!

“I was amazed how well the car had gone down at shows, “ Richard confesses, “I then began looking at changes I could make for the following year.” As you can imagine, Richard was keen to avoid making any alterations that couldn’t be reversed, no one wants to see a butchered swallowtail! This restricted any changes to bolt on mods and we reckon Richard has make the right choices. “the engine was lacking in speed and torque so I tracked down an original VW motorsport manifold in Germany which I mounted to a pair of twin 40 Weber carbs, “ he explains, “I fitted an electric facet fuel pump too and the engine now feels lively and is more fun to drive.” Finding suitable parts for this project was far from easy and it took some time to locate a Volkswagen Motorsport cam cover in mainland Europe, “once I received it, I discovered the fit and finish wasn’t up to scratch so I asked a local engineering firm to fabricate one from billet aluminium using a CNC machine,” Richard tells us, “I then had most of the ancillaries in the engine bay powder coated by Rugby Powder Coaters.” In addition to the many underbonnet parts, the suspension arms and rear beam received similar treatment while the exhaust manifold was also powder coated to a high temperature. “Once everything had come back from powder coating, I had all the parts sent to Detail by Dale for ceramic coating before putting them back on the car.” Richard adds.

Modified VW Golf Mk1

Luckily changes to suspension are reversible and to achieve a usable but more aggressive stance, Richard opted for a set of Super Sport coilovers and polybushes all round, “they set the ride height just how I wanted it with the BBS rims, but I may eventually swap to an air ride system from Havair along with a set of BBS E Series wheels,” Richard smiles.

The final change came in the shape of a period Scirocco TS steering wheel from Richard skinner which complements that retro interior perfectly.

Having rebuilt three Mk1s so far, Richard was amazed to discover the differences between a swallowtail and Mk1s built from early 1976, which let’s face it is pretty much all of the survivors now. “the dash bolts from underneath instead of the sides like a Series 1, the heater controls are on sliders instead of a dial, there are small black nipples on the speedo and clock instead of points and the ash tray has an old fashioned cigarette lighter with a shift pattern,” Richard points out, “also the wiper and indicator stalks are metal, the door handle mechanism and hinges are different and mine came without a radio as it was only an option back then!” And we’re sure we don’t need to tell you about the subtle differences on the outside! it all sounds like a part sourcing nightmare should anything decide to break, but that’s all part of the fun of owning and maintaining one of the rarest Golfs around.

This may not be the wildest modified VW Golf Mk1 we’ve ever seen in PVW, but the rarity and originality of this car along with those carefully chosen modifications sympathetically added by Richard ensure it attracts fans wherever it goes. In fact, Richard intends to raise the bar even higher as he’s on the lookout for a 74 1.5 Mk1 if anyone happens to have one sat in a barn or woodyard somewhere…

Tech Spec: Modified VW Golf Mk1

Engine:

1100cc (FA block), Volkswagen Motorsport inlet manifold and cam cover, twin 40 Weber carbs, electric facet fuel pump, ancillaries powder coated and ceramic coated

Chassis:

BBS RS 15” wheels with Nankang 165/50/15 tyres, Supersport coilovers, poly bushes, powder coated suspension arms and rear beam

Exterior:

Lofoten Green L61h, front panel no tow eye, metal front bumpers with row hooks fitted on them, bonnet has no swage line on the front lip, Postie red/ orange rear lights, rear panel shaped like a swallow’s tail, rear boot lid has fresh air vents, L-spec with bronze tinted glass, chrome door handles, chrome bumpers, chrome inserts on window surrounds

Interior:

Cognac L-spec interior trim, Scirocco TS steering wheel, L-spec includes clock on dash, temperature gauge, cigarette lighter, glove box lid

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