Joe Stackman’s modified VW Golf Mk3 estate carries an interesting vibe: it’s a retro-futuristic upsetter, with an in-your-face attitude and a playful sense of fun. And it only owes him five grand…

Feature taken from Performance VW. Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Mark Rodway

he mid-nineties was a more free-and-easy time. We didn’t have the relentless political panic on either side of the Atlantic, we weren’t terrified about climate change or vaccinations or chlorinated chicken, it was basically all just sunshine and smiling; Britpop, TFI Friday and Global Hypercolour t-shirts. To pluck a month at random, look at January 1996 – two significant cultural events happened at the dawn of ’96, the first being the launch of the Motorola StarTAC. This was the world’s first clamshell flip phone, and it started a bit of a revolution; everyone knows that the coolest phone ever made was the Motorola RAZR V3, even the most fervent Apple acolyte would concede that, and it couldn’t have existed without the game-changing StarTAC – a phone that sold 60,000,000 units, despite a launch price of $1,000. That’s how cool it was.

Modified VW Golf Mk3 Estate

The other key cultural touchpoint of January ’96 was the release of NOFX’s sixth album, Heavy Petting Zoo. This arguably wasn’t their best work (White Trash was, if you’re asking), but it was important for three reasons: it was their first record to break the Billboard 200, it had the cover banned in Germany for its zoophilic artwork, and it contained the track Release The Hostages which, well, was just a bloody good song.

…all of which may seem like a random preamble to a feature about a Mk3 Golf, but stick with it. You see, we didn’t actually choose the month of January 1996 at random. That was in fact the time when this particular Golf Variant rolled off the production line – January 27th, to be exact – and while it once enjoyed a life of trusty workhorseship like so many diesel wagons did, this one’s been reinvented by current owner Joe Stackman as a sort of modern fusion of Heavy Petting Zoo and the StarTAC: a visceral cyberpunk, fusing forward-facing innovation with a no-f**ks-given attitude.

Modified VW Golf Mk3 Estate

It’s the latest in a long line of modded VWs for Joe, and it’s fair to say he’s got his eye in by this point. “I got into modifying cars the second I had my licence,” he grins. “It stemmed from an earlier BMX background, and VWs always stood out to me when I was younger – I just had an itch to get one! I’ve had numerous Polos, Golfs and so on, including a Mk2 Polo Coupe which was featured in PVW in 2016 and is still in my possession. I’m currently in my seventh year of owning a stupid car that hits the floor every time I drive it!”

The reason for choosing a Mk3 Variant this time was because he’d actually owned one before, although it succumbed to the usual tin-worm and, having chopped it in for a BMW E46 Touring, Joe realised that he just preferred the oil-burning Golf. They’re not the easiest cars to track down these days however, as they’ve all either rotted away or been pillaged for their TDI motors by the T4 crowd, or both. “There’s actually quite a story there,” says Joe, leaning in like a true raconteur. “Once I’d decided I would like another Mk3 estate, I was browsing around for one online. After not striking much luck, a friend of mine – Sam Parker – tagged me in a post on Facebook: a scrapyard down in Dorset had advertised this car and were giving it three days to sell before they were going to crush it! I finished work at 5pm that evening and drove straight down to go and view it. The car turned out to be tidy, with only one owner from new and completely unmolested – sure, it had some knocks here and there and a massive big dent in the front passenger door, but it had so much potential…”

Modified VW Golf Mk3 Estate

Apparently the story was that it had belonged to an old fella who had developed dementia and was unfortunately forced to surrender his driving licence. The car had sat around for a bit outside his house before finding its way to the breaker’s yard; the owner’s son, who wasn’t particularly clued up on cars, just saw it as an old banger and arranged for it to be crushed. Just as well some other people were paying attention, eh? Joe managed to snap it up for a pleasingly bargainous £200, and it drove home with no issues at all – a one-owner GL in Maritime Blue, 100k on the clock, everything still working; wearing its years with pride and ripe for rebirth.

“The car was my daily driver for a year and a half,” he explains, “up until last winter when I took it off the road to tidy up some bits of rust that were starting to appear. As always, once you start digging for it, things get a lot worse…” Unwilling to give up on the crumbling variant, Joe instead committed to repairing it over a series of long, cold winter nights, buying another donor car to fill in the gaps, his friends pitching in at the workshop as the sun went down.

“When I was finished with the welding and replacing the panels that had faults, I was at the point where I was going to have to respray more than half the car blue,” he continues. “So then the wild card was thrown down, and Imola Yellow is what I landed on! I trailered the car over to my work – Prestige Bodyworks in Chippenham – and set about getting the yellow on the car. It was quite a rushed thing as I only had use of my work for a weekend to get it done!”

He’s being modest here, as the car really does look superb – a proper respray including all the door shuts, with the roof and mirrors painted gloss black to break it all up a bit (and also give it the look of a colossal enraged bee from certain angles). This works masterfully with the myriad custom touches; the Hella light covers in the Phase 2 Vento front end, the rare-as-hens’-teeth Mk1 SEAT Toledo splitter, the homemade sideskirts which were fabricated – if you can keep a secret – out of guttering. “The car is by no means perfect,” Joe shrugs. “I’ve kept this project to more of a budget build, which is why there’s no air-ride in sight – I saved money where I could and spent it in areas it needed it, like the wheels. The paint was left as a gun finish to save the masses of hours flatting and polishing it. I’m chuffed with the results and have been utterly overwhelmed with the response the car has had! This whole build comes in at way under £5k, so to have this featured in a magazine is beyond amazing.”

Modified VW Golf Mk3 Estate

Well, it just goes to show that you don’t need to throw your life savings at a car or put the whole thing on endless years of finance to create something eye-catching and memorable. It’s not just about the looks either, Joe’s put a lot of thought into making it functional as well as amusingly low. Behind those sublime Gotti splits, with the VR6 brakes peeping through, you’ll find GAZ GHA coilovers at the front end and a modified set of Polo 6N2 coilovers out back. Joe originally tried Mk3 hatchback rear coilovers, but they turned out to be far too long to allow the variant to sit properly low so he had to get creative. “Most people would use things called drop plates to get the rears of Mk3s low enough, however I’ve never been a fan of the concept of them,” he reasons. “I also can’t afford to have the wheels spaced a further 15mm! The car rides surprisingly well for the height it sits at, needless to say it hits the floor a lot… but a carefully executed amount of bump stops all around keeps wheel/arch contact to a minimum!”

It’s a bit of a mover too – you mightn’t think the 1Z 1.9 TDI was hugely exciting, but with the addition of a PD130 inlet manifold, Toyosports intercooler and piping, RamAir filter, straight-through exhaust system with shotgun tails, manual boost controller and some bigger injectors, Joe’s created something with oodles of grunt and a hellish soundtrack. “I don’t know how much power it’s putting out, but it’ll easily keep with a PD130-powered car and still does over 50mpg,” he grins. “It’s quite funny to see people’s reactions to it when they’re walking down the street and turn around because they hear an obnoxious amount of noise, and they see a big yellow boy dragging its arse down the road…” And that is really the point of this build – it doesn’t take itself too seriously, as so many do in 2019; instead it harks back to the carefree vibe of the nineties, when anything was possible, nothing really mattered, and nobody had RSS in their wrists from relentless Instagram scrolling. Joe’s put together a proper stunner for less than the cost of the average air-ride install, and it exudes an excellent fusion of aggression and cheekiness. It’s a retro flip-phone, it’s a gross-out punk album, it’s half-forgotten memories of getting smashed on cider on the beach. Sure, you could panic about how terrible everything is these days. Or you could bump about in a bright yellow noisemaker and enjoy your life. We know which we’d rather.

Tech Spec: Modified VW Golf Mk3 Estate

Engine & Transmission:

1.9 TDI (1Z), PD130 inlet manifold, Toyosports intercooler and piping, RamAir air filter, straight-through exhaust system with shotgun tails, EGR delete, manual boost controller, Bosch .216 injector nozzles (from T4), VR6 clutch


9×16” Gotti G1001 3-piece split-rims – polished lips, titanium factory hardware, faces powdercoated Hyper Silver, 195/45 tyres, 4×100-5×120 15mm adapters (from @adaptersbyben), 288mm VR6 brakes with drilled and grooved discs, GAZ GHA front coilovers, modified Polo 6N2 rear coilovers


Full repaint in Audi Imola yellow, roof and mirrors painted gloss black, GTI arch trims, Phase 2 Vento front end and Vento front bumper, Phase 1 SEAT Toledo splitter, homemade side skirts, custom rear bumper lip, smoothed tailgate (handle and wiper) with popper installed – wired up to key fob, front bumper ducts, custom Hella headlight covers


Mk3 Highline leather interior inc. door cards, pillars retrimmed in black leather, headlining retrimmed in black velour, Highline lower glovebox, Audi TT knee bars, Audi B5 S4 steering wheel, custom weighted shifter (machined by Tim Roberts)


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