Matt and I have owned several Golfs over the years. These have included Golf GTI Mk1, Mk2, Mk3, Mk4 and Mk7. My Mk1 Golf was one of the best cars I have ever owned (although I heavily modified it for track use, which I regret with hindsight!). So, when a friend offered us the chance to buy a 2002 VW Golf GTI in January this year, we couldn’t turn it down. We knew it would do a great job as the Studio’s run around and be a perfect project!
Why we love a Golf GTI!
The Mk4 Golf GTI was, if I’m brutally honest, not a popular move by VW when they released it. Compared to the very light, agile, and focused Mk1 Golf GTI, many considered the Mk4 a bit heavy, stodgy, and comfortable. Like all of us who might have owned a Mk1, the Golf had grown up. It had gotten bigger and heavier, thanks partly to increased safety features and more sumptuous interiors. Nevertheless, it did lose a bit of its sparkle in the process.
However, this didn’t put us off purchasing one for the Studio. Especially as I have a nostalgic soft spot for these vehicles, when they were first released, I had access to a brand new one through work. At 22, I thought it was the pinnacle of performance and luxury!
The 1.8 litre, turbocharged engine is a bit old school, with noticeably more turbo lag than modern engines, but it adds character. Put your foot down at low revs, and there is a noticeable delay whilst it takes a deep breath. Then the turbo kicks in, and you get an incredible rush of torque to throw you down the road.
In 2002, it was also the first car I’d ever used that had heated seats. This was a revelation that I now refuse to live without.
Our Golf GTI – A Project:
We bought this Golf as our business run around. While we no longer work away from the Studio, we frequently need to get things to and from the body shop, sets of wheels to the refurbishers, and collect or deliver our customers’ cars. The Golf suits this perfectly. With the seats down, it’s big enough to (just about) swallow a set of Range Rover wheels. We’re also not too precious about where it goes or when it needs to be left somewhere.
However, it has also become a pet project!
Working with an older vehicle:
One of the benefits of an older car like this is that nearly every problem with them has been discovered and solved. Generally, someone has written a guide or made a video of how to fix it. This means that someone like me, who doesn’t mind having a go at some basic tasks, can fix things cheaply.
For example, the carpet under the driver’s side floor mat was slightly damp. It turns out that the cable for the bonnet release pull goes through a rubber grommet in the scuttle, under the windscreen wipers. Over time, the rubber grommet perishes, allowing water to creep past it.
In theory, it’s a simple enough job. One needs to remove the windscreen wipers and plastic scuttle cover at the bottom of the screen, then apply some flexible silicon sealant around the grommet to seal it up again. However, 21 years of wipers never being removed from their spindles and a plastic scuttle that has gone a bit brittle (and, of course, replacements are unavailable) means it was a slightly stressful process. But I did it, all for the cost of a bit of silicon. Oh, and a broken windscreen trying to refit the scuttle, but let’s move on…
First things first:
The car came with a comprehensive service record that showed the previous owners had looked after it perfectly. That said, the first job was to change the timing belt and water pump, along with a basic oil service. This is one of the maintenance jobs that people sometimes forget about or avoid because it’s relatively expensive. However, a rubber timing belt’s failure will usually destroy an engine or, at best, be damaged extensively.
We had the wheels refurbished because they were scruffy, and one had a bit of corrosion that allowed air to escape from where the tyre bead sits. I fitted a set of our favourite Michelin tyres, too. I changed the brake discs and pads and had a garage refresh the brake fluid.
A fair-sized dent on the offside rear quarter also needs repair. However, the paint isn’t broken (so it isn’t rusty), and it’s low on the priority list.
On the inside, it came with some nice factory options, such as heated seats and the dark wood effect trim. However, time had not been kind, and these were well past their best. We replaced the cracked and loose wood trim (in one place held together by expanding foam) with plain black plastic parts. This was the best way to deal with it cheaply. We also replaced the gear knob, which had cracked in such a way that it tried to bite your hand every time you changed gear.
The driver’s seat had a small hole in the fabric (as they nearly all do by this age). So we sourced a complete set of leather seats from a VW Bora, effectively a Golf saloon, for very little money, and I swapped them over. These, too, were heated from the factory and worked perfectly once installed.
We replaced the factory radio with a Pioneer double DIN head unit, with Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth for calls. This has ensured it’s properly safe, legal and useable for our requirements.
A Test Space Too:
Our Golf has also become a good test space for products. It’s ideal for this because we usually keep it outside and expose it to all weather. We can control how it’s washed, what products are used, etc.
After installing a new windscreen, we applied the Stek DYNOflex glass PPF. We know that the product was discontinued because of ongoing quality issues (and indeed, our screen was then full of horizontal lines that would be unacceptable for a paying customer). But it was good to try the installation process, try different soap solutions for that, and then see what it was like to live with in terms of scratches from wipers, etc.
Above all, this is a fun car to drive. It does everything we need it to do for minimal cost, and there is something wonderfully liberating running about in a car that is worth less than a good suit!
I was recently invited by some customers to a bit of a fun, private event at Llandow Circuit in Wales. So, the Golf was allowed to stretch its legs on the track! It was predictably awful, with lots of bodyroll in the corners, but it was good fun and certainly not the slowest thing out there.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our pet project. Please get in touch with us if you have a Golf GTI or any other vehicle that could benefit from our detailing services.