Words & Photos by Henry Phull
The third generation Volkswagen Golf is naturally a strong contender in the modifying world, being an affordable hatchback with parts readily available, but in recent years we’ve been seeing far less of them, with the earlier Mk1’s and Mk2’s dominating the scene. Somehow the Mk3’s older siblings seem more desirable with their classic square lines, which is unfortunate – as the Mk3 is a better all rounder and far more suitable for daily driving in this day and age. It doesn’t take much to transform one of these Golfs, it just depends whether you go overboard, like the majority of modified examples from back in the day, or stick to subtle enhancements. What’s more interesting about today’s feature, is that it’s a wagon. You’ll rarely see a modified Mk3 estate at shows… and are more likely to see them dotted about being used as daily hacks, usually in a bit of a sorry state. Show them a little love though, and the results can be spectacular.
Most of the feature cars I’ve photographed recently have been the owner’s second or even third cars.. so it’s something of a breath of fresh air to introduce you to car that is genuinely driven daily, but at the same time would look the part at any car show… Owen Burnell’s 1998 Mk3 estate.
Owen is a fairly young driver, which means insuring and running two vehicles would be a very expensive affair. Therefore his pride and joy is driven every day, rain or shine, and to countless shows – which are a huge hobby of his. The estate is Owen’s second ever car, a step up from his first, a 1.4 16v Lupo on coilovers and BBS RZ which did the job whilst being affordable. When the time came for an upgrade, he knew he’d be able to make something out of the Mk3 – being a wagon it would be something a bit different.
Owen’s estate is one of the later models, fitted with the stock 1.9tdi 90bhp engine, a solid reliable diesel lump, but he wanted to mildly increase the power. He went about doing this by fitting bigger injectors, blanking off the EGR valve, and wiring up the infamous EVRY mod to a switch on the dashboard, which gives an extra bit of power and smoke when required.
After previously running a set of BBS RS, Owen was set on doing things a bit differently for 2015. He came across a stunning set of 3 piece Image billet 61’s with hidden hardware, which were immediately stripped down and rebuilt, with the faces repainted in white, which I have to agree work wonderfully against the car’s contrasting body colour. The wheels are 17×8 all round with huge lips and are fitted with 185/35/17 tyres.
Like everyone I talk to who has made the switch to air ride, Owen admits the car was absolutely awful to drive when it was static, plus the amount of damage he was doing to the underside of the car on a daily basis was becoming unbearable. It was time to look into the possibility of air… Being an estate, the rear set up is different to the average Mk3 hatchback which have wider rear turrets, so there was nothing available off the shelf for the car. Owen had two options; cut out the rear turrets and weld in some from a hatchback, or find someone that could build some custom bolt on struts.
I truly feel that Instagram and other social networks have now become such a huge part of the car world, with the ease of finding parts and knowledgeable people are usually only a few clicks away. Luckily for Owen, he was following another Mk3 estate owner in the Czech Republic who had gone to the trouble of bagging his wagon by building his own custom air struts. Of course, they got chatting and he told Owen that he was thinking of parting out the car and selling the struts. Joy! A few months went by and the struts turned up on his doorstep.
With all the necessary parts compiled, Owen and two mates started the fitting process one Friday night and managed to build a box for the tank and fit all the lines and wiring. The next morning they set about finishing off the boot install and fitting the struts and bags. By Saturday afternoon it was all done with no issues whatsoever. It just goes to show that fitting air doesn’t always have to be a mundane task. For management, Owen decided to go for the digital Air Lift AutoPilot V2 system, an ever so popular choice and with good reason.. it works so well!
Owen has got the fitment spot on, with some insane camber on the rear wheels and beautiful tuck up front. To add to the car’s look, he’s removed the roof rails that are so common on estates, which has completely modernised the car no end. Additionally, you might notice the Jap spec rear number plate tub which is like hen’s teeth, a nice subtle touch as well as a wiper delete to finish off that rear end.
A look into the cabin, and it’s leather galore. Originally fitted with an aged cloth interior which Owen says absolutely stank, one of the first ever mods was to get rid of that tatty interior and fit a much more desirable Mulberry highline interior complete with door cards and mats. Another upgrade I’m really fond of is the Mk4 GTI 3 spoke steering wheel which he managed to fit with minor modification. This undoubtedly transforms the Mk3 interior, which is usually fitted with a dated and rather ugly wheel.
In addition to the wheel, Owen fitted a Mk4 Highline wooden gear knob to complete the makeover. You’ll also notice that the Air Lift AutoPilot V2 control unit has been tastefully integrated into the lower dash tray, nice and discreet but still looking the part. The boot build follows this theme, with just the 4 gallon air tank visible, whilst the VIAIR 380cc compressor and other air related parts are hidden away in the spare wheel well, making the boot usable… It is a daily after all.
The most obvious transformation to the exterior of the car would be the Vento front end which has been fitted along with a Phase 1 grill. In my opinion, this will always be one of the most effective Mk3 uprades you can do, which does away with the ‘bubbly’ stock headlights and grill – which to most people make these models less desirable. Owen went that extra mile and smoothed the front bumper, relocating the indicators to where the fog lights would usually be.
Along with the front end, Owen also fitted Votex side skirts and added various carbon fibre touches around the car including a skinned front splitter, door handles, wing mirrors, steering wheel cowling and front VW badge. Plus, he even had the whole car resprayed last year in the car’s original Mystic Blue paint colour.
I personally love to see younger folk who spark some originality these days. It’s so easy to follow the masses and go for that easy option. For Owen “thinking of new things I can do to it to add my own touch and be a bit different” is what he says his estate is all about. Building a daily driven show car on a limited budget is not an easy task to get right, but Owen has certainly pulled this build out the bag. If you’re heading to Ultimate Dubs in Telford this weekend, make sure you head over to the UKMK3s stand to check out the car in person.