Toleman's hot VW GTi
For experienced Golfers only!
IN four brief years on the British market, Volkswagen’s Golf GTi has become something of a “cult” car, attracting as much enthusiasm and affection as machines from the past like the Mini-Cooper and Lotus Cortina. So it logically follows that the “special builders” have had a hey-day with this taut little FWD Volkswagen, the result of their efforts varying from mildly stimulating to quite shattering in terms of sheer performance. Of course, with the economy as depressed as it currently is, there can be a problem persuading potential customers to part with a few thousand pounds over and above the basic GTi cost when they might feel that such money is better spent buying a more exotic car from the outset. But that doesn’t prevent specialist concerns from pitching into this potentially precarious market.
Edwards of Tamworth Ltd. may not mean a great deal to many of our readers. Five years ago this Staffordshire garage business was acquired by the Toleman Group because of its MAN commercial vehicle franchise. It wasn’t foremost in the Group’s mind that Edwards also held a Volkswagen distributorship, but they decided to hold on to this side of the business and, when former F2 racer Rad Dougall went up to Tamworth as Edwards’s Service Manager, he and Toleman Managing Director Alex Hawkridge gave considerable thought to developing performance equipment for models in the VW range. One thing led to another and now Edwards are marketing a variety of conversions to enhance Golf GTi performance. Almost as a development exercise to demonstrate what can be done if you’re prepared to spend large sums of money, Edwards have produced a very up-market GTi road car fitted with a 2-litre 16-valve engine and decorated in the distinctive blue and white Toleman “house livery”. We recently spent a week terrorising the Essex country lanes in this tremendously quick machine and, although we’ve got some strong reservations about this particular overall package, we were exceedingly impressed with its sheer “punch”.
Edwards have developed 1.8- and 2-litre versions of the GTi engine, available with either eight- or 16-valve heads. The car we tried was fitted with a 16-valve Oettinger head, bored and stroked to 81.5 and 94.5 mm. respectively with a 10:1 compression ratio and retaining the Bosch K-Jetronic electronic fuel injection. The intention has been to combine sheer performance and the sort of flexibility synonymous with the standard VW GTi power unit. Our feeling is that they have succeeded extremely well.
Power output is boosted by 45 b.h.p. from the normal 1,588 c.c. engine’s 110 b.h.p. and the 155 b.h.p. output is accompanied by a significant increase in torque. Delivery is smooth and progressive, but the fitting of a limited slip differential, whilst theoretically conferring a traction advantage more applicable to circuit use, significantly detracts from the car’s appeal for everyday motoring. It induces a peculiar feeling which suggests that the steering isn’t going to respond properly when turning into a corner at speed and the “snatch” under hard acceleration from rest is alarming. It also highlights the need for a revised attitude to handling the car. It’s unexpectedly sure-footed and neutral on billiard-smooth surfaces, but it’s not a car to be thrown around with light-hearted abandon like the unmodified GTi. If you do approach the Toleman GTi in this manner, you’ll probably wind up hating it, or having an accident — or both. If you drive it smoothly and precisely, it is a delight.
Even more impressive than the performance is the development work which has been done on the suspension. This Golf corners with no discernible roll whatsoever (again, on smooth surfaces), but there is a price to pay for the levels of adhesion and stability conferred by the use of 25 per cent. uprated springs, Koni shock-absorbers and lowered suspension working in conjunction with the 195 50 x 15 Fulda low Profile tyres on their ATS alloy seven inch wheel rims. Frankly, for day-to-day road use, 1it’s too stiff and on some of Essex’s fast-deteriorating country lanes the limited ground clearance results as the bib spoiler touching the ground quite frequently. Rad Dougall has evolved a rubber extension to the normal spoiler in the interest of improved stability in motorway crosswinds, but it’s extremely vulnerable and Alex Hawkridge admits that he took it off twice riding over snow banks in the recent wintry spell. Still, as the extension is held on by self-tapping screws, this doesn’t exactly spell major disaster.
Initial tests with the Edwards performance conversions revealed that the basic Golf chassis needed some extra strengthening to deal with the loads put through it by that dramatically improved handling. Accordingly, a tubular bracing bar connects the two suspension turrets beneath the bonnet and a similar arrangement stiffens the wishbone mountings from below. With a 0-60 m.p.h. time in the region of 7.1 sec. and a top speed of just over 135 m.p.h., this Golf is certainly no slouch. The familiar, delightful five-speed gearbox encourages one to use the full performance as frequently as possible and, in order that fast long-distance journeys may be completed with the minimum of delay, a long range fuel tank doubles the standard capacity to 15 gallons. That means a range of something around 400 miles driving reasonably quickly: during the time in our hands the GTi averaged 26.4 m.p.g. which is by no means unreasonable for a car endowed with this sort of exciting performance. With a higher-than-standard (3.41:1) axle ratio, the Toleman GTi’s acceleration is sustained at a brisk rate, even in fifth gear. In fact, for relaxed cruising it’s almost a matter of necessity to get into fifth as quickly as possible. All that torque means that acceleration between 80 and 110 m.p.h. is as impressive in fourth / fifth gear 30 to 50 m.p.h. is in second / third. The stiff suspension exaggerates the degree of road noise from the Fulda tyres, but otherwise the car is fairly quiet and drama-free. Braking is secure and fade-free, standard calipers are deemed adequate to cope with the increased performance although larger calipers can be made available if a customer so chooses.
From a pleasing cosmetic point of view, the Toleman GTi is fitted with a Zenda 81 body pack which includes fared-in-bumpers, boot-lid spoiler, four headlamp grille and wheel-arch extensions. All help to make the car’s outward profile distinctive although I have to say that I prefer the standard matt black Golf GTi grill to the revamped product offered on this conversion.
Internally, comfort for the occupants is a prime consideration with Wolfrace 200 front seats and a Momo three-spoke steering wheel. The seats in the test car were specially trimmed in Toleman blue, designed to compliment the car’s external livery. A bit striking for my taste, but not a compulsory adjunct to having this conversion carried out!
Once you’re accustomed to its sensitive handling, the Toleman Golf GTi is a sheer delight for cross-country motoring. Indeed, for quick motoring on secondary roads I don’t think I could nominate another machine that would be quicker. If I was ordering one I would opt to live without the limited slip differential arid slightly softer suspension would be preferable, although that would probably upset the roll-free handling which is such a pleasure on smooth surfaces.
Finally, one has to consider the price. To have your own personal GTi modified with just a 2-litre, 16-valve engine will cost you £2,900, making its total cost from new around £9,400. To duplicate our test car, from scratch, would cost £12,500. An indulgence, arguably. But what a performer! —A.H.