Luxury for a few in a package meant for millions
The borrowed SAAB 99 EMS slithered through the first slippery assaults of the British weather admirably, but the sight of Mr. John Cooper’s budding car collection was enough to take ray breath away, even after the freezing country lane that led up to John’s stylishly converted farmhouse. My interest was to be centred for the day on a small black VW Golf.
In simple terms Cooper has got hold of the old Radford de Ville Mini concept and put that idea into current terms around VW’s widely praised Golf. During the day I tried t” Cant an 1,100 c.c. production VW, and the converted car which is based on the Golf 1600 Automatic. From the opening phrases of conversation to the conclusion of our day in the countryside outside Wolverhampton, John Cooper made it abundantly clear that the idea 3 to produce only a few of these luxuriously rebuilt (I use the term to mean from bare bodyshell to complete vehicle) Golfs. This decision has been made partially by natural inclination, and practically because Trevor Smith, the man in charge of the mechanical health of all John’s cars—including the racing Porsche RSR that has only been recently sold after dominating modified sports car racing in Britain in recent seasons—Trevor has not the time to build more than a dozen such cars every year.
Why pick the VW Golf? “Well,” John opens with an uncertain smile, “we’ve all seen the Radford Mini thing, and I thought it was time to take that kind of concept and apply it to a modern f.w.d. car. Obviously it had to be small to be a town carriage efficiently and it had to be a good car mechanically, because I wanted to concentrate on the interior comfort and exterior finish. One of the things that most impressed me about the Golf was the ride, which I think is exceptional for a small car, and that was a significant factor in my decision, though the fact that you could get this compact car with 1,600 c.c. and automatic transmission was a great help too.. ..”
In outline the car’s specification is extremely comprehensive, but it is in Trevor and a local small coachwork firm’s attentions to detail that the car begins to make some sort of sense at an estimated £7,000 complete. Features such as air conditioning, Connolly hide leather seating and trim, plus electric windows make no sense at all unless they are properly installed with a good eye for fit and operation.
Building such a special car seems primarily governed by the pace of the specialist companies who can tackle such low volume work. Cooper’s people suffered more than their fair share of hold-ups, some traceable to the Golf itself owing to poor dealer (non) preparation because the car was going straight into a workshop. A fair attitude you say ? Not really, because they needed a fully operational mechanical side to concentrate on the body and ancillaries. Good examples of component delays included the beautiful leather-covered front seats (£650 and four months the pair!), a two-month wait for the special chronometric speedometer and an extremely fraught period of development and gestation awaiting the spoked alloy wheels with the correct offset upon their 5 1/2J rims.
Key to the credentials of this Golf as a luxury model begin with a 14-coat “hearse black” paint job that was completed despite the problems encountered in the heat of our Mediterranean Summer. Since a bare body was being sprayed, it was easier to ensure that none of the car’s original paintwork remains, inside or out. Subsequent cars can be painted any colour the customer likes, and it is interesting to note that this plain black finish, John nobly ignoring the temptation of the John Player gold striping
Connolly leather hide, some 20 separate pieces in all, covers every conceivable interior panel, even the Kidderminster carpets being tastefully edged in soft, light brown, hide. The headlining is in West of England cloth arid, like the leatherwork (aside from those front seats) Trevor did the cutting, fitting and stitchwork to a very high standard indeed. Naturally the boot features fully fitted and edged carpet as well, the total effect being exactly the restrained but unmistakeably luxurious look that Cooper had aspired toward.
Writing personally I was not so taken with the dashboard work. The fascia is “flock sprayed”. That is to say it is finished in that suede-look substance that was all the rage for amateur customisers two or three years ago. Perhaps my jaundiced eye has seen too many furry-roof-adorned saloons rotting in suburban London to associate such a finish with anything but cheap and shoddy workmanship? John and Trevor energetically defended the hairy finish. “We tried it on the other Golf’s front spoiler and the snap action petrol filler of John’s Porsche, and it never showed any sign of wear…. We,” they added with defiant good humour, “we like it very much indeed”. So there, rude journalist!
The main instrumentation indentation is now occupied by a variety of circular dials to cover speed and engine r.p.m. with matching larger dials, with supplementary smaller scale instruments for oil pressure, water temperature and the time of day. A new plyboard centre console, also with this flocking finish process, houses the excellent Pioneer stereo radio/cassette player unit (which is served by four speakers, the rear of better quality than the front) and the majority of the switchgear. An elaborately engraved Motolita steering wheel was installed on the car we tried, but this is an obvious area for customer preference to reign.
Useful detail changes include etching the car registration number on the car window glass; a warning to cover brake and bulb failures, and an electric car aerial for the radio.
In this car what you do not see is as important to customer satisfaction as what is plainly in view. Trevor spent a lot of time packing and re-packing the doors, so that they hung with a uniform surrounding aperture when closed. A similar amount of care has been taken with the application of sounddeadening materials, so the car takes on a little of that big limousine feel when wafting along at slow speed.
The electric windows are a saga in themselves. The operating motor is from a VW windscreen wiper installation, so there is one speed for up, and another for down. In fact, the motor drive was so powerful it distorted the door panels at first, then the travel of the windows had to be limited and, with Jaguar solenoids in operation, it was found there were not enough terminals to take the wiring With no wiring diagram, Trevor sorted these and other problems out a little more laboriously than he would normally have expected. Even he admitted to heart failure upon discovering that the beautiful leather covering of the front seats had been extended to their mounting hinges. It is to his credit that he managed to cut these vital mountings free without tearing up the surrounding leather craftsmanship in sheer frustration.
Surprisingly little drama surrounded the acquisition and installation of the air conditioning unit fitted by VW to American bound Rabbit (Golf) models, so far we could tell. Naturally there is no real difficulty in installation, even with RHD, but what is remarkable is Cooper’s convincing claim that this astonishing little unit will pull the Golf’s interior temperature down below freezing… with with the heater on full blast. From what we experienced in brief blows on a cold day, this seemed possible, and it is certainly a great aid to driver temperament to be able to literally cool off at will.
The outside twin headlamp installation, each is a 5 3/4 in. dia. Lucas halogen unit, can be adjudged a useful weapon in making the Golf look a little different, and possibly a strong safety measure too, if the appalling Hella beams on our current GTI Golf are anything to go by.
Really the short sprint up the road and back in the Golf 1100 just served to underline the basic controls and handling characteristics. tried to ignore the noise of the 1100 engine on the basis that if one stepped from an 1100 into
a 1600 LS VW production car the difference would be startling, for I preferred to judge the Cooper-modified Golf on its own merits.
Certainly the JC Golf proved quieter, and I particularly admired its big, luxury car air when puttering along between 35 and 40 m.p.h. The 1600 VW engine of 75 horse power remains creditably chirpy under the load of automatic transmission and air conditioning, pushing the car firmly up to 70 m.p.h. At a constant 70 m.p.h. you would not mistake the Golf for anything in the Jaguar/Mercedes bracket, but it is a lot more comfortable and refined than the production vehicle.
So the basic VW components play their part in this new luxury role, the ride and performance both impressing me strongly in this, a much heavier Golf than the designers had envisaged. The sunroof is a normal manual
unit, for trying to put in an electric motor would have messed up the plan for the interior. Even with opening roof, and three doors, both the body sealing—that old tradition of doors not shutting easily, owing to perfect sealing, is maintained—and low wind noise have been achieved. At 70 m.p.h. the Golf’s s.o.h.c. unit is operating at 4,000 r.p.m., when you ease back the throttle the lack of anything more than wind rustling noise from the leading edge of the door frames is most impressive.
Having soothed oneself by feeling the evidence of extra quality, the temptation to play with the air conditioning is irresistible. Knowing that the German engineers probably tried the air conditioning equipment under the most arduous slow traffic/high ambient temperature conditions, I thought I might try crawling along with the air conditioning on to see how high the water temperature crept. Trevor’s full factory installation, with the condenser mounted ahead of the normal water radiator, came through with flying colours, and the VW electric fan was hardly required to do more than just an occasional whirl.
Aside from a mild dashboard reverberation when accelerating gently at town speeds (a trait that appears in the Golf GTE on tickover) I liked this little car very much indeed. In the flesh, the deep shine of the black body panels and the cleverly highlighted twin headlamp layout, the chrome-edged lamp resting in black-tinted perspex surround, Ne most effective in conveying an air of restrained individuality. In action the car does all that you could reasonably expect, and is certainly a better basis for conversion than the Mini, unless small size is worth paying for in uncomfortable ride and higher noise levels. I have been fairly “picky” about the detail trim, but I am sure somebody who paid 0,000 for Golf would be of similar inclination! I am happy in my mind that John Cooper and associates have put in a considerable amount of work to provide a genuinely upmarket carriage as the end result of their protracted labours.
Further details are available from John Cooper at J. C. Racing Ltd., Brockhurst Crescent, Walsall, West Midlands, WS5 4AP. Have we seen the birth of a new fashion that will give the Golf the chic that sold the Mini to so many Continentals ? Time will tell, but either way VW will not suffer from the process.—J.W.