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Golf + nitrous: a winning formula

Concours darling, drag-strip beast, track-biased corner hunter – this Mk1 Volkswagen Golf has lived many lives.

Say you want to get more power out of your car. You could spend hours, days even, fettling the engine by hand, eking out marginal gains from individual components. You could throw on a turbocharger or supercharger for bigger, more instant power gains. On more modern engines, you could remap the ECU.

Or, you could use what basically every piece of automotive tuning-centric media in the 2000s taught us was the best, most exciting method: nitrous. This is what Neil Venison did with his Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI when it was at its fastest, although it’s taken many different forms in over 20 years of ownership.

The story begins in April 2001, with a rear-end shunt that unfortunately spelt the end for Neil’s Mk1 Golf GX. He had a 2.0-litre engine sitting around, built with a Weber 34 carb and a Piper cam and producing around 150bhp. With the GX written off, he needed a new home for it, and started seeking out a GTI.

The search ended less than five miles from his home, in the form of this, an ex-concours winning Golf GTI Campaign edition – effectively a fully-equipped, run-out edition of the Mk1 GTI introduced in 1983 (whether it was ever actually officially called a ‘Campaign’ by VW appears to be debatable, but that’s a story for another day).

If the fetching shade of blue on this Golf seems familiar yet somehow out of place, there’s a reason for that: perhaps controversially, it’s Miami Blue, a colour originally from the early Golf GTI’s deadly rival – the Peugeot 205 GTi.

Neil isn’t particularly concerned with originality, though – as he puts it, “I’m more interested in go than show.” In went the 2.0-litre engine, with a hodgepodge of GTI parts – the bottom end from a Mk3, the distributor and ignition from a Mk2, and cylinder head and K-Jetronic injection from a Mk1.

This marked the beginning of what Neil describes as a decade-long quest to set the fastest quarter-mile time at the GTI International show at Santa Pod. It’s worth mentioning that drag racing runs in his family – in the 1960s, his father built and raced Wild Thing, a car some cite as the genesis of the Ford Popular hot-rodding scene.

Neil, together with his father and uncle, gradually built up the engine over the next few years, at the same time liberating the car of most of its interior in the name of weight-saving.

With these measures, the car was delivering quarter-miles in the mid-to-low 15-second range, comfortably in the top 20 but not quite the winning times Neil was after. This is where a bottle of pressurised nitrous oxide comes in.

Equipped with a nitrous kit from Wizards of NOS, power rose well above 200bhp, and in 2008, Neil’s car was the fastest Mk1 at GTI International, taking a second off his previous best time even in wet conditions.

With that goal achieved, Neil decided that the GTI should hunt some more corners, and started an intensive track day programme. It quickly became apparent that the NOS system wouldn’t be a sustainable option for this – four to five minutes use at full throttle was costing a fairly eye-watering £100 or so.

For now, then, the GTI is running sans NOS, with the current suite of mods instead focused on turning and stopping – semi-slicks, adjustable Koni shocks, Eibach springs, vented and grooved brake discs with a 22mm master cylinder and the brake servo from a 16v GTI.

So, in its lifetime, Neil’s Golf has been a pampered concours winner, a nitrous-fuelled drag racer and a razor-sharp track machine. What’s next? For now, there’s more track time in the pipeline, but whatever happens with this car, it’s bound to be interesting.

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