The sleeper tag has been attached to countless cars over the years, both standard and modified. Anything that’s not outwardly obviously sporty yet goes about its business in a respectably sporty way is referred to by petrolheads as a sleeper (or Q-car, to be ever so British about it) and it’s led to the term becoming just a tad overused. We’re as guilty as anyone of bandying the word about wherever we deem
it reasonably appropriate.
When you think about it, however, a car really isn’t that successful a sleeper when it’s sat on the deck, stance so purposeful that it would put a Rennsport Porsche to shame. Even if it’s on steel wheels, they’re probably banded and wrapped in fat 888Rs. And there are other, more subtle giveaways: an exhaust pipe that’s far from being a peashooter; half an intercooler peeking through a stock bumper; some even blow their cover as far as flaunting fixed-back buckets and a multitude of gauges.
Sure, the general public and even the odd clueless exec in his 911 would still be surprised as hell to see a Mk1 Golf disappear off down the road in a wind-rip noise of 400bhp, AGU boost and screeching tyres, even if it was sporting the aforementioned mods but most people properly in the know would have seen the potential for that happening a mile off.
Nothing wrong with that; our imaginary 1.8T Mk1 is exactly how most of us would approach the sleeper theme. We want an uncompromised, bad-ass performance car with a no-nonsense air about it. But to go the whole hog, to build something that would shock even a person who knows their car onions, takes not only serious dedication and plenty of restraint but, most crucially of all, a certain element of compromise.
This pair of Mk2s demonstrate two variations on the sleeper theme, each very similar in some respects but both very different in others. The more extreme of the two is Markus Freitag’s almost period perfect, Donkey Tec-powered Mk2. Save for the ride-height drop and some wheels that just look a little too nice and a little too big to be standard, this is about as sleeper as you’re going to get. Not least because underneath hides a four-wheel drive platform that puts down a faintly ridiculous 700bhp, on low boost.
There’s no doubt in Markus’s mind as to what constitutes a sleeper: “I wanted to build a discreet, fast car and what could be better than a grandma-beige Golf built with totally original looks, even down to the dummy exhaust? Many people want to build a sleeper but then put BBS rims and a fat exhaust on it; then it fails to be a sleeper. I didn’t want to do this. I wanted so that when you take the stickers off you can’t see anything noticeably different from the outside.”
The car is actually a 1990 Mk2 but Markus wanted it to look as discreet and unlikely a looking racer as possible, so he backdated it with an ’85 makeover. The only visible concessions to performance from the outside, apart from the aforementioned 6.5x16” Mk4 steel rims and D2 coilover-lowered ride height, are the wider arches of 15mm each side. In case you’re wondering, the real exhaust ends just ahead of the rear axle.
Inside is a similar story, with an interior that looks most grandparent spec – including seats that offer about as much side support as a park bench. “If the glove compartment (housing all the instrument gauges) is closed then you wouldn’t know about the car’s power just by looking inside,” says Markus. Even so, the interior isn’t actually original, having been refitted with brown trim to complement the beige body. If you’re even remotely mechanicallyminded, the first giveaway comes from a peak underneath the car where things look rather different to how you’d expect. A Mk2 Syncro exhaust tunnel and boot floor have been grafted into the original shell, and there’s a mishmash of Syncro and 4Motion parts bolted into the space provided.
Lifting the bonnet will confirm that this is anything but a granny mobile but even then it doesn’t give the whole game away, as the 2.8-litre VR6 complete with a black cam cover could be any boosted VR6 boasting upwards of 400bhp with a turbo bolted on behind it and a big cone filter sitting beside it. Delve further into the spec and it becomes clear this Golf is a sleeper of epic proportions. That turbo is a GT40/94 and, running Adaptronics management, is capable of up to 3bar – which the motor has been built to be stable at – for an estimated 850PS. Running its regular 2bar we’re still talking 700bhp and almost 600lb ft of torque with which it has achieved a quartermile of 11.1secs at 125mph running street tyres and no diff lock. Not many cars in the world can boast such a discrepancy between looks and performance.
Not even Marco Han’s Golf can. Yet with Fuchs rims, stretched tyres and air-ride stance his Mk2 looks to us VW types far more show car than go car. However, with 450bhp it’s still very much a Golf of the concealed weapon sort.
Marco bought the car in May 2011, when it looked much as it does now, with the Recaros and Burberry trim, Nevada Beige paint, Fuchs rims and air-ride. It also already had its nickname: Desert Fox. A handful of scene points if you don’t need me to explain why, but for everyone else: desert because of the Nevada paint and fox because Fuchs is fox in German.
Difference was, back then it had a 70PS motor and an auto ’box, so to get his performance kicks Marco had a blown VR6 Vento as well. Often he took both cars to meets so it was hardly a surprise when he came to an obvious conclusion: “At some point I thought to myself I should fit the Vento’s entire VR6 turbo mechanicals into the Golf.”
It was far from a simple engine conversion, however. Marco also wanted a cleaned bay, so he handed the car over to Porsche specialist, Cultwerk, who “put the Golf under the microscope and adjusted and cleaned-up everything in the engine compartment”. They did this with guidance from Marco, of course, who came up with
ideas such as the cleaned slam panel.
As with Markus’s Mk2, Donkey Tec took care of the rebuild of the VR motor and overhauled the Garrett GT30. Also like Markus’s install, there was a concerted effort to make sure the hardware within was kept under wraps as best as possible, with the intercooler and oil-cooler hidden from view from the outside.
Rebuilt motor in cleaned bay, Marco turned his attention to wheels and suspension. The GAS air-ride he felt particularly needed upgrading, so a Bagyard setup, complete with Anti Wank Kit, was fitted. The wheels have simply been up-sized, the old 16-inch Fuchs with 165 tyres making way for 17s with 185s. And that was the token gesture increase in grip for the rather more than token gesture increase in horsepower. 165s to 185s to deal with an extra 380 Pferdestärke (PS)? Yup, that’ll do it…
But then, if he’d junked the stretched tyre, bagged look and gone for something more functional, most of you guys would suspect there was something hidden under the hood. As we said, sometimes you have to accept compromises in order to have a true sleeper. If that means a frenzy of spinning 185 Nankang or white knuckles clinging onto a steering wheel while you slide across a particularly flat circa 1985 driver’s seat,
then so be it.
Thanks Performance Volkswagen for this article.
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