September 26, 2022

Whereas the newest sizzling hatches push ever additional into supercar-worrying energy figures, Clayton Jones’s meticulously track-honed modified VW Lupo GTI is a giant-felling advocate for sticking to the old-school system.

Characteristic from Efficiency VW journal. Phrases: Alex Grant. Images: Ollie Wildsmith. 

It says so much concerning the legacy of the Mk1 Golf GTI that, virtually 50 years after its launch, its system of usable on a regular basis efficiency remains to be the yardstick in opposition to which each and every Volkswagen sizzling hatch is measured.

From magazines to advertising materials, you’re by no means removed from a nod to the primary of the breed when a brand new technology reaches the street, however Wolfsburg’s engineers arguably by no means recaptured the Mk1 spirit as successfully as they did with the VW Lupo GTI.

The quick Golf idea had grow to be complicated when the Mk4 arrived in 1997. Newer fashions had acquired progressively sooner, however not with out gaining weight, bigger engines, pressured induction and (although not till 2002) four-wheel drive and DSG with the R32.

By comparability, the VW Lupo GTI felt like a hedonistic throwback to an easier time, with its three pedals, 4 naturally aspirated cylinders and 125 keen horsepower, all tucked in behind that somehow-familiar quad-lamp ‘face’. And there was extra to it than simply numbers.

This was a Volkswagen born out of the identical period of unconstrained engineering fascination because the Phaeton, Passat W8 and hyper-efficient Lupo 3L. Positive the Lupo was the smallest mannequin within the vary, however the growth price range left room for an aluminium bonnet, doorways and wings to nibble the kerb weight all the way down to 978kg and (in contrast to the mechanically comparable Polo GTI) the Golf engine block enabled it to make use of the stronger 02 transmissions – late variations had six gears, which is greater than some Mk4 Golf GTIs. Future traditional standing was baked in on the manufacturing facility, and it registered on Clayton Jones’s automotive radar too.

Modified VW Lupo GTI - front half of car, door open

“I’ve at all times favored uncommon and distinctive vehicles, and I really like driving, however initially I went down the ‘stance’ present automotive route with this one,” he tells us, hinting at a hidden a part of his nine-year possession. “Again then my mates had been all into exhibits, so I had it low on some coilovers and a few OZ Generators – I don’t like something excessive. Then I went to a night session at Snetterton 5 years in the past, and realised observe days had been far more enjoyable. I will need to have finished a minimum of 50 observe days now, and every thing I’ve finished to the automotive within the meantime has made it a greater automotive.”

That change of imaginative and prescient is just one a part of the tangent the modified VW Lupo GTI has taken him on. Clayton picked up a love of efficiency vehicles from his Dad earlier than focusing in on Volkswagens when, as an impressionable teenager, his brother got here residence with a Mk5 R32. So as an alternative of setting out on Lupo possession with ambitions to discover the GTI’s full efficiency potential, his second automotive was destined to be an reasonably priced cease hole whereas younger driver insurance coverage stored his personal R32 out of attain. It was a step in the appropriate route, not the tip vacation spot.

Modified VW Lupo GTI engine shot

Non permanent although it was meant to be, pre-purchase analysis dissolved any probability of compromising on spec. Even with money ready, it took virtually a yr to trace down a well-maintained GTI with all of the containers ticked; six gears, no sunroof and bodywork in something aside from the all-too-common Reflex Silver. And even that stage of dedication didn’t spare him from early-days possession complications.

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“This automotive popped up in Birmingham, with 64,000 miles on the clock, a full Volkswagen service historical past – it was actually within the supplier the day earlier than I picked it up – and the bloke promoting it labored for the police doing forensics. We took it for an hour take a look at drive, then I drove it two hours residence, and the engine blew up 5 minutes from my doorstep. You’ll be able to think about how horrible that felt, after saving for years to get it,” he remembers.

Modified VW Lupo GTI - wheel shot

“On the time I simply needed to get it again on the street, so I discovered one other engine with comparable mileage on eBay, acquired the vendor to ship me a video of it operating and acquired that as an alternative. It was good for 2 or three years till the piston rings began to fail, which is basically widespread on them. As a result of the exhaust is within the center and factors up, and the again of the automotive is so flat, it acquired lined in oil. It’s been good ever since, although.”

The silver lining of that unplanned expense was having one much less factor to fret about because the Lupo’s focus shifted to trace work. Snetterton’s taster session was quick however informative; the GTI had heaps in its favour, however the stance-focused chassis upgrades, street tyres and manufacturing facility brakes had been blunting that potential. So Clayton wasted no time assuaging the weakest factors.

By the point it returned to the paddocks for its second outing, the modified VW Lupo GTI had gained much-needed adjustability from a set of BC Racing coilovers, whereas the Whiteline rear anti-roll bar and Yokohama A08Rs had began to increase the bounds of its grip. Each observe session and night drive that adopted had become a studying alternative, progressively extra targeted on discovering the tiniest of wrinkles in the usual {hardware}, then ironing them out.

The result’s a a lot leaner, keener chassis setup than its already beneficiant manufacturing facility spec. Totally adjustable KW V2 coilovers, corner-weighted at Spires Tuning and paired with shims to dial in additional toe in and camber on the in any other case fixed-geometry rear axle, imply it’ll flip in and hold on with organ-churning aggression on observe.

With little weight to rein in, and an upsized 280mm brake setup with four-piston Wilwood calipers up entrance, it might probably additionally out-brake most different vehicles if wanted. Clayton even retains 4 units of motorsport-spec ultra-lightweight wheels in ready, with rubber to swimsuit street or observe use, although it’s normally discovered on the 15″ ATS DTCs and Michelin Pilot Sport 3 pictured right here. In any case, energy is nothing in case you can’t put it down.

Satirically, regardless of all of the high-spec {hardware} on board, it’s the usual components which have thrown the most important spanners into the works. “It’s reached a crossover level, the place it’s not in Traditional Components, and nothing’s in Volkswagen sellers in the intervening time. That’s been the most important hiccup to date – every thing I ask for is out of date, and it’s a ache within the ass,” he explains.

“Some time again, I acquired it up within the air, took the wheels off and determined the whole thing was getting polybushed, with new ball joints, observe rod ends…every thing. I assumed it might be off the street for just a few weeks, however the ball joints had been on again order and it took seven months earlier than I acquired them – they’re longer on the GTI than on different Lupos. So it was simply sitting there for months, and I couldn’t put the outdated ones again on as a result of I’d binned them. I simply needed to get out and drive it.”


Modified VW Lupo GTI - exhaust shot

The extra aggressive the modified VW Lupo GTI turned on observe, the extra it started highlighting a must fine-tune the remainder of the expertise, and the cabin is extra clearly re-worked than the delicate exterior adjustments give away. Its Coolerworx short-shifter and 80mm steering column extension convey the essential controls nearer to Clayton whereas he’s harnessed in place, and the rim of the wheel is trimmed in grippier alcantara too.

Beneath the dashboard, the broader throttle pedal permits simpler heel-and-toe motion on observe, whereas the rear seats turned nothing however extra weight as soon as the harness bar went in. Regardless of already spending cash on extra closely bolstered entrance seats, even these did not make the grade as soon as the Lupo GTI was ferociously clawing away at sooner lap occasions. It’s the kind of element occasional observe use can miss.

“I had Corsa VXR Recaros for some time, they usually appeared cool however I wasn’t being supported sufficient on observe,” says Clayton. “My arms can be aching on the finish of the day, as a result of I used to be hanging onto the steering wheel by means of corners. The Recaro Pole Positions helped massively – they’re half the load, and it’s rather more snug, as a result of you may focus on driving fairly than attempting to hold on.”

In fact, studying curves don’t come a lot steeper than the Nürburgring, and its unforgiving mixture of climbs, corners and quick stretches added just a few extra traces to the want checklist. Additional energy takes just a little extra persuasion once you’re beginning with a small, naturally aspirated engine however, with the hands-on steerage of traditional automotive mechanic and Lupo GTI proprietor Sully, the twin-cam packs a helpful serving of additional pep to go along with the chassis upgrades.

The empty highlight apertures – just like the factory-built Cup Vehicles – are a touch that not every thing is as Volkswagen meant, flowing air into an upgraded cooling pack and chilly air feed to the fully-enclosed Sprogley Motorsport airbox in the back of the bay. Quick street Piper cams with a ported and polished head and tubular manifold assist liberate some additional efficiency in direction of the highest of the rev vary, paired with a lightened flywheel and bespoke Chipwizards map, whereas the Quaife limited-slip differential ensures none of that funding goes to waste.

Already greater than worthy of the GTI badge in manufacturing facility tune, the modified VW Lupo GTI now places out 169.9bhp – not far off the stats of probably the most potent Mk4 Golf GTI however, at 920kg, this has a 25% weight benefit in its favour. Regardless of Clayton opting to maintain the carpets, alcantara door playing cards and including a Pioneer head unit, it’s nonetheless a suitcase lighter than even probably the most primary Lupo within the line-up. Who says you may’t have all of it?

“In case you purchased a Lupo GTI, put a set of coilovers, sticky rubber and higher brakes on it, then you definately’d have good enjoyable with it out of the field,” he tells us. “Nevertheless, on a observe day you’d most likely be the slowest automotive there, a minimum of in a straight line. For the reason that energy upgrades, mine is just about neck-and-neck with Clio 182 and 200s, that kind of stuff. However you may nonetheless extract all that energy on the street with out braking velocity limits, and simply get pleasure from it.”

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Modified VW Lupo GTI and Up GTI

Now, he says, it’s only a case of exploring what it’s able to. Ten Nurburging visits and greater than 70 laps since its first cross by means of the Nordscheife’s toll gates, and Clayton’s 8-minute, 28-second private finest from bridge to gantry can simply maintain tempo with the newest sizzling hatches, and there’s extra to return. At the very least, there will probably be as soon as it’s again on the street. Since our shoot, it’s spun one of many manufacturing facility bearings six laps into a personal observe day on the Nürburgring, and the instant precedence is restoring the engine again to good well being.

Irritating? Positive, however it additionally comes with the territory. “The unique bearings had finished 134,000 miles, most likely 20,000 on observe, they usually weren’t actually designed for that,” Clayton shrugs. “I’ve been excited about solid internals, however that’s getting on for £2,500 and we’re saving for a home in the intervening time, so I’ll rebuild it as customary for now. If it does one other 50,000 miles, then I actually can’t complain an excessive amount of.”

Modified VW Lupo GTI - rear shot face on

One factor it gained’t do is flip this tangent round. Whereas the modified VW Lupo GTI will get some downtime, Clayton has ordered 3D-printed pods to fit oil temperature and stress gauges into the manufacturing facility air vent slots, which implies he can control the essential info as soon as it’s doing its factor. And though post-mortgage plans embody shopping for one other observe automotive, the Lupo hasn’t outstayed its welcome but.

“After Snetterton, I keep in mind umming and ahhing about whether or not to simply purchase a observe automotive, however I’m glad I went down this route as a result of it surprises everybody – on street and observe. I’ve discovered so much, I’ve finished nearly all of the work on it, and I’ve acquired to the purpose the place it’s just about bang on. It seems I desire it to an R32 anyway,” he laughs.

Maybe that’s why the Mk1’s legacy is simply as related at present. For all of the complexity and expertise that’s discovered its manner into subsequent generations, there’s so much to be stated for the simplicity of low weight, fast responses and a vigorous naturally aspirated engine. However, in Volkswagen phrases a minimum of, you’ll nonetheless by no means discover a nearer re-interpretation of that authentic system than the Lupo GTI.

Tech Spec: Modified VW Lupo GTI


1598cc, four-cylinder, 16-valve petrol, ported and polished head, Piper 270 cams, Customized stainless-steel chilly air feed, Sprogley Motorsport consumption, 4-2-1 stainless manifold and de-cat, Kam Racing exhaust system, Chipwizards engine map, Customized engine mount, aluminium radiator, oil cooler, rebuilt 02U six-speed gearbox, Coolerworx quick shifter, Quaife limited-slip differential, Epytec Lightened flywheel (2.9kg)


KW V2 Coilovers, Whiteline rear anti roll bar, OMP higher strut brace, polyurethane or new OEM bushes all through, Spires Tuning geometry setup. Wilwood four-piston calipers, 280mm Brembo HC discs, Ferodo DS1.11 pads (entrance), Brembo HC discs and Ferodo DS2500 pads (rear), HEL braided brake traces, Motul RBF 660 fluid, 15×7 ATS DTC wheels with 195/50 Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres (street), 15×7 OZ Ultraleggera with 195/50 Nankang AR1 tyres (observe), PSDesigns titanium stud equipment


Spotlights eliminated, de-badged tailgate


Recaro Pole Place seats, Schroth Profi six-point harnesses, Blox harness bar, OMP Targa steering wheel retrimmed in Alcantara by Royal Steering Wheels, B-G Racing 80mm steering wheel spacer, Heel & Toe accelerator pedal extension, rear seats eliminated, powder fireplace extinguisher. Pioneer double-din head unit