It's funny which things end up being important to us in our lives. A passing interest turns into a hobby, which develops into a burning passion, and then a way of life. Along the way, we build lifetime friendships and communities, creating experiences and memories we value forever.
Take cars, for example. They're mundane transportation for some, and a way of life for others. As car enthusiasts, something dry and mechanical, such as a globally distributed automotive product, may end up being far more important in our lives than we might ever have expected. For all of us that work here at FCP Euro, for instance, cars of varying European brands have been central to first our lives, and now our livelihood.
For Rachel Levey, owner of this pristine and tastefully modified 1989 Alpine White Mk2 Volkswagen Golf, she can likely say the same. Volkswagen ownership has been a huge part of Rachel's life, even factoring into how she and Fiancé Nick Kramarczyk, whom she credits as a driving force in the build, met in the first place. She was already a VW fan, and Nick was already driving a modified GTI.
"I developed a fondness for VWs as a little kid when my dad had a white rabbit truck," Rachel begins. "I had dreams of driving a Cabrio, and when I was about 16, I became friends with Nick and started hanging out at the diner where he worked. He drove an 87 GTI, big bumper, Nimbus Grey, with ALL the body kit pieces imaginable, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world."
"I even tried to race him one time in my Volvo 850 sedan, it did not go well," she laughs.
It was some years later that Rachel and Nick started dating, and it was then she plunged headfirst into being a Volkswagen lifer. Nick may have helped to deepen the passion, but Rachel wasn't simply an enthusiast by association.
"My first VW was a Mk4 Jetta TDI with an endless list of problems, followed by a MK4 GTI, which I tuned, modded, loved, and wish I still had," she said. "I brought the GTI to a bunch of local shows, the idea of just being Nick's ride-along was never very appealing."
While Rachel had long been a fan of the older VWs, it wasn't until early 2014 that the right car popped up for sale. It was a white, single-owner, Mk2 Golf, with just 41,203 miles on the odometer of the then 25-year-old car.
"When the original owner passed away, his son-in-law brought the car up to his home in Massachusetts, and took it to our friend's shop, Pelham Automotive, to find out what it would need to get back on the road. He didn't want it to be scrapped, and was thinking of selling it to the local tech school," Rachel continues. "Lucky for us, we had a man on the inside, who let us know it might be available. I will never forget Nick got a text from our friend Jeremy with some pictures, turned to me and said, "Ready for your first MK2?""
Single owner or not, when Rachel got started with the process of bringing the Golf back to road-ready status, there were, as there always is with older VWs, a few surprises.
"There was some rust on the passenger side wheel arch and rocker, dents in the hood, and the original owner had attached a passenger side view mirror with drywall screws, but otherwise it looked pretty good," Rachel explained. "But when we got it back to Jeremy's shop and up on the lift, its lifetime by the ocean was more apparent. I remember pulling most of the exhaust off with my bare hands because it was so rusted!"
Thanks to many years of exposure to Nick's various Mk2 projects, Rachel knew exactly what she wanted to do with her low-mileage example.
"So much of the car's character was that a lot of it was still original and unmolested, so we really wanted to preserve that while making it run better and look nicer," she said. "From the start, we wanted this one to be OEM+ but not over the top. I envisioned it looking like it just rolled off the factory floor, but with a little extra, like this is how VW should have done it in the first place."
First things first, the Golf was relieved of various bits of trim and accessories, with the subsequent body holes filled and smoothed before being resprayed in a fresh coat of Alpine White in Rachel and Nick's home garage.
"Nick gets 100% of the credit for the bodywork. He's really good at it and has the knowledge, patience, and perseverance that I lack," Rachel explained. "While I did a lot of cleaning, scuffing, masking, and prep, he did all of the welding, filling, smoothing, and actual spraying. We get into a good flow though, with me minding the hose, moving lights around, and plucking out the inevitable stray cat hairs before the paint is set."
Selective rummaging of the VW parts bin yielded parts that would often go missed by a casual glance, such as the 85 Golf diesel rear glass and modified VW Fox door handles. The look is completed with a mix of customized European and US spec trim. The badgeless quad square / round VW Aero and Hella driving and headlight setup looks especially appropriate, standing out without looking too aftermarket.
Despite the original engine having covered only 41,000 miles, Rachel decided something a little more peppy needed to be in its place. In the Mk2 VW world, that usually means 'put a VR6 in it', but Rachel chose to keep things a little more period-correct.
"I think Nick would probably throw me out of the house if I suggested a VR swap," Rachel laughed. "Don't get me wrong, it's a great combo, but it's also been done a lot. The 8-valve is a great motor, and with the ABA bottom end, it has enough extra torque to be fun. The lightened flywheel and new transmission from the most recent rebuild have made it feel a bit quicker as well, but that's never been the main goal of this build."
The aforementioned 1984cc ABA bottom end was sourced from a Mk3, while the original 1.8 8v head is retained along with the VW Digifant II injection system. Power has been bumped up a bit more thanks to parts from Techtonics Tuning, including a 268-degree camshaft and matched performance EPROM for the factory ECU. The troublesome factory V belts have been swapped with a hassle-free Mk3 serpentine belt setup, and a modified Corrado G60 valve cover sits on top, providing the most modern factory-based look for the counterflow 8v.
As classic as the Mk2 is, it's impossible to argue that they don't look a little better sitting a few inches closer to the ground. To achieve this, Rachel has fitted a set of Solo Werks coilovers, bringing the body closer to the classic 15"x7" ATS Cup wheels and 195/45 Toyo T1R tires.
The interior was treated to many of the same touches as the exterior, with some mild tweaks, and an OEM+ focus. There are the more obvious changes, like the custom recovered Recaro Trophy seats from a Mk2 GLI, as well as a MOMO Prototipo steering wheel.
However, there are just as many things that could easily go unnoticed or may be completely invisible, such as the early-style center console, or the non-AC heater box. A Memphis audio system is subtly integrated into the Golf, with controls hidden away on the factory switch panel while a blanking plate covers the hole where the radio would normally be located.
The end result is precisely what Rachel was looking for in her first Mk2.
"I love the way they look, I love the way they sound, and I love the way the smell of the original interior...is that weird?" Rachel laughed. "Mk2 people are also some of my favorite people within the VW scene. Most of the Mk2 people I know are supportive, considerate, and genuinely excited to work on their cars, watch other builds, and help each other out."
That sense of community really took on a greater purpose for Rachel after receiving a cancer diagnosis. She credits working on the Mk2 with Nick and the greater Northeast VW community with being a crucial part of her recovery process.
"This picture is a personal favorite as I was almost completely bald and had to stay out of the sun due to my chemo, but I'm still having a good time because cars and friends are the best distractions."
"When you go through something like cancer, you need to find things that make you feel normal and not like a "sick person," she explained. "Going to shows and interacting with people in the car scene gave me a perfect distraction from everything else going on in my life."
"I learned just how supportive this community truly is when I needed help," Rachel continued. "Whether it was Anthony making sure I had access to a quiet, air-conditioned space at Wolfsgart, which was the weekend after I started my chemo, Jarrett holding my Eurosummit slot til the following year because I wasn't feeling well enough to drive, Foundation Blue helping me pay for medical bills or the Fieldwerks crew having my back at every turn, I was absolutely blown away by everyone's kindness and support and hope to be able to pay it forward."
It's stories like Rachel's that make us so happy to be a part of the automotive enthusiast community. Sure we all have fun buying, fixing, and modifying our cars, but it's the experiences we have with these cars and the networks of friends that we build that make European car ownership so special.
Nick, first and foremost, of course. This is all thanks to his skills and dedication and wanting me to be a part of his world. Jeremy Smith who told us about the car initially, and has helped out a lot along the way. Eyituoyo Amoye for the ABA and for finally being willing to sell his ATS cups. Rick Fennessey for past and future help, and Eli Ahrensdorf for somehow always being able to stand in the way, no matter what. Also, Ian Pouliot, Henry Gomez, Derek Kenison, and others for taking awesome photos of both our Golfs.
- 2.0 ABA block
- 1.8 counterflow head
- Techtonics Tuning 268° cam
- Techtonics Tuning Digifant 2 EPROM
- BBM crankcase block off plate
- ABA serpentine belt conversion
- Early Mk3 power steering pump and gear
- Modified G60 valve cover
- Raceland header
- Custom test pipe
- Brospeed cat-back exhaust
- B3 Passat tip
- 2Y 020 transmission
- Peloquin 80% lock differential shim kit
- Mk3 020 5th gear
- Factory Mk3 weighted shift rod
- Lightweight flywheel
- Solo Werks coilovers
- Audi TT control arm bushings
- Neuspeed front strut bar
- 15x7 ATS Cup wheels
- Toyo T1R 195/45 R15 tires
- Non AC heater box
- Early Mk2 small center console
- Original 'pleather' door cards with early pockets
- GLI Recaro Trophy seats re-covered in gray denim and black vinyl
- Cue ball shift knob
- MOMO Prototipo wheel with red stitching
- Custom red stripe seat belts front and rear
- Memphis audio hidden head unit
- Memphis Audio 3.5in front speakers in factory locations
- Memphis Audio 5x7 rears in factory location
- Resprayed factory Volkswagen Alpine White
- Shaved banana lights
- Shaved rear badges
- Shaved rear wiper and squirter
- Shaved antenna hole
- Shaved rear quarter trim holes
- Shaved passenger mirror
- lightly shaved engine bay
- Red stripe US spec bumpers
- 85 Golf diesel rear hatch glass
- Modified VW Fox door handles
- Votex rear hatch spoiler
- Euro Jetta headlights
- Custom grill aero/quad
- Hella half-smoked taillights
- Custom golf side decal
If you liked Rachel's Mk2 and want to read more Volkswagen features, DIYs, and news, visit our VW hub at vw.fcpeuro.com.
FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55