About the build

1985 Golf Mk1 convertible

It’s charming. The Cab has THE boxy, vintage charm; a time capsule of what the world was like in the 80s. This is my first project car and was built on the countless amount of trial and error over the past three years. The retro orange color in a boxy package is something that has always attracted me to the car, with its faults and all. It wasn’t the fastest, but you don’t care, it’s adorable!

It is Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet MK1. At 2200 lbs, 90hp from the factory, carbureted ITBS, a header-back exhaust system, and a rusty, crusty bottom, it’s as good as it’s going to get. I have no immediate aspirations with this car to be a champion racecar, I just wanted to enjoy driving something to the beach. The best surprises in my life have never been planned, things happen and I simply oblige.

As far as the driving experience, it’s deafening in here with the convertible top-up. It’s not the exhaust that gets you, it’s the pinging sound of a shitty old car full of metal and old plastics, that can get overwhelming in the cabin. But with the top down? It’s lovely.

Airplane spec interior for the Cab

The wind barrels around the roofline and enters the cabin area, twisting and twirling our hair as we drive a healthy 70MPH in 5th gear. As we’re climbing up H2 from North Shore, the cab needs a little persuasion to get up the hill. Dropped a gear but we’re still here, gently climbing our way up the slope with a hearty push from the ITBS. The heat from the engine bay and exhaust warms our feet but the cool air passing from the nighttime drive balances everything out. There’s nothing like a nighttime cruise with a drop-top because everything is amplified. The shining evening lights and bustling noise of the freeway and city life flood the world inside the little cabin. The cabin is illuminated by the street lights, shining on the faintly glowing gauges scattered across the dashboard. One more hill.

The entire car jolts with fear and excitement commensurate with my RPMs as I depress the gas pedal. The engine growls into a lovely metallic roar that tickles my primal sense of joy. At full throttle, you can’t beat the sound of ITBS, the pains of sitting in traffic roll away and all that remains is a childish grin plastered onto my face.

Unfortunately the car got into a fire incident in late 2023. Suffering from a damaged carburetor and engine, I’ve decide to swap out the 1.8L engine for a 2.0L from a Mk3 Volkswagen.

Lately, I’ve picked up a lot more work than I can chew. But, we’ll take it day-by-day, and hopefully I can reassemble the car one more time.

Table of Contents


1985 Golf Mk1 convertible

Factory numbers: the numbers that the car is supposed to give.. but it probably doesn’t lol

  • Lumped in the EA827 family of engines, JH engine
    • 1781 cc inline 4, : bore /stroke 81/ 86.4 mm
  • 90HP at 5500 rpm
  • 105 lb ft torque at 3250 rpm
  • 8.5:1 compression
  • Generally, you will not make that much power above 5500RPM unless your cam was designed for it

Head: no modifications, decked flat block

  • Solid lifter head 026103373H (JH, air shrouded; 1984-1986)
  • SOHC 8v
  • Stock camshaft P/N 049 109 101 H/J
    • Duration @ 0.50” Intake and Exhaust: 212°
    • Lift .369”
    • Lobe Center 110°
    • Intake open @0.50” -4.2° BTDC
    • Camshaft came on 1.7-1.8L std U.S. spec heads
  • Engine Code: JH
  • Modifications:
    • Face decked 0.04” by Ted’s Automotive Shop
  • Issues: valve cover surface needs to be resurfaced. Studs need to be redone. Valves tapping, needs adjustment

Block: Stock JH block, no modifications

More information provided by cabby-info.com

Fuel System

The part that I’ve invested in the most since owning the car and what was stopping the car from moving in the first place.

1985 Golf Mk1 convertible

CIS is out. Carburetors are in.

  • Originally manufactured with CIS (Continuous Injection System), the system was replaced with a motorcycle carburetor
  • Manifold and head flange made by DanST Engineering. Made decently well. Carburetor adapter kit was great, though the head flange I will say is not so user-friendly with where the bolts were placed. I don’t think there was much room but oh well, haha.
  • 1985 Golf Mk1 convertible
  • Redesigned manifold flange because the 1.8 DX, EX head did not account for the 5th hole
  • ~1997 ZX6R Carburetors for a ~600CC motorcycle
    • Main jet per cylinder 1-2-3-4:
      • 160-165-165-160
    • Idle/Pilot Jet: 38 @ 2.5 turns out (8/7/2023 - 12.5 AFR, rich)
    • Needle jet, 3rd position. Carburetor 3 and 4 have lightly bent needles.
    • AFR Estimates
Date Idle 1/4 Throttle 1/2 Throttle Full Throttle Last Service
- 11.4-11.7 (VERY RICH) 13.5 (ok) 14.2-6 14.4-15.3 -
7/6/2023 13.2-15.1 (RICH->STOICH) 12.2-13.1 (lean it out more) 14.2-6 14.4-15.3 7/6/2023
8/7/2023 12.5-13.0 (RICH) 13.5-14.0 (good!) 14.0 15.0-16.5 (lean) 8/7/2023

Air and Exhaust

1985 Golf Mk1 convertible

  • Pipercross carb air filter
  • Techtonics Tuning (TT) 4-to-1 headers, made for an ABA/JH mod, but for now I am full JH. No clearance issues. Removed the front sway bar.
  • Techtonics Tuning (TT) ex cat-back exhaust system
  • PCV vented to atmospher from valve cover

Wheels and Suspension

1985 Golf Mk1 convertible

  • Solowerks Coilovers, front and rear
  • 15x6.5 BBS RM on 185/55 R15 Arroyo Grand Sport; installed
  • Slight rub on bumps, but otherwise decent setup

1985 Golf Mk1 convertible

Front suspension

  • Front suspension, SoloWerks coilovers
  • Polyurethane control arm bushings, all polyurethane
  • No sway bar, as of 8/7/2023 because of clearance issues with 4-to-1 headers. Okay for now to make rear stiffer than front for better (perceived) rotation
  • No upper strut bar, as of 8/7/2023

Rear suspension

  • 29mm Neuspeed sway bar with cut universal 29mm Prothane sway bar bushings
  • Rear axle beam bushings, rubber
  • Rear suspension, SoloWerks Coilovers with 100mm from bottom thread to bottom locking perch
  • Rear bushings, polyurethane strut tower bushings


Drive belts

Other reference from Cabby Info

  • Power steering: 9.5x730mm belt
  • AC: none
  • Alternator: 11.2x866mm belt
  1. Bike Carb Conversion Guide
  2. Carpet Replacement

Story Time: How I bought my car for $800

I actually bought my cabby on a whim. For $800, I got a vibrant metallic orange convertible that I knew very little about.

My grade school best friend Ronald, my cousin Rey, and Mark went out to Waipahu to checkout the car. It was listed on craigslist for $1800. But it had problems. Sometimes it didn’t want to start, the fan didn’t work, and it has been sitting for about 2 years. It definitely had the rust in the pictures, but it was the classic car in my head that I’ve always imagined. As we drove out on the midsummer afternoon, we pulled up and there it was, sitting underneath a Milo tree. Not too clean but not too dirty either.

We checked out the car and as soon as I opened that door, it had that distinct smell of an 80s car. The smell of old leather and stale air sat happily in the cabin. Eric, the guy that was selling the car, took some time to show me how to start the car. For some reason, putting the car into first gear helped to get the car running… though in retrospect, I think it was coincidence. The ignition switch definitely doesn’t have anything to do with the gear. But miraculously, the car started!

The car putted out a cough from its sitting engine and after warming up, it sounded pretty decent.

We let the car warm up for a bit and I went out for a test drive. Wrinkling up the leather seats, I sat in the cabin and found it impossible to adjust the car seats. The plastic sliders were definitely broken, so adjusting the seat meant forcefully thrusting my body back and forth to adjust the seat. I was fucking nervous to drive. This is the second time I’ve gone out to buy a car, but I only learned how to drive manual about 5 weeks ago! I was panicked to not look like a total dunce, but I wanted to buy the car. I needed to drive.

Clutch in. I lightly pushed the shifter into what I thought was first gear, but the linkages practically floated in to some position that only resembled 1st. It was a mechanical linkage that resembled jello and a jumbo crayon being dragged right through it, fucking weird, man. But I got it into “a” gear and made it out of the driveway. I stumbled out and gave it a good rev before pulling out past the stop sign. “First gear” with the revs up and I stalled. Okay, try it again.

“First gear” with the revs even higher and I just barely managed to pull out. I was definitely trying to pull out in 3rd gear.

But with the revs finally up and the car finally moving, I rolled down the windows to let the musty air flow out. Still getting a feel for the steering and suspension, the car surprisingly drove pretty well! A California stop into the next stop sign and I finally opened up to an open road. Car’s warm and I was itching to see what the car was going to be like. I pulled out and nearly floored it. And this car did NOT pull, haha! But what it did do was that it putted down the road like a panther’s prowl. Low and subtle. And for some reason, the lack of power and flabbergasting experience driving an 80s car put me in a different headspace. This isn’t a car to drive for speed, this is a cruiser. The 80s aesthetic is in and this car fits the bill.

I returned to the driveway and felt pretty good about the car. We let the car run for a bit to see how the car would idle. As I got out of the car my friends were talking with the owner at the time and everything seemed to be going great. It was finally time to start talking about price. His Craigslist ad listed the car for $1800 since it was in mildly rough condition. Rust here and there, probably a few other electric gremlins and could use some general TLC. As I was about to offer $1500 … a heater hose blew.

White smoke shot straight followed by a big FOOMP! from the sound of coolant hitting the hot engine. Ronald quickly shouted “turn it off!” I rushed in to pull the key and the car sat in silence. We inspected the leaking fluid after the smoke cleared up. At the time, I had no idea what happened. The white smoke was a clear indicator it was coolant, but to me I think the whole engine was in shambles! All I knew is that it was bad and when everything settled down, the car was not in condition to run anymore.

Will you take $800?

I could have gone lower, but $800 seemed fine enough. I went out to grab the money and we setup my 1999 Honda CR-V with ratchet straps towing the Cab back home. The straps was strapped to… something on the car. Ronald was in the CR-V towing me along while I steered the Cabby. And that’s where are the financial mistakes begun.