1981 Rheila Golf

Today I got to ride in this naughty machine. This was courtesy of customer and friend Dave Vardy. It was bumpy, full of rattles but more importantly, it was raw and I loved it. It smelt like a proper engine, god knows how it feels blasting through a forest in this beast with a cockpit full of dust.

Head to Goodwood this year to see Rheila in action again with VrDMotorsport

The infamous Ferris Bueller said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Much mischief and a timeless classic that entirely celebrated ‘You Only Live Once’. Some days, though, there isn’t a LWB Ferrari 250 GT California in the garage. Contrastingly, this retro-liveried old-school 8v normally aspirated Mk1 belongs to owner Dave Vardy as much as it does George Clarke, George being his partner in VrDMotorsport and from the very first day sharing the dream, the vision - and the driving of this build. The pair are on something of a high, with a self-inspired bucket list Goodwood-pinnacled motorsport tour recently achieved, along with buddies Matt Staines, Nick Holmes and Steph Marsh, who have all buckled up for the ride.

Blazing a trail of experiences to pop the eyes of petrolheads, the whole gig started out years past, when as part of his Global Automotive Training day job, Dave’s passion to support young people saw motorsport used as a catalyst to put Volkswagen and Audi apprentices under pressure. Long story short, Dave co-drove AmD Tuning’s Shaun Hollamby (and BTCC team chief) in a Group N rally Skoda Fabia - and the apprentices were the service crew on the events. “That’s kinda where it all started. Going from that point I just had this ambition to bring back some historic vehicles but also try to get to a high level without coming from a big-budgeted background. You know: passion, hard work, determination. Getting people involved as a collective, where people share good times to try to get to the very top of various kinds of motorsport.”

Dave’s a Volkswagen man through and through: “I started out working for my grandfather who was one of the first importers of Volkswagens into the UK. I worked for Volkswagen Group for 16 years of my career from working in the retail side right through to head office.” As this all evolved, the VrD Motorsport tagline was duly applied and saw Dave co-driving Bob Beales’ original classic Beetle to a class win on the 2015 national section of Wales Rally GB – and he has the trophy to prove it! Next followed VrD’s Mk3 Golf VR6 race program in the VAG Trophy and two seasons in the Classic VW Cup, the team coming second in the latter year. This led to co-driving the Beetle on the Goodwood Festival of Speed Rally Stage while the Classic VWs were displayed in the main show. First attended in 2006, Team VrD encamped for the duration!

As they say, once you’ve got a taste for it, there’s no going back. With entry to the famous star-studded Goodwood Ball, demo motorsport events just don’t come any more prestigious than this. Winding back the clock and the inspiration for this car began in 1981 when Austrian Klaus Peter Resorius, then racing chief of Volkswagen Motorsport in Hannover, equipped the Bavarian pairing of Alfons Stock and co-driver Paul Schmuck with a Group 2-specificiation rally Golf GTI. The Rheila sponsorship deal was done, a cough sweet maker in Bonn, and they adorned the iconic cars (WOB-VZ-2 and WOB-VZ-7) with the German-equivalent slogan ‘For Frogs in the Throat.’ (“Gegen Frosch im Hals”). ‘Rheila the Frog’ was coined, green became the new yellow and the Mk1 Golf fleet transitioned from its former Pierburg livery. The 8v 1.6-litre machines produced 173 bhp – with the permitted Zenith Pierberg ‘CS Renneinspritzung’ racing fuel injection and modified cylinder head – and duly brought the German Rally Championship title back to Hannover. As development continued into 1982 and the French 16S Oettinger four valve head came to market, the Motorsport dept produced another one: WOB-VZ 8 – the dream Oettinger spec – which has sat on display at AutoMuseum Volkswagen, in Wolfsburg for the last two decades. Just as the Kamei Mk1 is the most identifiable Mk1 racer ever made, this is one of the defining rally Mk1s in Volkswagen Motorsport history. Indeed the livery was already long decided. “I’ve got a strong passion for the history of Volkswagen Motorsport, obviously you’ve got the Pierburg Golf livery which sits very famously I guess in people’s minds who know of that era. I spoke with the late Walter Ainsworth. Obviously he had done that in his own guise with ‘For the Love of Cars’. So the natural step for me was to then choose the Rheila Golf.”

“The base of the car is a right-hand drive model. It was Daz Bedford’s chassis that won the VAG Trophy in 2013.” This was featured when owned by Ade Brooks (PVW 1/08). On inspection though, much TLC was needed: “With Daz’s shell it was either grind all the rust away, put the new arches and wings and quarters on that shell, or simply look for a better shell. Chris Eyre got us going in the right direction to do the build we needed to do.” Goodwood 2017 came and went though. “We didn’t get the invite so the plans were put on hold – but I always wanted to do it. Then it really came back at the start of last year: the Rheila Golf would make its first appearance at the 2018 Silver Jubilee of Goodwood Festival of Speed!!” Boom!

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