Steve Comley: Golf Mk1 Survivor

Mk1 Golf Survivor 1974 VW Golf Swallowtail
We first met Steve at Edition 38 in 2019. He was parked up in a slightly tatty Golf Mk1 on steel wheels. It was lowered, but to the passing eye it was a classic case of "can't afford some alloys yet." Then I spotted the registration number and the front brake drums. This wasn't just another Golf.

It's good to talk

Steve was giving his paintwork a wipe over as we approached. Chatty from the outset, within a few minutes we'd ascertained this was the oldest known VW Golf on the road having rolled out of the Wolfsburg factory on 16th April 1974, just 2 weeks into production. He then mentioned his health battle. We needed to meet up again to chat properly.

A month-long headache

Fast forward a month or so and we're stood in a slightly chilly barn, on a Saturday morning chatting to Steven about his collection. Yep, there's more than one. He's got an '82 early looker and an 83 GTI on the go and while we nose around thinking about getting them out into the sunlight he tells us about the brain tumour he had 5 years ago. "I was getting headaches for about a month. I'd been to the Doctors, but they didn't do anything. One day my Mum told me we were going to A&E, I said, after my tea... We got to the hospital and they strapped me to a board and did all sorts of scans. It was a big tumour which was pushing on the front of my head and the back of my eyes. They tried to operate but were unable to remove it, so the Doctors put me on chemotherapy to shrink it down and now I've got a 3-inch metal tube fitted into the top of my head!"

Scary Stuff

As you can see, Steven appears fit and well now but he has had a tough journey. "I was out of action for 10 months. I was in a wheelchair, weighed 50kg and could hardly see at times. Fortunately, my job was held open for me and my fiance was with me throughout." It's about this time Steven's better half Nicole, appears in the workshop, along with their baby daughter Arrabella. "She's a miracle, we didn't think we'd be able to have children after all my treatment" Steve lets on, with Nicole adding "I've got two kids really - this one, and Steven, he only comes in to eat when I remind him!"

Anyone for Golf?!

It was during Steve's recovery that he bought his first VW Golf Mk1. He'd messed about with a 6n Polo previously and owned a couple of Civics, but it was time for him to drive something old and cool. "The Golf was something for me to look forward to and to tinker with, on the days I felt well enough. "I made a number plate bracket for it out of an old chopping board. It took me 2 days, but it kept me busy" he laughs as he recalls the story.

First in, last out?

"The first one I got was the Bali Green'82, although it was rolling on gold centred BBS RM alloys then. It had an ABF swap, but it wasn't done very well. So as soon as I could I pulled it out and set about doing it properly. I'm good friends with Tim at The Phirm and he did all the wiring for me. I've not used this much sadly, since getting the '74 but it is great fun to drive."

Out in the sunshine

Whilst this is a 1982 model, it's been subjected to a pretty convincing S1 conversion. This extends to small rear lights at the back, black small bumpers and even a Series 1 dashboard from Steven's stash. "I've bought up a couple of early parts collections in the past few years. I've got a stable to store stuff in and my mates are into Mk1s too. I've got most hard to find stuff when I need it." I ask about the Mk1 Golf rear blind knowing that we sell them, and Steve confirms it was sourced from Heritage, before highlighting the black waistline trim and matching lower sill trims as our parts too.

Spot the difference

With two green cars at our disposal, we couldn't wait to shoot them next to each other and play a geeky game of spot the Golf Mk1 difference between his early swallowtail and the series 1.5 creation. Steve has gained quite a knowledge about these early cars since buying the '74 and is more than happy to share it, he points a few swallowtail quirks out to me such as "the waistline trim, the air filter housing, the bonnet, the door locks, the X parcel shelf." He continues with "the expansion tank, the rear badges are placed the other way around, the tailgate has vents on the inside, the bonnet has foam inside the front lip and the tops of the front wings are a different profile to the later cars."

Should he paint it?!

With the Swallowtail parked up on a patch of moss almost identical to the Lofoten Green paintwork, Steve and I discuss whether he will tackle any of the paint imperfections and some of the previously administered panel work. "I might fix the front valance and re-do the rear panel which has been painted with a brush, but apart from that I like it like this." I'm completely in agreement, for me, repainting it would take away some of this history and you'll never get that patina back again properly. This car is a real survivor, it should wear those marks with pride.

A bit like a Beetle...

Steven's Golf Mk1 would have been side by side with the Beetle both on the forecourt and at the factory, so its no surprise that there is some cross over parts from the people's car in place "The seats are the same as a late Beetle" he tells us. "My daughter ripped the cover on the driver's seat sadly" adding "when I replaced the fuel sender, which mounts from the side, I had to drop the rear beam to remove it, which wasn't ideal." That's just one of the early production features which were improved upon for owners of later models.

"We can use my neighbour's driveway if you want?"

Just up the road, is what can only be described as a mansion house. The owner was out taking his dog for a walk and very kindly offered his driveway for us to photograph the cars on. "This house has just sold for over £3million," Steve tells us. We feel a little out of place but in awe of such a cool location. It turns out the current occupant likes old cars, he's got a Lancia Delta Integrale that he's owned from new in his heated triple garage!

More from the mansion...

"I almost bought 2 more swallowtails in the past month" Steve lets slip. "I'm getting a bigger unit in the next few months which will give me room for a couple more." I quiz him on potentially straying away from the early first-gen Golfs. "I'd love a Porsche 964, but they are a bit expensive. A Mk2 isn't out the question though." Still, he's got plenty to be getting on with these two and the Mars Red GTI mid-project in his homemade spray booth. A big thanks to Steve, Nicole and Arrabella for having us over to check out this special Golf and its suitably green shaded stablemate. If you fancy owning one, take a read of our Heritage Mk1 Golf buyers guide. Completely coincidently, it features a green Golf! Andy
2 years ago
2019 Heritage Highlights - Heritage Magazine - English
1 year ago at 11:50
[…] watercooled VWs, from catching up with Heritage supported racer Paul Foreman and his early Mk2 GTI, Steve Comley and the earliest Golf on the road and a pair of custom Jettas that couldn’t be much more different if they tried! Full stories […]
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