x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The Ladybird takes flight

This heavily modified Golf GTI often surprises the competition on Dubai's roads.

Ahmed Al Nagdi reckons he has spent Dh75,000 on modifications to his Volkswagen Golf GTI. He plans plenty of further revisions to his pride and joy.
Ahmed Al Nagdi reckons he has spent Dh75,000 on modifications to his Volkswagen Golf GTI. He plans plenty of further revisions to his pride and joy.

Ask Ahmed Al Nagdi his opinion of the 2009 Golf GTI and he'll be frank: "I like the front but the rear looks like a small Touareg. The GTI also looks good when it is wide: you lose that with the Mark VI". But then as owner of a modified Mark V Golf GTI he would be a little biased. The 32-year-old Egyptian senior sales engineer has spent Dh75,000 so far on his prized VW. "I bought the Golf as brand new", he says, having kept an eye on the model and its development for more than two years. "Then in mid-2007, I made the down payment and had to wait four to five months to get the car from Germany." He deliberately chose the lower-spec model because he wanted to put his own touches on the car.

"It was a 197hp, turbocharged 2.0L four cylinder engine. Right now, the horsepower is 271hp", thanks to a new Weber air intake, new downpipe and having the car flashed [electronically set-up] for Revo Stage 2 - to maximise the car's performance with the add-ons it has." But the engine wasn't the first area to see modification. "I upgraded the 17-inch rims to OZ 19-inch Ultraleggera rims. They are lightweight and, when you are pushing the car hard into the corners, they are the best."

He also replaced the original springs to make the GTI lower and give it racing poise. "The third thing was the strut bar [to avoid body roll]", he continues, "so now I can go around corners at 150kph. I've got the best handling I want." With the suspension giving the GTI great road-holding, al Nagdi started on the interior, having the Recaro seats reupholstered with stylish two tone leather. "I think it is much more sporty. I then started with the JVC sound system. I have two 12-inch Earthquake subwoofers. I'm not keeping the volume too loud, just enough to enjoy it." His four-year-old daughter, Bery, also enjoys it: "The first thing she did before she was talking was telling me to turn on the music in the car."

She has also watched the developments her father has made over the past year. "When you're into car modifications, you stand and see what you have to do", al Nagdi smiles, "and she joined me and I told her 'we are going to do this and that'. She might not understand what I'm talking about, but she likes the red colour." In fact, the improved exterior, which includes HID headlight clusters, rear LED lights and a black bonnet has earned the GTI the nickname "Ladybird".

It has also proven to be a headache with local law enforcement: "I face a lot of problems with the police. Normally they stop me because my car is two colours. I have approval from the RTA but they want to make sure otherwise they fine you." This seems to be an issue that affects all modified cars in the region because the registration criteria are so restrictive, and not just in terms of the paintwork. "Imagine if I had to renew my car [registration without RTA approval for the two colours]," al Nagdi complains, "I would have to remove all the stuff [I've changed], return it back to stock, get the car registered and then reinstall my parts again. It's too strict."

While he recognises that certain modifications might need adjustment to keep them legal, he says the police should be more communicative about what can and can't be done. Instead, they simply pull him over and ticket him. "I'm feeling that someone is trying to stop you from being a creative person, to stop you from growing," says al Nagdi. There are still a few more modifications to make: "I need to upgrade the turbo, get a Quaife LSD [limited slip differential], install the intercooler and to chip it for the fourth stage. It will go to 450hp."

And there's another project on the horizon. "Just last week, I bought an old BMW E30 convertible which I'll keep as a project car for two or three years. Nobody will imagine how fast this car will be," he says. But even now the "Ladybird" surprises many people in short distance competition where the "whiiish" of the turbo often turns heads as it pulls away into the distance. "You are testing the pickup of the car so the power is limited. I'm not speeding more than 120kph," al Nagdi says. "You feel proud. When you beat the other driver and he's asking to see what is under your hood."

Al Nagdi was also proud to exhibit the car at the 2008 Barbican Turbo modified car show in Abu Dhabi, but not proud enough to let others drive it: "Many people ask if they can test drive my car, but I say 'Sorry, your car is like your wife!'" To keep up with his modifications, the "Ladybird" needs a lot of investment, which is why al Nagdi is looking for a sponsor. "To maintain the car I will need him, and his reward is advertising his name. But I don't have the relations to get it done."

Al Nagdi's GTI is more than just a financial investment: for a start it's not an it but a she, and he believes she has a personality which he doesn't see himself ever being able to part with. "I talk to my car sometimes, especially if I'm racing somebody else: 'You can do it, you can do it!,'" he smiles. "And you feel the car is responding to you. It's a philosophy. It's just a conversation between you and your car." motoring@thenational.ae