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Northbound and Down

Northbound and Down

There’s a certain misery to standing out in the rain, a sense of self-derision that makes you question every single decision that led to that very point. You consider your sanity, or the lack thereof, you contemplate the effect on body and equipment and weigh up the multiple alternatives and value the opportunity cost. As the deluge continues to seep into every inch of the not-so-waterproof gear that you’ve packed, things turn into a battle of attrition. But it’s the battle through the bad times, that makes the good times much more enjoyable, and all things being equal, a weekend away in Northern Ireland chasing cars is no bad way to pass a few days.

I enjoy almost every sphere of the automotive world, as you may well have sussed reading this site, but it’s incredible the amount of people I encounter that go about their business totally oblivious to events and styles happening close by. Two events happened in Northern Ireland that I took in over the weekend. Both were sizeable in their attendances and their importance within their respective areas. Based less than 35 minutes apart though, it would be fair to say that the vast majority of the rally set had never heard of Dubshed, nor the stance set of the UAC Easter Stages. To me though, it had all the makings of a perfect weekend, taking in three full days of action.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Rallying in Ireland has come through one of its hardest winters, and is in the midst of what may be a crucial season for the future of the sport. The Irish Tarmac Championship, still without a title sponsor, was dealt a number of blows in the off-season. While the cancellation of Galway prompted much debate, the choice to not-run the Circuit Of Ireland was almost swept under the rug. The debate on ‘The Circuit’ could run for days, but now is not the time nor place to get into that rant, but an event was needed badly to fill the breach. Up stepped the UAC and the Easter Stages, Round 2 of the 2018 ITRC.

Based out of Ballyclare, the event attracted the usual cohort of championship contenders, with Josh & Sam Moffett, Robert Barrable, Desi Henry, Johnny Greer, Daniel Cronin and Eugene Donnelly all behind the wheel of R5 machinery, yet was bolstered by local entries like the Subaru WRC’s of Stuart Biggerstaff & Derek McGarrity as well as the always very rapid Skoda Fabia R5 of Marty McCormack.

For such an event though, many would have been mistaken for not even knowing that the rally was taking place at all. Very little was known about the event right up to the time that cars landed into scrutiny on Thursday, something I found by chance. The detail would be got from the rally programme, but even that was available to purchase in barely 10 locations close to the stages. For an event based in Ballyclare, the large petrol forecourt on the edge of town had no idea the event was on, never mid have rally material, and on Saturday, a whole crew I met in a Tire shop in Ballymena had no idea that a rally stage passed within 7 minutes of their door. As for the entry, while the top 15 seemed stacked with big entries, it was obvious that having a round of the Irish Tarmac Championship and the National championship share a single weekend (The Circuit of Kerry ran on Sunday in Tralee) had a big knock on mid-field entries. The Junior section of the ITRC attracted only 2 entries!

Come Friday afternoon though, all thoughts of negativity was to be forgotten, and the joy of watching rally cars was to be the plan. I had made a point of driving the Friday stages to scout the best spots, and an uphill hairpin into a flowing section seemed ideal. Set into the sat-nav, I arrived in plenty of time. Plenty of other spectators had the same idea and were already in place. Positions were taken on the ditches, in preparation of the 1st car. It never made it to us. With 45 minutes notice, word reached that the stage had been shortened. It arrived not as a clear message, but as a whisper of ‘I’ve heard….’. It took 10 mins to get clarity. Alas, a rush on to simply get some location on stage, the rain began to fall as finally Stage 1 got set to start.

Friday was, in all sense of the word, a wash out. When I say it rained, it properly poured for hours on end. Perched at a fast left, it was amazing to watch the various four and two wheel cars struggle in different was in the deluge. The R5’s remained planted, as if the rain was non-existent, while the Escorts encountered some very hairy broadside moments. It was no surprise that as the day went on, social media was littered with rally cars dotted around the scenery. Amongst the downpour though, the trusty Impreza WRC came into its own and led. I wasn’t there to see it, as camera gear took such a beating in the rain it was decided to retire to drier surroundings, and a certain car had made it as far as Lisburn.

I’ve talked about Dubshed before, and how large an event it is in the Irish show car scene, but also marveled at the vastness of the spectacle. To see the Eikon center devoid of all bar six or seven cars on the Friday evening before the show was a rare sight. The rest of my travelling party had arrived for the weekend, with Ronan, owner of the previously featured Akai Golf, marking the long-haul debut of his newly built MK2 Golf Fire & Ice. We will have a feature, in time, but it has a date with PVW first! The plan was to drop the car off and expose some more people to the wonder and joy (!) of a day’s rallying, but soaked through the mood was just not there.

While Friday was a misery, Saturday started with a bright sky and sunshine……then my car had a puncture in the car park, and then one of the cameras started acting up from Fridays rain soakage and to round it off I fell knee deep into a bog hole. As starts go, this didn’t feel like my day, but that’s the beauty of rallying. While falling around in the mud, I spotted an ideal shooting location at a square left hander, and with a bit of heat from the car vents, the camera came back to life. As the first batch of cars passed, it was obvious that McGarritys Impreza was missing. The overnight leader saw his rally end with an issue preventing the Subaru from leaving Parc Ferme. Not only was it a joy to get such a prime spot, it also allowed a view back the road before the junction, and what a treat lay up there.

In this world of health and safety, every effort is being made to keep things becoming safer and more controlled. Rallying is the same, with shorter stages and numerous chicanes employed to reduce the chances of anything spectacular happening. As such, the prospect of finding a flat out 6th-gear jump is incredibly rare, never mind one that has plenty of prime viewing in safe locations. While some took it easy over the flying crest, it’s pretty clear that others had cleared with air-traffic-control before taking off. Rally cars in mid-air is always the money shot when you can get it!

Come the end of the two days, it was the Moffet brothers who would lead the way, yet again pushing each other to the very last. While there were 9.3 seconds between the brothers after two days in West Cork, there was a mere 4.6 seconds between then in Ulster. For the second event in a row, Josh took the bragging rights, and won the event as well in the process. Marty McCormack put up a strong battle, but finished 16 seconds back in third, while Robert Barrable and Daniel Cronin scored strong hauls of ITRC points. In the modified race, it was a two horse battle that saw Kevin Eves in the Corolla take the spoils by beating the flying MK1 Escort of Philip White.

Rallying done for the weekend, it was time to engage the VW and stance of my brain for the rest of the visit up North. Any mention of Mk1 or Mk2 had to be taken as now meaning a Golf rather than a Ford Escort, much to the amusement of those probably not accustomed to there being interpretations of their car jargon. What was obvious to see all weekend though was the sense of community and camaraderie that I never knew existed amongst the VW community. Groups that had travelled from all over the country were all there to have a good time and simply enjoy cars. Over a few refreshments, a local Weatherspoon’s must have been delighted with the sight of over 40 people opening a circle in the midst of their pup talking about build, showing pictures of engine bays and making plans for shows and the next vehicular purchase. I nearly bought a MK3, a Golf or an Escort I’m not sure, after a few beers, as seemed the mood of the night, the temptations to make silly car buys forgotten amongst the wonder of finding out there is an app that gets drinks delivered to your table!

Dubshed is quite an assault on the senses, with show car after show car stretching as far as the eye could see. My first visit seemed spectacular as the sheer variety and creativity on show. The second year came with more of an appreciation of the vehicles on display, but having watched a buddy spend a year building a car for this year, I spent the whole show looking at details, build styles and the execution as a results of countless hours of dedication.

While the show had stirred the waters over the past few years by allowing non-German metal to enter its hallowed walls, the invasion, save for a few exceptions, seemed pretty non-descript compared to previous years. The redesign of the show space, and the differing uses of indoor space, made it feel like a large trade show at times, but the car quality remained the same. My eyes, now trained to spot things I may never have paid heed to before, wandered often past the modern bags-and-wheels efforts towards the more hands-on old-school builds. A MK1 on carbs or an R32 swapped MK2 got more attention than some Audi or modern VW offerings.

Some cars really caught my eye this year, from the madly wild Sirocco, finished in Baby Blue with a massive GT style wing bolted to the rear, through to the much more sedate. If I was to pick a favorite car at any show, admitting to it being a mid-90’s Diesel VW Vento would be a hard argument, but the quality of this car just sucked me in time and time again every time I passed. So simple on the surface, the exterior very mildly altered from how VW intended, the addition of a Leather interior was sweet but the engine bay blew me away. The nod to old school tuning was there with the Austin green engine paint used, and as a car geek I absolutely adored it.

My coverage of Dubshed should not be taken as being anywhere near as thorough as others, but that is because it has transcended now from a Car event to a social event. It’s a chance to meet people, talk shite about silly low cars, have a rock shandy and just enjoy yourself. I probably should have taken more photo’s, as there was some cool stuff there, but why not just take a look for yourself next year. You won’t be disappointed I guarantee.

A New District On The Map

A New District On The Map

The modified car show scene is something that has an interesting life cycle here in Ireland. We lack the marquee, established dates in the calendar that you might see elsewhere in the world, but we have a history of putting on all shape and size of show. In the height of the 90’s era Max Power modding phase, places like Green Glens, Punchestown and City West hold fond memories of large scale modding extravaganza’s. As that phase passed, the mantle of hosting large scale displays of modified metal fell to a somewhat side show existence alongside drifting events in Mondello, but there was an appetite there for more.

The core of the resurgence of the modified car show scene, and I purposely choose not to class it as the stance scene as I’ll explain in a while, has been in Belfast. Strongly influenced by the always strong UK scene, we’ve seen shows like Titanic Dubs, Castlewellan and the ever growing Dubshed really emerge and flourish into true staples of the show landscapes, and this has filtered down into other successful shows like VAGE, Limerick and countless others. But the question on everyone’s mind this weekend, was how would another heavyweight contender coming into the fold go down. This is Districts!!

Now, jump back a step. Every show I mentioned in the previous paragraph have a defining thread, and that is that their core revolves around the VW modding scene. Mention any of their names, and for those that know, the immediate reaction is all air suspension, expensive wheels and un-driveability. It’s perhaps a VAG thing, but shows celebrating this particular style have had a following for the past 50 years. Some have held the exclusivity factor as a defining feature, but Dubshed 2016 was a seminal moment that caused a shift so large that it’s still felt today. Doors were thrown open, alien concepts were thrust upon the traditional VW guys, big turbo’s met big stance and for people like myself with a passion for anything cool and automotive, it was savage!!

The people behind the smash and grab effort were ILOVEBASS, a Northern Irish website which has become a massive champion of the modified scene both at home and abroad. On the back of their ever growing presence at Dubshed and the popularity of their online content, time had come for the crew to step forward and throw their own bash.

Now, most of us have had the misfortune of spending ungodly hours trekking around B&Q of a Saturday afternoon helplessly lost in the pursuit of an elusive part needed to sort yet another DIY job, yet have you ever stopped and looked at the big picture. Has your head drifted to the dream of clearing all the apron clad staff and metal shelving and starting with a blank canvas?? Well, when the plug was pulled on one of Belfast’s largest B&Q’s, that idle dream became a reality and South 13 came into existence, as an open space for all manner of events and cultural initiatives.

What you definitely can’t see when  shopping is the vastness of the space available, but walking through the distinctive retail entrance was like entering an aircraft hanger. Even with a few hundred cars inside, trade stands, stages, facilities and displays if still felt vast. As a clean slate, it was a fantastic venue with fantastic access for us making the trip up, and based in an area where even more hours can be passed ogling over local forecourts while waiting for the show to open.

In terms of content, the shift seen through Dubshed continues here, with an obvious emphasis place on diversity. The Districts name denotes the differing area’s under which vehicles could enter, with sections like Japanese, Race Car, Exotic, Off Road and Motorbikes joining the obvious VAG content.

 

While in it’s infancy, it was entirely natural that many of the cars on display may appear familiar to regular show goers, but this makes it easier to notice subtle changes made over the past few months. In the case of this particular Porsche 944, among my favourite cars at Dubshed 2017, its utter perfection remained unchanged.

As a motorsport fan, the chance to get up close with Norlin Racing and its brace of BTCC Chevy’s was rather special. I follow the championship as much as possible on ITV4, but its only when you can see and feel various components that you truly understand how special these machines are. In board suspension front and back was passed off as being completely normal. Because Racecar I suppose!!

The off road area had it’s own corral out the back in the former loading bays, and while there were all manner of go-anywhere vehicles on display, two completely different vehicles caught my eye. Firstly, it may be physically impossible to ignore a Land Rover Defender caked in an impressive layer of mud, especially when it was got a massive suspension lift complete with huge tyres and is then parked at an obscene angle highlighting its imposing stature. Genuinely, there was a Hummer H2 nearby, and it looked like a Nissan Micra in the company of the Defender. Then though, hidden in a corner was something only freaks like me would appreciate. Yes, an absolutely immaculate Bedford Rascal. I liked it a lot!!

Elsewhere, although the Exotic section of the show was fairly spartan, its a rare treat to see a modified Aston Martin of any manner, and a plethora of tasty Porsche 911’s dotted around the venue really made for an interesting addition. Then though, and I honestly missed it at first, its quite an oddity to find a completely slammed Jaguar XKR.

A popular side of the stance scene that has really become more noticeable of late has been the subtle modification of executive cars. Here, a number of examples really highlighted for me just how impressive a wheel and suspension swap can be in changing the look of a car and make it rather epic. The BMW 7 Series of the 1990’s just screams cool, and sitting on a later set of OEM wheels and air ride suspension, this was undoubtedly my favourite car of the show. Just like the E34 5 Series we featured recently, its becoming noticeable to me now just how right the BMW design department were doing things at the time. Elsewhere, a Merc E-Class was eye catching, but for old school appeal its hard to walk past a decked Jaguar Mark II.

With the openness of admission policy, everywhere you turn it was easy to find something eye catching. If you like your JDM stuff, well there’s a smattering of Toyota Supra’s and a supercharged EP Civic, there’s enough stance to keep VAG boys happy, even if they are in search of brand new Golf R’s or classic Polo’s and Jetta’s, and even the classic car brigade are catered for with some pristine OEM Ford Escorts and BMW’s.

If you want to make a visual impact, turn up somewhere in an EM1 Civic covered in an incredible Ninja Warrier wrap from Blackwater Graphics, a set of So-Cal curb crawlers, a katana sword gear shifter, 4 (!!) bucket seats and air suspension. Job done right there!!

While it was an onslaught of road hugging cars, the bike section of the show was equally impressive. A string of unique cafe-racers and all kinds littered the show floor, but a twin headlight Honda VFR in a period race livery will always draw me in. But, for pure showstopper effect, it may be impossible to resist the urge to spend ungodly amounts of time staring at a Ducati Panigale. I deride those who own vehicles and refuse to ever use them as intended, but I would happily have one of these Italian beuties on a stand in my living room, such is its beauty.

And then, there was the MK2. To see an Escort in such surroundings was unexpected, and it caught me off guard to be honest. Unassuming, it appeared at first to be a typically rally inspired Ford complete with Gravel Arches, cage, bucket seats and the like. Its something Id seen countless times, but a few steps around the front had me looking for a scoop to pick my jaw off the floor. Where most would place a trusty Pinto or Zetec lump, the engine bay here was home to a stunningly impressive Nissan SR20 install, complete with a huge Garrett turbo. Later investigation would put power at over 400BHP at a conservative 1.3 Bar of Boost. Holy God indeed!!

All in all, Districts is a show in its infancy, and its definitely felt like that. Most of the cars on display would be familiar to regular show goers and the venue looked spartan in places, but as a first attempt it was mighty fine. Things like this need time and space to grow, and the latter is definitely no issue here. The idea of opening the doors to all manner of vehicles, under the proviso that it’s cool or interesting, helps to break down stuffy, old-fashioned barriers that govern other shows and perhaps turn people away. ILOVEBASS preach awesomeness in all things automotive, and I for one reckon they’re on the verge of something big.

 

 

The Future is LOW: Dubshed

The Future is LOW: Dubshed

The world is chock full right now of topics that simply can’t be touched. Fear reigns, as people know now that the slightest ill-judged opinion or Freudian slip can cause an internet frenzy and runs into the possibility of igniting a comments war. The majority of the car world gets along peacefully, arm in arm merrily discussing our general love of cars and speed in a way the UN and NATO could only imagine Kim Jung, Vladimir or Donald doing. We, as car people, tend to recognise different styles, respect those involved and generally try and attempt to understand the appeal. But then, lurking in the shadows, lies our very own bone of contention, the VAG scene!!

To anyone looking in with preconceived notions, the following may just appear as a celebration of all things Diesel, silly wheels, un-driveability and showing off, but to dismiss Dubshed as merely a large collection of said features  means you are seriously missing out on one of the largest celebrations of Modified Cars on this Island. Borne from the GTINI, Dubshed has grown year on year at a rate surely not to be expected, as the shows original location in the Kings Hall was soon outgrown. Things were about to get bigger and better, and a space suitable for one of Irelands most divisive car shows was found hiding on the outskirts of Lisburn.

To have a cool location must surely rank alongside facilities and space when organisers begin planning their next big event, but the Eikon Centre and Dubshed seems a dream combination. A cutting edge brand new exhibition hall, coupled with countless acres of free space, has helped the show to breathe. Long gone are the cramped environs of the Kings Hall, now replaced with sprawling lines of cars, marquees, outside attractions and whatever else you could imagine at a car show. That the site itself is the former home to the Maze Prison gives an historic appreciation of the area, but like the shining new Eikon hall, Dubshed is a show that looks to a new future, unshaped by history and tradition.

Moving to a new location in 2016 meant the obvious necessity of finding enough decent cars to fill the space, but this also gave rise to one of the most talked about moves in the VAG show scene for quite some time. Opening a hall specifically for non-German vehicles was a very brave move, but one that paid off massively. Gaining countess plaudits for their bravery, the boat was pushed out further this year as the outsider invasion made it into the main hall. Against a sea of Deutschland’s finest, the I Love Bass area became home to among other things a VIP Aristo, track-spec Altezza, go anywhere Land Rovers, boxy Volvo’s and ‘The Infamous’, a nutty Rocket Bunny S12 Impreza WRX.

I cannot, for even a split second, attempt to lie about being a VAG guy. I appreciate the styling, I get the dedication to the build and I enjoy the out there nature, but it’s not an area I’ve been tempted into in an ownership sense. To me, I enjoy the whole thing for the attention to detail alone. On the surface, each Golf on BBS wheels may seem the same, but it’s taking a second or even third look that you notice the use of stupidly rare and expensive parts, ingenious solution’s and artistic flourishes that truly set one car apart from another. Talk to any owner and expect a story of true dedication and intensive thought that’s manifested itself in the vehicle in front of your eyes. Spending time looking for and noticing fine details is something I picked up a few years back in Worthersee, and while the sheer levels of automotive madness may not be seen here at home, the build quality is certainly right up there.

Naturally, for a VAG scene show, the proliferation of well-built Golf’s was to be expected, but to cast the majority off as useless tat would be well wide of the mark. Engine swaps of all manner of shapes and sizes gave away that fast driving is still very much a key box to tick with many builds, and added to that the availability of countless Air Suspension set-ups that provide the ultimate balance of decked show car and drive-able daily at the flick of a switch. Race seats and harnesses are plentiful, although many look too good to have seen much hard driving. Many purists now deride the influx of often brand new or late model builds as purely chequebook builds, but its images of lowered and stanced modern GTI’s and Golf R’s that will inspire the next generation when these cars become more affordable.

At the other end of the Golf spectrum, the MK1 is still the undisputed king which, even heading for 40 years in production, remains a base for all manner of modification and styling. Ronan’s MK1 has evolved massively over time, from a classic BBS wearer right through to its current Supercharged, race-car spec state complete with parts that would make any track driver go weak at the knees. It’s still a road car, but with it’s recently completed livery, an homage to the GTI Engineering car of the late 70’s, it certainly sticks out in traffic.

As I said earlier, engine swaps rule supreme right now, with countless generations of VW venerable VR6 finding its way under the bonnet of all manner of Golf models and others. Emerging in the early 90’s, the uniquely designed power plant still holds a cult following among VAG enthusiasts thanks to a stunning mix of power and refinement.

While the number of engine swaps runs high, the most popular modification among the show car corral continues to remain the Air Bagged Suspension. Delivering the perfect mix of both hard parking and driveability, bags have become a de-facto move for those not keen on going down the static route of lowering cars. Paddy McGrath and his epicly cool MK6 GTi has been built as a car to tick every box, be it show, track or day to day driving. The build thread is a definite read, as it’s a true sense of an enthusiast designing a car to their own needs and desire, irrespective of opinion or internet experts!!

Outside of the VW fare, other German brands certainly had their own strong showing. BMW Northern Ireland had a large number of Bavaria’s finest on display, but park a FINA liveried E30 M3 anywhere and it’s gonna draw in every bit of my attention. Still the most successful race car of all time, the E30 still has an incredible aura nearly 30 years after its release. Box arches, kidney grills, side exhausts and a big wing just add to the drool factor. This example, a clubman spec Rally car, is recently restored to original Prodrive spec.

Another E30 that truly caught my eye was this olive-green example, complete with winning combo of BBS and Air. Its seeing cars done in this way that reminds us all how well designed some cars are right out of the box, where only a bit of stance can turn it into a showstopper.

As another reminder of how subtly can win, many people would have this Porsche 944S as their car of the show. Once an overlooked shape that fell out of style very quickly, the boxy nature has aged fantastically, and when accompanied with plenty of motorsport touches such as race seats, a cage and staggered Speedline wheels, it screams one hell of a fun driver’s car.

As for team Ingolstadt, it was large Avant models that are really on trend right now among Audi modders, with countless large A4 and A6’s of S, R and RS variety on display. Yet again, I tend to be attracted to slightly older cars, so the blue early RS4 certainly caught my eye.

 

While looking around a hall full of cars can be enjoyable, it’s in talking and learning back stories that truly brings builds to life. While a turquoise blue VW Lupo will draw attention, learning that all the work, including the flawless paintwork, was the work of 16-year-old Adam Mannix was mind blowing. I’d have struggled to use a rattle can or mod my car with dodgy LED’s at that age, not build a Dubshed worthy show car. The future of the scene is certainly bright!!

The outdoor area was a more standard show & shine, with gates open to all comers. The nature of a rigorous judging standard to make it inside, it was only natural that the quality would extend to the day tripping masses.  VW’s smallest offering, the UP!, has followed the Lupo’s segment as a well built, small city car yet that’s not to say that people are going to use the shlam stick to make us realise how cool these wee cars can be.

Elsewhere, I fell head over heels in love with this tatty VW Derby. Available in the 80’s as a booted Polo, the Derby never really took off, making any sightings a rare sight. This particular one, looking decidedly downbeat with a patina showing years of surviving harsh Irish winters, exudes an aura of cool chic. I understand this car, and it’s a product almost unique in these parts to the VAG scene, where hardship and wear can appear epicly cool among a sea of polished metal.

Pushing the envelope in terms if downbeat cool is the William’s Brothers Beetle, although the envelope has been well and truly shoved off the desk with this one. Pulled out of a ditch, the iconic VW shape is nothing more than a bucket of rust and holes, but that is the great illusion here. Glance past the battered shell and you’ll notice the chrome plated Porsche engine hanging out the back, super rare Fuchs wheels, a hand-crafted interior and an all new chassis showing the huge standards of workmanship of the brothers.

Back outside, countless attractions catered for everyone, with Auto testing and a live Drag Strip drawing my attention. It’s not often we get to see drag racing that isn’t happening on the public road, so getting up close with properly built race cars was fascinating experience. Although the numbers were low, feeling a fully blown drag Beetle roar past at full tilt was an interesting experience.

What Dubshed, and GTINI who run the show, has done over the past two years is take the ideas of both VAG and modified shows, and blend them together into what is quickly establishing itself as the country’s best and largest shows. The idea to merge was sure to cause upset, but it’s paid off, and any naysayer need only see the crowds streaming through the gates all day to know that we now have a show on this island to rival any others around the world. Naturally, you’re always going to have a favourite, and my love affair with the MK3 golf shape had me drooling over this yellow beauty. Few things have a permanent spot in my calendar, but Dubshed certainly has won such a distinction.