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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.

 

 

Donegal Diary – Thursday

Donegal Diary – Thursday

Every person who’s life revolves heavily around a hobby generally has a key date in mind when planning their year. No matter the interest, we all have that single point in time where we know exactly where exactly we wish to be, and I’m no different. For myself, and countless motorsport or simply car enthusiasts, the third weekend in June is special. For me, it’s pretty much my summer holiday, a chance to unwind and enjoy one of the nicest corners of our Island while taking in some stunning action. It can only be Donegal Weekend!!

This year, for the first time in a long time, I have made the trip North on the Thursday. As this remains the countries only 3-day rally, action kicks off on Friday afternoon, yet the necessary side events begin from early in the week. While the crews have done their recce at this stage, today was mainly the formality of getting cars through scrutiny and parked up ahead of a long weekend of challenging stages. Safety items checked and documents cleared, the crews must now sit anxiously waiting for the mornings alarm.

The way that Letterkenny welcomes the rally is like a breath of fresh air, with hundreds of people out watching tech inspections and countless adverts for ‘Rally Weekend’ social activities. Its an attitude like that which keeps people coming back year on year, and over 50,000 people are expected to visit over the weekend.

In terms of the runners and riders, last years winner Manus Kelly leads the pack away in his Subaru Impreza WRC. An oft dwindling sight of late, Donegal and its allure have attracted a plethora of WRC machinery back out, including similar Subaru’s of Gary Jennings & PJ McDermott, while the Ford corner is stacked with Donagh Kelly in the Focus and crowd-favorite Declan Boyle in the Fiesta.

Donegal has the name of the Modified grand Prix, and the line up of top class modified machinery is clear to see, with a venerable who’s who of star drivers. The same can also be said for the R5 category, with all the regular championship protagonists in attendance, ready to go to war over 20 tricky tests.

Donegal is a temptress that attracts some special entries, and I for one cannot wait to hear John Coyne getting to grips with the Tuthill’s built Porsche 911 RGT car down some twisting country lanes.

The action kicks off tomorrow with 3 stages repeated twice west of Letterkenny. The weather today has been showery, but having driven the stages the surfaces seem incredibly prepared and in great shape. Stay tuned all weekend for more updates and pictures. Cian.

What the Faak is Wörthersee?

What the Faak is Wörthersee?

 

Right about now, a small quiet village in Austria is playing host to the VW Group’s single most important event where it aims to connect with its petrol headed roots and launch the latest breed of performance fare. All week, talk of the UP GTi, a Hybrid Golf GTi and all manner of other new models have been spoken about, but their launch is not at Geneva or the regular show halls, but a pilgrimage site for the VAG faithful. To try and explain the event, and perhaps entice you into making the trip next year, I’ve looked back 2 years to when I landed myself into 3 weeks of Europe’s maddest modified car festival.

 

Once you have to explain it, or even rationalize it, you’re onto a loser straight away. If you’re not into the scene, chances are you’ve probably never even heard of it. Worthersee is an enigma of an event. To VW guys it’s up there as their Mecca, the ultimate dream show to attend someday, and they spend countless hours online soaking in every last bit of coverage. To an outsider though, it’s pure madness. But that’s what makes it soo damn appealing. For such a well-known event, a lot of mystery still revolves around this most unique of gatherings. As part of my college degree, the option was available to spend a year abroad. Little did my parents know the true reason I jumped at 10 months in a very sleepy corner of Southern Austria.

The Worthersee, which lends its name to the festival, is a stunning alpine lake, roughly an hour from the Italian Border, surrounded by the foothills of the Southern Austrian Alps. The city of Klagenfurt lies at one end, and 10 mins driving later you have Velden at the other. The term picture postcard comes to mind a lot in this part of the world. Tourists flock for countless outdoor activities, and the clear calm waters are enjoyed year round. But then, for three weeks in April and May, the quiet serenity is utterly shattered, and all hell breaks loose. Living less than 10 mins from the lake, I was ideally right at the centre of what must surely be one of the world’s craziest car events.

The very first thing to note is there is actually no physical event called Worthersee. ‘Wait what?’ you ask! In the late 1980’s, as the popularity of the Golf GTi was at fever pitch, a group of owners left Germany looking for adventure and a good weekend away. Reifnitz, located along the Southern shore of the Worthersee, became the go to spot for a few days away, and word soon spread about the antics that went on. Year on year, as car modification grew, the connection between the area and the custom VW scene went hand in hand. GTi Treffen was born out of these early pioneers. Centered in the town of Reifnitz, a tiny spot home to no more than a few hundred people yet boasting a stone statue of a MK2 Golf, the GTI Treffen (essentially German for GTI Meet) has grown now to a 4 day long celebration of all things VW.

This is, to many, the ‘official’ Worthersee. Backed by local government, ferry’s and busses are on the go all day getting people in and out. Crammed among the small streets, the big VW-Group brands all have official stands, akin to full size dealerships advertising their latest creations. It not until you look back that you cop that it was all proper performance vehicles that were on display, and there were no cloth-seated, TDi A4’s on the Audi stand, but rather the full range of RS machinery.

It has also become common for the various companies to unleash their own modified creations at Worthersee. Audi brought a Twin-Electric Turbo’d TT, Skoda an R5 Fabia estate and VW had both the Golf Clubsport Concept, and the Golf R Wagon. The VW stand itself is truly massive, with regular shows, dancing, official Volkswagen Bratwurst and forever pumping out their GTI theme song. It exists, but god it’s awful.

The GTI Treffen is designed as an attraction. As you stand on the deck of the Seat party boat, drinking vodka from a Skoda cup, you’re treated to a bird’s eye view of Sebastian Ogier doing a few rings in the Polo WRC, and he’d give King of The Cone a fair run!! Trade stands are everywhere selling everything from vinyl sticker’s right through to 400HP engine packages, yet it feels stale. Vehicular access is expensive, so the few cars driving around get rather tiresome after a while, although then again you’re never far from the next mind blowing build rolling past.

But hang on a second, what of the famous petrol station, the daylight burnouts and the millions of scene points. Well, let’s take a step back. While GTI Treffen is a large event, it is merely the end of one of the maddest months I’ve ever experienced. Three weeks before the Treffen, Vor Dem See kicks off. Many would assume that this is an organized thing, but genuinely it isn’t. This is the true side of what people would know as ‘Worthersee’. Velden is where everything starts. A very affluent lakeside village, this spot is the getaway retreat for countless wealthy continental tourists. Boats line the water front, and swanky restaurants and boutique’s rule the high-street. But up at the top of the hill overlooking the town lies Mischkulnig, a very non-descript Eni petrol station. It’s just like any other petrol station I suppose. The fuel, in typical Austrian standard, is similarly priced to Ireland. The day I first made the trip to Mischkulnig was a cold wet Tuesday in April. The forecourt was full of everyday vehicles and all seemed normal.

Then it begins to attack your senses. The concrete area next to the petrol station is home to 15 or twenty highly modified cars. Each bares a German plate, and each almost more stunning then the rest. This is 2pm in the day, yet not unlike what we’d know of Irish stations at night, the owners stood about talking about their cars while sheltering under the canopy. A constant stream of more modified cars roll past, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

What brings these people here is the allure and cult like following this event has gained. Groups generally travel in groups, convoys of 5 or 6 cars making the journey together. My plate spotting instinct sets in. The Germans are out in force early on, as naturally are the Austrians. I spot nearly every EU plate over the next few weeks, I only found one Irish plated Jetta, as well as cars from further afield. But they all come simply to hang out and enjoy the cars. Guys from Amsterdam drove in a static MK1 Golf for 8 hours, washed the car, sat on deckchairs on the side of a road for a few hours and headed home. It’s all bonkers. Over the next few days, Mischkulnig gets busier. The wash bays are working round the clock, and the spaces next to the shop soon spill into the car park across the road.

But this isn’t just a case of park up and sit back on your phone having a nose at who’s checking out your car. People set themselves up on the banks along the road to take in all the cars coming and going. Queues back up for a few hundred meters as everyone wants to bounce off their limiter in front of the crowd. The braver fall for the chant of ‘Gumi, Gumi, Gumi’ and leave black rubber lines on the road. Oh and the beer is flowing!! Public drinking is legal, beer is cheap and everyone’s having a good time. By the end of week 1, the weather had picked up, and soo too had the crowds. Velden main street was a constant bottleneck, yet nearly every car in the traffic looked deserving of a prime spot had they been at a show like Dubshed or Players.

Now starting to get my head around what was going on all around, I got more adventurous. The sole reason that the name Worthersee is soo apt is that the whole are comes alive. Any large public space is liable to become an impromptu car show at a moment’s notice. Overlooking the whole lake is the Pyramidenkogel. A pretty tall radio transmitter, it’s known for its views, and the chance to travel down its 100m height on Europe’s largest slide. It’s a cool place, but even here the car parks are swamped with modified VW’s and plenty more. The road up the mountain is littered with lay-by’s, yet every one of them seem peppered with small groups of cars, their owners planted firmly in a deckchair enjoying the stream of cars blasting up the Pass.

Reifnitz lies below the mountain, and although preparations are underway for the upcoming GTI Treffen, every inch of footpath is covered in expensive, polished metal. Rotiform are holding a social gathering of a few cars running their wheels, while others scurry to similar events held by Vossen and others. Among these gatherings are properly big names in the tuning world, all enjoying their holiday in Austria among fellow petrol heads. Towards the end of the second week, the amount of British cars becomes noticeable. The Players crew are in town, while Brian Henderson is floating about in his bagged R8. Cars you know only through your phone screen are suddenly right in front of you, and you constantly have to stop and think before your head fry’s with the sensory overload.

The openness of the event, both in its loose nature and ability to hang out with car people is something I’ve never experienced before. There is very little parking up and just walking away from cars here. Owners really enjoys chatting about their creations, little tricks they’ve used or even just chatting about the adventures of getting here, or for a few lads from Belfast the adventure was in getting home!!

While I was able to take in soo much of the event through public transport and plenty of walking, there were obviously parts I’d not see. Secretive late night locations are the stuff of legend in any car scene, and Worthersee is no different. There are certain remote spots where burnt rubber has to be shoveled off the road each day, and it’s not uncommon for the walls of some underpasses to be black from exhaust flames. It’s all part of the underground appeal of this side of the event.

Certain cars will always attract a crowd, eager to take it all in. Nothing, and I mean nothing, drew more people in than the Donkey Tech MK2 Golf. To the casual observer, here was a very clean looking white 1980’s VW. It came complete with steel wheels, had a nice sedate brown tweed interior and even boasted knitted covers on the rear speakers. The only noticeable visual clue was a large, neon green sticker of a donkey on the side. Oh and it was pushing nearly 850BHP to the four wheels. Ya get the attraction I suppose. This was the epitome of sleeper, yet every time I was in its presence you would have to battle the masses to take a look. Everyone knew the DonkeyTech crew were coming though, as anything less than 4 of their cars banging anti-lag in traffic was highly uncommon. But that’s the beauty of Worthersee, that form and function exist soo happily side by side.

But there was one last spot worth getting to. While Mischkulnig and Velden are the marquee locations, out at Faak-am-See is the core of the madness. It’s probably known better as its alter-ego, TurboKurve. A small family-run entertainment venue not unlike Funtasia or Trabolgan, the site is your standard holiday park. During the high season, tourist flock, but during Worthersee, the huge car park is pushed to its max. Cars are parked for miles either side along the road, while during its height the traffic is backed up for 5KM!! This is a special place. A large sweep in the road is black with people, 5 or 6 deep in places. That car park I mentioned, well it just happens to hold 800 cars, and it’s full. Limiters are banging everywhere, tyre smoke fills your nostrils, everyone’s drinking, the sun is shining and it feels like heaven. The fact this is all happening on a public road in the middle of the day makes no difference in the slightest. The police look on, but are there to facilitate rather than disrupt the goings on.

So that’s just a glimpse of my Worthersee experience. Nothing has ever come near touching that madness, as  there are just very few places in the world that would take the swarm of 3/4000 modified cars over a few weeks, and make them feel welcome. This isn’t an organized show, more so a chance for car guys to go and chill together. If you don’t get it, its perfectly understandable, but Worthersee is something much bigger than anything we may ever see on our isles, so should be a bucket list item to go and experience at some point. Anyone looking to go, google the date of the GTi Treffen, and work back 2 weeks!!

Obviously, the dream is to drive over. It will take you minimum 2.5 days each way, and be aware that you must purchase a valid toll tag to drive on Austrian roads. Also note the police can be strict on certain vehicle modifications. To fly, Vienna is a direct hop from Dublin and is a 2 odd hour drive, whereas a much better option is to connecting flights to Ljubljana. About an hour’s drive across an Alpine pass is a great way to start any trip. Don’t want to drive, then public transport will get you round the spots, with regular trains and buses running. Prices are similar to Ireland, although Beer is about 80c a can in the shops so can’t go wrong!!