22 November 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Polo 1981-1994: Billy Cordes’ 1989
CL hatchback

Polo and Volkswagen fan Billy Cordes tells the story of ‘Gertrude’, his 1989 Polo hatchback. With the help of his dad and many new parts and paint, he has rebuilt his 21 year-old Helios Blue Polo CL hatchback and restored it to something resembling its former ‘as new’ glory


We have always been a VW driving family. My dad has owned a few old Beetles in his driving career and rebuilt a written-off Wizard Beetle Roadster for my mum many years back. He now owns a rusty ’72 Bay Window camper that hasn’t moved for a while. My grandad has also had Beetles, as well as my uncle, but they now both drive mid-’90s Golfs. My love for the Polo started on a family holiday to Cornwall in 2003 where I saw a white Mk 2 hatchback sat near the beach with a surfboard on top. The car was quite ratty and that made it even cooler.

Little is known about Gertrude’s past but she is on a Nottinghamshire number plate (*TV suffix) and was first registered on 17 August 1989, thought to be in Mansfield. She was serviced in Surrey in 1990 and appeared to move to Buckinghamshire around 1992, the year I was born. Four years later in 1996, she turned up in East London. Nothing is known of her whereabouts until 2002 where documents show she was serviced in Surrey again, and then she was tinkered with in Canterbury, Kent in 2003.

Gertrude stayed in Canterbury until 2007, where my dad found her on an industrial site with a smashed window and in awful condition. Her last MoT was a disaster with three or four pages of failures! She reached our house in the same week she turned 18, and I got home after a weekend away with my mum and sister to find the rattiest Polo you could imagine parked out the back of our house! There were dents everywhere;, three black wheels, one silver; the front bumper was held on with cable ties; she had a smashed driver’s window; the list goes on. A more stuck-up teenager might have been less than impressed but I was over the moon with my perfect car.

The real restoration work began a year after she first arrived and lasted a gruelling 51 weeks taking us to a week before the 20th anniversary of her registration. My dad takes up the detailed story of her restoration.

‘The problem with a project that needs so much doing to it is “where do I start”. I had spent the last year of our ownership regularly trawling the internet and buying up any spares that became available for an ‘89 Polo. Given that I wanted my son to have a safe, reliable car I figured that with enough new parts he could also (almost) get the new car ride. His birthday and Christmas passed with him receiving gifts of things for the car that meant nothing to him. Eventually, with copious lists drawn up, we were ready to start.

‘I figured it would be sensible to start with the MOT failure sheets. These were worked through ensuring all failure items were rectified before stripping anything down. This way reassembly should be easier knowing it worked before it was removed. I left the “corrosion in offside inner sill” until last as this was by far the biggest job. In the end I stripped out the rear axle assembly and petrol tank just to give me safe access to the rust. While stripping out the tank and filler neck I discovered that the inner rear arch around the filler neck wasn’t closed off with a panel (a good idea though!) but was completely caked in years of road debris and mud. Over half a stone of mud was hacked away from this area before I could access the breather pipes and get the tank out.

‘I was then able to cut out the rot and fabricate and weld in the repair panels I had made from cardboard templates. While removing parts of the inner sill I came across an unopened packet of 20 cigarettes and three pieces of coal! I still haven’t figured that one out! With January just around the corner, I cleaned up the under panels before giving all new metal a liberal coating of red oxide primer, stone guard and brushed on two pack black paint. The rear beam and back plates were treated to the same primer and top coat before being reassembled with new wheel cylinders, bearings, shoes and drums, new rear springs and shocks and a new set of copper brake pipes I’d made up myself. At last I could get the car
back on the ground to reposition it for work on the front.

‘Once work had started on the front things moved quite quickly. Off with wings (very dented), the bonnet (scarred but salvageable), out with the engine and gearbox, and off with the struts and roll bar. This enabled me to clean up the engine bay, replace the rest of the brake pipes, sort out the steering rack gaiters and repair some ragged edges on the front valance. The engine was stripped down and rebuilt with new bearings, shells and rings. A new water
pump (which later drove me nuts due to a crappy casting that was never going to sit flat on the block) hoses and anything I could buy was included in the rebuild. The whole lot was scrubbed clean and given a coat of black to match the other components.

‘With the engine done it was a case of rebuilding the struts and suspension with all new bearings, bushes, springs, shocks, disks, hoses and pads. The new front shocks were the cause of a major headache for me. I just couldn’t compress the new springs enough to bolt up the top retainer. After much head scratching it transpired that my “bargain eBay purchase” was for a pair of 30mm lowered shocks and were never ever going to fit this setup. The lesson
there is always keep the old ones for comparison – it could have saved me no end of time.

‘With the car sitting on all four wheels for the first time in months it was time to refit the engine and gearbox. I’ve done many of these on projects over the years and have always relied on a gantry and hoist but I’m getting older and bigger and I’m doing this for my son for goodness sake and not to impress my young boy racer mates of the ‘80s and ‘90s so, I bought myself an engine crane. What a treat. Engine reinstalled in no time with no heart in mouth moments or damage to the surrounding area!

‘New hoses and radiator were fitted and the engine fired up in time-honoured first turn of the key (I had spun it over with the plugs out to get the oil flowing and draw the petrol through from the tank). That’s when I discovered the water leak from the pump body – mortified! Of all the jobs I could have done with the engine in the car I was now jamming my knuckles against the bulkhead to get the stupid pump out. Once the problem was identified I got a
replacement from the motor factors and all has been well to date.

‘Mechanically sound it was now the turn of the bodywork. To be honest if this was a pit pony they’d have shot it. Every panel seemed to tell its own story about the hard life the car had led in its latter life. The bonnet looked like Starsky AND Hutch had done their famous bonnet slide trick on it. Both sides had suffered “supermarket trolley” damage in what only could have been described as a supermarket trolley destruction derby, and the roof had probably been used as a lookout post! Two new front wings improved it somewhat but my son kindly said he didn’t want all of it’s historical patina (great word that means dent!) removed so with the help of a trusty friend who always gets roped in on these occasions, we set about removing the worst of the dings with a hot glue dent puller and a small amount of filler.

‘When the body finally looked presentable it was masked up for the first of its primer coats in my garage at home where the rest of the work had taken place. This was our second outing with spraying two pack paint at home and using a second compressor outside the garage to feed the breathing mask we set about laying on the Polo’s original Helios Blue colour. The previous summer we had painted a neighbour’s ’66 VW split-screen bus. This had been done as a block two tone colour but this time we wanted to see the effect of lacquer over base so after much flatting back a mist coat of unhardened colour was applied with one more coat to follow before a couple of coats of clear lacquer went over the top of that. The result was very pleasing 
for a first attempt and the “client” was over the moon.

‘Little was done to the inside save to remove the drivers seat cover and re-stitch the split seams and fit central locking to the front doors coupled to a half decent alarm. A set of optional alloys were sourced from eBay along with a correct tow bar for the car. I stripped down, filled and primered the wheels before giving them a few coats of wheel silver topped off with two pack lacquer. I made up some new VW logo centre caps and had a new set of tyres fitted – I was very pleased with the result. The tow bar was cleaned up before being sprayed to match the car then duly fitted and a new set of electrics hooked up to suit. Now it was time to stand back, admire the hours of work and hand the car over to it’s eager new owner. She sailed the MoT on the 17 August 2009, 20 years to the day after first being registered.’

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