Project car

My current project is a 2002 (Mk. 4) Volkswagen GTI 1.8T. It's one of only a very small number which have had the "Jolf" aesthetic modification, which swaps the hood, fenders, bumpers, and headlights with those from a Jetta.


I bought the car in September of 2013 from a good friend who loved the thing to death, but decided he needed to do some financial belt-tightening in the form of a cheaper car. When I got the GTI, it had quite a few problems, including a cracked windshield, power steering leak, PCV system leak, bent passenger-side front strut, worn control arms and bushings, and a decaying interior with no driver's side floor mat and caked-on dust and grime everywhere.

During the 3 months I was driving it, I fixed everything and made it a car you could be proud of again.

Then I drove it to Jersey to pick up a Craigslist find, and as I was getting off of the highway, a loud clunking sound came from the motor. I ripped off the upper timing cover and felt the belt. It was loose.

It turned out the belt had been chafing against something and the inner side was wearing away. The belt didn't break loose, but with the tension only on the outer portions of the pulleys, the amount of force on the bolts holding the pulleys was uneven. Ultimately what killed it was a weak bolt on timing belt tensioner pulley. The bolt snapped in half, halting force transmission to the camshafts and causing the pistons to collide with the exhaust valves.

Luckily, the pistons were perfect save for some tiny dings, and little else was damaged. This means a rebuild was quite doable.

I bought an AEB head on eBay that had bent valves but was otherwise clean and in good condition and worked with the awesome guys at Carlquist Competition Engines to have new valves and guides fitted. A high-test Gates timing belt, new water pump, new thermostat and new timing component kit went into the car over the course of May–October 2014, and the car was running and driveable by the end of October.

Under the hood

The stock motor in this car is a four cylinder 1.8L, turbocharged with 5 valves per cylinder (3 intake, 2 exhaust). The engine code is AWP.

Other mods to the GTI (most done by the previous two owners) include:

With the above modifications, the car was pushing about 250hp by the previous owner's estimate. I did not update the tune while I was driving it, and the mods I did were largely maintenance upgrades. Unfortunately, I never got to dyno it before it died either. The exhaust leak means there is NO power on the low end, and my "butt dyno" between the Mazda and the GTI suggests the GTI is not very far north of her stock 170hp at the moment. Despite this, she's still quite fun to drive and I spend quite a lot of time behind the wheel of this car every week.

The plan

I've thought a lot about whether to sell this car. After all, both of my vehicles are hot hatches. But after driving her around for a couple of weeks, I think she's going to stick around at least for a year or so. It might seem as though these cars are similar, but in reality they're completely different animals. The GTI is a fuel saving gentle ride, designed for fun. The windows are huge and the A-pillars skinny; it takes me back to the days before side impact requirements made every car into a tank. The Mazda is a reckless untameable beast that gives the Audi S4 and Porsche Boxster a run for their money.

That said, I'd like to give the GTI a bit more spirit. Patching up the leaky exhaust, smoothing out the turbo map, and fine tuning the suspension will go a long way, and bring the drive line up to the point where I can spend some time focusing on other mods such as the interior.

Going forward, the car has serious potential for shenanigans. The thought is an E85 upgrade: bigger injectors, a supplemental inline fuel pump, custom swappable tune, and of course a "Flex Fuel" badge on the back.

As for appearance, touch-up of the paint and body, a dyed or wrapped headliner, and fresh coat of white enamel on the wheels should turn this car into one of the best looking (IMHO) GTIs out there. I'm excited for it!