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1.8T Challenge

The man in the street VS. the tuners

EC Staff
Dec 16, 2003

The 1.8T Challenge came about because european car's editors wanted to scare up some big-dog four cylinders. The Volkswagen and Audi aftermarket is so focused on refined, luxurious performance that we were afraid the guys across the hall were leaving us behind. Sister magazine Sport Compact Car had a cover some time ago with four reader-owned, four-cylinder street cars making more than 400 hp at the wheels. Meanwhile, most Volkswagen 1.8t enthusiasts were hanging out in Web forums arguing about whether their K04 upgrades really made 230 or 240 hp. We knew there was more in the engine, and were happy to say the owners of the cars you see here found and unleashed it.

Our plan was to keep this contest simple: We werent looking for the ultimate all-around street car, just the baddest 1.8t that can be driven on the street. We don't have a smog lab and a 50-state law library, so we made the criteria license and insurance: If its good enough for the cops in your state, it's good enough for us. We held the event the week before Waterfest, so everyone would already be going there--we still had some whining about travel expense, but we didn't listen.

As anyone who hangs out within earshot of Supra owners knows, all bragging begins at the dyno, which also has the capacity to be cruel. We had to have it. The next place people go to measure up against the other guy is the drag strip. Finally, any street vehicle that can't go around a turn better be able to pull your house, so we added a handling course.

Englishtown Raceway, where Waterfest is held, is one of the oldest and most revered drag strips still in operation. It had a road course under construction that it said would be up and running by the time we needed it. It had a parking lot where we could set up a dyno.

It wouldn't be fair to make the guys working in the garage at night after going to little league games and tucking the kids into bed compete with professional tuners, and we wanted a place for cool misfits like the 1.8t-powered 914 race car and the factory-built touring car, so there had to be three classes.

In each event, competitors were scored relative to the benchmark of the best performance, and each class was scored separately. The same number of points was available in each event, but if one vehicle stood head and shoulders above the others in an event, the scores reflected that and the event became more important. A few competitors were left scratching their heads when Tony Chick came out on top of the enthusiast class. The answer is in the dyno scores.

The 1.8T Challenge had no events scored in such a way that the worst performance affected the scores of better performances, as has been the case in similar contests run by other magazines. Because our scoring system was derived from a contest where breakage and DNFs were more prevalent, everyone got 10 points out of 100 for each event just by being running and ready at the starting line.

A contest to determine the most serious 1.8T in the land brought out some generous corporate sponsors, chief among them Volkswagen North America. The mothership provided all-expenses paid trips for two to Wolfsburg or Dresden, their choice, for the overall winners of the Enthusiast and Exhibition Classes. BF Goodrich, maker of the g-Force T/A Drag Radial, provided a set of tires for the Enthusiast winner on the drag strip. The top three Enthusiast finishers in the autocross received suspension systems from TOKICO: Advanced Handling kits with nonadjustable Performance and five-way adjustable Illumina dampers, as well as a complete coilover system. Energy Suspension provided polyurethane "dog bone" motor torque mounts for the top-three finishers on the dyno.

european car's staff had a great time, as did most of the competitors. We haven't figured out exactly what we'll do next time, but we are sure there will be a next time, and that it will be even better.

Dyno

XX Tuning drove down from Wethersfield, Conn., with its Dynapack hydraulic load dyno. The unique load units are bolted to the car's hubs, giving it many advantages over a roller dyno. The primary one is low inertia, which provides greater precision and responsiveness in the reading. Quietness, because there is no tire noise, and safety are also benefits. The Dynapack's downside is the time required to lift the car, remove the wheels, bolt the hubs to the dyno, make the pulls, and reverse the process. It took well into day two before all 18 cars were dyno'ed, in spite of the experience of Dan Nazzaro and his crew. Craftsman provided assistance in the form of two air compressors and impact wrenches. XX Tuning brought its own battery-powered impacts, but soon threw them in the trailer, preferring the power and speed of the Craftsman tools.

The dyno test ended up being the most complex test. To avoid having silly cars that made way more power than could ever be used just before redline but nothing in the mid range, scoring was divided equally between peak power and power delivery. The first is simple enough; it's the biggest number. The second is more complicated: imagine each car has a gear that tops out at 100 mph, then add up all the torque available to accelerate the vehicle from 40 mph to 100 mph in that gear. The area under that torque curve was scored for power delivery.

Tony Chick was hands-down the Enthusiast Class dyno winner, with 374 hp at the wheels building an equally superior power delivery score. Second-place Lansworth Sterling's Rabbit GTI misfired its way to a 331-hp peak, but couldn't match the torque delivery of Steve Schmidt's 218-hp A4 Quattro. Third place went to John Pastore, with a 267-hp peak and fourth-best torque delivery.

In the Tuner Class, no car delivered a really impressive peak number without accumulating a good power delivery figure. Autosport Werks' Avant was amazing, even though it finished only fourth in the dyno test. With a merely respectable peak figure of 347 hp, it obliterated the big-number cars on power delivery by providing nice, even torque all the way through the rev range and breathing well to an elevated redline. The third-place, 387-hp Fast Enough Rallye Golf had only 94% of the Avant's power delivery, and the two cars that broke 400 hp could muster only 90% of the Avant's torque curve.

Still, top-dog bragging rights went to APR's "three sleepless nights and barely running" Audi S3 with 432 hp, suggesting it will be insane when it is actually tuned. Wide Open's not-quite-tuned, 429-hp MkIV GTI edged out APR's power delivery score by less than 1%, not enough to win the dyno contest. Wide Open was the last car on the dyno the first day, and was able to convince XX Tuning to stay late and help it tune, finally achieving a 492-hp figure that, alas, didn't help its score.

We can't begin to describe all the variations in power output, but look for dyno charts and a few audio files on www.europeancarweb.com soon. The cars that were tuned well and those that were a mess will be obvious.

AutoCross

We called on the Northern New Jersey Region of the SCCA to do our timing and scoring for the road course, which turned out to be a very good thing when the permits for Englishtown's fun-to-drive-but-scary-as-hell-to-go-off road coarse didn't come through in time. With just a few weeks warning, Ernie Andersen and course designer Perry Aidelbaum came a day early and set up a long, fast, West Coast-style autocross course. It had rhythm like a hula girl, enough challenges to be fun and good third-gear runs to let the turbos work.

Competitors chose whether to drive their own car, bring a shoe with them, or let one of ours drive. Most were happy to see what a professional thought of their car. Will Turner, currently running fifth in season points in Speed World Challenge Touring class driving a BMW 325i, wasn't quite as fast in these front-drive and Quattro cars as Kevin Schrantz, who races a Jetta in the same series for Metro VW of Irving, Texas. Trends were predictable: lightness, driveability and traction all proved as important as power.

John Pastore drove his own MkI GTI to second place in the Enthusiast Class, 1.3 sec., behind Kevin Schrantz' time in Steve Schmidt's A4, which would have been a very close second in the Tuner Class. Larry Victor's lag-free, centrifugally supercharged A4 was third, also with Kevin at the wheel.

In spite of its vast curb weight, Autosport Werks' A4 Avant led the Tuner field, thanks to a chassis tuned as well as its flexible engine. Surprisingly, the moderately powered, simply modified MkIVs from RPI Equipped and ABD Racing were a close second and third, highlighting the importance of drivability.

Cones were a killer in the autocross; knocking one over added 2 sec. to a competitor's time. Reudi Jost came from Switzerland to drive his personal car, the Topcar/MTM/Joe Hoppen Motorsport team's very cool TT. A very quick driver, he would have posted fast time but added cones to end up in fifth place.

Quarter-Mile

The drag strip opened in the morning on the second day. The scoring was simple: five runs, the best elapsed time was all that matters. A few competitors were worried about driveline durability and took it easy. Several cars still needed to make their dyno pulls, so we had them do that first; we didn't want a driveshaft broken on the drag strip to prevent them from achieving a dyno score. Autosport Werks had a middle-of-the-pack 14.256 on the sheets when its Quattro Avant's clutch failed. Heroic efforts with borrowed air tools weren't enough to get the car running to make another pass by the end of the day.

On his fifth run, and nearly the last of the day, John Pastore posted a 12.923-sec. pass to win the Enthusiast Class. Lansworth Sterling took second with a 13.668-sec. time in the other Rabbit and Steve Schmidt ran 14.274 in his Audi.

The Tuner Class had more powerful and thus faster cars. With no cones getting in the way, Reudi Jost was fastest in his TT, cranking off a 12.672-sec. pass to the whooping and hollering of the MTM/Topcar/Joe Hoppen team. Fast Enough, with Rallye Golf traction, was close behind at 13.108 and New German Performance squeaked into third with a 13.955 pass.

Exhibition Class

Everyone expected Neuspeed's A4 race car to be untouchable; it even had T.C. Kline on hand to drive. Instead, the part of T.C.'s 20 years of racing experience used the most seemed to be the part where you stay cool when the barn is on fire. First, the unmuffled race car was apparently too loud for all the people who bought houses near one of the most famous racetracks in America, and the track staff freaked out when it took to the autocross course the first time. An adequate silencer was located and clamped to the exhaust, allowing it more runs, but the electrical system shut down in a daisy chain of failed components. While the car was running, T.C. managed a 45.628-sec. circuit of the autocross course, and eventually limped it down the quarter-mile at the very end of the second day. Its pin-drive hubs were incompatible with the Dynapack dyno, so we tested it on HKS' four-wheel Dynojet back in L.A. Neuspeed also ran the quarter-mile at the Camarillo Airport near its headquarters, posting 11.71 sec. Despite its lousy luck, Neuspeed won the Exhibition Class because none of the other entries that said they'd be there managed to show up. Neuspeed's A4 is one of several very cool cars that we'll spend some time learning more about in the future.

By EC Staff
9 Articles

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