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1990 Volkswagen Corrado - AMU 1.8T Engine Swap

When the naysayers said he couldn’t, Chris Cheeseman proved he could

Justin Fivella
Sep 3, 2014
Photographer: Joel Boucher

They said it couldn't be done, that it was impossible; thankfully, he didn't listen. You see, Chris Cheeseman, like many determined individuals before him, simply wouldn't take no for an answer and turned this 1990 Volkswagen Corrado into a diamond.

2010 volkswagen corrado 90mm front lip 03 Photo 2/14   |   There’s a purity to a classic VW in Aviator Grey with pulled fenders over color-matched BBS wheels.

"It had a colorful past, but was one of the nicest VWs I'd seen and was roughly 80 percent done; lots of untidy work needed to be re-done and the beautiful paint had too many blemishes to be considered a show car," Cheeseman explained. "But underneath the imperfection was a diamond in the rough," he said with a smile.

When he says the VW Corrado had a colorful history, he wasn't kidding. The original owner decided to light a cigarette while fixing the fuel pump—seriously, you can't make this stuff up!

2010 volkswagen corrado AMU four cylinder engine 02 Photo 3/14   |   The 1.8T dropped in a shaved bay is a thing of beauty that provides sufficient power to keep the driver entertained.

Luckily, he and the car weren't immediately annihilated; instead, the entire back end was a weenie roast. The subsequent damages were enough that Mr. Marlboro decided to part with his charred Forest Green '90 Corrado G60, rather than kick the ol' habit.

Like many VW groups, cars tend to make their rounds among a small circle of friends. "My good friend Brian Glogowski bought it, as well as an Aviator Gray Audi TT donor car. Originally, he was going to swap the motor, but when he saw the two cars next to one another, he realized an Aviator Grey Corrado was essential," Cheeseman said.

2010 volkswagen corrado BBS RM wheels 04 Photo 4/14   |   1990 Volkswagen Corrado - AMU 1.8T Engine Swap

Glogowski had the VW Corrado painted, the engine bay shaved, and the 225hp AMU 1.8T swapped into place. But like many ambitious projects, he lost momentum midstream and eventually sold it to another member in the local VW scene. This marked the third owner in the local community. Denver Webb fixed some loose ends and got it running well enough for short drives, but the bad luck was never far behind.

"On the first drive with the new motor and fresh paint, it got a door ding," Cheeseman said. "On the second drive, an axle came loose and broke the transmission. On the third, the rear bumper fell off in traffic, and the last straw was another fire—except this time, it was the heater core that went up in flames."

2010 volkswagen corrado canadian recaro seats 06 Photo 5/14   |   Recaro interior is from a Canadian car and includes the seats and door cards.

While the fire claimed the life of an ultra-rare non-A/C heater core and other underdash parts, it didn't toast the car as badly as the first fire.

Fire has a knack of weeding out all but the most dedicated owners, and this one prompted Webb to sell it to another local, but not before he took a Sawzall to the heater core to remove the epicenter of the fire.

2010 volkswagen corrado rear view 07 Photo 6/14   |   1990 Volkswagen Corrado - AMU 1.8T Engine Swap

The new buyer happened to be the owner of the shop where Cheeseman works. After months of relentless badgering, he would buy the Corrado from his boss, fix it, show it, and then sell it back to his boss. Confusing? You bet, but such is the life of a modified VW.

So how did Cheeseman take a battered would-be show car and coax it into fruition? Simple: He's a diehard VW guy with plenty of experience and patience, a virtue that's essential when modifying classic VWs. "I've owned a lot of VWs, both water- and air-cooled. My first car was a Beetle, and every car after that was a Mk2," he explained.

2010 volkswagen corrado MOMO steering wheel 05 Photo 7/14   |   Recaro interior is from a Canadian car and includes the seats and door cards.

He also told us that while he's always owned fast VWs, (his daily driver is his 15th Mk2 VR6-swap—a 400-whp Jetta VR6T, no less!), none of them had been particularly clean, so owning a Corrado of this caliber was both an exercise in pride and patience. "It takes a lot of work and dedication to own a car like this Corrado," he explained. "You have to spend days keeping everything clean, polishing the wheels, and tons of time making it look nice since it sticks out like a sore thumb when it's anything less than perfect."

Speaking of less than perfect, when Cheeseman bought the Corrado, it was far from complete. "I had every panel except for the hood resprayed, and I even had more of the engine bay shaved because blemishes that go unnoticed on a daily driver draw massive attention on a car this clean," he said.

1990 volkswagen corrado BBS RM wheels 09 Photo 8/14   |   1990 Volkswagen Corrado BBS RM Wheels 09

But Cheeseman's revival was far more than paying somebody for a respray. He spent hours under the dash, tidying the wiring and repairing fire damage. He also resolved other problems like a broken turbo and reworked the cooling system to address overheating issues.

"The AMU 1.8T motor had 034 software, Kinetic intercooler, Techtonics 2.50-inch exhaust, custom downpipe, and turbo piping," Chris continued. "When housed in a lightweight Volkswagen Corrado chassis, it makes for a surprisingly quick car, but considering how nice it looked, the Rota wheels that came on it just didn't fit the bill."

1990 volkswagen corrado BBS RM wheel 11 Photo 9/14   |   1990 Volkswagen Corrado BBS RM Wheel 11

So he spun down the Patec Holeshot coilovers until the genuine BBS RM rims were tucked. The fronts measure 15x8 inches while the rears check in at 15x8.5 inches. The centers were color-matched, while the lips were polished and fortified with BFI gold bolts. The ensemble was then wrapped in Toyo rubber and fitted over Audi 90 two-piston front calipers and StopTech rotors, while the rear uses Mk4 calipers and StopTech rotors.

1990 volkswagen corrado euro headlight 10 Photo 10/14   |   1990 Volkswagen Corrado Euro Headlight 10

Once the build was complete, Cheeseman wasted little time reaping the rewards, hitting the best 2013 East Coast shows like Dubs on Defrost, Dustoff, SoWo, Waterfest, and H20. He drove the once-cursed Corrado thousands of miles without trouble and proved to himself, and the naysayers, that sometimes classic VWs just need a little TLC from the hands of an appreciative enthusiast.

"I'm glad I was able to fix the remaining problems and get it running," he said. "It was nice to finish a project that many of my friends had started. I was merely the last piece of the puzzle."

Cheeseman is happy to report the car belongs to his boss and that he gets to admire his Volkswagen Corrado every day at work. As for keeping it show-car clean, well, he doesn't miss that part at all!

1990 volkswagen corrado shaved front bumper 08 Photo 11/14   |   1990 Volkswagen Corrado Shaved Front Bumper 08

Tech Spec

'90 Volkswagen Corrado

Chris Cheeseman
Burlington, VT
VW/Audi tech

1.8L AMU four-cylinder 20v turbo with 034 Stage 1C software, custom 3-inch downpipe, and turbo piping; Techtonics 2.5-inch exhaust with Borla muffler and solid front mount; TDI rear mounts; Kinetic intercooler

Stock 225hp Audi TT six-speed manual

Audi 90 two-piston calipers, StopTech drilled and slotted rotors f, Mk4 calipers r, Goodridge stainless lines

Patec Holeshot coilovers, TT rearward front control-arm bushings

Wheels & Tires
15x8-inch f, 15x8.5-inch r BBS RM wheels, 195/45 R15 Toyo Proxes T1-R tires

Shaved front bumper and engine bay, 90mm front lip, rolled fenders, Euro headlights, painted Audi TT Aviator Grey

Canadian Recaro seats and door panels, Euro seatbelt conversion and underdash trays (kneebar delete), MOMO steering wheel, custom aluminum three-gauge dash panel with oil pressure, oil temp, and boost gauges

Kenwood Excelon CD head unit and component speakers

Jodi Doyle, Brian Glogowski, Jason Russell, Nate Crete and Nate's Automotive, Denver Webb

By Justin Fivella
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