VW enthusiasts come in two varieties. There are those who dabble, and then there are lifers. If you dabble you might buy a new Volkswagen, perhaps make a few modifications, and then sell it to step up to an Audi, BMW or whatever. Other dabblers buy everything in one swoop, attend every show and burn themselves out (and their budget) before they ever learn to appreciate the wonders of long-term, multi-generation VW ownership.
It goes without saying, lifers are here to stay. Projects may come and go, but the badge on the grille will say VW whether it's a Mk1 or a Mk4, and was made in '79 or '99.
Dave Caraher, a 30 year-old Cable Systems Engineer from Holbrook, NY, is no dabbler. As you gaze at the deep black paint of his
'97 Jetta 8v, the aggressive stance of wheels with the perfect offset, and the balanced bodywork, you can tell he's a lifer. It takes most people a few years and a few projects to get "the eye" for that sort of thing, and Dave is no exception.
This Mk3 Jetta (Dave's fourth VW) is the result of the untimely demise of a previous project. "I totaled a black '96, but afterwards I decided I wanted basically the same car again," Dave said. The '96 had the normal modifications - rims, suspension and a few engine parts - but for this project he was determined to step things up. "When I totaled the other car I knew the next one would be off the hook, I'd just go crazy on it," he said. Dave wasted no time getting started. "I had the car three days and it wasn't stock any more,"
Dave attacked the bodywork first. It featured a combination of European and North American parts. His buddy, Steve Pike, assisted with the transformation.
With the overall look determined by a set of pulled fenders, Dave went to Steve and they mapped out what you see here. "I'd ask Steve if we could do this, and he'd tell me it was no problem but that he didn't like the way it flows into the bumper, so we'd extend the bumpers. He really helped me with most of how the car looks," Dave admitted.
The aforementioned pulled fenders provide a more aggressive look without being over the top. Smoothed North American market bumpers were put in place with deleted side markers on the front, and were extended to meet the widened fenders. Smoothed rear seams continue the theme with the filled door handle recesses giving an especially unique look.
Parts were sourced from a Mk3 Golf for the front end. However, that wasn't enough, so the hood was extended and notched for the VW badge. The washer nozzles were deleted, and smoked Mk4-style headlights added. Crystal clear indicators and matching foglamps round out the front-end mods.
Custom-smoked GL tail lamps, a Vento rear plate tub sourced from Europe and an integrated Wings West rear apron keep the back end in-tune with the front.
However, don't believe it was plain sailing. Problems at the body shop where the car was located delayed the project. "It actually sat at the shop for nine months before they did all the work, but it really only took about two months for all the work to get done. But in the end it was worth it. I'm very happy with the car and love how it looks," he enthused.
The custom bodywork would be worthless if the Jetta sported a set of ricer rims, but Dave knows his stuff. He opted for a set of three-piece Schmidt Modern-Line wheels. These would be enough for most people, but Dave went the extra mile. "When I got them they were gray with silver bolts, so I took them apart and had the centers color-matched, and then I rebuilt them using gold bolts," he said. The wheels measure in at 16x8.5" up front and 16x9" out back. Yokohama tires, sized at 205/40 and 215/40 respectively, grip the road and keep Dave between the white lines.
Suspension duties are handled by a set of Bilstein PSS9 coilovers, which bring the car down a few inches and ensure solid performance in the corners. Brakes are mainly stock, with Zimmerman cross-drilled rotors and uprated pads helping slow the Mk3 when called upon.
The Jetta isn't supposed to be a racer, but more power was definitely needed for the low and aggressive stance. Rather than adding a turbo or swapping in a VR6, Dave chose a supercharger from now-defunct CFI Motorsports, and enlisted the help of Steve for the installation. "It's apparently one of three ever sold, so it's a pretty rare kit, and it came out before Bahn Brenner introduced its own supercharger kit. The Neuspeed kit was the only other available at the time, and I really like the sound of a blower over a turbo," Dave explained.
The CFI system is based around a polished Pro-Charger centrifugal supercharger, and features a front-mounted intercooler to keep intake temps acceptable for the stock-block 2.0 8v. The engine retains its stock compression, while the Pro-Charger shoves 9 lb of boost through the custom powdercoated intercooler piping and into the combustion chambers.
Going this unique route did cause a few problems along the way. "Since CFI went out of business when I got the supercharger, I didn't get the full kit - no engine management, no extra parts... but I'm really happy with the charger. When I hop on it, it goes, and it puts you in the seat. That's all I wanted. I wasn't looking to outrun anybody," Dave said.
Surprisingly, the ABA 8v retains the stock engine management, right down to the chip and ECU. "I haven't had any problems and I've been running with it for three years," he added.
A specially-built exhaust was supplied by Techtonics Tuning. It features a polished OBX header, Techtonics high-flow catalytic converter and stainless steel cat-back system with a Borla muffler.
Although the Jetta hasn't been dynoed, he isn't too concerned. "I've never dynoed it, but CFI claimed 180 horsepower to the wheels. I was never really worried about speed. I was simply looking to give it more grunt to go with the look of the car," Dave said.
The battery has been moved to the trunk, and resides in a stainless steel battery box. Chromed-plastic reservoirs, along with a polished intake manifold and upper strut brace, complete the engine bay modifications.
The drivetrain upgrades have been kept to a minimum, with a Sachs clutch feeding power to the ground through a stock five-speed, and a G&M Enterprises shift-weight keeping the shifts smooth.
Inside, a host of simple changes keep things fresh. A set of Sparco Evo race seats replace the stock items, while a Driver's Edition shift boot, handbrake boot and VW Motorsport shift knob complement the bright red Schroth harnesses. The B-pillar trim from an early Mk3 was used to eliminate the stock seatbelt locations, while Audi TT pedals round out the interior mods.
To keep things interesting on the road, Dave installed a custom stereo himself.
"I used to be big into stereos but pulled away from it. I have Rockford Fosgate amps and a 10" Rockford sub in the trunk. There are 6.5" MB Quart separates in the back plus the tweeters, and 4" MB Quart in the dash and each door," he said.
Dave is refreshingly relaxed about the result of his hard work, and although he shows the car occasionally, that's not the priority. Despite taking first in class at a show earlier that day he told us, "I like the laid-back shows. This was a local air-cooled show that had water-cooler classes. It's just laid-back and relaxed - that's the way I am... I go to some get-togethers but I pick and choose which ones."
When asked, he told us the car's not quite finished. "I think I want to do more smoothing in the engine bay, chroming, polishing, painting, but that's it," he said.
Like all lifers, this isn't the only Volkswagen in the stable. Dave has a Mk2 as a daily driver and a Mk1 Rabbit diesel project as well. He let us in on the goal for the blue Rabbit. "I hope the car will be a perfect example of a European-tuned Mk1, but on this side of the pond. Clean, low and complete," he said. If his supercharged Mk3 is anything to go by, we can't wait to see the finished results.
Occupation: Cable Systems Engineer
Location: Holbrook, NY
1997 Jetta 2.0
Engine: two liter 8v four cylinder with polished Pro-Charger supercharger, flat black intercooler, gloss black powdercoated intercooler piping, polished OBX header, Techtonics Tuning high-flow cat and stainless steel cat-back exhaust system with Borla muffler, polished upper and lower intake manifolds, chromed power steering and coolant bottles
Drivetrain: five-speed manual, Sachs clutch, G&M Enterprises shift weight
Brakes: Zimmerman cross-drilled rotors with ceramic-coated pads
Suspension: Bilstein PSS9 coilovers, polished Neuspeed strut bar
Wheels & Tires: 16x8.5" ET15 (front), 16x9" ET7 (rear) three-piece color-matched Schmidt Modern-Line wheels with polished lip and gold bolts, 205/45-16 (front), 215/45-16 (rear) Yokohama A520 tires
Exterior: smoothed front bumper with deleted side markers, Euro VR6 spoiler, GTI grille, Golf hood with Mk4-look hood extension, smoothed washer nozzles, smoothed door handle recesses, color-matched handles, DTM Cup mirrors, Seidl Tuning rear window spoiler, smoothed rear bumper with blended Wings West apron, Vento plate tub with illuminated flip-down plate, smoothed rear-weld seams, pulled fenders with bumpers extended to match, crystal foglights and turn signals, smoked Mk4-style headlights, smoked GL tail lights
Interior: Sparco Evo seats, Driver's Edition shift boot and handbrake boot, VW Motorsport alloy golfball shift knob, Audi TT pedals and dead pedal, voltage gauge, early-style B-pillar with no seatbelts, Optima Red Top battery in stainless steel box in trunk
Audio: Pioneer head unit, 4" MB Quart speakers in doors, 6.5" MB Quart rear speakers, Rockford Fosgate 10" sub in custom enclosure, two chromed Rockford Fosgate amps, XM tuner and CD changer under rear seat
Thanks: fiance, parents, Steve Pike, Techtonics Tuning, Matt from G&M Performance, Cory and Don at yourautosourceinc.com, Brendan, Doug, Danny, Gina and rest of family