Inevitably, what we do here can influence other people. After all, the cars we feature can inspire somebody to build their first project or they might simply like the paint color. However, we occasionally have a more direct influence on the outcome of a particular project, and Kevin Clemens' Mk3 GTI is one such example.
The story begins two years ago at Waterfest 11 when I was invited to view a potential feature car in the Konig Wheels booth. "You looked at my car and decided it was fairly typical of what's out there," Kevin reminded me. "My friend thought you were an asshole but I told him you must see thousands of cars and mine probably looked like many others. I'd been considering a mid-engine project and that got me thinking about it again.
"It stayed on my mind until H2O later that year when I finally phoned my friend Alex Wentworth at Wentworth Motorsport in Brewster, MA. To my surprise he wanted to do it and told me to drop off the car.
"To be honest, I thought he was joking until he called me two weeks later asking where the car was. He wanted to show people what he could do and saw this as the perfect opportunity. I totally trusted him to cut up my car and he did all the conversion work himself - everything."
The ambitious project began when Alex cut out the floor at the rear. The frame rails were then cracked open and new metal inserted to reinforce the body. Ladder bars were then fabricated in front and behind where the motor would sit. This allowed him to mount a front subframe and control arms under the rear of the car.
Apparently, many bench racers were encouraging the pair to mount the engine lower than it sits in the front but they resisted the temptation. "It's crucial to leave the engine at the same height," Kevin assured us. "After all, we're changing the car to four-wheel independent suspension and we wanted to have the same suspension travel as stock to give us a good starting point to set up the car."
Subsequently, Alex cut off the top of the rear shock towers and welded 0.25" steel plates over them with Euro Sport camber plates so the suspension could be correctly aligned.
With all the motor, transmission and suspension mounts fabricated, the installation was mocked up and removed in order for Kevin, a painter by trade with Factory Collision in Weymouth, MA, to smooth and paint the engine bay.
Two years prior to this, Kevin had painted the car in Passionate blue Heliochrome - a special paint used solely on the VW Phaeton. At the time it cost $430 per liter, and Kevin needed six liters to cover the car. Fortunately, DuPont supplied the paint through his employer at reduced cost.
The GTI returned to Wentworth Motorsport for final assembly and just four months after work began, the mid-engined GTI VR6 was on the road.
All went well until Kevin bent a valve, forcing a head rebuild. Then one week before its Waterfest debut, the motor blew and Clemens had to scramble to find another. Fortunately, he came across one in almost-new condition for just $200, and that's what you see today.
With its rear location and turbo power, many people apparently expect the car to wheelie. "To be honest, the weight balance is closer to 50/50 now than previously," Kevin explained. "When the engine's in the front, most of it sits ahead of the front wheels. But where we've placed it in the rear, it's actually ahead of the back wheels, so it's a proper mid-engine and better balanced than before."
After the fuel tank and floor were removed, a 16 gallon RCI fuel cell was put up front to help balance the car. Happily, Alex was able to re-use the stock fuel lines that ran down the side of the car exactly where he needed them. A Mercedes SL65 fuel pump was installed to ensure a constant supply of juice.
The stock radiator remains up front. Alex used stainless steel tubing to route the coolant down the transmission tunnel to the motor. Despite the extra length it travels he retained the stock water pump. "The cooling is very efficient," Kevin confirmed. "There's an additional 1.5 gallons of coolant in the system and the water runs in the air stream under the car, so it stays nice and cool."
There's also an auxiliary radiator from an Audi 90 that chills the water in the chargecooler (water-to-air intercooler). The chargecooler was custom built by XS Power in Florida and is the perfect solution for this application - running an intercooler at the front of the car would've produced massive turbo lag because it would need long pipework. But with this solution, the chargecooler sits alongside the motor with short pipes so there's almost no lag. It's chilled using water from its own radiator at the front of the car, which gets additional cooling from the extra volume of coolant in the longer pipes and their route under the car.
The chargecooler was necessary because of the Kinetic Motorsport turbo kit supplied by C2 Motorsports. It uses a T3/T04e turbo running at 22psi. C2 then provided a head spacer to reduce the compression to 8.5:1, and ARP head studs to hold it on. They also added a Quickflow intake manifold, 42 lb injectors and its own stage 2 software to make it all work.
It's to these aforementioned parts, the low-lag chargecooler system and low mileage VR6 that Kevin attributes his exceptional power output - 420hp. And yet it's not quite enough.
Over the winter he aims to reach 550hp, "And I'll do whatever it takes to get there," he vowed. "I expect we'll have to run about 28psi and I'm confident the engine is strong enough. But if not, I have the old engine and will use forged pistons and cryo-treated rods to make it happen."
To operate the stock VR6 02A transmission, Alex needed to modify the shifter box as well as the attachment points for two 15ft shift cables from an automatic transmission.
Internally, the gearbox received a cryo-treated gear set, Peloquin diff, Spec clutch and an ARP bolt kit for the ring gear. So far this combination has withstood the considerable abuse heaped upon it.
Surprisingly the car retains stock driveshafts. "I know people who use stronger axles but they break all the time. I'd rather break a cheap, stock axle than an expensive, uprated one but so far they've held up really well," Kevin commented.
For braking, Kevin and Alex decided the stock front calipers and rotors could be transferred to the rear. That left a gap up front, so Kevin approached RPI Equipped for its 13" rotors and four-piston Wilwood kit. "I've driven Ferrari Enzos and all sorts of supercars but nothing stops this well," he assured us
With a dislike for ABS, Kevin chose to replace the stock master cylinder with a billet one that eliminated the electronic modulation. All the brake lines were upgraded to braided steel and since the VW has a diagonal braking system, they fitted two proportioning valves for the rear brakes. This allowed him to put more braking power to the rear to compensate for the extra weight, and balance the new front brakes. He then installed two electric Hurst line locks in the front brake lines. At the touch of a button he can now do spectacular burnouts, although he told us the rear tires quickly heat up and start moving the car, so he can't hold it for long.
The suspension uses two pairs of H&R front coilovers - one pair at each end. "It handles beautifully," Kevin assured us. "I'm still in the process of learning to drift but who knows, maybe it'll be a drift car one day."
With driveshafts in the rear, the wheels were pushed out and needed covering. Kevin looked at several widebody options until one day he was handling some Mk4 front fenders at work. He decided the shape might work on the rear of his Mk3. So he welded them on and liked what he saw. Once they were blended to the bodywork he cut the side pieces from a Passat rear bumper and attached them to his own bumper. After some more molding they met up perfectly with the new rear fenders.
He then stretched some Abt side skirts 1" and flared them to the fender using a two-part epoxy. The result is so good the wider rear is almost invisible to the uninitiated.
Other exterior work included smoothing both bumpers. At the front it involved removing the trim lines, indicators, markers and fogs. He then molded a Rieger chin spoiler to the bottom edge.
On the rear bumper he similarly removed the trim lines, made a license plate housing after he'd smoothed the tailgate, then relocated the exhaust cut-out.
He also added the Abt grille, rolled front fenders, plus painted mirrors and handles.
The wheels were quite an unusual choice for such a project - billet Boyd Coddingtons. Normally associated with hot rods, Kevin explained his father loves the domestic iron and that has influenced many aspects of this Golf. Kevin's fellow DubAudi member, Craige Ohlstein, previously had a different set of Boyds so was able to help him obtain these 18" wheels that were specially made with the Golf's offset and bolt pattern.
An engine behind the seats inevitably dominates the interior - from the steel firewall and aluminum engine cover to the supporting rollcage. The engine was obviously covered for safety reasons but "it's surprisingly quiet in there," Kevin said. "With the engine behind me and no exhaust running under the car you can't hear it as much as you'd think.
"I wanted to go the stealth route and cover the engine to keep the cops off my back. People assume there's a sub box behind me and are more than happy to race. I can pull up next to Mustangs, Ferraris or whatever and blow their doors off. The drummer from Aerosmith lives nearby and challenged me to a race in his Gallardo. I know he was surprised I could stay with him!"
Other interior mods include Arizen Racing seats. "I sat in Recaros and Sparcos but found these more comfortable and much cheaper," Kevin said.
To prove it's not all turbo hiss and gearbox whine inside the car, he installed a stereo system with an 8" JL Audio sub behind each seat. There are three JL Audio amps powering it all, including a 300/2 under the hood. It shares hood space with a hamster - a nod to his father's friends who used to inquire about "how many hamsters" he had under the hood.
After all the work the car is 100% legal in MA - "emissions and everything," Kevin confirmed. "I owe Alex a kidney," he said, attempting to express his gratitude to the car's builder.
"There were times I wondered why I was doing it, but then I'd remember I was realizing a dream so it has been totally worth it," added the 29 year-old.
Despite this sentiment, Kevin's not stopping. He plans the 550hp power hike over the winter along with a new set of wheels, an interior retrim in pumpkin leather and suede, plus maybe a new exterior color.
Oh, and he's building another outrageous project with Alex that promises to eclipse even this mad machine. We've already requested the first glimpse of the new car, so hopefully we can bring you photos next summer. Definitely stay tuned.
Tech SpecKevin Clemens
Location: Plymouth, MA
Occupation: Automotive Painter
1996 GTI VR6Engine: 2.8 liter VR6 with C2 Motorsports 8.5:1 stainless steel head spacer, Quickflow short-runner intake, stage 2 software and 3" mass airflow sensor, ARP head studs, 42 lb Ford Motorsport injectors, K&N filter, custom intake and turbo plumbing, Kinetic Motorsport turbo manifold, Garrett T3/T04e 60-trim turbo, Tial 38mm wastegate with 22psi spring, Forge Motorsport 007 diverter valve and silcone connectors, custom chargecooler with Mercedes/Bosch electric water pump and Audi 90 auxiliary radiator, custom 3" stainless steel exhaust with 3" cat and Borla muffler, 1.5" custom dump tube, split Porsche-style exhaust tip, Neuspeed underdrive pulleys, Autotech lightweight billet flywheel, turbo wrap kit, Mercedes/Bosch fuel pump, WRD polyurethane motor mounts, RCI fuel cell
Transmission: cryo-treated gear set, ARP ring gear bolt kit, Peloquin differential, Spec stage 4 clutch, Hurst roll control, color-matched casing
Brakes: 13" RPI Equipped Wilwood four-piston big brakes (front), 11.3" VR6 front brakes with brembo rotors and EBC Red Stuff pads (rear)
Suspension: two pairs of H&R VR6 ultra-low front race coilovers, Neuspeed 28mm sway bars front and rear plus front upper tie bar, Prothane bushings all around, Euro Sport camber plates, WRD lower tie bars
Wheel & Tires: 18x8" front and 18x9" rear Boyd Coddington two-piece forged F09 wheels, 215/35-18 front and 245/35-18 rear Toyo Proxes T1R tires
Exterior: custom Abt grille, shaved and smoothed front bumper with molded Rieger Evo lip, Hella Mk4-look headlights with HID conversion, Abt side skirts, custom rear arches made from Mk4 front fenders, smoothed and widened rear bumper with relocated exhaust outlet, shaved rear hatch, color-matched mirrors and handles, shaved gas door, resprayed in VW Phaeton Passionate blue Heliochrome, paint code LC5S
Interior: Arizen Racing leather seats, Sparco four-point harnesses, six-point S&W Race Cars rollcage, custom rear engine cover, Momo Champion steering wheel, pedals and Top Gear red shift knob, Abt dead pedal and door pins, AMS silver gauges
Audio: Alpine CDA-9855 head unit, MB Quart QSD 216 6.5" component speakers, two 8" JL Audio dual voicecoil subs, one JL 250 and two JL 300/2 amps, Monster cable, custom under-hood tub for 300/2 amp
Thanks: Alex Wentworth at Wentworth Motorsport (518/896-8660), Chris Collier at c2motorsports.net, factorycollision.com