Although newer, more efficient motors surpass the original VR6 on paper, few have earned such a dedicated following. Beyond the engine's ability, many fans agree their affinity stems from the engine's rich personality and the sonorous resonance only the early VR6 12v emits.
Screaming up the on-ramp, Petey Garcia smiles at the hellacious crack of the open exhaust as his GTI breaks traction well into triple digits. Now a boosted show-stopper, Petey admits he, too, fell in love with his VR6 the first time he heard one at WOT. "The VR6 has a rare sound I can't describe, but after hearing a friend's with intake and exhaust years ago I knew I had to get one," Petey said.
Like many success stories, Petey had no intention of modifying his GTI. "After dumping a lot of money into an Infiniti G20 for the show scene, I wanted to leave the VW stock and just enjoy it," Petey said. But like so many others, an enthusiast's love for the aftermarket often throws sensibility to the wind.
With a history of spinning wrenches, Petey didn't bat an eye when he found a great deal on a low mileage '96 GTI VR6 with a blown head gasket. Within months, he had the hatch back on the road sporting Audi TT wheels, Mk4-look headlights and Patec coilovers.
The first round of mods kept him happy for a while, but eventually Petey started what was to become a show-stopper when he fitted his first pair of 19" wheels.
Unlike the Mk4 and Mk5 platforms that are blessed with cavernous arches, the Mk3s are barely able to swallow 215-section tires. Although 19x7.5" hoops were considered colossal in '03, Petey's desire for deep-dished rims prompted a complete makeover. "After wanting more lip than the stock fenders would allow, I knew I wanted a widebody to allow deep-dish wheels," Petey said.
Conveniently, Petey worked at Willie's Fiberglass & Autobody, where he had the tools and knowledge to make widening happen. "The minute I wanted to go bigger I started collecting parts," Petey said. By the time winter set in, he'd acquired a slew of exterior goodies, including an Abt/BBR body kit with wider front fenders and rear quarter panels, as well as a Rieger RS body kit and VIS carbon hood. Other exterior essentials included a Kamei grille, Mattig Cup mirrors, Abt hatch wing, dual round headlamps and Erebuni tail lights.
Over the next few months, Petey spent several hours after work modifying every individual part to ensure each was fitted perfectly. Installing the rear portion of the widebody was no small feat, since large portions of the stock rear quarters had to be cut out. As if hacking the pristine body wasn't difficult enough, Petey decided to install fiberglass between the new fenders and the body to further extend the wheel wells.
Along with the stretched fenders, he widened the skirts, as well as the bumpers and lower portions of the doors to match the new lines of the larger fenders.
Before blanketing the car with a coat of black paint, Petey shaved the handles and numerous other extremities.
The exterior treatment was completed in two months. When the GTI finally saw the light of day, it rolled atop a set of 19" Axis Milano wheels that measure 8.5" front and 9.5" rear.
To finish off the fantasy exterior, the rear wheels were shimmed to produce 3 negative cambers to both look the part and create even more real estate underneath the wells.
After showing the car at several events, he decided to take it to the next level by putting the interior under the knife. Once again, he collected all the parts and morphed the interior in only two days. "I set aside a weekend and worked the entire time to paint, install and change the interior," Petey said.
By the following Monday, the interior sported a new coat of red paint, a Kirk Racing six-point cage, Momo seats, plus a shift knob and quick-release wheel, among other incredible interior features.
Anticipating big plans for the motor, a custom center console and cluster mounts were fabricated to house multiple gauges. Although the VR6's acoustics topped Petey's list of priorities, he found time to put in a Pioneer touchscreen head unit and a set of Diamond component speakers.
While many cars are all show and little go, this particular VR6's strength is in its force-fed custom turbo kit. "Even though it looks good, my favorite part of the car is the power. I just love how hard it pulls," Petey said.
He considered different power-adders before eventually deciding on a turbo. "I considered a supercharger, but I no longer had to daily drive the car. So when I did drive it, I wanted big power; I wanted a turbo," Petey said.
He selected a huge SMAX FMIC with an external Blitz BOV to serve as the centerpieces of his turbo kit.
Another advantage of this FMIC is that it has internal plumbing and ports for nitrous explosion. This effectively eliminates the need for a nitrous intercooler spray.
Like the inherently small wheel wells on the Mk3, aft bumper space is also rare. So the Rieger bumper was modified to swallow the gargantuan intercooler and its custom piping.
To fill the charge pipes, an SPA7196 turbo was bolted to an ATP exhaust manifold. Up front there's a fabricated short-runner intake manifold as well.
While building the turbo kit, Petey also welded a custom 4" MAF housing and a 3" side-exit turbo-back exhaust.
To ensure the engine's longevity, he endowed the stock motor with a compression-lowering Schimmel head gasket, ARP head studs and a plethora of Auto Meter gauges.
After all mods, Petey couldn't be happier with the finished product. He claims the combination of his C2 Motorsports software and Blitz manual boost controller has netted him 22psi of boost. This is good for over 350hp, enough to make the Peloquin LSD and Clutch Maters stage 3 clutch work overtime.
Tech Spec1996 VW GTI VR6
Engine: 2.8 liter VR6 12v with SPA7196 turbo, ATP exhaust manifold, fasteners and oil lines, 3" custom turbo-back exhaust with side-exit tips, ARP cylinder head studs, 8.5:1 compression Schimmel head gasket, C2 Motorsports stage 2 software, RC 440 injectors, SMAX front-mount intercooler with internal nitrous plumbing, custom chrome intercooler piping with front-mounted Blitz blow-off valve, custom chrome short-runner intake manifold and 4" mass-airflow meter, Blitz manual boost controller, chrome engine accessories, PCV valve deleted from valve cover
Transmission: stock five-speed manual with Peloquin LSD, Corrado 3.64:1 ring and pinion, Clutch Masters stage 3 clutch
Brakes: OEM components with red painted calipers
Suspension: Patec coilovers, Neuspeed sway bars, OMP front and Autotech rear strut braces, Dick Racing rear camber adjustment shims
Wheels & Tires: 19x8.5" front and 19x9.5" rear Axis Milano wheels with color-matched centers, 215/35-19 front and 235/30-19 rear Pirelli P7000 tires
Exterior: widened and blended Abt/BBR widebody kit, Rieger RS front bumper, side skirts and rear valance on stock rear bumper, Mattig DTM mirrors, smoked marker, turn signal, bumper and tail lights, Abt dual round headlights and hatch wing, painted VIS carbon hood, shaved door handles, wipers and moldings, BFI Fuba antenna
Interior: Kirk Racing six-point rollcage, Momo Corse seats, Millennium steering wheel, GT-R shift knob, boot, E-brake handle and door sills, VW 337 pedals, Cabriolet chrome door pulls, Auto Meter shift light, voltage, water temperature, fuel level, oil pressure, boost, A/F ratio and exhaust gas temp gauges, FK chrome vents and control switches, FMIC nitrous bottle, painted red interior panels, dash and door cards
Audio: Pioneer CVA-1000 touchscreen head unit, Diamond Audio component speakers in factory locations
Thanks: Wille's Fiberglass & Autobody, kids Devin and Sharon, mechanic Chico and best friends