Eric Ramirez of Bergen County, NJ is the proud owner of an auto accessories shop called Ultimate Auto Sports. The shop specializes in stereo and electronics for cars and sport bikes. Surprisingly, his company opened for business after he restored this '85 GTI. Even more surprising, he wasn't always a VW enthusiast. "I was mostly into Toyotas, particularly Corolla hatchbacks," he revealed. "My interest in VWs began after my wife purchased a Rabbit. The Rabbit got her back and forth but I soon realized it was faster than my Corolla, so I got started on the whole Volkswagen thing."
He then purchased a slightly used Mk2 GTI in '97 - his first and only VW. Little did he know that a decade later the car would be one of the most pristine Mk2s on the East Coast.
When Eric planned the modifications for the GTI, all he wanted was moderate engine work, reliable enough for his daily commute. "I was building the car to be a daily driver, but it kept snowballing. When I got it, I knew it had engine trouble. It was an 8v and burned oil. I started weighing my options and considered a 16v swap but at about the same time, the first VR6 swaps were hitting the streets. Once I saw that I was sold."
He realized the best bang for his buck was the 2.8 liter VR6 12v that offered 178hp. Building his 1.8 8v or even a 2.0 16v would cost more money and produce less power.
Unfortunately, it was still the '90s and VR6s for the right price were scarce. "The hardest thing was sourcing parts for the VR6. When I was doing the swap, it was still a fresh engine - I found mine in a newspaper. Somebody had a listing for a complete swap for a Scirocco. It was from a '94 Passat automatic and virtually complete. I sold the transmission and sourced a manual from a '95 Jetta GLX."
With the parts sitting in Eric's garage, he required the help of an experienced tuner to complete the swap. "Initially, the car was built by a shop, but they had it for two years and still didn't complete it so EIP Tuning in Maryland finished the job. I drove it home from there."
While both tuners worked on the car, Eric supplied the parts to liberate restrictive areas of the engine. Techtonics Tuning provided a stainless steel exhaust and software. A Jamex polished intake was installed as well as OBX headers to improve top-end power. Eric then added his own touch by polishing the intake manifold and valve cover.
Because the five-speed had some wear and tear, Eric upgraded the flywheel and clutch to Autotech and Sachs units. After three years of steady work on the car, the motor and drivetrain were finished.
At this stage, Eric was content. Since it would remain his daily driver, he didn't want to go crazy, but there were some areas that still needed attention.
To improve the handling, Eric installed Jamex suspension. Autotech provided sway bars to minimize body roll, as well as strut bars to stiffen the chassis. A front lower tie bar completed the package.
For the wheel selection, Eric faced some tougher decisions. "I went through wheels like they were shoes. When I first started I was infatuated with 17" TSW VX1 wheels. I had them when I bought the car but they weren't in style by the time I was able to drive it. So I traded up to 17" Konig Wildcard wheels. I eventually sold those and started experimenting with OE VW 15" GLX and 17" Long Beach wheels. After that I landed another set of TSWs.
"The width and offset were wrong on the TSWs so I only had them a week. I finally landed the 16" Porsche Design 90 wheels that are on the car now. I've been on those for two years. When I got them, one was damaged so I had to source another and repolished them all."
The reborn Porsche wheels measured 16x8" all around and were mounted with 25mm H&R wheel adapters. A set of 205/40-16 Toyo Proxes 4 tires planted the car on the pavement.
Eric entertained the idea of narrower 6" front wheels, but his brakes wouldn't allow it. After all, safety is too important to sacrifice, especially with the new motor. "Although the engine was from a Passat, the car basically has a Corrado setup with suspension and wiring. The brakes were ECS Tuning's stage 2 kit made for the Corrado which was a simple bolt-on." The rear calipers were painted red and stainless steel lines ensured pedal feel.
With most performance parts dialed in, Eric needed to complete the exterior with paint. "When I bought the car it was yellow and I've painted it three times since. The third time was the charm after I did all the custom work and new body pieces."
He switched to big bumpers and doors from a '90 GTI, while a Mattig badgeless grille cleaned up the front, along with a JOM grille spoiler. To make the front more aggressive, an OE VR6 chin spoiler was retrofitted. Upgrading the sides are F1-style mirrors and Mk3-style Chinese door handles.
To set the exterior apart, Eric embarked on some custom bodywork. A JOM fender was obtained from Tuning Zubehr and molded to the front passenger-side to allow the engine to breathe. OEM G60 flares were smoothed and painted, eliminating the factory textured finish. The rockers were also smoothed to look like one piece. On the rear hatch, the license plate recess was made smaller for the US plate. The trunk was also de-locked and debadged but Eric wired the hatch to open with a button in the glovebox.
With the body complete, Eric painted the car DuPont yellow, incorporating green and gold pearls into it.
Lastly, he turned to the interior. He sourced GTI Recaro seats but had them reupholstered in black leather, with yellow trimming to match the door panels. More yellow was added to the headliner, where a yellow stripe runs down the middle.
A Corrado dash and center console were then retrofitted. "I had to cut away much of the back portion," Eric explained. "There was some trickery with the airbox and plumbing. What I did was use universal ducting to fabricate new pipes." By doing this, he was able to maintain the functionality of the air vents.
After the dash was in place, Eric fitted some gauges. "I removed the ashtray and put the radio in its location," he said. The gauges were then installed where the radio would normally sit.
Adding to the list of upgrades are a Momo Race steering wheel, A-pillar gauges, Audi TT pedals, Schroth harnesses and some polished accents around the cockpit.
Finishing off the interior is a basic stereo setup. "I didn't do anything crazy. It has the first Pioneer flip-out screen. In the rear are 6.5" components in the C-pillars, which are a bit different. Normally you wouldn't see speakers there." Replacing the original dash speakers are Pioneer 3.5" upgrades. The trunk houses two 10" Kicker Comp VR subwoofers in a custom box and two Soundstream amplifiers for the required power.
With ten years of hard work restoring this beautiful GTI, we were surprised Eric still drives it every day. "People cringe when I tell them it's my daily driver, but if the roads are clear, I'm driving. Only a snow storm would stop me!" And we have to applaud this attitude. After all, VW's engineers didn't intend these fine cars to become showpieces, they were built to be enjoyed.
Location: Bergen County, NJ
Occupation: Owner of Ultimate Auto Sports
'85 VW GTI
Engine: 2.8 liter VR6 conversion with Jamex polished air filter, Techtonics Tuning software and stainless steel cat-back exhaust, OBX headers, EIP Tuning solid front engine mount, polished intake manifold and valve cover, RSD hood lifts
Drivetrain: five-speed manual transmission with Autotech lightweight flywheel, Sachs Sport clutch
Suspension: Jamex springs and shocks, Autotech front and rear polished strut, front and rear sway bars and front lower tie bar, polished strut caps
Wheels & Tires: 16x8" Porsche Design 90 wheels with 205/40-16 Toyo Proxes 4 tires, 25mm H&R adapters
Brakes: Porsche big brake kit with drilled and slotted rotors, Hawk pads, color-matched rear calipers with Mintex pads, stainless steel brake lines
Exterior: OE VW G60 arches smoothed and painted, OE VW '90-spec big bumpers and doors, Mattig badgeless single round grille, JOM grille spoiler, custom power sunroof, Bonrath single wiper conversion, dual Fuba antennas, Happich pop-out rear windows, passenger-side turbo fender, shaved fender lights, emblems and body moldings, OE VW VR6 chin spoiler, F1-style mirrors, Mk3-style Chinese door handles, in.pro crystal cross-hair headlights, turn signals, side markers, tail lights and foglights, DuPont yellow paint with green and gold pearl
Interior: OE Recaro seats and door panels reupholstered in black leather with yellow piping, headliner reupholstered in black and yellow, OE VW Corrado dash, center console, Auto Meter gauges mounted in pillars and center console, Momo Race steering wheel, OE Audi TT pedals, Schroth harnesses, power windows and door locks, polished aluminum shift knob, e-brake handle and inner door release handles
Audio/Visual: Pioneer 7" LCD in-dash head unit, six-disc CD changer, 6.5" components, 3.5" in-dash coaxial speakers, Kicker Comp VR dual 10" subwoofers in custom box, two Soundstream amplifiers, Lightning Audio capacitor, Sony PlayStation
Thanks: Wife, German Squad, Caztech Motorsports, EIP Tuning, brothers Ruben and Jeff, Eric Cruz