Two years ago I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for the second time," Frank Rivera began. "I basically had to leave work and receive medical treatment. While I was recovering, I'd often read magazines like eurotuner - it was almost like a secondary treatment. I had cancer for the first time three years ago and came out good, which is why it was shocking when I got it again. These kinds of things make you look at life differently. At that point I had a good job and planned to marry my girlfriend. And yet you never know when you're going to go. I needed to do something positive so thought about investing in a car. I wanted to get one that was right for me, so started looking at VWs."
It's quite astonishing to survive cancer, and in Frank's case we're especially happy he fought it so he could enhance this '06 VW GTI.
In his youth he shared a passion for cars with his family. "My dad is into hot rods," Frank mentioned. "I got it from him. He had every VW including Mk1 through Mk4 and five Beetles. When I was little he even had an old VW Bus. He's building a '34 Ford hot rod right now.
"In high school my first car was an MG convertible. I then went to a Toyota pickup during the whole mini-truck craze. I eventually tired of it and got into European cars when I moved to California," he continued.
As a graphic designer for Reebok and Adidas, Frank was compelled to move from his home in Puerto Rico. He landed himself in sunny California and purchased an Audi Avant. With plans to update this daily driver, he fitted an S4 body kit along with wheels and H&R suspension. Unfortunately, work then took him to Massachusetts and it became harder to modify the wagon because of the stormy winters. But after battling cancer for the second time and saving enough money, he decided to splurge on a new car.
"In '05, my brother and I went to the Essen Motor Show for inspiration," Frank remembered. "We went to the Abt booth and saw its Mk5 (et 8/05). That was the moment! I'd seen the car in photos but when we saw it in the flesh my brother and I stopped and said 'this is the car!' We came back to the US and waited until the Mk5 was launched in 2/06."
Frank and his brother both bought GTIs. But while his brother's project was to remain a daily driver, Frank was more ambitious.
"From the start, I wanted to modify it," he explained. "It was going to be my summer car I could take to shows and drive around - not a car for hauling people around. My vision was to have it stripped down and race-inspired. From the dealer, I wanted package zero with no sunroof and the least amount of accessories. If VW had a program where I could pick whatever I needed, that would've been the perfect setup."
Once Frank started he found it difficult to obtain several parts because the Mk5 was still brand new in North America and not many tuners had parts available. "Wheels were the first thing." Frank noted. "I always wanted the combination of the white and gold, like the Porsche GT. That's my dream car, so I decided to recreate the color scheme on my GTI."
Without hesitation, Frank looked to BBS for the treasured LM wheel. However, there wasn't a 19" fitment available so he opted for a custom wheel with similar appeal - the HRE 540. "HRE hadn't done a Mk5 fitment at that time, so I had to measure the wheel wells and send them the dimensions," he stated. "I wanted to see how wide I could go with factory fenders. I wanted it to have a little poke and a little stretch." After three months, the three-piece wheels arrived, measuring 19x8" in the front and 19x9" in the rear, matched to 225/35 front and 235/35 rear Toyo Proxes 4 tires.
For the next stage, Abt was an obvious choice. "Nobody was selling the body kit in the US," Frank recollected. "So when I went to Germany I contacted Abt Sportsline and they put me in contact with their representative in the States. However, he had trouble getting me the North American rear apron with the smaller license plate recess. I had to wait two months and went crazy because I wanted it by Waterfest. He finally promised it to me three weeks before the show. It didn't come in time and when it did, I got the European version by mistake. I didn't have a Euro bumper to fit the rear valance so I just said 'forget it' and the kit sat in my living room for a while."
Returning home after Waterfest, one of Frank's friends was selling a Euro rear bumper. One week later, he'd bought it and sent it away for paint. After that it was installed along with the rest of the kit.
Added to the Abt components, Frank fitted a Rieger splitter below the front bumper. He also color-matched the front grille and side markers, and yellow Lamin-X film covers the foglights to simulate French lights.
While the exterior is an important aspect of Frank's GTI, the project wouldn't be complete without improving the performance. "I knew I was getting a quad exhaust rear apron," he explained, "but I didn't get Abt's exhaust because it was really expensive and was just a muffler. At that time, nobody had a system but I came across Jetex and they sent me over a prototype." The new 3" quad exhaust fitted without complication and improved power across the rev range.
Airflow was also improved with a Carbonio intake. And the new carbon intake re-used the factory engine cover for a clean appearance.
Power was added through APR's 93-octane software flash done at last year's H2O International show.
Suspension was next on the list, but again, Frank had trouble sourcing the parts. "I wanted H&R because that's what was on my Audi," he told us. "However, it was back-ordered three months, so I called KW and had the units in a week."
Interior accents such as a retrofitted European headlight switch, as well as an Abt shift knob and steering wheel emblem personalize the driving ambiance.
The brakes and factory stereo haven't been touched since Frank didn't feel there was a need to overdo things. He still plans other upgrades, though. "I hope to get European R32 seats with the same factory cloth, and would then color-match the back of the seats in white. I also thought about air ride after seeing some good systems at Essen, but the ones here are crappy," he commented. "Changing the suspension will eventually happen. I love the coilovers but they don't go as low in the rear."
Frank also promises additional engine upgrades when products are proven.He concluded, "I like the VW/Audi community. That's what keeps me going back. It's a neat culture."
As one of the friendliest gentlemen on the scene, Frank's enthusiasm, determination and survival instincts have been a real asset to the European aftermarket.
2006 Volkswagen GTI
Owner: Frank Rivera
Location: Rockland, MA
Occupation: Graphic Designer
Engine: two liter four cylinder 16v FSI turbo with APR 93-octane software, Carbonio intake, Jetex 3" stainless steel cat-back exhaust with quad tips, painted engine cover
Drivetrain: six-speed manual transmission
Suspension: KW Variant 1 coilovers
Wheels & Tires: 19x8" front and 19x9" rear HRE 540 three-piece wheels with 225/35-19 front and 235/35-19 rear Toyo Proxes 4 tires
Exterior: Abt Sportline front spoiler, side skirts and rear valance, OE European rear bumper, Rieger front splitter, color-matched front grille and side markers, yellow Lamin-X on foglights, Alta short antenna, debadged
Interior: Abt shift knob and steering wheel emblem, DriverGear GTI floor mats, European light switch
Thanks: wife Margaret, mom dad, and brother David, Tony DelGallo of factorycollision.com, Brian Stiles of tru-wheels.com and Club.Broke.Status