We were hoping to feature Mario Sweeney's '04 VW R32 months earlier, but his front grille unpredictably flew off and shattered on the way to our photo shoot. Fortunately, we reconnected with him during the Leavenworth Drive in Seattle, WA and the Waterwagens show after he relocated to Portland, OR.
The grille incident wasn't the first example of Mario's misfortune with cars. Things haven't always been easy for him, starting with his first VW, a '63 Beetle that broke down all the time. "I was constantly trying to keep it alive," he explained. "It was the very first car I got my hands dirty working on because it always broke and I'd be fixing it every month." This wasn't going to cut it, especially since Mario's career in computer networking required him to travel quite a bit.
He decided to pick up a Mk3 Jetta 2.0. "By that time I knew I liked VWs and stuck with them." But bad luck struck again when a drunk driver plowed through the Jetta in front of his home. So he had to find the next car.
Mario found a deal on the Internet that was too hard to pass up and flew to Florida to buy a Mk3 Jetta VR6. After a short time, he traded up to a Mk4 GTI because he realized the Jetta wasn't in the shape he'd thought. As he drove the GTI home he began to have second thoughts. "The dealer I bought it from had an R32 available for a test drive," he remarked. "After taking it around for a spin, I wasn't happy to get back into the GTI."
Seduced by the R32, he began saving for the premium-priced VW. He finally graduated college, put away enough money and took the next step after finding a cheap price online. "I discovered a used one at a smoking deal. I was working in Europe at the time, so after finding the listing online I had to wait nine hours to call the owner in Pennsylvania and bought it over the phone. I then flew to PA and drove it home to Arizona, where I was living."
With no major flaws, Mario finally found the perfect project car. The modifications began to spiral shortly after as he started with Koni coilovers and 18" Audi A8L wheels, which he kept for several months.
The process then accelerated when more bad luck struck. "A couple of years ago, coming home from the Dubfest show, I ran over a huge tire," he explained. "It took out my front bumper. I got to scheming and since I was going to pay for a new front end anyway, I started picking up Jetta parts to do the swap. Since I was doing that, I decided to shave everything and go badgeless."
Turning misfortune upside down, Mario became one of the first R32 owners with a Jetta front-end swap. The shaving consisted of the bumper lights, fender turn signals, trunk handle and emblems. European stubby mirrors also continued the exterior transformation, as well as a Polo rear wiper and European Ocean tail lights. The factory Jetta headlights received an interesting alteration, using BMW X5 projector housings with Hella HID ballast units.
The modifications continued with basic performance upgrades, such as the Techtonics exhaust, EIP mounts, CCP adjustable control arms with ECS Tuning bushings and Neuspeed rear sway bar. To improve the braking, Mario opted for ECS front and rear slotted and some cross-drilled brake rotors.
Eventually, Mario became antsy for more power. "At the SoCal R32 GTG I was looking for ideas to go turbo or supercharger," he told us. "However, I figured it was going to be too much money and I put the car up for sale. One week later, HPA introduced the anniversary sale for the FT360 turbo kit. So I took the car off the market and bought the kit immediately."
To celebrate 15 years in the business, HPA offered the kit 15% below retail, featuring black pipes for a stealth appearance. The essential parts included an HGP R30 Garrett turbo with custom compressor and exhaust housing, cast manifold, downpipe, injectors, a head spacer and oil/water lines. The kit was tuned for 11.5psi and bumps crank horsepower to 360hp, hence the name FT360.
Mario left his R32 at Exklusiv Motorsports in Phoenix, AZ where the kit would be installed. Exklusiv worked day and night so Mario could make a career move to Oregon. "I literally jumped in the car after it was finished and drove it all the way," he said. "I put 2000 miles on the car and I'm happy to say there were no issues. I'm definitely never going to sell it now!"
With more power, Mario shifted to a motorsport theme. The Euro-style A8L wheels had to go, and he picked up a set of Rial Daytona Race wheels in 18x8.5" front and 18x9.5" rear. The design was more aggressive and gave Mario lips, rather than the flat-faced Audi wheels.
Following the motorsport theme is an Auto Power roll-bar behind the front seats. Mario removed the back seats as well to save weight.
Other interior goodies include a 42 Draft Design A-pillar gauge pod with VDO gauges to monitor boost and oil temp. For a stealth look, Mario discarded the stock aluminum trim and fitted black pieces from a regular GTI.
Mario's journey to obtain and build this R32 has been worth the trouble. He plans to track the R32 more often, and is starting his next project, a '79 Rabbit.
With or without luck on his side, we look forward to see what this determined enthusiast will to bring to the Mk1 community.
2004 VW R32
Owner: Mario Sweeney
Location: Portland, OR
Occupation: Software Engineer
Engine: 3.2 liter VR6 with HPA FT360 turbo system, K&N air filter, Techtonics Tuning exhaust with Borla muffler, EIP Tuning motor mount
Drivetrain: six-speed manual with EIP Tuning short shifter and transmission mount
Suspension: Koni coilovers, ECS Tuning control arm bushings, CPP adjustable control arms, Neuspeed 22mm rear sway bar, Dieselgeek Panzer skid plate
Brakes: Ecs Tuning front and rear slotted and cross-drilled rotors with Mintex Red Box pads
Wheels & Tires: 18x8.5" front, 18x9.5" rear Rial Daytona Race wheels with 215/40-18 front, 245/35-18 rear Toyo T1-S tires
Exterior: Oe Jetta front-end conversion, Votex front bumper, shaved bumper markers, turn signals, trunk handle and badges, OE Euro stubby mirrors, VW Polo rear wiper and Ocean tail lights, Seidl badgeless grille, OE BMW X5 projector headlight housings with Hella HID ballast units
Interior: Oe GTI black stereo and door trim, black ashtray, polished e-brake button and door pulls, single-DIN pocket, leather seats, OE European sunvisors, Auto Power roll-bar, 42 Draft Designs A-pillar gauge pod with VDO boost pressure and oil temperature gauges
Audio/Visual: Pioneer Deh-P7600MP head unit, Kenwood 10" subwoofer, Sony Xplod amplifier