Thankfully, uniformity is a quality that's lacking in our sport, and the reasons we have for creating our projects are as diverse as the cars and their owners. Some stem from well-planned, long-standing goals, while others find their inspiration more spontaneously.
Meet Rafael Melo. He falls into the latter group when it comes to the reason he built this stellar '01 Jetta 1.8T. "I had a dream of building a turbo VW after I heard one with a BOV for the first time. I told my family that no matter what, one day I would have one," Melo said.
Fast forward almost a decade, lots of hard work and many headaches later, and Rafael saw his force-fed dreams through nicely. "Once you've owned and driven a turbo car there's nothing like it. I can't explain, but it's addictive," Melo said.
Admiring the subtle lines of Rafael's car, it's easy to underestimate the magnitude of this silky sedan. You might not believe this Jetta is capable of low 12sec quarter miles at over 120mph. And you'd probably roll your eyes if we told you the car spent months in the bodyshop in pursuit of perfection.
Like all fairy tale stories, Rafael's started with ambition and was quickly trounced by angst but eventually ended in accolades.
A longtime fan of VWs, Rafael scrimped and saved his way to a '02 GTI VR6. As we said, he wanted a VW long before he could drive and he wasted little time doing the typical intake, chip, exhaust and suspension upgrades. Sadly though, Rafael enjoyed his GTI for less than a year when financial hardship forced its early sale.
Undeterred, Rafael again began saving for another Dub. And although the VR6 was his favorite motor, it was during this period that Rafael fell in love with the 1.8T. "I heard a 1.8T with a blow-off valve and it sounded amazing. From that day forward it was all I cared about and all I wanted," Melo said.
Shortly after getting the bug for boost, Rafael found himself behind the wheel of a stock '01 Jetta 1.8T. Now a boosted aficionado, Rafael jokes about his unorthodox path to the finished product. "Looking back at how some things were done, I was lucky I never destroyed anything," he laughed. While most begin with bolt-ons, software and eventually a big turbo, Rafael went in reverse. Within a month of owning the car it wore a T3/T4 turbo and ATP manifold, but no more. The car ran horribly and dangerously lean.
Hoping to remedy the problems, Rafael took the Jetta to a nearby shop where it sat for several months. When he got it back, the car had a Neuspeed FMIC, APR software, 440cc injectors and a BOV. Once put together, even the new round of mods didn't stop the car from running badly.
Slapped by bad luck and a bill for over $5000, Rafael called on friend Peter Almeida for help. After mapping out a plan, the two tore into the 1.8T in hopes of setting it straight.
The car was down for another long stint and this time they ditched everything except the big turbo. Round three started with an ATP low-compression head spacer and 3" downpipe. The car then received fueling via a Unitronic chip, ATP 255 lph fuel pump and 630cc Siemens injectors. Rafael then added a Kinetic Motorsport front-mount intercooler, 2.5" Borla exhaust, Turbosmart BOV and two-stage boost controller, along with a Nitrous Express 50-shot and intercooler sprayer.
Before buttoning the car back together, Rafael made sure the Jetta could handle the power by fitting a Clutch Masters stage 5 clutch and lightweight flywheel. Though it cost him a pretty penny, Rafael added a Peloquin differential as well so "one-tire fire" would be a thing of the past.
Finally content with the mods to the motor and drivetrain, Rafael hit the dyno to see what his hard work was worth. After the smoke cleared, his Jetta made 346whp and 310 lb-ft at 25psi on 112-octane gas.
Since the car would mostly see street duties, Rafael made some pulls on pump swill, which netted him roughly 310whp and 295 lb-ft at the wheels.
The car wasn't built to be a dyno queen, so Rafael strapped on some MT mid slicks at Waterfest 13 and hit the 1320. Launching off the two-step and fueled by 116-octane at 29psi, the Jetta nailed a best of 12.246sec at 120.13mph. Considering this was achieved on a soft 2.1sec 60ft time, with 120mph trap speed tells us the car is capable of 11s with more hook.
Stepping back to Rafael's ill-fated story, bad luck struck again when he decided to embark on some body modifications. After some research, Rafael dropped the car at a local body shop for an R32 front bumper and a mild exterior treatment. The car sat for six months and when Rafael finally got his beloved Jetta back, the interior was trashed. The R32 bumper fitted badly and only part of the exterior had been addressed, yet his wallet was thousands lighter and his car was worse than before.
Undeterred by yet another bad experience, Rafael called upon friend John Andre for exterior expertise. After several attempts to fit the bodywork, Andre was unhappy with the poor panel gaps so decided to throw the car in a frame jig. At which point he discovered the car was nearly 0.5" off, despite the clean title.
Andre pulled the car straight and fitted the new OEM R32 front bumper as well as Caractere skirts and rear bumper lip. The rub strips, markers, bumpers and trunk were also shaved. While he was at it, Andre added a Seat Leon Cupra R front lip, JOM badgeless grille, R32 projector headlights and Hella red/clear tails. To finish off the OEM+ look, Rafael scored a set of OEM 18" Aristo wheels wrapped in Yokohama rubber.
The exterior was subtle yet effective, just as Rafael hoped. "I wanted the car to be clean and simple. I love how it looks from the front, in particular," Melo said.
Rafael took delivery of the car months later and immediately set out to finish what he'd started. So he installed Weitec XS coilovers followed by the Prothane polyurethane bushings and VF-Engineering mounts. He then fitted an AEM cold-air intake for a few more ponies, as well as a Eurospec Sport brake kit.
At this point, Rafael felt the interior needed to be addressed. Tired of bad luck with shops, he did the work himself, starting with a Sparco steering wheel, R-line pedals and shifter plus Corbeau seats wrapped in Sparco material, as well as a 42DD gauge pod for the Auto Meter boost gauge. He then added some tunes with a Jensen 7" DVD head unit that pushes his JL Audio speakers. Lastly, Rafael cleaned up the trunk and garnished it with two large bottles of nitrous.
Rafael then took a break to enjoy what he'd created. "It had been so many years in the making, that it was time to sit back and enjoy it for a while," Melo said. But like all projects, the work never stops. We won't let the surprise out of the bag but heard rumors of a GT30R and a host of engine and suspension upgrades.
Above all, Rafael's Jetta proves to us that greatness can spawn from a simple dream, but should teach us all to choose your body and tuner shops wisely!
'01 VW Jetta GLS 1.8TOwner: Rafael MeloLocation: Danbury, CT Occupation: foreman
Engine: 1.8 liter four cylinder 20v with Garrett T3/T4 turbo on ATP exhaust manifold, Turbosmart 38mm wastegate, 3" downpipe, 255 lph fuel pump, fuel rail and low compression head gasket, Unitronic .630 software, 630cc Siemens injectors, Kinetic FMIC, Nitrous Xpress 50-shot wet nitrous kit, N-tercooler sprayer and two 25 lb trunk-mounted bottles, Borla 2.5" cat-back exhaust, test pipe, AEM cold-air intake, Turbosmart Supersonic BOV and two-stage boost controller
Drivetrain: five-speed manual transmission with Peloquin LSD, Clutch Masters stage 5 clutch and lightweight flywheel, VF-Engineering motor and transmission mounts
Wheels & Tires: 18x7.5" VW Aristo wheels, 225x40-18 Yokohama Parada tires
Suspension: Weitec XS coilovers, Prothane polyurethane suspension bushings
Brakes: 12" front, 10" rear cross-drilled Eurospec Sport rotors with stock calipers
Exterior: OEM R32 front bumper, Caractere side skirts and rear bumper lip, shaved rub strips, bumpers, markers and trunk, JOM badgeless grille, Seat Leon Cupra R front lip spoiler, Helix R32 projector headlights, Hella red/clear tail lights
Interior: Corbeau seats wrapped in Sparco material, Sparco steering wheel, VW R-Line shift knob and pedals, 42 Draft Designs A-pillar gauge pod, Auto Meter boost gauge, GLI chrome dial bezels, New Beetle headrests, Jensen VM9510 head unit, JL Audio 6.5" component speakers
Thanks: Peter Almeida, John Andre, Unitronic, Farnbacher loles, MM Alencar Sound, Empire Construction