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2008 Volkswagen Rabbit - Self-Built Bunny

Meet Melissa Welsh's Smooth Mk5 Rabbit And The Skilled Mechanic Who Built It.

Sep 1, 2008
Eurp_0809_01_z+2008_vw_rabbit+front_view Photo 1/8   |   2008 Volkswagen Rabbit - Self-Built Bunny

It's a growing trend we can't continue to ignore as more and more ladies are getting their hands dirty. The days of worrying about broken nails and imperfect makeup are over for these car-crazy ladies, who've even taken their passion a step further. Take Melissa Welsh of South Hampton, PA for example. She became a licensed auto technician to pursue her hobby.

"I went to school for 18 months and worked in the field at two repair shops for over two years," Melissa began. "I quickly learned you can't turn your hobby into a career. Working on big-ass trucks and picking up parts twice the size of me, I got tired of it really quickly, so I decided to take a break from it."

Eurp_0809_02_z+2008_vw_rabbit+front_seats Photo 2/8   |   2008 Volkswagen Rabbit - Self-Built Bunny

Currently a full-time waitress in her early 20s, Melissa's education wasn't in vain. She still entertains the idea of returning to be a full-time mechanic if it involves performance Volkswagens. But for the time being, she continues to build her own VW project cars for the pure enjoyment.

She already has four cars under her belt, including a Corrado and two Mk2 GTIs. But don't imagine these were sissy-built with bolt-on parts and furry animals in the rear window. The caliber of her project cars is quite phenomenal: both GTIs featured VR6 swaps Melissa did herself. In fact, one was a 3.0.

Melissa wasn't limited to VR6s either. Her Corrado managed a 1.8T with a big turbo. Unfortunately, the aforementioned cars were sold into the wrong hands and no longer exist. However, Melissa's fourth project, this stunning '08 Rabbit, promises to be more reliable, edgier and cleaner than the rest.

Eurp_0809_03_z+2008_vw_rabbit+rear_view Photo 3/8   |   2008 Volkswagen Rabbit - Self-Built Bunny

"When the Rabbit first came out, I hated it," Melissa admitted. "They grew on me, though. I didn't care about the turbo in the GTI because I just wanted a nice daily driver I wasn't going to modify. Well, I wasn't going to modify it but I'm addicted to building VWs. I can't stop," she confessed.

Having knowledge and experience, Melissa easily modified her Rabbit without a great deal of help. The only tasks she out-sourced were the bodywork and upholstery.

To the uneducated eye, this Rabbit looks fairly stock but it's been simplified and outfitted with plenty of Euro flavor. Melissa delivered the Rabbit to D&D Custom, where the body was smoothed. Demonstrating that less is more, the side markers and emblems were shaved. To eliminate the notch left by the front badge, the bumper and hood were filled and resprayed. A clean badgeless grille completes the front fascia.

Dipping into the European parts bin, Melissa sourced a stubbier Euro bumper for the rear and color-matched the valance. Deleting the rear wiper and fitting R32 tail lights makes the Mk5 more distinctive.

Melissa's goldmine of ideas continued inside. Instead of adding a pair of race seats or over-accessorizing, she took the car to Williams Upholstery where a simple enhancement of color and comfort would complement the Euro theme. The front and rear seats, along with the door cards and shift knob boot, were reupholstered in pumpkin leather. Melissa then color-matched the trim pieces and dash tray to the exterior, which brought a great deal more class to the originally drab interior.

Eurp_0809_05_z+2008_vw_rabbit+rear_seats Photo 4/8   |   2008 Volkswagen Rabbit - Self-Built Bunny

GTI pedals give Melissa more feel, while a European headlight switch deactivated the daytime running lights and gives the option of parking lights.

With these tasks completed, Melissa could concentrate on the parts she could wrench at home. So finishing off the exterior are authentic Mercedes wheels. "I had BBS LM replicas but a friend had these SL wheels for sale," she told us. "They weren't what I had originally planned but turned out well."

Originally intended for the Mercedes SL, the 18x8.5" front and 18x9.5" rear bolt right up to the Rabbit without mods. Kumho tires are stretched tight around the rims so Melissa can lower the car without rubbing issues.

Eurp_0809_06_z+2008_vw_rabbit+engine_bay Photo 5/8   |   2008 Volkswagen Rabbit - Self-Built Bunny

The slammed stance was accomplished with FK Silverline coilovers. Currently, the front coils are wound all the way down, but Melissa admits the rear can still go lower.

To cap off the list of current work, bigger brakes with slotted rotors were fitted for safety's sake. "It's an upgrade from ECS Tuning that's similar to the GTI and gives more stopping power than the tiny stock brakes," Melissa said. To complement the pumpkin interior, she painted all four calipers orange.

Melissa has plenty more ideas up her sleeve but still daily drives the car and wants to keep the modifications simple and clean. "The car's put me in debt, so I'm broke for now. Eventually I plan on doing the C2 Motorsport turbo kit but the car only has 10,000 miles on it and I still have a warranty, so I'll ride it out a little longer." She's also entertaining the idea of new wheels and even a shaved engine bay. Whatever comes next, it can only make Melissa's Rabbit stronger and we commend her for starting a career many male readers only dream about.

Tech Spec

2008 VW Rabbit
Owner: Melissa Welsh
Location: South Hampton, PA
Occupation: waitress, mechanic

Engine: 2.5 liter five cylinder with AWE Tuning exhaust, color-matched engine covers

Drivetrain: five-speed manual

Brakes: 312mm cross-drilled and slotted ECS Tuning front rotors with Schwaben carrier brackets to reposition stock calipers, calipers painted orange

Suspension: FK Silverline coilovers

Wheels & Tires: 18x8.5" front, 18x9.5" rear Mercedes SL wheels with 215/35-18, 215/40-18 Kumho Ecsta tires

Exterior: shaved side markers and rear wiper, badgeless grille, filled hood and bumper notches, OE Euro rear bumper with color-matched lower valance, smoothed hatch, R32 tail lights

Interior: front and rear seats, door cards and shift knob boot reupholstered in pumpkin leather, painted trim and dash tray, GTI pedals, European headlight switch

Thanks: Jason, PT, Sean, Roman, Franco and Big Tim, D&D Custom for the paint and body work, Williams Upholstery, Katja at TM Tuning (,,

Sam Du
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