Six years ago, Efrain Cruz totaled his first Jetta in an accident. He spent the next two years walking to work. Luckily, it was only a few blocks away and he would regularly pass a local junkyard. One day, he spotted a Jetta and made some inquiries.
"The engine had blown so the owner was scrapping it. They were about to crush the car but told me I could have it for $500. The body was in good condition without any dents or rust, so we pushed it around the corner and into the shop where I work," he said.
The 30 year-old bodyshop assembler from Baldwin, NY got to work turning the crusher into a cruiser. His first priority was to get it running, so got a low mileage 2.slow and did the swap himself.
He chose an earlier OBD1 engine block because it had a forged crank and rods as standard, as well as oil squirters to keep the pistons lubricated. As such, it was much stronger than the OBD2 block.
He also decided to upgrade the cylinder head, enlisting the help of Evolution Motorsport in Long Island, NY. They fitted inlet and exhaust valves that were 1mm larger than stock, while the valve stems were 1mm thinner than stock to aid airflow. The head was then ported and polished to optimize airflow.
After using the car as his daily driver the original auto transmission "started to go bad." So Efrain's stepfather discovered a $600 donor car from which he could take the five-speed manual and its operating mechanism.
At this point, most of the mods were for reliability "but eventually I added wheels, and that's how it all started!" Efrain laughed.
The Bahn Brenner Motorsport Lysholm supercharger was the next addition as the owner embraced his hobby wholeheartedly. "I saw Bahn Brenner's ads in eurotuner and ordered the kit," he explained. "Stage 3 didn't exist at the time, so I opted for stage 2."
In this form, the boost is increased over stage 1 and the compression ratio is lowered. "However, that soon wasn't enough either," he laughed. So Efrain set about creating his own stage 3 upgrades. He bought a smaller BBM pulley to increase the boost and added larger 440 RC injectors. He also commissioned IRC Fabrications to create a water-to-air intercooler (chargecooler). They built it to measurements given by Efrain and it fitted perfectly.
The advantages of a chargecooler are more consistent cooling and simpler packaging. In this instance, the polished intercooler sits behind the passenger-side headlight. Pressurized air from the blower passes through it and is cooled by water that passes through a small radiator in the front grille. The water is stored in a large reservoir that sits behind the passenger seat. "I didn't want to mount it in the engine bay," Efrain explained, "because it would simply get hot. Keeping it in the car keeps it cooler." Another advantage is that the longer hoses required for this placement means the system carries a large volume of water so it remains even cooler.
With OBX headers and a custom 2.5" exhaust as well as software from C2 Motorsports, the blown Jetta turned in 215hp at the wheels and 226 lb-ft of torque. A Schrick cam was subsequently installed but the car hasn't returned to the dyno to have its effects measured.
As a direct consequence of the extra performance, Efrain took the precaution of swapping the transmission again. This time he swapped to the 02J gearbox from a Mk4 GTI 1.8T. He bought the trans from a friend who'd just installed a six-speed in a Mk4. The same guy also had a Peloquin diff, which was installed in return for Efrain's five-speed that was needed for a friend's car. Of course, nothing comes easy and Efrain also had to install a hydraulic master cylinder and all the lines to get the new trans working properly.
After the power had been increased, the next logical step was to optimize the chassis. "I could have bought some cheap coilovers but spent $1700 on Bilstein PSS9s because I wanted to do it right the first time," Efrain said.
He then found a friend who'd upgraded the brakes on a Corrado G60, so bought the original equipment and fitted the 10.1" front rotors to his Jetta. He also swapped the rear drums for the Corrado's rotor assembly while he was at it.
For the past two years, the 2.0 had rolled on 16" Keskin KT1 wheels, but it was definitely time for change. Lacking money but desperate to have the car ready in time for Waterfest, his girlfriend Jessica bought him a set of 16" Schmidt TH Line wheels with staggered widths.
The day before Waterfest, three of the four wheels arrived. The third had got lost in shipping but a friend who worked for UPS discovered it had fallen from the conveyor belt and was reunited with its siblings.
A set of gold bolts had also been ordered but these were loose in the boxes. Not wanting to break the airtight seal on the wheels, Efrain and his 10 year-old daughter, Jessy, spent four hours on Saturday replacing each bolt, one at a time. He missed the first day of the show but arrived on Sunday to win first place in the modified Jetta class and to be photographed by us - lucky fella!
The tires are Toyo T1R: "I really like the T1R tread pattern and not everybody makes a 195/45 front tire. The Toyos also stretch well, so I could get that European look," he explained.
Since the Jetta's bodywork was so straight, it initially needed little more than a respray, using the original Sequoia green with extra black mixed in. Last summer, however, Efrain decided to shave the front bumper, hood squirters and rear emblem. All three were first filled with metal to reduce the amount of filler needed before they were sprayed to match.
Lighting upgrades involved HID units from an Infinity G35 with angel eye halos. The side markers then became the front indicators, while the tail lights were upgraded to OEM GLX units.
The interior was last on the list when the stock benches made way for seats from a Jetta Trek edition. These were later transformed with beige leather covers from Katzkin, complete with black suede inserts. "I took a swatch of beige leather from a stock Jetta into the trim shop and had them match it," Efrain explained. "I was then able to get OEM leather door cards to match, as well as the headliner."
He also bought a new instrument cluster from a '99.5 Cabrio. It was illuminated blue and the zero miles meant he'd know exactly how many more he'd put on the rebuilt motor.
On the left-hand side of the dash, he installed a boost gauge to show the 13.5psi maximum, while a Sparco steering wheel and Mk4 GTI gear shifter completed the interior mods until the Auto Power roll bar was fitted in the rear. "Auto Power don't make anything for the Jetta so I bought Golf bars and had to weld 8" onto the length. I then had the bars powdercoated so they'd look original," he said. "To be honest, I've been really meticulous in this car. Everything I could change is brand new: the radiator, bushings, control arms, everything."
Having worked on the car over four years, Efrain doesn't plan to sell it. Neither does he plan more major upgrades. "The car's never done me wrong," he explained. "It's been reliable and the gearing makes it really quick.
"It's come a long way in the past four years. This wasn't an overnight thing but has been done gradually as it was needed or as I could afford it."
Having taken first and second place trophies at Waterfest, H2Oi as well as Show 'n Go, Efrain's hard work is finally paying off and we hope you agree this is one of the nicest self-built Mk3 Jettas out there.
Tech Spec1996 VW Jetta 2.0Owner: Efrain CruzLocation: Baldwin, NYOccupation: bodyshop assembler
Engine: 2.0 liter, four cylinder OBD1 block with stock forged crank and rods, forged JE pistons, 8.5:1 compression ratio from double head gaskets, OBD2 ported and polished big-valve head with dual valve springs and titanium retainers, BBM stage 2 Lysholm supercharger with custom air-to-water intercooler, Stratmosphere DV, Schrick 272/270 cam, 440 RC injectors, BBM fuel rail and custom C2 software, BBM intake with extended tube, OBX headers, 2.5" exhaust with no cat, two Magnaflow resonators and rear muffler, intake manifold painted flat black
Drivetrain: '02 GTI 1.8T five-speed 02J transmission with VR6 fifth gear and 3.94 Peloquin diff
Brakes: G60 conversion using 10" front rotors and calipers, rear disc conversion, braided lines
Suspension: Bilstein PSS9 coilovers, front strut brace and polished caps
Wheels & Tires: 16x8" front, 16x9" rear Schmidt TH Lines with gold bolts, 195/45-16 front, 215/40-16 rear Toyo T1R tires
Exterior: shaved front bumper, washer nozzles and trunk emblem, Infinity HID headlight conversion with angel eyes, GLX tail lights, resprayed Sequoia green with extra black
Interior: '99.5 Cabrio instrument cluster, Sparco steering wheel, Mk4 GTI gear shifter, Jetta Trek front and rear seats with custom beige leather and black suede Katzkin covers, matching beige door cards and headliner, retrimmed rear deck, Auto Power roll bar, intercooler reservoir behind passenger seat, vinyl stone trunk floor, Optima battery in trunk
Audio/Visual: Panasonic CY-VMD9000U DVD head unit, Kenwood 8103 amp in trunk, 10.5" Q2 sub in rear deck, Alpine speakers in dash, front doors and rear deck
Thanks: girlfriend Jessica and daughter Jessy, Merrick Collision and everybody at Dub Invasion, www.bahnbrenner.com