1984 VW Rabbit L
During the harsh winters in the Tri-state area, you're taking a huge gamble if you don't drive with snow tires because any trace of snow, ice or sleet could easily put you and your car in danger. Of course, the drawback of winter tires is they're another expense, especially for large wheels.
Ivan Emilian faced this dilemma with his 20th Anniversary GTI. Its summer tires couldn't handle the winter weather in northern New Jersey, so he sought another option. "I started looking at the Mk1 forums and saw I could buy an '84 Rabbit L for the same price as winter tires for my 20AE," Ivan explained. "The previous owner had swapped in a rebuilt 1.8 GTI motor with cams, and the car even came with winter tires!"
It was a win-win situation for Ivan, as he drove the Rabbit to work during the chilly season. Yet once the summer arrived, he'd become attached to his little beater and didn't want to let it go. So the Mk1 found a new role as Ivan's most detailed masterpiece to date, with the 20AE serving as summer transport while the build was underway.
No stranger to VWs, Ivan has tinkered with more than ten cars. And you might imagine Ivan's a technician by trade, but he actually works with computers. "I work in IT support, so everything I've done to my cars has been learned through my own research and trial-by-fire," he said.
Ivan wasn't completely alone in his latest adventure; his wife played an important role. "My wife Cathy has been my partner through the whole thing. She also turns a wrench when she needs to, and I can bounce ideas off her. In fact, the interior was mostly her idea. At one point, I had no dash and the instrument cluster was zip-tied to the car. So she told me it wasn't going to work until it was done right. She also told me to get it painted!
"So that's where I started. It was nearly mechanically perfect, but the outside looked like crap - burgundy with a rusted fender."
To begin, the exterior was shaved - side markers, door moldings, hatch lock, antenna and rear wiper. Each speck of rust was also carefully repaired.
With a newborn shell, Ivan painted the Rabbit in Cosmic green from the Mk4 GTI VR6, earning its nickname, "Cosmic Bunny."
"A shiny new part doesn't look right next to an old one, so you've got to keep replacing things," Ivan explained. So the flashy paint warranted new seals throughout, as well as a badgeless grille, smoked cross-hair headlights, Chinese-spec Mk3-style handles and a deeper Duckbill spoiler.
With the first stage of Ivan's overhaul complete, the next phase would really test his patience and knowledge. Having never attempted a motor swap before, Ivan was smart and got a great deal on a Mk3. He sold all the unwanted parts and set out to transfer the engine in his own garage. The swap would ditch the 90hp 1.8 for a much more versatile 115hp 2.0 8v.
After months of attention, the motor fitted snugly in the bay using the stock mounts. Ivan then tucked a custom-built Speed Parts aluminum radiator behind the core support and installed a slim electric fan for proper cooling. In the midst of the swap, he deleted the air conditioning, power steering and airbox to save weight and energy. The battery was also relocated to accommodate the intake. A new windshield wiper motor and fan control module was also installed.
With the motor in place, it was time to unleash the potential of the 2.slow. And since Techtonics Tuning has a downpipe for this specific swap, Ivan easily bolted it on with a 2.25" system and Borla muffler.
Then began his research into forced induction to open up the power band. Not settling for less, Ivan called Bahn Brenner Motorsport and its stage 1 supercharger kit was shipped to his garage. It included a Lysholm twin-screw 'charger with all the necessary hardware. Ivan also added a bigger fuel rail for the motor's additional thirst.
"The kit was plug 'n play for the most part," Ivan said. "However, the hardware was made for the Mk3, so I had to make some brackets and custom hoses for certain things." Ivan also mounted the throttle body upside down, but once everything was done, he had himself a lightweight Rabbit with a respectable 176hp and 180 lb-ft of torque.
Putting power to the front wheels wasn't an issue. The previous owner had fitted a diesel transmission with a shorter final drive and a taller fifth gear for better fuel economy. So Ivan simply replaced all the aged parts with new ones and installed a Sachs clutch with 16v pressure plate and lightened flywheel to cope with the extra power.
The previous owner had thoughtfully added Scirocco axles as well. These are bigger and stronger than Rabbit axles. Ivan also bolted in a Scirocco K bar, which acts like a lower tie-bar.
Next, he converted the upper strut bearings to Mk3 VR6 spec and fitted heavy-duty motor mounts and bushings. For the coilovers and control arms, Ivan upgraded from tuners Weitec and Black Forest Industries respectively. "Nothing old went back on the car," he reiterated.
When it came to the Rabbit's shoes, Ivan narrowed down his decision to ageless 15" BBS RMs. And once he obtained the wheels he proceeded to polish the lips and chrome the bolts.
Measuring 6.5" in the front and 8" in the rear, the stance was transformed in true Euro fashion, especially with tightly stretched Toyo tires in the rear. The rear bump stops were also cut and the coilovers dropped so the Rabbit would sit lower to the ground.
As mentioned earlier, the concept for the interior stemmed from Cathy. She reminded him that comfort shouldn't be forgotten, so he sourced a rare set of power Recaro Trophy edition seats from an '88 Jetta - the only year they were offered.
The seats needed to be repaired, so Ivan delivered them to Roger Pisani at Tom's Auto Upholstery. Between Ivan, Cathy and Roger, they kept the original black outer and gray center panels, but incorporated ultra-suede for the centers and trimmed the GTI rear seats to match.
The embroidery on the seats looks like a special edition logo but was taken from an old keychain of Ivan's. After some Photoshop work, this Rabbit logo was sewn on all four of the seats.
The dash came from a Mk2 Jetta, along with the center console and lower console, which had its lower knee bar trimmed to fit the Mk1. Ivan used a Mk3 fusebox and Mk2 wiring harness to ensure the electrics worked properly.
Some last-minute additions included a gauge holder with boost, oil temp and volts, as well as Momo steering wheel and pedals.
For the last five years, Ivan has dedicated his free time to the Cosmic Bunny. A daughter was born during the process, so money and time became harder to justify, but don't think for a second this supercharged Rabbit isn't still a work in progress.
Ivan revealed to us he had a stage 2 Bahn Brenner supercharger upgrade sitting on the garage floor, which should bump the power beyond 200 horses. We'll just have to wait and see what else is in store, but either way, this winter tire alternative has turned into a cosmic work of art.
1984 VW Rabbit L
Owner: Ivan Emilian
Location: Lyndhurst, NJ
Occupation: IT systems engineer
Engine: 2.0 liter 8v OBD1 ABA with Bahn Brenner Lysholm supercharger kit and polished fuel rail, Mk3 exhaust manifold, Techtonics stainless dual downpipe, high-flow cat and 2.25" exhaust with Borla SS muffler, deleted A/C and power steering, heavy-duty motor mounts, aluminum radiator, electric fan, Big Crank battery
Drivetrain: rebuilt 020 diesel five-speed transaxle transmission with 100mm Scirocco axles, Sachs Sport clutch with 16v pressure plate and lightened flywheel, Techtonics Tuning shifter
Brakes: Rabbit GTI calipers, drilled and slotted rotors, Mintex pads, 22mm master cylinder
Suspension: Weitec coilovers, VR6 strut bearings, Black Forest control arms, Scirocco K bar, Rabbit GTI sway bars
Wheels & Tires: 15x6.5" front and 15x8" rear BBS RM wheels with polished lips and chrome bolts, 195/45-15 Toyo T1-S tires
Exterior: badgeless grille, single round headlight conversion with smoked cross-hair headlights, Duckbill front spoiler, shaved side markers, hatch lock, moldings, antenna and rear wiper, Chinese Mk3-style door handles, early Rabbit badges, rolled fenders, painted in VW Cosmic green metallic
Interior: Recaro Trophy power seats with ultrasuede centers, Rabbit GTI rear seats, Mk2 GLI silver-stripe dash, early Mk2 lower console, Mk2 center console with radio relocation, stealth trunk popper, black bow-style headliner, black door cards, black Cabriolet carpet, NOS green and black Rabbit mats, CE2 wiring conversion with Mk3 fusebox, 42 Draft Design triple gauge-holder with Auto Meter Sport Competition boost, oil temp and volt gauges, Mk3 Driver's Edition shift knob, Momo Monte Carlo steering wheel and pedal set
Thanks: Cathy, Kayla and parents, Ken Emilian, Ruben Garcia, Frank Felix, Carlos Colon, Kris Clewell, Larry at SpeedPartz, Rodger Pisani at Tom's Auto Upholstery