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1990 Volkswagen Jetta GL - Better By Design

Forced to rebuild or sell it, Brent Brooks opted to build this stunning OEM+ Jetta VR6

Alex Rogan
May 1, 2009
Photographer: Sam Du

There are so many great cars out there. No matter what your automotive itch, chances are there's a vehicle to scratch it. So for those of us with older cars, what's the appeal? An older car won't be as reliable, it'll need money spent on it and will probably be at least a little beat-up, not to mention a lot slower than 90% of the newer cars out there. So when a once-reliable daily driver starts giving you headaches, many of us just ditch it for a new ride.

Eurp_0905_01_z+1990_volkswagen_jetta_gl+front_view Photo 1/8   |   1990 Volkswagen Jetta GL - Better By Design

Brent Brooks was faced with a similar conundrum. His wife's '90 Jetta GL had been his daily transport for three years. So when it started giving him trouble, he wasn't sure what route to take. But a discussion with Thip Ngonevolalath at TKO Motorwerks in Auburn, WA gave Brent a few ideas. "We were sitting there one night and I was complaining about my car not running right. Then he told me there was a VR sitting in the shop, how about we do a swap?" And so the story begins.

The idea appealed to Brent. After all, the car wasn't running right, so it made sense. That the motor was from Thip's personal Corrado, unfortunately wrecked earlier, made the deal even more enticing. "I told the wife, its either a newer car or we rebuild this one. She asked what a motor swap would cost and I told her a little number. She still reminds me that the cost wasn't what a new car would have been," he chuckled.

What he did was essentially rebuild the humble Alpine white Jetta GL from the ground up. Every nut, bolt, hose and bearing is brand new OEM or equal. After all, once the engine was out it only made sense to have the paint freshened, maybe some new wheels and you know how it goes from there... "It just snow-balled," Brent confirmed.

Eurp_0905_09_z+1990_volkswagen_jetta_gl+brent_brooks Photo 2/8   |   1990 Volkswagen Jetta GL - Better By Design

The car was stripped and delivered to Dreamwerks Custom Paint & Restoration to bring the beauty out of the old beast. The first things to go were the side moldings, badges, rear seams and extraneous lighting. The engine bay was then smoothed and prepared for the narrow-angle 2.8 VR6.

The rear fenders were cut, seamed and sealed before G60 arches were installed in place of the stock units, along with the required '90-up side skirts. Big bumpers followed and a European plate tub was grafted into the trunk.

A fresh coat of the original Alpine white was applied before 7" round crosshair lamps, a badgeless grille, OEM signals and French-style yellow fogs completed the exterior.

It's an effective look, possessing a certain je ne sais quoi that over-baked exteriors don't have. The OEM+ approach was carried to the interior and it's just how Brent wanted it. "I had the chance to install electric windows and mirrors but opted not to. Less is more, that's how I feel. It's clean and simple. I don't need all that fancy stuff."

Clean and simple doesn't have to mean boring though, and inside Brent has the best of the best. A full Recaro velour interior was installed, and he tapped good friend Sam Walker to dress some panels in suede. This includes the headliner, pillars, parcel shelf and an adapted Mk3 center console.

Eurp_0905_07_z+1990_volkswagen_jetta_gl+suede_sub_box Photo 3/8   |   Suede-trimmed sub box and recessed amp draw enough power to stall the motor

Sam also installed the stereo. Nestled in that console is an Alpine head unit. Then there are Diamond subs, mids and Alpine tweeters. It's all powered by a Rockford Fosgate Power 1000 amp, which was dropped below the trunk floor and placed under Plexiglass.

"The stereo's so loud it's ridiculous," Brent said. "The other day I was at a stoplight and had everything to the max. It was idling and when the bass hit it shut the engine off!" (you need an alternator upgrade - et 5/08 - Ed)

The interior's crowning glory is the Corrado SLC dash swap: something we used to see more often than we do these days, but a mod that compliments the Mk2 perfectly. It's capped off with a Corrado steering wheel and, as Brent mentioned, it's the only thing on the car with a VW badge!

Eurp_0905_08_z+1990_volkswagen_jetta_gl+vr6 Photo 4/8   |   VR6 from crashed Corrado breathed new life into Jetta. Big valve head and OBX headers free more horsepower

With the Jetta rivaling what's available on the showroom floor both inside and out, it was shipped back to TKO for the mechanicals. The VR6 12v was disassembled and checked, but with a mere 76k on the clock, the internals looked flawless. The head was still decked and rebuilt with larger valves as a matter of course, before being ported and polished.

Spent dino-juice exits via a port-matched OBX header, followed by a 42 Draft Design test pipe. A free-flow 2.5" Techtonics exhaust provides the necessary growl.

With the shaved bay, the guys at TKO had their work cut out getting it just right. A Jeg's coolant tank replaced the reservoir and goes a long way to keeping things clean. "Chris and Eric did most of the work, with one guy doing the wiring while the other was installing the motor and such. Then they would switch off from time to time. Whenever I wasn't working or messing with the kids, I'd be down there trying to help," Brent explained. "Those guys were awesome, they did a really good job."

Eurp_0905_02_z+1990_volkswagen_jetta_gl+engine Photo 5/8   |   1990 Volkswagen Jetta GL - Better By Design

The result is a perfectly clean bay without a hint of wiring, or much of anything else for that matter. Just perfect contrast between the white paint and the black 'n polished VR.

The transmission remains stock internally, with a Spec stage 2 clutch ensuring a strong connection between motor and ground.

The package has been on the dyno, but Brent wasn't sure of its accuracy, finding the reported 221whp and 252wtq a bit high considering the mods. Whatever it gives, the car can definitely get out of its own way, as his dad (a dyed-in-the-wool Ford guy) can confirm. "The first time I gave my dad a ride he started giving me crap because it's very low and hard to get in. But when I started it up he goes 'Wow!' And when I pulled onto the main road and got all over it he goes 'Holy shit!" Brent laughed.

All that power would make a mess of the old suspension from the 200,000-mile shell, so more parts were stripped from the carcass of Thip's Corrado. The rear beam and disc brakes were bolted to the rear, while a Passat subframe resides up front. A set of H&R

Ultra-low coilovers provide the proper stance, and Neuspeed sway bars keep minimize roll. The 280mm Corrado SLC front brakes now have EBC dimpled rotors and Greenstuff pads, with a matched set in the back.

"With the RS wheels I didn't want lots of brake dust, and the Greenstuff feel really good," Brent enthused.

Eurp_0905_04_z+1990_volkswagen_jetta_gl+bbs_rs Photo 6/8   |   Buying two sets to create one, Brent built these 16" BBS RS but needed hub adapters for the bolt pattern

The aforementioned BBS RS wheels were also sourced from Thip at TKO but originally didn't fit. "We made a trip to Oregon to pick up a complete set just for the inner barrels. So yeah, I got two sets of wheels to make one," Brent chuckled.

Some H&R PCD adaptors allow the 5x130 Porsche wheels to bolt to his 5x100 hubs. The wheels themselves have powdercoated gold centers, polished lips, and measure 16x8" front and 16x8.5" rear, wearing 195/40 ContiSportContact 2 tires all round.

Given the investment of time and money, plus the attention to detail, you might imagine this is a fair-weather car. Perhaps one that only sees the road when the sun's shining. But you couldn't be further from the truth. "I drive the hell out of this thing," Brent exclaimed. "When I come home from work, I always leave the kids' seats in the car so I pick up the kids everyday. No matter what the weather, I'll go get the kids in the car. What's the point of having a car like this and not driving it?"

We couldn't agree more. And it's nice to see a proper performance car getting the use and abuse it deserves. After all, cars were built to be driven. Brent's Jetta even sees duty in the winter weather, with a set of '95 Jetta GLX BBS wheels, along with another inch of ride height, as the only concession to snow and ice.

Ultimately, he has a brand-new 19 year-old car, and couldn't be happier. "With every bushing polyurethane, the car rides firm but it's smooth, if that makes sense? It feels like a comfortable racecar, it's just awesome!"

Eurp_0905_03_z+1990_volkswagen_jetta_gl+side_view Photo 7/8   |   1990 Volkswagen Jetta GL - Better By Design

Tech Spec
1990 VW Jetta GL
Owner: Brent Brooks
Location: Puyallup, WA
Occupation: Technician

Engine: 2.8 liter VR6 12v with ported and polished big-valve head, ported OBX header, 2.5" Techtonics Tuning exhaust with 42DD cat-delete and Borla muffler, Neuspeed pulleys, Specter air filter, Jegs coolant tank, VF-Engineering motor and transmission mounts, Mk3 GLX radiator and fans, shaved engine bay

Drivetrain: five-speed manual with Spec stage 2 clutch and lightweight flywheel, Gruven Parts short-shifter

Brakes: OE Corrado VR6 brakes with EBC drilled rotors, pads and stainless lines

Suspension: H&R Ultra-low coilovers, Neuspeed sway bars, polyurethane bushings, OE Passat front subframe, Corrado rear beam

Eurp_0905_05_z+1990_volkswagen_jetta_gl+oem_interior Photo 8/8   |   Corrado dash swap is epitome of OEM+ interior mods

Wheels & Tires: 16x8" front, 16x8.5" rear BBS RS wheels, gold powdercoated centers, 20mm H&R 5x130 to 5x100 PCD adaptors, 195/40-16 Continental ContiSportContact 2 tires

Exterior: G60 front flares, rear fenders cut and seamed-sealed, shaved antenna, door trim, rear emblem and rear body seams, badgeless grille, shaved banana lights, OE Euro plate tub, crosshair headlights with city lights, yellow foglights

Interior: Corrado dash, Mk3 center console, Recaro powered seats, suede headliner, pillars and rear shelf, custom door pods

Audio/Visual: Alpine CDA-9883 head unit, Diamond D3 12" subs, Diamond D6 mids, Alpine tweeters, Rockford Fosgate Power 1000 25AE amp, Optima battery in trunk

Thanks: wife Alicia, Thip, Chris, Eric, Duff Man, Sam Walker, Yannik, Dion, Dreamwerks and Dan Glidden

By Alex Rogan
48 Articles

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