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 |   |  1989 Volkswagen GTI - Retro Racer
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1989 Volkswagen GTI - Retro Racer

Oct 15, 2009
Photographer: Greg Bradley

After a 16-year love/hate relationship with his '89 VW GTI 16v, Andrew McDermott has returned with a concept unique in the US VW scene.

Eurp_0911_01_z+1989_vw_gti+rear_passenger_side Photo 2/7   |   1989 Volkswagen GTI - Retro Racer

It's not your typical Mk2 GTI with a VR6 swap, shaved engine bay and BBS RS wheels. Instead, this project pushes the envelope, although it won't appeal to everybody. But if you followed its progress, you'll remember Andrew tried the slammed 'n stretched route with his first feature in et 10/06.

"Let's turn back the clock. Coming home from our photo shoot three years ago, I was unhappy. I'd lost interest in the car," Andrew began. "I was schooled in the Malibu hills trying to follow Greg Emmerson in a Jaguar X-Type. Oh sure, I wasn't the one causing children to run for cover, but I took no solace in that."

The next day, Andrew put the car up for sale. It was clear the GTI couldn't handle or perform as he wanted. It was more for show. "The car had lost its way," he explained. "It was never made to win trophies, yet I'd fitted super-wide wheels and stretched tires, making it useless. Coming home from the shoot, it was scraping all the way."

The car sat for months with no buyers interested. Slowly but surely, the gears in Andrew's head started turning and he decided to make it handle again. So the GTI went off the market and into the next phase.

In et 12/07, we began following Andrew's progress in Garage Projects. The goal was to implement a 'vintage' theme - similar to modern hot rods. Good friend, Bernie Chacon of, sparked the idea with a simple Photoshop of Andrew's car. From there, the project saw several months of hard work from multiple shops and, of course, Andrew himself.

Eurp_0911_02_z+1989_vw_gti+engine Photo 3/7   |   1989 Volkswagen GTI - Retro Racer

The rev-happy 1.8 liter 16v engine retained its Autotech cams, CIS-E power module, 50mm intake manifold and underdrive pulleys. The 020 tranny also remained, with its taller fifth gear and 3.94 final drive. The only mechanical additions were a Piper timing belt from TMTuning and a RSD oil cooler for reliability.

The bay took a new direction, though. Tomas Sport Tuning (TST), in San Pablo, CA, pulled the motor to remove the coolant and washer bottles, along with the battery tray and A/C. The bay looked cleaner, but Andrew didn't want a completely shaved bay. After all, he'd learned his lesson and wasn't building a show car again.

For the next step, TST designed a side-exit exhaust that traveled through the cabin and out the side. It was critical to keep the noise low and the carbon monoxide out, so a Magnaflow muffler with high-temp sealant preserved Andrew's health.

With its new exhaust, the four-cylinder sounds more aggressive than a VR6 yet surprisingly passes California smog laws.

Next on the hit list was the stereo, which was never part of Andrew's original plan - the GTI was meant to be a track car but Boston Acoustics wanted a piece of the action. Andrew obliged.

Alex Garcia from Exotic Audio built speaker enclosures, followed by fiberglass door panels, kick pods and a subwoofer enclosure in the spare wheel well. Once the fixtures were in place, 11 Boston speakers were installed and powered by a pair of four-channel amps. Ear-bleeding bass was provided by Boston's oval-shaped 555 subwoofer, while a Kenwood head unit from Crutchfield controlled the audio outputs.

Taking a look inside, the stereo could easily be overlooked with the bright red Corbeau seats trimmed in diamond-stitched leather. Momo F1 accessories were used for the steering wheel, pedals and shift knob, with TMTuning adding its line of chrome door handles, locks and mirror knobs.

Eurp_0911_03_z+1989_vw_gti+front_passenger_side Photo 4/7   |   1989 Volkswagen GTI - Retro Racer

The prominent roll-bar also gives the cockpit a motorsport sensation, which Andrew explained had to be cut and welded to fit around the new door cards.

When it was time for the exterior, Ben Libby at Highway Motors devoted several months to Andrew's project, having worked on its previous makeover. "Luckily for me, Ben had a full deck of aces up his sleeve," Andrew explained. "His team scraped the glue and resin from the floor before painter Al Ball shot the car in a VW Bus color L345 light grey."

"With a fist full of stencils, Al painted the sponsor names in a darker grey, but then had to begin sanding the graphics with different levels of paper, and swiping them as if salt thrown up by the wheels had left a permanent scar. The paint was then coated with PPG flat clear, giving the car a vintage feel. Ben then had the notion to fade the flat clear into the gloss interior paint inside the door sills and the jambs."

The flares were also redone to look factory and accommodate the new wheels. Just before the body and paint was finished, Percy's Speed Glass fitted custom military lexan glass for the side and rear windows to compensate for the weight of the stereo.

Eurp_0911_04_z+1989_vw_gti+seats Photo 5/7   |   Corbeau seats and door cards were upholstered in diamond-stitched leather

As the project neared the finish, new rims were required to match the vintage décor. "Browsing the web and attending shows you see lots of cars looking the same. Don't get me wrong, BBS look great but they've been done to death," Andrew said.

So 15x8.5" Compomotive HB Halbrand wheels followed the hot rod and motorsport styles. A set of sticky 225/45 Nitto NT-01 tires would help make the new rollers suitable for the track.

The brakes were also changed. Andrew ditched the oversized Corrado brakes for his original equipment with EBC slotted rotors and pads. The Corrado 22mm brake cylinder was retained, though, for a firmer pedal.

"Nothing came easily with this project. There were setbacks galore and cost overruns that had me soothing my wife Tina," he confessed. One of those instances happened during the car's unveiling at Dubfest '08. "Several shops needed the car and we were running out of time. Exotic Audio was creating the amp rack with a heat shield for the exhaust. Then they plumbed the amp wiring inside the doorsills to make it tidy. Meanwhile, Highway Motors was riveting the door inserts and installing the door hardware. It wasn't looking good, but phone calls were placed, late night runs to the hardware and automotive shops were made and words were said," Andrew admitted.

Eurp_0911_05_z+1989_vw_gti+interior Photo 6/7   |   Interior is immaculate with custom door panels, red upholstery, Momo steering wheel and TMTuning chrome accessories

The Mk2 was finished in the nick of time and embarked on the 500-mile drive to Dubfest. Unfortunately, 100 miles out a radiator hose burst without any stores for miles. "We crawled at 15mph to VW Specialties in Huntington Beach," Andrew recounted. "Owner Ron Wood didn't have the part in stock, but came back with the hose off his personal racecar for us."

Every individual involved with Andrew's Mk2 helped in a big way. It's been a struggle to get this far, but he's happy with the car. "It took six months to build in five different shops. I'd go to a shop every week to check on the car and make sure everything would be done in time," he said. Well, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it!

Tech spec
1989 VW GTI
Owner: Andrew McDermott
Location: Chico, CA
Occupation: Costco manager, delivery man

Eurp_0911_06_z+1989_vw_gti+speaker Photo 7/7   |   System built by Exotic Audio with Boston Acoustics equipment

Engine: 1.8 liter i-4 16v with Autotech cams, header, polished 50mm intake manifold, Euro Sport ITG intake, deleted battery tray, washer fluid and radiator tanks, Techtonics exhaust with Magnaflow Race muffler routed through floor and quarter panel, Unorthodox Racing pulleys, Velocity flywheel, AIS 160-amp alternator, Hella relays, Turn2 solid motor mount, RSD oil cooler

Drivetrain: VL Enterprises 020 transmission with 0.71:1 fifth gear conversion and 3.94:1 final drive, Neuspeed short shift kit

Brakes: EBC slotted rotors and pads

Suspension: H&R Ultra Low coilovers with custom 512 lb front, 467 lb rear springs, Neuspeed front upper strut bar, 25mm front and 28mm rear sway bars, Autotech front lower stress bar and half roll-cage, VW Motorsport control arm bushings, VR6 upper strut bearings

Wheels & Tires: 15x8.5" Compomotive HB Halbrand wheels with 225/45R R15 Nitto NT-01 tires

Exterior: OE Euro small bumpers, shaved side markers, rear emblem and C- pillar swage line, 7'' round headlight conversion, TMTuning round Rallye-style grille and chrome door handles, Hella red tail lights with foglight, side markers, Grüvenparts exhaust trim, Percy's High Performance Speedglass, fiberglass arches, vintage graphics, OE L345 light grey paint with PPG flat clear

Interior: Corbeau seats in diamond-stitched red leather, SWG center console, Momo F1 steering wheel, pedals and shift knob, VDO gauges, fiberglass door panels, side panels, amp rack with exhaust vent, shaved and smoothed wheel tubs, X-derm rubber matting, electronic rearview mirror with auto dimming and compass, TMTuning chrome handles, cranks, door locks and mirror knobs

Audio/Visual: Kenwood KDC-x993 head unit, three Boston Acoustics SPZ-60 speakers, two GT-42 amps and 555 sub, Streetwire wires, two Stinger SP-800 batteries, Radio Shack scanner, Exotic Audio subs and speaker enclosures

Thanks: God, Alex and PJ at Exotic Car Audio, Ben Libby, Al Ball and Robert at Highway Motors, Bernie Chacon III, Jeff Percival at Percy's High Performance, Nate at Corbeau, Crutchfields, Sue and crew at Boston Acoustics, Terrence at Nitto, Joseph at EBC Brakes, Magnaflow, Katja at TMTuning, Rody at Rodybuilt, Tim and team at Tomas Sport Tuning, Ron Wood, Brad Beardow, Tony Gestri and wife Tina

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