VW Corrado Walking down the rows of cars at Waterfest you start to get punch-drunk. There are so many amazing cars, it's hard to take it all in and decipher which ones stand out. So when we encountered this grey Corrado it initially failed to catch our attention.
"That happens all the time," laughed Jason Hayden, the 30 year-old production supervisor from Pittsburgh who proudly displayed his SLC. "I wanted to build something that looked OE VW, but it often gets overlooked!"
The owner plans some subtle changes over the winter to ensure it gets noticed but we were just thankful we did a second-take. With the hood propped open, the plastic engine cover caught our attention, so we took a closer look.
What we found was the 2.0T FSI motor from the Mk5 GTI, sitting there as if VW had intended it. And a peek inside revealed not just the GTI's front and rear seats but matching door cards and even the Mk5's dash. Holy crap. This car was extraordinary!
"I've always loved the Corrado," Jason continued. "It's my favorite VW of all time. So I wanted to create the car I thought VW would build if they introduced the Corrado in 2009. Therefore, I wanted the latest engine as well as the dash and seats so it would look authentic."
Staggered at the work involved, we wondered whether the dash was integral to getting the Mk5's electronics to work. "It is," he confirmed. "You could install the engine without the dash but the FSI wouldn't work, which would defeat the objective. Yet before I knew this I'd never considered doing the car without the dash. It was always part of the plan."
The plan dates back to a conversation Jason had with Josh Volk at Next Level Tuning (in Greensburg, PA), which is both a tuner shop by day and car club thereafter. Josh had built Jason's Mk4 Jetta 1.8T to the point where they couldn't do much more "but everybody had one," Josh lamented. "I like to be different, so I started talking to Josh about possible projects."
What sounds like the beer-induced result of their conversation was a Corrado with either an R32 or Mk5 GTI conversion. The base car would take the form of a Corrado rolling shell a fellow club member let go for $500, while the choice of powerplant was decided when a Mk5 owner hit a Jersey barrier and rolled several times. "All that was left was the engine and interior," Jason explained, "but that was all we needed, so it was perfect."
Being an SLC model, the Corrado had the heavy-duty VR6 front subframe that proved the ideal cradle for the FSI motor. In fact, they were able to use the front and side VR6 motor mounts, but had to fabricate the rear transmission mount.
One of the bigger obstacles was installing the Mk5's front-mount intercooler and plumbing. The pipes fouled the engine's accessory pulley. So they removed the AC, modified the bracket and altered the pipework before it all "fell into place".
The Mk5 fuel pump was mounted with a custom flange in the Corrado's fuel tank, ensuring the APR stage 2+ software had enough juice. What's more, they were able to flash the ECU through the OBD port in the dash since everything works properly, from the airbag steering wheel to the trip computer and Sirius radio.
The only thing they disabled was the passenger's airbag since they weren't sure it would operate safely, and it saved weight. They also installed rebars behind the dash to ensure it was secure.
Fitting the dash required 0.5" to be trimmed from either side and 4" from the front. "We experimented with the dash from the donor car but then I bought a brand new dash to install. Once we knew how much to trim we heated and rolled back the leather cover, made the adjustments and stuck the leather back down so it looked completely stock," Jason explained.
Modern dashboards are deep for enhanced safety but it created a problem when 6' 3" Jason wanted to get behind the wheel in the GTI seats. "We had to deepen the floorpan and weld the Corrado runners to the bottom of the GTI seats," he explained. "It was a big job but I can now stretch out and they work like factory."
The rear seating was considerably easier. "We had to trim some of the GTI seat frame but otherwise they bolted in and fold-down like stock. It was a really easy modification," he revealed.
The next job was to trim the door cards in matching Interlagos plaid material. A relatively simple proposition that lead to a six-month search. "I had no luck with VW of America so contacted Germany. Turns out they'd sold some cloth to a trimmer in California. I had to track him down and pay almost $1000 for the 15 yards he had," Jason said.
While expensive, the plaid door cars add to the overall factory feel. Was he tempted to do the headliner in the same cloth? "I thought about it but I wanted it to be cleaner and there wasn't enough left, so we covered the headliner in a black suedette," he told us.
While the interior boasts the GTI's shifter, it actually operates a Mk4 five-speed 02J transmission. "We started building the car when there weren't too many parts available for the Mk5," Jason explained. "So when we priced up a clutch, flywheel and differential for the Mk5, it was cheaper to use the Mk4 tranny with a stage 3 clutch. But the long Pittsburgh winters mean we'll install the Mk5 transmission at the end of the year now those parts are cheaper."
Chassis mods were comparatively straightforward. He simply added Koni coilovers so he could adjust the ride height to cope with the local roads. A set of Mk4 GTI brakes were then installed but the Corrado's ABS was removed for simplicity.
During the conversion, Jason also chose to delete the factory power steering. It was partially because he prefers the direct feedback of unassisted steering, but also because the pulley mods made to clear the FMIC pipes meant it would be difficult to incorporate.
"I get tremendous feedback from the front wheels," he said, "and it's surprisingly well weighted with the lighter motor. Another consideration was that we'd heard there were several other 2.0T conversions underway at the time and wanted to be first to get ours finished, so build speed was a factor."
Another factor was the budget, and this came into play when choosing the wheels. "I'd set aside $25k to build the car since I wanted to see it through, but wheels would have eaten $4k of that. And while they're important, I felt it was more important to get the car right first. So I bought a set of 17'' VW Monte Carlos and had them painted to maintain the OE theme," he explained.
Although the fenders were rolled to accommodate the wheels, it just added to the car's subtlety. And since the stock, black wheels are one reason many people overlook the car, Jason plans to swap them for staggered three-piece, stepped rims over the winter. Combined with some yellow LaminX light covers, he's hoping the car will get more recognition.
Perhaps even more significant to the low-key approach was the choice of paint.
"I wanted to keep it as Germanic as possible," he began. "I wanted it to look like a pissed thunderstorm is approaching you."
He searched for a suitable color and eventually settled on BMW's Titanium grey metallic, which has the right degree of menace in it. He then added a Euro chin spoiler, de-badged grille and tinted the E-code headlights.
In addition to the software upgrade, the 2.0T has a LAN pipe that draws air from the fender to the stock airbox inside the plastic engine cover. There's also a custom 3'' exhaust that leads into a Techtonics Tuning rear muffler at the back.
"With the engine work, we estimate it puts out about 280hp and weighs around 2300 lb. Thanks to the slightly lower gearing and the engine's linear power delivery, the car is really nice to drive. It's no longer nose heavy so feels really well balanced. I'm delighted at how well it drives, especially without the power steering," he told us.
Since Corrado owners are among the most loyal in the Euro scene, Jason has built his perfect car with a mix of classic looks and modern convenience. And if he should ever grow bored, he can always swap the turbo and push the engine up to 400hp for some extra entertainment.
1992 VW Corrado SLC
Owner: Jason Hayden
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Occupation: production supervisor
Engine: 2.0L four-cylinder 16v turbo FSI swap with APR stage 2 software, 2.0T FMIC, fabricated turbo inlet and intake pipes powdercoated black, 3'' exhaust system with Borla muffler, fabricated alternator bracket, polyurethane BFI engine mounts, color-matched engine cover
Drivetrain: 02J Mk4 GTI five-speed manual transmission, Southbend stage 3 clutch kit, polyurethane transmission mount, power steering deleted, manual steering rack
Brakes: NL Tuning front brakes with 11.3'' Brembo drilled rotors and Mk4 GTI 1.8T calipers, Brembo rear rotors, Mintex pads
Suspension: Koni coilovers, Neuspeed front sway bar, NL Tuning rear upper strut brace, powdercoated K-frame, front subframe, control arms and rear swing arm
Wheels & Tires: 17x7.5'' VW Monte Carlo wheels powdercoated black with color-matched inserts, R-Line center caps, 215/40 R17 Dunlop Direzza DZ101 tires
Exterior: Euro VR6 front spoiler, Kamei badgeless grille and upper grille spoiler, front and rear fenders rolled 90mm, chromed rear VW emblem, color-matched Corrado badge, FSI badge, 68mm shorty antenna, E-code VR6 headlights, LaminX smoked film on front lights,smoked OEM front markers and tail lights, fender markers shaved, B3 Passat smoked glass sunroof, tint, painted BMW 545i Titanium grey metallic
Interior: Mk5 dash swap, center console, steering wheel with R-Line badge and seats in Interlagos fabric, Corrado door and side panels trimmed to match, black cloth headliner and sunroof cover, black visors, Osir vent-mounted pod with 52mm New South Performance Design boost gauge
Thanks: wife Jesse, Josh Volk, Stephen, Jeremie and Justin at Next Level Tuning (nltuning.com)