"Nice VW Fox you got there!" an older gentleman said to Dan Reich - Ephrata, PA resident and owner of this clean 1990 VW Jetta Coupe. "Um, yeah. Thanks," Dan replied graciously, accepting the compliment rather than trying to correct the error.
"The truth is," Dan told us, "quite a few people have never seen a two-door Mk2 Jetta, and although it's not exactly flattering to have your pride 'n joy two year-old project car mistaken for an entry-level Fox, it usually wasn't worth taking the time to explain the difference..."
As much as enthusiasts appreciate the Jetta Coupe for what it is, the rest of the world never really caught on to the reasoning behind removing two doors from a sedan. It was this sort of realization that led VW to give up on the concept once the Mk2s ceased production. But VW's decision was something of a boon to enthusiasts. And ever since then, finding and owning a clean Mk2 Jetta Coupe has proved more and more difficult as owners tend to hold on to their cars. And Dan Reich is one such owner.
"I've always loved the style of the coupes, and I especially love that you hardly ever see them on the road," Dan explained, "A friend had a nice one many years ago and even then I knew I'd eventually own one."
Fate came to the rescue four years ago when a neglected example showed up at Dan's work atop a flatbed. Dan is a VW tech and, as it turned out, this particular Coupe was purchased by the shop owner (Dan's boss). Within 15 minutes of its arrival, he let his boss know he intended to buy it.
Although the car didn't run when he bought it, Dan didn't care. After swapping the starter and ignition switch, the trusty 8-valve fired and he was pleased to find the car was a solid runner.
Just as important, the Coupe was relatively rust-free and suggested itself as an ideal candidate for the project Dan had been planning all those years. In fact, he was so anxious to get started that the lowly 8v motor only served about six months of duty before being yanked for something considerably more aggressive.
While there are certainly more powerful VW engines than the tried 'n true VR6 12v, none has anything approaching the pure-sex of its exhaust note. And when situated in the engine bay of a 2500 lb Mk2, the VR has no problem turning a sedate Mk2 Jetta into a quick sport coupe, and this is the route taken by Dan.
Soon after acquiring the Jetta, Dan found a perfect Mk3 Jetta VR6 donor car in the parking lot of NGP Racing. It was a complete car and made for an easy swap. "It really helps having a complete car to use," he told us, "and I made sure I used everything I could for the swap."
The list of former Mk3 parts included the complete driveline, hubs and brakes, dashboard, and countless pieces of hardware and wiring.
"I would love to have added a turbo when performing this swap, but money has been the limiting factor throughout the project," he lamented. And although forced to breathe on its own, the VR6 isn't exactly stock. It has a Mk4 VR6 head gasket to increase the compression by half a point, while a pair of Techtonics 268° cams extend the usable power band by an extra 1000rpm. Helping exhaust flow are an OBX header and Techtonics cat-back exhaust.
For suspension, the Jetta employs a set of V-Maxx adjustable coilovers and polyurethane bushings. A height-adjustable suspension allowed Dan to fine-tune the car's stance, but it's usually the wheel and tire combo that either makes or breaks the final look. So when it came time to choose wheels for his Coupe, Dan took a different route.
Rather than going for the ubiquitous BBS RS, he chose a set of 16" New Beetle steel wheels, which were widened to suit his preferences - 8" front and 9" rear.
As mentioned, steel wheels may not have been the obvious choice, but paired with a set of '67 VW Type II bus hubcaps, the look is unique. "You just don't see hubcaps on show cars, "Dan explained, "and I like how they make the car look. They didn't exactly snap right on the steelies, but the effort to make them work was worth it."
Before beginning the VR6 swap, Dan took the time to disassemble the car and prep for new paint. In doing so, he discovered a baseball-sized rust hole in the inner fender. "I can't really complain about the rust," Dan admitted, "because the rest of the car was surprisingly good." Keep in mind that rust-free cars in Pennsylvania are rarely found.
In addition to addressing 15 years of accumulated dents and scrapes, the Jetta Coupe had some shaving of the antenna hole, side markers and the rear emblems.
With the body finally straight and primed, several coats of the original Medium blue were applied. The coupe was then treated to other details, such as new bumpers, body and window seals, a fresh Westie grille and headlight combo, European rear plate tub and a 16v chin spoiler.
It's hard to appreciate your car's fresh new looks from a tired, worn interior, so Dan focused on this area. And while many people have found different ways to incorporate a Mk3 instrument cluster into a Mk2 dash, Dan decided the entire Mk3 dash would be the answer. It's a pain-in-the-ass kind of mod, with lots of trimming, trial-fitting, trimming, trial-fitting, etc, but once installed (yes, the crank windows still work), it's a great look and updates the entire cockpit.
Dan also installed a full 16v Recaro interior and added a whole bunch of retro plaid fabric to the headliner, pillars, shift boot, handbrake, and speaker grilles. As a result, the interior has just as much old-school character as the exterior, and Dan didn't need to spend a great deal of time or money to make it happen.
So what's left for Mr Reich's Coupe? According to him, we can expect forced induction under the hood one day. "I don't ever plan to sell my Coupe," he stated, "but I honestly can't imagine just leaving it alone for any length of time."
1990 VW Jetta
Owner: Dan Reich
Location: Ephrata, PA
Occupation: VW tech
Engine: 2.8 VR6 12v with Mk4 head gasket, Techtonics 268° cams, chip and exhaust, OBX header, 42 Draft Designs cat-delete pipe
Drivetrain: 02A five-speed with Autotech lightened flywheel, six-puck clutch
Brakes: VR6 disc brake conversion front and rear
Suspension: VR6 Plus suspension conversion with five-lug hubs, V-Maxx coilovers, polyurethane bushings
Wheels & Tires: 16x8" front, 16x9" rear New Beetle steel wheels, custom widened, color-matched, '67 VW Bus hubcaps with 195/40 front and 215/40 R16 rear Yokohama s.drive tires
Exterior: Westie front-end, 16v front lip spoiler, shaved emblems, banana lights and antenna hole, smoothed rear panel, rolled fenders, new window seals and moldings, Euro rear plate tub
Interior: Mk3 dash swap, 16v Recaro interior, Momo steering wheel, plaid headliner, pillars, speaker grilles and boots, retrimmed rear deck
Thanks: Trevor and Becca Smith, Greg Wenger at Greg's Paint and Body Shop, J-me Kissinger, APTuning, Ulrich Auto Sales/Service, wife Jodie and son Dylan