You can probably count on one hand the number of European tuners who have been around since the '70s and '80s. These rare shops are the original gangsters of the US tuning scene, having wrenched on six generations of VW Golfs and survived three decades of highs and lows.
A name that hasn't always been in the spotlight, but has continued its daily business while building notable project cars, is German Motor Parts (GMP) from Charlotte, NC.
Joe Klitzsch and wife Claudia founded the company in '75. Interestingly, Joe is of German descent, which explains his affinity for Volkswagen.
He was born and raised close to the pre-war Audi facility, located in the former East Germany. When he came to the US in '67, he was a machinist, maintaining equipment in AL and NC. Never forgetting his passion for cars, he regularly participated in SCCA racing, piloting one of the few European cars in the field, such as a Triumph Spitfire and BMW 2002.
On his travels to Germany, he'd often bring back parts for fellow enthusiasts, and that's how GMP got started.
The company grew as Joe imported parts from Abt, Oettinger, BBS and Ansa. Back then, without the internet, catalogs were hand-written and mailed to customers. Even credit cards weren't used when the company began.
A year after GMP opened its doors, Joe and Claudia needed a reliable daily driver and parts getter, so they bought this '75 Rabbit. Originally, painted a putrid green with mustard fender flares, it wouldn't remain that way for long...
Joe decided to transform the Mk1 into a dedicated SCCA GT4 race car. The stock 8v barely had 80hp, so Joe installed an Abt intake manifold, dry-sump and side-exit exhaust. Later, it was rebuilt with a big valve head, 11:1 forged pistons, an aggressive cam and dual Weber carbs.
A close-ratio five-speed with LSD was added, while outstanding handling was courtesy of Sachs coilovers.
The chassis was reinforced with stronger shock towers, rear axle bars, triangulated rear arms and solid bushings. It got custom sway and strut bars, while even the front hubs were modified to improve the geometry.
A set of 13x6'' BBS Motorsport wheels finished the chassis, fitted with Goodyear slicks for maximum grip.
The exterior mods are easily spotted with the fiberglass flares to widen the track, plus a Zender front spoiler.
The 1300 lb racer posted several wins in SCCA club racing but, as faster cars emerged, the Rabbit was retired and stored in GMP's warehouse. The inspection sticker showed its last race was on July 15, 1990.
GMP refocused its energy, becoming North American distributor for Zender and one of Momo's top five US dealers. In '01, they became sole distributor for RH Wheels, by which time their son Stephen was playing a bigger role.
After producing a GMP catalog, Stephen left to pursue a graphic design career but remained in the scene, autocrossing his father's Scirocco widebody.
Local enthusiasts saw the car and had expressed an overwhelming desire for a European aftermarket parts retailer in the region. Stephen found his calling and returned to GMP fulltime, re-igniting the retail business with a website.
GMP continued to expand, creating partnerships with Michelin, speedART and Kleeman, evolving from a VW tuner to include Audi, Porsche, Mercedes and BMW.
This year marks GMP's 35th anniversary, and so they chose to restore the car that started it all. Still tucked away in the corner of the warehouse, the staff dusted off the Rabbit and tore the time capsule apart. "Everything was disassembled - every nut and bolt," explained Stephen. "We considered a 1.8T swap but, for the sake of nostalgia, put it back to original. The plan was to return it to the spec when it last raced."
The body was in pretty good shape, despite some holes in the flares. As for the BBS, they were disassembled, repainting the centers the same color used 30 years ago. It would've been easy to mount new tires, but Stephen ordered the same Goodyear slicks his father raced on.
"The hardest part was finding the color for the stripes," Stephen said. "We spent weeks looking at them in different lights and got it pretty close. We also re-cut all the decals to the right size."
The motor and suspension were taken out to check for wear but most parts were obsolete, so finding replacements would be almost impossible. "You can't find these parts any more," he said.
The Rabbit restoration was completed in time for GMP's Thawout show and track day, which you can read in this issue. And while it might not be competitive today, its great to see this piece of Euro tuning history alive and well.