When we first saw this Mk1 VW Jetta at Waterfest '09, we assumed it belonged to a seasoned VW enthusiast. The owner most likely had built a handful of VWs in the past and was probably in his early 30s. He might daily-drive a late-model GTI or A4 while this 1.8T-powered Jetta was a weekend toy he took to shows or church. But we were so wrong...
The gentleman you see peeling out is Gab Pelissier from Quebec, Canada. He's a 19 year-old student who just finished building the first car he ever wanted, owned and drove.
With such a well-balanced, gorgeous piece of machinery, you'd never imagine it was modded by a minor. In fact, the Jetta is even seven years older than the owner, making us wonder why Gab chose the Mk1. "I like older cars and wanted to be original or different. I've actually wanted a Mk1 Jetta since I was 15 but it took two years to find the right car," he explained.
While his buddies were picking up Mk4 and Mk5s, Gab saved his pennies for a vehicle with age and experience. Like a young man finding the perfect cougar, Gab fell in love when he encountered this unmolested '84 Jetta at the tender age of 17.
Gab drove the car completely stock for a month, creating a gameplan for the winter. The plan was simple - keep the old school flavor but give it the power it deserved...
Having matured more than 20 years, the car was showing its age. Gab didn't want a show car, but wanted to update it with enough new parts to make it a comfortable yet appealing daily cruiser.
The exterior received a Rabbit front-end. To do this, he added the grille, round headlights, fenders, hood and radiator support. Euro bumpers were also installed to achieve the classic European flavor, along with a duckbill front spoiler.
The interior followed next, with Gab ditching the aged seats for electric Recaro Trophys from a Mk2. A Porsche steering wheel improved both the feel and style of the cabin.
Once the beauty elements were done, Gab focused on improving the Jetta's performance, handling and stance. Still on a student's budget, he installed V-Maxx coilovers with a front sway bar to both improve handling and get a super-low ride height. Brakes followed, with a rear disc conversion from a Mk3 Golf.
He didn't hold back on wheels however, knowing they were vital to the outcome of his project. So he searched for the perfect set and through friends in Germany found a set of rare Kerscher Calypso wheels. "They were small and wide to gives a nice stretch. There also aren't many wheels like this," he told us.
The 14x9'' rollers were mounted with skinny 195/45 R14 Toyo T1Rs. And to personalize the wheels, Gab had a machine shop fabricate custom spike center caps.
The teenager tackled the powertrain last. With options such as a 2.0L, VR6 or 1.8T, he eventually chose the 20v motor for its combination of power and weight. It also allowed Gab the option for more tuning down the line with big-turbo options.
He sourced virtually all the components from a '03 GTI, including the AWP four-cylinder engine, 02J five-speed manual transmission, radiator and wiring harness.
There was enough room for the 1.8T to fit within the confines of the engine bay but custom mounts had to be fabricated. All the piping for the exhaust, downpipe and intercooler were also custom-made. However, adapting the shifter linkage to fit the 02J transmission as well as installing the Mk4 wiring harness were probably the trickiest aspects. Once the engine was running, the ECU was flashed with Unitronic software to maximize power and torque. Although it's not been dynoed, this combination should give a healthy 235hp at the crank on 93-octane.
Gab also found that swapping the motor wasn't the most time-consuming part of the project; tracing all the annoying rattles and ironing out the bugs was far more frustrating. Some remedies included new bushings, brakes, floorpan, seats and the motor.
Fortunately, he reports the car now runs like a star and has become a reliable daily vehicle. "My parents helped push me. And while older people usually have the money to do a big project, I just had to keep persevering," Gab concluded.
Future plans include a rear-seat delete, rollcage and big-turbo, but for now the teenager is content. After only one winter, he's completed a classic Mk1 Jetta project that many VW enthusiasts dream of building. And he's done it in his home garage and before he reached the age of 20!
Engine: 1.8-liter 20v four-cylinder turbo with Unitronic stage 2 software, custom front-mount intercooler, Bailey Motorsport diverter valve, 2.5'' stainless downpipe and exhaust with Magnaflow muffler, cold-air intake
Drivetrain: five-speed manual transmission from '03 GTI
Brakes: Mk3 Golf rear disc conversion, ceramic pads
Suspension: V-Maxx coilovers, front sway bar
Wheels & Tires: 14x9'' Kerscher Calypso wheels with 195/45 R14 Toyo T1R tires
Exterior: OE Rabbit front-end conversion using grille, round headlights, fenders, hood and radiator support, OE Euro bumpers, duckbill front spoiler
Interior: Mk2 Recaro Trophy seats, OE Porsche steering wheel
Thanks: DM Motorsport, Nicolas David-Picard, Unitronic Chipped, my parents