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2003 Volkswagen GTI - Modern Warfare

Revisiting Mike Olson's Constantly Evolving GTI.

Dec 24, 2010

To Mike Olson, there's no such thing as too many makeovers. He's put his '03 VW GTI through more surgery than Heidi Montag.

Eurp_1101_01_o+2003_volkswagen_gti+digi_camo Photo 2/9   |   2003 Volkswagen GTI - Modern Warfare

We first featured the car in et 4/06, when it hit the scene with an R32 front bumper, big-turbo 1.8T and BBS LMs. Fast forward a year later to et 11/07, and we revisited the Mk4 with its silver-n-black theme - the car was a real monster with a race-ready interior and one of the first VWs to have a matte paint job.

Since then, Mike has continued to try different wheel and paint combinations, as well as switch careers from custom wheels sales to a service adviser and technician at Further Performance in Minneapolis.

Eurp_1101_02_o+2003_volkswagen_gti+suede_interior Photo 3/9   |   Interior is dressed in black and grey suede

Mike is undoubtedly an innovator who isn't afraid to be different. "So many people push to look the same," he told us. "Do air bags and BBS RS make a cool car? It takes more than that... Money doesn't buy style, and if you're involved in all the online forums, you can quickly have your view changed by others. You don't know how many times people told me my car will look ricey. Whether it be hot rod, Japanese or German, my influences come from every different angle."

Visually, the GTI now sports a digital camouflage vinyl wrap. "There's no change to the bodywork but it had been the same color for ages. So a buddy of mine who does wraps for the National Guard had access to the print. I have lots of friends in the military who hate wearing camo every day, but it looks awesome on the car," he smiled. The other big exterior change was the wheels. Ditching the AutoArts, Mike picked up a set of Rota Grids, which were originally intended for a Subaru WRX. "I wanted to do something different, really wide and aggressive. They're from the Japanese scene. It's nothing groundbreaking but it makes people look twice," he noted.

Eurp_1101_03_o+2003_volkswagen_gti+mike_olson Photo 4/9   |   2003 Volkswagen GTI - Modern Warfare

Measuring 18x9.5" all around, Mike reports no rubbing with the stretched Nitto NT555 tires.

However, the biggest change for the car was under the hood. The 1.8T was swapped for a R32 3.2-liter VR6. "It fell into my lap for a price I couldn't refuse," he explained. "I didn't have the money to get it done at the time, but friends lent me the money without even thinking twice - one of the biggest things that's kept me around the VW community is the real people. They're always there to lend a helping hand."

After obtaining the motor, Mike stepped up to a C2 Motorsports turbo kit with IE rods, ARP hardware, head spacer and new fuel system. After smoking the piston rings, it gave him the chance to push the engine further, sourcing 8.5:1 JE pistons while the Precision PTB 300 turbo was rebuilt and the exhaust switched to a 3" turbo-back with a downturned tip.

Eurp_1101_08_o+2003_volkswagen_gti+midwest_special Photo 5/9   |   2003 Volkswagen GTI - Modern Warfare

Mike retained the 02J five-speed manual tranny from the 1.8T but switched the bellhousing and cryogenically-treated the gears for strength. A new clutch and flywheel from Southbend were also installed.

Jeff Atwood from United Motorsport then tuned the car on pump gas to just over 500whp and 400 lb-ft.

During the same time, Mike cleaned the engine bay as best he could by deleting the coolant bottle and battery, plus running the wiring harness through the frame rail.

Eurp_1101_09_o+2003_volkswagen_gti+flat_out Photo 6/9   |   2003 Volkswagen GTI - Modern Warfare

Other updates include Bilstein PSS9 coilovers, Brembo front and R32 rear brakes, plus a new interior with diamond-stitched black and grey suede.

As for the future, Mike plans to update the fueling, but the power is limited by FWD traction so he's happy to keep it as his summer daily driver. He's owned, driven and built the same car for the last eight years and has no plans to sell it. So we'll probably see another makeover by next spring...

Sam Du
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