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2003 Volkswagen GTI 20AE - Built Not Bought

Check out Eric Wilson’s sweet-as-candy home-built 1.9L big-turbo VW GTI 20AE

David Putty
Jul 21, 2011
Photographer: Josh Brown

“Built not bought.” You hear that phrase a lot these days, especially on the automotive enthusiast forums. There are always groups against what are seen as checkbook builds, with a tendency to view the Euro tuning scene as a war of the haves versus the have-nots.

Eurp 1108 01+2003 vw gti 20ae+cover Photo 2/11   |   2003 Volkswagen GTI 20AE - Built Not Bought

It’s a big, wide world out there and we’re just happy to enjoy the cool cars. Let’s face it, most of us would love to wave some money at a shop and have them to do the dirty jobs. So regardless of how a car is built, we’ll always do our best to cover the entire Euro scene to bring you the coolest cars no matter how they were conceived.

Every car has an owner, and every owner has his own story. Let’s take a couple examples. Enthusiast #1 is young, single, with lots of time to learn to wrench but limited funds. Enthusiast #2 is older, married, with only enough time to wash his pride ’n joy on weekends. Even with vastly different lifestyles and priorities, each shares a common denominator: they’re both car enthusiasts, and we want to celebrate each equally.

Eric Wilson from Drexel Hill, PA, perfectly fits the description of Enthusiast #1. He’s young, single, and has made the time to learn to wrench, weld and paint. Being a full-time VW/Audi tech and full-on car freak doesn’t hurt, and he’s not about to stop learning new skills any time soon.

Eurp 1108 02+2003 vw gti 20ae+front view Photo 3/11   |   Sleepy böser hood is owner’s favorite styling piece, while FMIC is give away to the GTI’s true potential

Eric picked up this Imola yellow ’03 GTI 20th Anniversary Edition when he was 17. According to him, it was quite the mess; “It was a repo car with a busted clutch, mismatched paint, and painted-on eyebrows.” In other words, the perfect candidate with which to practice new skills.

“I had no real plans. I just knew I wanted it to look good and be stupid-fast,” said Eric. So he set about sorting the exterior.

Buddies Jay Lyons and Joe Zam helped with a respray and engine bay clean-up once Eric had done the basic prep and a few custom touches. Most obvious was the sleepy böser hood. “That’s my favorite part of the exterior,” Eric told us. “You don’t see other hoods like mine that have come out as well – it makes me super-happy.”

Eurp 1108 03+2003 vw gti 20ae+owner Photo 4/11   |   2003 Volkswagen GTI 20AE - Built Not Bought

Other custom touches included a shaved hatch and badges, as well as a set of blacked Helix projector headlights.

H&R coilovers gave Eric the ability to dial-in how the car sat over a set of Falken FK-512 tires stretched around massive 18x9.5"/11.5" CCW Classics. The three-piece rims have anthracite centers and are truly huge for a Mk4 GTI, yet Eric insisted they don’t stop him “beating the crap” out of his car every time he’s in it.

The 20AE interior has seen its share of upgrades but, like the exterior, Eric kept things simple. Eurojet fixed-back carbon front seats combined with a rear-seat delete to create a dedicated driver’s environment. There’s also a complement of boost pressure, oil and EGT gauges in a 42 Draft Designs pod.

Eurp 1108 04+2003 vw gti 20ae+engine Photo 5/11   |   1.8T motor bored to 1.9L with 83mm forged pistons on IE rods with big-turbo conversion and Unitronic software to create neck-snapping power

That covered the “looking good” part of Eric’s plan, so what about the “stupid fast” part of the equation?

As far as Eric was concerned, “There’s really no new tricks left for the 1.8T engine, so trying something new was never my goal.” In fact, big power is available from a range of options, so why not go with something tried and tested?

Considering the car came to him with 100k on the clock and no real maintenance history, Eric wisely rebuilt the bottom end. Rather than use stock-size 81mm pistons, he contacted Wossner for a set of their 83.5mm forged beauties. With the block bored to accept them, Integrated Engineering’s forged rods connected them to the stock crank.

Eurp 1108 05+2003 vw gti 20ae+wheel Photo 6/11   |   2003 Volkswagen GTI 20AE - Built Not Bought

The cylinder head received a set of Supertech valves to operate with the stock springs and cams, but ARP head bolts would be used to resist the increased boost pressure that Eric’s 1.9-liter motor was gonna get from a Garrett GT3076R turbo. A .63 A/R was chosen to ensure quick spool from the bigger turbo, and a 39mm Precision wastegate was added before the turbo assembly was mounted to a Kinetic manifold. A 42DD 3" downpipe connected the turbo to a custom-built 3" stainless exhaust, terminating in a Magnaflow muffler capped with a Mitsubishi Evo 9 tip.

Top hardware is important but without quality software, you’ve got little more than a nice spec sheet. Since Unitronic is known for producing big-power daily-drivers, it was no surprise to discover Eric went that route. “I love Unitronic’s stuff, but when the ECU came back the day I was leaving for H2O last year, the car wouldn’t start. I was so bummed. It was a problem with the ignition immobilizer, so my cousin flat-bedded the car to Fred Bean’s VW where Steve Scofield saved my ass, unlocked the ECU and got me on my way!”

Eurp 1108 06+2003 vw gti 20ae+turbo Photo 7/11   |   Garrett GT3076R turbo is fed by bigger injectors and mounted on a Kinetic Motorsport manifold

It’s events like the legendary H2O International that keep enthusiasts like Eric motivated. “It’s a guaranteed awesome time and something we look forward to every year,” Eric said.

To be honest, we feel a special level of respect for Eric and all the other young enthusiasts out there who get their hands dirty by building cars on limited funds with unlimited motivation. And while we don’t wish to be hypocritical about what we said at the start of this article, every enthusiast understands the special relationship between a man and the car he built himself.

Eurp 1108 07+2003 vw gti 20ae+driving Photo 8/11   |   2003 Volkswagen GTI 20AE - Built Not Bought

et Tech Spec

2003 VW GTI 20AE
Owner: Eric Wilson
Location: Drexe Hill, PA
Occupation: VW/Audi tech
Engine: 1.8L four cylinder 20v bored to 1.9L with 83mm forged Wossner pistons, Integrated Engineering rods, ARP head bolts and main studs, Supertech valves, Garrett GT3076R turbo, 39mm Precision wastegate, Kinetic Motorsport exhaust manifold, front-mount intercooler, 830cc Siemens injectors, 255 lph Walbro fuel pump, NSP intake manifold spacer, Unitronic software, 42 Draft Design 3" downpipe, custom 3" exhaust with Magnaflow muffler and Mitsubishi Evo 9 tip
Drivetrain: ClutchNet stage 2 clutch with 16.5 lb flywheel, Peloquin LSD, modified 1-2 shift fork
Brakes: Zimmerman rotors, Mintex pads
Suspension: H&R coilovers
Wheels & Tires: 18x9.5" front, 18x11.5" rear CCW Classic (Race Version) wheels with 215/40 front, 255/35 R18 rear Falken FK-512 tires
Exterior: sleepy böser hood, shaved hatch, upper wing, badges and emblems, Helix headlights with black housings
Interior: Eurojet Racing fixed-back carbon fiber seats, Schroth four-point harnesses, deleted rear seats with false floor, Autopower rollcage, R32 door panels, Momo Race steering wheel, 42 Draft Design column and dash pods for AWE oil pressure, exhaust gas temp gauges and Auto Meter boost gauge, AWE pedals, Forge shift knob, Pioneer PVH 5000 head unit
Thanks: mom, dad, Mike Tansey, Jay Lyons, Joe Zam, James at Four Seasons, John and Justin at 20squared, Steve Scofield

By David Putty
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