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1988 VW GTI 16V - Doing It Right

If you want a lesson in cool Mk2s, study Peter Amaral’s 320whp ’88 VW GTI 16v turbo.

Greg Emmerson
Nov 30, 2011
Photographer: Sam Du
Eurp 1111 01+1988 vw gti 16v+cover Photo 2/12   |   1988 VW GTI 16V - Doing It Right

When you paint your Mk2 GTI in Lamborghini orange, you better be sure of two things: you like attention and you do it right. Fortunately, Peter Amaral from Berkely, MA is a professional autobody technician working on high-end exotic cars, so he had the skills to pull it off.

Eurp 1111 01+1988 vw gti 16v+cover Photo 2/12   |   1988 VW GTI 16V - Doing It Right

But it hasn’t been an overnight sensation for the 32 year-old. He’s owned the car since 1996, going out with his father to buy it when he was 17: “I’ve always been a VW fan and had fallen in love with the 2.0L 16v but it was way out of my price range at the time,” he told us. “So I settled for the 1.8L 16v that was about half the price with its small bumpers and Teardrop wheels.”

It was more than a year before he’d start ripping into the car, developing his taste in Euros as he learnt the body trade. “I took the car apart and painted it Porsche Polar silver,” he recalled. “At the time I thought it was an amazing job, but looking back now I realize it wasn’t the best in the world…” Yet it maintained his enthusiasm for the Mk2, even after he lost his license for a year.

With the car sat in the garage unable to be used, it presented Pete with another opportunity to work on it. He tore into the GTI, stripping it fully and discarding many parts that needed replacing. However, he also got distracted by a string of other cars, including a Rabbit, some Jettas and a VR6. He bought a house along the way and found the project dragging on almost five years. “I told myself to finish or sell it but, since I didn’t want to part with it, I got to work.”

Over time, parts he’d thrown out had become difficult to find and Pete spent months trying to source things: “There’s very few aftermarket parts on the car,” he told us. “I spent most of my time waiting for OEM parts to arrive so I could build it the way I wanted it.” The “big” bumpers, for example, were imported from Europe along with the G60 fenders flares. He chose to retain the stock headlights, but dressed them with a badgeless three-bar grille and eyebrow. He also deleted the rubbing strips, rear seams, badges, rear wiper and washer nozzle.

The body was sprayed Lambo’s three-stage Atlas orange after Pete painted a friend’s GSX-R the same color. “I liked the PPG paint but, dealing with exotic cars all day, I knew it would look better on four-wheels,” he told us.

The grille, bumper trim and flares were then painted in a catalyzed black base coat to avoid the unsightly fading that occurs when the plastic is left in the sun.

Once painted, Pete drove the car for a year or so with its stock 1.8L CIS engine. “I cleaned the motor and it looked immaculate but I struggled to keep up with friends. I needed more power, so removed the engine and had it rebuilt by Rui Mauricio at RM Pro Tune (before the company apparently closed). He installed 9:1 forged JE pistons, custom I-beam rods and an OE forged crank. Up top, a Euro intake cam was fitted along with a Bahn Brenner intake manifold, fuel rail and 440cc injectors.

The built motor was in preparation for the Garrett T3/T4 57-trim turbo Rui pulled off his shelf along with a cast exhaust manifold and front-mount intercooler. He then fabricated all the plumbing while Pete helped rewire the car to OBD2.

Although most people avoid OBD2 electronics, it made it easier to integrate the turbocharger and control the fueling with a custom C2 Motorsports chip once they’d made the switch.

For the drivetrain, they retained the 02A trans but beefed it up with Diesel fifth gear and a 3.96:1 final drive. They also added a Peloquin diff to handle the torque and a six-puck clutch to put it to the wheels.

The driveshafts are currently stock and he’s had no problems with breakages to date: “Although it’s got 320whp, it’s not a racecar,” he asserted. “People tell me to race but it’s too pretty for that!” he laughed. “Building a racecar is a completely different thing, but this one has a shaved bay and custom paint so it’s not really for racing. If I wanted to do that I’d have built it another way.”

With substantial power in a lightweight body, braking was a major consideration, so Corrado G60 equipment was fitted up front to retain the stock four-lug wheel fitment. This allowed him to order a set of staggered 15" BBS RM wheels with the 4x100 bolt pattern but deep 2.5" polished front lips and 3" rears.

Despite the skinny 195/45 Toyos, the car rubs whenever it takes passengers. “Driving to Waterfest I had to raise the rear because I had a friend and our bags in the car. I didn’t like the way it looked and it still rubbed, so I bought air suspension as soon as I got home,” he said. “I didn’t really want to but it’s the only way to get it sitting right and drive without rubbing. There’s nothing wrong with the V-Maxx coilovers on it right now, but they don’t give me that flexibility.”

Talking of suspension, the front strut brace looks solid but is actually a hollow bar containing engine coolant. If you look closely, there’s a water cap on one end and the bar serves as the engine’s header tank!

Inside, Pete kept everything functional, with Recaro Trophy seats, Momo steering wheel and auxiliary gauges for boost, AFR and fuel pressure taking the place of his radio. However, he did paint an orange stripe throughout the cockpit to tie it to the knockout exterior.

Having owned the car 15 years, Pete’s obviously in no hurry to radically change things again. The air suspension will be fitted by the time you read this but Massachusetts residents will continue to see it on sunny days. “I check the weather every morning and, if it’s going to be dry, I take the car to work,” he confirmed, justifiably proud of this 23 year-old car’s semi-daily driving status that’s keeping the old school tradition alive.

et Tech Spec

1988 VW GTI 16v
Owner: Peter Amaral
Location: Berkley, MA
Occupation: autobody tech
Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder 16v with 9:1 forged JE pistons, I-beam rods, OE forged crank, Euro intake cam, Bahn Brenner intake manifold and fuel rail, 440cc injectors, Garrett T3/T4 57-trim turbo, cast exhaust manifold, front-mount intercooler, custom piping, OBD2 conversion, C2 Motorsports software, prototype wastegate and BOV, custom 3" turbo-back exhaust with two Magnaflow mufflers, K&N cone filter and breather
Drivetrain: 02A five-speed, VW Diesel fifth gear, 3.96:1 final drive, Peloquin LSD, six-puck clutch
Brakes: Corrado G60 front calipers and rotors
Suspension: V-Maxx coilovers, custom front strut bar with coolant reservoir
Wheels & Tires: 15x8.5" front, 15x9" rear BBS RM wheels with BMW grey centers and polished lips, 195/45 R15 Toyo T1R tires
Exterior: OEM big bumpers, G60 fenders flares, badgeless three-bar grille, headlamp eyebrow, shaved rubbing strips, rear seams, badges, rear wiper and washer nozzle, clear front indicators, car painted Lamborghini Atlas orange with black trim
Interior: Recaro Trophy seats, Momo steering wheel and pedals, Auto Meter boost, air/fuel ratio and fuel pressure gauges, orange trim stripe
Thanks: Kristina, Lucas, Peter Jr, Mom and Dad, Gary, Carla, Chris Reis, Rui, Kip, Eric from Ace Autobody

Eurp 1111 11+1988 vw gti 16v+steering wheel Photo 12/12   |   Welcoming Mk2 interior features Recaros, Momo wheel and auxiliary gauges
By Greg Emmerson
1078 Articles



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