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Project VW GTI 16V Part 4: Coilovers, lighting and bumpers

Jul 30, 2002 SHARE

During confession the priest asks for an act of contrition, a penance for your sins. In my case, most of the time they were pretty tame--ten Hail Marys, a couple Novenas, an Our Father or two. I'm so sure. Like a few prayers were going to make up for playing "strip dreidel" with Rachael Cohen in the basement, a sin I confessed to at least 15 to 20 times during the eighth grade. You'd think these guys would have wised up after a while, given me something more substantial--like restoring a 15-year-old GTI.

So far, this VW has presented what can be described as just penance, atonement for all the bad stuff I've done and plan to do in the future. To date I've nearly cut off my fingertip while lining up the subframe, spilled battery acid on my leg, been attacked by black widow spiders, had metal shavings dumped in my eye and suffered numerous knuckle-busters, one requiring seven stitches. In other words, things are moving right along, perfect even. I'm really digging it.

In the last installment the crew at Eurosport rebuilt the gearshift linkage and installed new steering linkage. We went straight to VW's parts bin for the stuff, as there are no aftermarket substitutes--nor would I have wanted anything less than the factory's best in these critical areas. I forgot to mention there's a special tool for aligning the shifter, a bracket that holds the stick in place while the lower sleeve-shaft is tightened. If you don't have the alignment tool (most dealers hate selling them), you can adjust the shifter using a friend--he holds the shifter in place (pretty much straight up and down) while you tighten. The shifter feels so good now, I find myself rowing through the gears while the car is parked, making the appropriate engine noises.

Regarding the steering linkage, get the car aligned before doing any serious driving--right now, I've got some bizarre toe settings going on.

It was then time to suspend the beast, seeing as how it was listing to one side like a drunken monkey. Everyone in our offices has an opinion on suspensions, and not one staffer agreed with another as to which set-up is best. Neuspeed, Eibach, Intrax, KW, Weitec--everyone had a favorite and a great reason to go with said brand. All I knew is what I didn't want--a hard ride coupled with a significant drop.

One of the poor bastards I chased down (last installment's lead pic) was driving around on H&R coilovers, a setup he claimed was the best he'd ever used. His GTI was a daily driver and was occasionally autocrossed and driven over dirt to his favorite mountain locales where he would parasail. When I saw his car it was pretty much at stock height, an elevation he claimed was best for daily usage. "I can dump it if I want, though," explained Mark. "Throw on my 16s and sticky rubber and kick ass," he added.

Mark's GTI felt great but in fairness all GTIs feel great compared to mine. Not too hard, not too soft and adjustable...that's a damn fine combination. What the hell. I'd give them a shot.

H&R coilovers are not cheap--plan on spending about $300 per corner. They are, however, superbly made, featuring fully threaded bodies covered with a tough, anodized coating, quality rubber boots and stout welds throughout. Oh, yeah; they also carry a lifetime warranty.

The H&R coilovers for the Mk II Golf feature 400-lb/in. front springs and 285-lb/in. rear coils (the rear springs are slightly progressive) with specially valved Bilstein dampers. According to H&R suspension guru Roland Graef, the coilovers will feel 15- to 25-percent firmer than a factory GTI (if such a car still exists), which pretty much means nothing to me as I can't remember that far back.

"When you think of suspensions, try to put them in the same context as a bed," explained Graef. "Buying a bed is an important decision because you'll be spending lots of time on it. Most people like firm to extra-firm beds--the same thing goes with a street suspension. Firm to extra-firm is what you want. Not soft, not hard, but firm and comfortable."

At first I thought Graef's analogy was the result of an especially potent ale; however, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I recently purchased a new bed, and although it set me back $1,200, it was money well spent. A Sumo wrestler could dive onto it and I wouldn't feel it on my side (now there's a disgusting thought). I'm going to be throwing all kinds of abuse at this car, and my hopes are the H&R coilovers will react with the same control.

Installing H&R coilovers is very simple, a procedure Vik at Eurosport finished in one hour. H&R supplies a set of heavy-duty wrenches to rotate the perches, a task that proved to be the biggest pain in the ass of the whole deal. To make counting the turns easier, you'll want to mark the perch with an indelible marker. It felt like we made some 4,000 turns before we had the GTI sitting correctly.

A quick trip around the block revealed exactly what Roland described--a wonderfully firm ride that was never harsh. Where there was unrest, there is now control; where there was disruption, there is now balance. Of course, it all ended as the rear bearings began screeching like fingernails on a chalkboard, threatening to throw a wheel off the hub at any moment. I limped back to Eurosport, sat down and started to cry.

Raffi cheered things up with plates of falafel and a few big boxes from RPI. Inside were RPI's quad headlamps, late-model bumpers, flares, rear taillights and side markers. While I have tried to focus on the GTI's mechnicals, its looks were beginning to grate on the nerves, like an ugly dog you mistakenly pet and then follows you everywhere.

I've always loved the way the European quad headlamps looked, and although it was a very popular mod more than a decade ago, I figured no one carried them anymore. I was wrong. RPI is a great source for older-model equipment (and new stuff), and its prices are very reasonable. Besides their handsome appearance, the European headlamps offer a marked improvement in light output. Where the early (1987-89) U.S.-spec single sealed headlamps put out something in the neighborhood of 55/60 watts, they used crummy 9004 bulbs and less than perfect lenses. RPI's dual lamps feature the same wattage but utilize superior H4 bulbs and more intensely focused European lenses. Or, for even more light, the bulbs can be swapped with 80/100 units or Hella's new Optilux Xenon White Bulbs for illumination that rivals HID systems.

The RPI kit is comprised of four Hella lights--two 6.5-in. E-1s and two 8.0-in. E-10s and bulbs. A new grille (including the emblem) houses the lights and features the lower grille trim. The entire unit is held in place with a structural steel cross panel that replaces the factory piece. Also included are special headlamp wiring adapters for a plug-in installation and all the associated wiring. The kit includes easy-to-follow instructions and is very complete. Although RPI's quad headlamp system is a direct R & R procedure, you'll need to acquire a rivet gun to affix the female part of the hood latch.

I also installed a pair of late-model bumpers, seeing as how my car had none. These units from RPI are very well made, not to mention they're lighter than the units I was replacing. They include tougher brackets that attach them to the sides of the body and feature spots for RPI's European-style blinkers. I was especially impressed by how cleanly these bumpers lined up to my otherwise crooked car.

The front bumper also includes a handsome airdam and sizable brake ducts, which might come in handy if I go with bigger binders. The bumpers are designed to work with new plastic flares, parts my car had long since lost. I've put off riveting them in place until I paint the beast--I'm in search of a decent, $1,500 paint job, if such a thing exists.

In less than a day's time, I transformed this POS (piece of shit) into something actually worth stealing. I put a Gorilla Grip steering wheel lock (from the graft closet) on Project GTI just in case. I probably don't need it, though, as I can usually be found behind the wheel of Project GTI as it sits in the parking garage, rowing the shifter, making engine noises.

Eurosport Accessories 1350 N. Hundley St. Anaheim, CA 92806 (800) 738-3876 (714) 630-1555 Fax: (714) 630-1599 www.eurosportacc.com Check out the Eurosport crew at its new 10,000 sq-ft facility.

RPI 1940 Broadway St. Port Coquitlam, BC V3C-2N1 Canada (604) 944-0494 Fax: (604) 944-1797 www.rpi-equipped.com

H & R Special Springs 3815 BakerView Spur, #7 Bellingham, WA 98226 (888) 827-8881 Fax: (360) 738-8889 www.hrsprings.com

H&R Springs and Shocks When H&R says its springs are the best quality, it offers a convincing paper trail as supporting evidence. H&R Spezialfedern (German for "Special Springs") was the first company to offer TUeV-certified performance automotive suspension springs for the European market. In 1993, H&R went beyond that and began selling A.B.E.-certified suspension kits and spring sets, allowing the consumer to bypass the expensive post-installation TUeV inspection process. In addition, H&R is ISO 9001-certified, an industry-wide approval rating, covering not just the final products but the entire design, development and manufacturing processes.

In designing a spring, H&R's primary goal is customer satisfaction. Though there are three different "levels" of spring for many cars, in addition to the Cup Kits and coilover lines, H&R's program is not to provide three categories of spring for every car but to provide what enthusiasts want for each vehicle. Partly that means ensuring the customer knows what is being offered. Roland Greaf, head of H&R's stateside operations, told me of a particular case in which two customers complained about the stiffness of H & R's Sport spring for a particularly sporty two-seater. By marketing the same spring under the Race line, H&R eliminated all complaints and tripled sales of that spring set. The point is that communicating with the customer to ensure that his (or her) needs will be met properly is a basic part of H&R's marketing approach.

Providing a matched spring and damper combination gives H&R the ultimate freedom in satisfying customers. Dampers are an integral part of a car's suspension, and including them with the spring as a package eliminates the uncertainty of customers using a range of different dampers. Flexibility is also provided with coilovers; ride height can range from nearly stock height if roads are very bumpy (or perhaps snow-covered) to lower than a stock-length damper would tolerate without bottoming out. Corner weighting is possible for the serious enthusiast, ensuring optimum distribution of load on the tires.

The dampers in H&R's coilover kits are assembled by H&R's technicians to their own specification from components provided by a German company well known for its quality. Experienced tuners tell us the company's dampers often last for 100,000 miles of street driving. The high-pressure gas monotube dampers use spring disc valving and are rebuildable for retuning, renewal or repair after severe use or misuse. Virtually any damping specification can be achieved by varying the diameter, thickness and number of spring discs. Custom setups can be provided, and certain distributors have preferred setups that differ from the standard configuration. H&R's struts use an upside-down design, providing greater wheel control by eliminating bending of the piston shaft and the extra stiction that could result.

Typically, H&R coilovers use much stiffer springs than stock, making for a significantly more responsive vehicle and flatter cornering, but they are still comfortable on the street because the damper tuning controls the spring and body motions properly. Many people, even non-enthusiasts, actually find them more comfortable than a stock suspension.

On cars ec has driven in the past, we have seen two significant errors in setting up H&R coilovers. The first, and most common, is to just screw the adjustable height perches down to the bottom of the threads and leave them there. This minimum ride height setting definitely qualifies as "in the weeds," but adjusted that way even H&R's system tends to bottom out frequently, and over time we notice the damping on these cars seems to decay. Another mistake is to change the spring rate without a corresponding adjustment of the damper tuning. H&R coilovers are designed to work as a package, with spring and damper perfectly matched. Changing one requires changes be made to the other. Mismatched springs make both ride and handling worse, rather than better. --Dan Barnes

RPI
1940 Broadway St
Port Coquitlam, BC V3C2N1 Canada
(604) 944-0494
Fax: (604) 944-1797
www.rpi-equipped.com

eurosport
1464 N. Hundley St.
Anaheim, CA 92806
(714) 630-1555
Fax: (714) 630-1599
www.eurosportacc.com

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