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Project VW GTI 16V Part 9: 16V Engine Transplant

Aug 8, 2002 SHARE

I've always been proud of my resourcefulness. In junior high, I'd call in sick by using my grandpa's voice synthesizer after a tracheotomy took away his normal speaking ability. In a computerized voice I said, "Hello. This is Mike Mitchell . My grandson Les is very, very sick. He has diarrhea everywhere. He will be better tomorrow. Thank you." If they asked any penetrating questions, I knew the answers. It was a brilliant caper. Of course, it never dawned on me they might speak to my grandpa in person, ask if I needed homework sent home or perhaps include me in the morning prayers at my catholic prep school. Okay, it was a good caper, and with the exception of grandpa beating my skinny ass when he found out, even he said I was pretty damn clever.

When we last left Project GTI, electrical demons were still plaguing the engine's performance. In denial, I figured this was how they all were, kind of slow and smoky. I made up for it with a unique driving style--I did not use the brakes. When this turd finally hit 65 mph, that's where it would stay--on the freeway or through town. I learned where to apex every corner for maximum effect, because I did not have the patience to wait another few minutes while the GTI reached its maximum speed (which by the way, was 65 mph).

Pretty damn clever, indeed.

After a while, though, certain agencies got wise and I was forced to confront the problem. A pull on Eurosport's new Dynojet revealed a thundering 45 hp and emissions so noxious it threatened to fell birds from the sky.

Vik and Raffi checked all the obvious areas, including the fuse box, fuel and spark distributor systems, assorted regulators and even the coil. Everything was fine. Vik began the heinous chore of probing the wiring harness, sticking a needle into each strand and checking its resistance. Fourteen hours later, they found a few bizarre electrical anomalies, and I took solace in a bottle of $6 tequila, the stuff you find next to the motor oil at WalMart.

Every state has a watercooled VW guru, the kind of guy who is so sharp he can tell your valve overlap in a few hundred rpm. In California, that guy is Ron Wood at VW Specialties in Huntington Beach. Mix equal parts classic surfer dude, tech nerd and a youngish St. Nick and you get Ron Wood. I told him the trouble I was having, and he asked if all the aforementioned areas were checked. Upon hearing yes, he paused reflectively and said I'd better bring the car in.

I did not watch as the VW Specialties crew hooked Project GTI to assorted diagnostic tools, because I was thinking how much fun it would be to blow the car up. Ron called the next day and simply said it was "done." I didn't ask if he found anything, since I couldn't take any more bad news. Did "done" mean "done and gone," "done for" or "I am done with this piece of shit"? I left for VW Specialties like a man going to get his biopsy results.

Ron had traced the problem to the multi-pin connector of the CIS computer. A combination of corrosion, bent pins and enlarged female connectors was to blame. "It's rare, but it happens," said Ron. "It looks as though someone monkeyed with the connector and failed to replace it carefully. An easy fix, though, no real problem."

Talk about a precise diagnosis. I had said somebody must have performed unholy experiments on this car!

The first few hundred yards were punctuated by the screams of spinning Toyos. My car was actually doing a burnout--I began to hyperventilate. The next two weeks were great, the car was everything I imagined a GTI should be. Even with 190k on its clock, Project GTI would spin to 6100 rpm while making around 105 hp at the front wheels. God, was I happy.

The valve noise was pretty awful, especially at idle when the car sounded like a blender full of ball bearings. In all honesty, I didn't want to stop driving it to put a new engine under the hood. Power is addictive, though, and soon 105 hp and 6100 rpm just weren't enough. I needed more, and I needed it now.

The plan was to purchase a 2-liter 16V longblock and simply plug it in. Although not as ubiquitous as the 8V ATA, good VW-specific salvage yards usually have a few multi-valve versions in stock. Quotes ran from $650 to $2,000, with mileage ranging from 30k to 150k. Unlike new parts, buying used stuff without seeing it first is a risky proposition at best, especially from unknown parties. Moreover, some folks don't even know what they're selling. One gentleman insisted his 8V engine had twice the amount of valves despite my attempts to educate him otherwise.

I've always enjoyed salvage yards, and there are several on the West Coast that offer good selections of VW parts. The Secor brothers at FAST and the crew at German Parts Warehaus have proven to be honest, no-bullshit types with an intimate knowledge of the stuff they carry. "Every deal we do is like a marriage," said Cliff Clauson of GPW. "A guy buys a motor from us, and chances are he's going to need at least a few additional parts. We treat him right, he'll come back."

Idiot that I am, I purchased an engine that sounded good (30k) even though I did not know the seller. RPI arranged shipment for me and expressed concern over not seeing it first. What came to my door looked like it flew out of a dead whale's ass--the block was heavily corroded, and the exhaust ports were filled with rat turds. Judging by the motor mounts and block heater, the engine was culled from a Rabbit that lived somewhere cold, like the Antarctic. Dustan at RPI was so furious I could hear the Molson shoot from his nose. After kicking his nearest employees, he came up with a great idea. "Let's just build one, eh?"

Here's where my whole goddamn budget went straight to hell. Any time the words machine work, shot-peening, balancing, blueprinting and lightening come into the conversation, it means money. I whipped up a few good rationalizations why I deserved such a noble mill (almost 40, hard-worker, good dad, great lover, etc.). When all was said and done, I had nearly rationalized myself into a new M3. I knew exactly what I wanted and how to get it without my wife finding out.

VW's 16V motor is a pretty tough lump of metal--Eurosport's ITA Golf 16V has survived 45 races without a rebuild and is still going strong. "Factory parts are very good," said Raffi. "Our car is testament to that."

That said, we would stick largely with factory parts but optimize their functions. Like the new M3, this engine would make more power by adding lightness and balance to the reciprocating parts and increasing gas speed through polishing and porting.

RPI cooks up a few special 16V motors each year. "They're a pain-in-the-ass but work very well," said RPI's Dustan. My order was based on an N.O.S. 2-liter bubble block (82.5mm x 92.8mm) fitted with matched factory rods that have been shot-peened for extra strength. New factory cast pistons measure 82.5mm and have been balanced with the wrist pins to within a gram of each other. The crank has been balanced and features a subtle knife-edging--the theory is quicker spool-up and less parasitic drag through the oil. A new oil pump and scavenging pick-up augment a new oil baffle unit and oil pan.

According to multiple sources, the 1.8 16V head is a better-flowing unit in stock form. However, the 2-liter head is a better unit to modify because it gives the machinist more material to work with, and one now rests atop the block. It features several potent mods, including a triangulated valve job and extensive polishing and knife-edging of the passages for better intake and exhaust velocities. New hydraulic lifters await the cams.

Ultimately, the motor relies on old-school technology, not especially ground-breaking but very effective nonetheless. The build-up continued at Eurosport, where Vik took over assembly chores, installing Kent Cams' 258 intake (.404 lift) and exhaust camshafts, a new cam chain and Kent's adjustable cam sprocket. Kent Cams are manufactured to rigid, factory-like specs, so they'll probably last longer than the entire car. This combination results in a very good idle and a moderate power boost, along with the ability to custom tailor the power curve. Vik soaked the nasty-ass valve cover and intake runners (I retained the stock runners to maintain low-end torque) overnight in a special, non-toxic cleaning brew. Despite my doubts, the parts emerged looking brand new (so much for skin-melting solvents of the old days). Vik included new seals and a cam chain during the head's assembly.

After a long discussion with Jeff Moss at Velocity Tuning, gearbox specifications began to take shape. I had driven a trio of gorgeous 16V cars from Velocity (ec, 10-01) and they remained exact duplicates of what I wanted. I like the Velocity crew because, one, they build great cars and, two, they don't try to sell you stuff you don't need. Moss listens to his client's desires and formulates a strategy based on what he hears. Originally, the plan (okay, my plan) was to go with a 3.94 ring and pinion and a taller 5th gear. I would use either an aluminum flywheel or Velocity's own lightened flywheel and a Velocity Sport clutch pack (210mm) and pressure plate. A vaunted Quaife differential would ensure the engine's power would not be wasted.

Ultimately, this selection of components would leave the GTI with formula-car-like gears, gravity-enhancing handling and adhesive qualities beyond the super-est glue. I retained most of the plan with the exception of the tighter gearing--when I told Moss I'd be doing a fair amount of freeway cruising, maybe ferrying folks around, he suggested I might be happier with stock gearing. In hindsight, it was the right choice.

Back at Eurosport, Vik tore into the old tranny like a kid opening a birthday present. Stinky parts flew everywhere, and I was certain it would never go back together. Despite its relatively good performance, the entire transmission was a mess--gears with chunked teeth, stripped splines, worn selector parts. Digging through 800 lb of assorted VW transmissions (and a bunch of new parts), Vik cooked up a stellar box in less than a day. According to Vik, precision is the key to building a great transmission--everything needs to be surgically clean and tight for optimum performance.

It was almost over, my uber engine was nearly complete. Vik methodically connected the gearbox to the engine while I stood by, literally vibrating with excitement. I bought a new engine stand from a local swap meet, because I wanted to ogle the motor before it was stuffed up the GTI's nose. I screamed when Vik began bolting up the old exhaust manifold and downpipe--my beautiful engine was being de-flowered. I had been eyeing Eurosport's gorgeous, ceramic-coated header and opted for that instead. I also grabbed a set of Eurosport's nifty plug wire kits to replace the aging factory units. While I was looting Eurosport's stock (and depleting the family vacation fund), I found an auxiliary oil cooler system to replace the notoriously bad oil cooler the GTI was born with. Rather than affix the 14-row cooler through the radiator, Vik fabricated a trick bracket that connects to the hood frame.

Vik installed the motor in less than a day, taking special care to inspect and replace assorted hoses, clamps, clips, caps...anything that appeared aged or frayed. Vik used Redline's synthetic lubricants in the motor and transmission, purged and pressurized all the fluid lines, connected the exhaust and replaced the battery. It was time to turn this bitch over.

The first few cranks were greeted with nothing but starter noise and a few horrific backfires. Vik traced the problem to a cranky distributor and tried again. Bingo. The motor sprang to life with all the fanfare of an industrial sewing machine--I could not believe how damn quiet it was. Vik blipped the throttle a few times, and the GTI revved like a motorcycle--not gradual like before, but tight and quick.

Raffi started to say, "Try to keep it under 6 grand while it...." Too late, I had already left. A light rain had started to fall, making the roads exceptionally slick, so I used extreme care--for about a minute. In a few miles I was power sliding around corners, mad with the power of my new engine and the amazing control of the Quaife limited-slip differential. I could do no wrong, I was Lord GTI, master of all I survey--for a while, anyway. On one particular straight at 90 mph, the hood came unlatched unexpectedly. I thought I was in a video game and it had just ended. "GTI Psycho" would have been an apt title. I subsequently purchased a new hood from FAST.

Although my space for this part is up, here are a few quick observations: 1) The car has much more power. 2) It responds like a motorcycle. 3) It wants to rev beyond 7400 rpm. 4) It sounds gorgeous. 5) Every hot Asian car in the world wants to race me.

Let me put 500 miles on this beast and I'll give you a full report, dyno and strip, maybe a video clip on the website. I don't want to stop driving right now.

Special thanks to my friends at Eurosport who endured my unbalanced, childish, psychotic and generally insane behavior while building my car. It's almost done guys; hang in there.

Eurosport Accessories
1350 N. Hundley St.
Anaheim, CA 92806
Order: (800) 783-3876
Tech: (714) 630-1555
Fax: (714) 630-1599
www.eurosportacc.com

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

Autotech Sport Tuning
32240-E Paseo Adelanto
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Order: (800) 553-1055
Tech: (949) 240-4000
www.autotech.com

Velocity Sport Tuning Inc.
(310) 952-0003
www.velocitysport.com

FAST
767 Alpha St.
Duarte, CA 91010
(626) 357-3361

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