Despite the fact Project GTI is running at seven-eighths its potential, I have been driving the bloody hell out of it. When I thought its ownership was in jeopardy, I drove it like a man trying to out-run Armageddon. If the end was coming, we'd go down in flames, together. And it seems the harder I drive it, the healthier it becomes. Things that were once broken are starting to work--the MFA computer, the dome light, the horn--it's all coming back to life.
But that last one-eighth was keeping the GTI from realizing its true potential--once again, we found ourselves at VW Specialties where guru Ron Wood placed the VW on the diagnostic machine. If Ron couldn't fix this, I would resort to drastic measures like a TEC II engine management/injection system. Damn the cost, this sumbitch was gonna work (see sidebar).
VW Specialties found the problem--a bum knock sensor box that was wreaking all sorts of electrical havoc. The car came back 100 percent, and now I've got the screamer I always wanted. Each shift is announced by the 7200-rpm rev limiter, and the Autotech Power Module is making sure the engine is well fed.
Although initial testing of the big Wilwood brakes yielded less bite than expected, they are damn near fade-proof. I've had them so hot they could have caused grass fires, but they continued to work. I am also pleased with the Monaco seats--they offer excellent support for high-g activity and remain comfortable during long, tedious hauls. And then, of course, there's the sound. Project GTI trumpets its arrival with a sporting arrogance, and while it annoys the old lady down the street, my kids love it.
Scott Oldham, the new editor of sister publication Sport Compact Car, is a different story. A classic example of Jersey-boy breeding (born, circumcised and handed the keys to his F-body of choice), Oldham's in the habit of cruising to work in an immaculate '76 Firebird, a 2-ton dinosaur with a never-ending Bob Seger cassette on the stereo. He laughs at my buzzy shitbox while I point out the hideousness of the golden chicken sticker on his shaker hood.
Old cars are so cool.
P.S: I'd also like to thank Don Alan at Chapman Mobile Service Center (714/532-2330). Don spent hours fine-tuning Project GTI so it would pass the California smog test. The first station we visited declined work on the VW because of its age.
No Bosch Bull
Opinions about Bosch K-Jetronic and KE-Jetronic CIS engine management systems are like armpits. Everybody has 'em, and most of them stink. Some people will tell you that a Volkswagen equipped with your run of the mill K-Jetronic, say a 1984 Rabbit GTI, does not have the ability to support more than 140 to 150 bhp. Others will tell you that same system is capable of supporting 200 bhp. And when it comes to KE-Jetronic, the opinions vary at least as widely. My opinion? Well, it probably stinks as much if not more than everyone else's, but you're going to get it. I think either one of the systems, properly modified and tuned, is capable of supporting at least 200 bhp. I base this not on any engineering data but on real-world applications I've seen. I'm not saying the stock system in the '84 GTI will run that, but with some tricks that I've seen used, it's totally possible. I've seen many, and I'm sure there are more that I haven't seen, but they've run the gamut from something as simple as using (on a KE-Jetronic) a "Power Module" from one of the VW tuners which, at full throttle, fools the engine management to run a little richer, all the way to a system I saw proposed with two K-Jetronic systems "siamesed" together. In addition to these two, there are many measures that can be tried in between.
In a KE-Jetronic 16V Volkswagen I once saw someone use a fuel distributor from a '78 BMW 320i (if I remember correctly, it has the same part number as the "European" VW fuel distributor) and the "warm-up" regulator from an Audi 5000 turbo, along with a few other miscellaneous parts. This system, while primitive, was somewhat tuneable, because you were able to open the "warm-up" regulator and adjust the fuel. While some other system may have been more elegant, for what amounted to about $50 in wrecking yard parts, this 2082cc motor was producing about 165 road horsepower.
Beyond modification of the factory CIS systems, there are other options that range from a little work and a little expense to a lot of work and a great expense. One option that I just recently stumbled onto on the Internet is an ECU replacement for your KE-Jetronic ECU called the K-Star by Milford Microsystems (www.milford.ndirect.co.uk) in England. This ECU is laptop programmable and uses all of your factory sensors, and even plugs into the factory ECU plug.
While this is not an inexpensive choice, it's a great idea and may be perfect in some cases where tuneability is the limiting factor in achieving peak performance. The systems are handled here in the USA by New Dimensions (www.newdimensions.com) and Shine Racing Service (www.srsvw.com).
Beyond the K-Star, there are complete "stand-alone" engine management systems which usually use none or very few of the factory sensors and therefore require a greater amount of work in fitting the other sensors and wiring them to the ECU, along with an added expense. In addition, these "stand-alone" systems will all use fuel injectors (as opposed to the valves used in CIS systems), which will require a fuel rail and usually some machining or an entirely new intake manifold to use them with cylinder heads that were originally designed for CIS.
The range of the stand-alone systems is quite broad. It starts with the relatively easy-to-set-up SDS system, which comes with sensors and a handheld programmer and costs about $1,000. Next up in complexity, price and tuneability are the Electromotive (www.electromotive-inc.com) TEC-II (and now the TEC 3) and Haltech (www.haltech.com) systems, which, once you purchase the systems, sensors, wiring harnesses and software (not to mention the lap-top computer you'll need to be able to program them) cost a bit more than the SDS system. They do, however, offer finer tuning adjustments and more options for additional sensors to better monitor the operating conditions of your engine. Beyond these, you get into systems that are truly intended for big-budget racing. Systems such as those produced by Motec (www.motec.com) are incredibly sophisticated and have a price that reflects it. They will typically cost about three times as much as the SDS system, and that's just for the ECU.
The best solution for any given situation will depend on the limiting factor you're trying to overcome, and your budget. While almost all limiting factors of a CIS fuel injection system will be overcome by the most expensive solution, I think that the budget-minded person can find some alternative that will give them significant additional performance without breaking the bank.