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Project Corrado Part 2: Basic training

Oct 11, 2003
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I'd been ratted out by my own kids. Instead of tending the grill, I was sitting in the Corrado, rag in one hand, conditioning lotion in the other, buffing the leather to a dull sheen. The children watched as the teriyaki chicken burned until one screamed, "Dad is out playing with his car again." Subconsciously, I think I let dinner die on purpose. It meant I could drive to the local burger shack and spend more time behind the wheel of this beautiful Volkswagen.

Compared to Project GTI 16V, the half-dead gimp that followed me home one day, Project Corrado SLC is a randy stud. It was a classic one-owner car, pampered from the moment it left the dealership, cared for by a meticulous engineer-type guy who apparently felt the car was perfect in factory trim. Except for the tires and CD/radio, there is not one piece of aftermarket gear to be found. In addition to fixing the factory recalls (ignition switch and heater core), the previous owner had installed a new head gasket and radiator and, from what I could tell, used nothing but synthetic oil and premium coolant. I have a thick maintenance file on the car, all performed by the same dealer. I got lucky with this one.

Although I do not have a build sheet, it is obvious this 1992 SLC was kitted-out mit alles (with everything). Power windows (one-touch down), power doors, power sunroof, heated washer bottle, heated seats, ABS, full leather interior and 15-in. BBS wheels. Moreover, everything works perfectly and there is not a shimmy or rattle to be found.

Well, almost none.

As is typical with most cars reading 138,000 miles on their clocks, Project Corrado SLC had a few problems with its joints. Closer inspection revealed suspension bushings that were not only cracked and worn but were almost entirely gone. There was a good 2 in. of play in the front wheels, causing a significant thud off the line under braking and during spirited shifts. I imagine this was one of reasons the owner wanted to sell. It sounded like the vehicle was ready to drop the engine.

Before I did anything to this Volkswagen, it was imperative this situation was remedied. I probably would have opted for a re-bushing anyway, whatever their condition. A focused suspension is a happy suspension.

The crew at Eurosport ordered up new factory control-arm bushings, tie rods and ball joints. On the Eurosport lift, Vik removed the entire assemblies from the subframe and pressed the rotten stuff from their holes. Although Eurosport offers its own line of polyurethane bushings, I find them more suited to race applications where noise and stiffness is not an issue. The rubber stuff works just fine for the street--don't let anyone tell you differently.

Before pressing in the new rubber, Vik cleaned the A-arms with an environmentally friendly solvent that appeared to be on a par with minty bubble bath. The stuff worked great, however, and the assemblies look brand new. It was interesting to note the build quality on the Corrado's A-arms--unlike the Mark II, they are seam-welded rather than spot-welded--very tough. The rear beam bushings and steering rack rubber looked brand new, so they remained unmolested.

Vik aligned the car with a tad more toe-in and threw me the keys. The difference in handling and ride quality was significant to say the least. The SLC tracks arrow-straight and corners like a champ. And while it's hugely competent through the corners, it is also very comfortable on the highway. I've spent the last three weeks driving the Corrado and have found it to be one of the most involving fwd cars ever.

Although the car ran fine, Vik suggested it might be a good idea to do a basic tune-up. An old adage states that if it's not broke, don't fix it, but we went ahead and fixed it anyway.

The engine and transmission oils were drained and replaced with Red Line synthetics, and the coolant was swapped for Pentosin. Beru Ultra-X plugs were placed in the head and augmented with Eurosport's custom-tailored ignition wires. The plugs are designed with Beru's Multifunction Principle, stating that various functional principles may be employed for spark discharge: surface gap discharge, air gap discharge, and a combination of surface gap and air gap techniques. Because the electrodes are arranged in pairs, the ignition spark has six different opportunities to ignite the air-fuel mixture. The Ultra-X plugs feature ground electrodes that are more porous than conventional plugs and provide uniform sparking characteristics, improved scavenging and good cold-start abilities. They are a bit more expensive than standard plugs, but their performance seems in line with the price.

Eurosport's 8mm plug wires are constructed from a 100% double-silicone jacket that is wrapped around 19 strands of solid-core wire and ends with factory connectors. The wires can withstand temperatures as low as -65*F and as high as +600*F. Moreover, each wire is numbered so they are easy to install. Available in yellow, black, blue and, fitting for this car, red. Eurosport also installed a new cap and rotor and fuel and oil filters.

Preventive maintenance included replacement of the thermostat, thermostat housing and all the integrated seals. Because the parts are made of plastic, heat causes them to be more stressed and prone to cracking failure. Given the fact Southern California has been seeing temperatures in the high 90s, this was a wise bit of insurance. Interestingly, this SLC runs cooler than any VR6 I have ever seen, which is unusual because Corrados are known to run fairly hot. Apparently the recalibrated 160-degree thermostat and fan switch are doing their jobs.

Engineering editor Barnes and I went to test it at California Speedway in lovely Fontana, or as we have affectionately dubbed it, Fontucky. Hellishly hot and prone to windstorms, it is nonetheless a great place to test cars on its many acres of prime asphalt.

We left the suspension stock (for now), but the tires were in dire need of replacement. Although our intention was to test the car as close to stock as possible, it seemed silly to order a new set of tires (205/50-15) for a day's worth of use. I'd been combing through every wheel ad possible, talking to other Corrado owners and even browsing old factory prototype photos. From what I gathered from the factory, VW never went larger than a 16-in. diameter (either Speedline or BBS)--I would be going to 7.5x17-in. on a 205/45ZR17. While it is possible to use a 215/35, the reduced tire height will throw the speedometer out of whack.

The term "unsprung weight" has become something of a mantra around here, and in an effort to follow its teachings, I chose a set of SSR Competition wheels. Weighing a paltry 16 lb each, the SSRs are one of the lightest and strongest forged wheels available. Barnes is running a set on his BMW and seems pleased with their performance (and he's damn tough to please). In a specialized process perfected by Alumax, uniquely structured alloy billets are heated to a semi-solid state (the consistency of soft butter) and molded in a specifically engineered forging press. Through an exclusive contract with Alumax, SSR has further developed this technology and is the only manufacturer in the world today producing Semi-Solid Forged alloy wheels.

It is no surprise the SSRs have become a favorite of both racers and street enthusiasts looking for a mix of strength, style and performance. During the most recent One Lap Race, Matt Edmonds at The Tire Rack reported a huge run on SSRs and Kumho ECSTA MX tires, the next part of the running gear equation.

Kumho designed the ECSTA MX to provide the ultimate level of "dry" road performance while maintaining good wet traction. The ECSTA MX molds an advanced silica tread rubber compound into a directional tread pattern that features massive, stable blocks to increase cornering traction and steering response, while four large circumferential and multiple directionally aligned lateral grooves resist hydroplaning and enhance wet traction. Internally, the two, wide steel belts are reinforced by spirally wound nylon cap plies to provide excellent strength, uniform ride quality and Y-speed-rated (186 mph) capability while the sidewalls are tuned to resist lateral deflection to provide handling control and feedback.

The Kumhos remind me of the previous generation of Michelin Pilot MXX3 tires worn by the E36 M3 wore, one of the most balanced rwd sport sedans ever. The Kumhos transformed the Corrado from a good handling car into a great handling car. When pushed to their considerable limits, the Kumhos progressively give up grip with just the right amount of feedback noise. Turn-in is very precise, and the car tracks beautifully, even over the grooved surfaces of L.A. freeways. At about half the price of contemporary big-name tires, the ECSTA MX is a superb value, probably one of the best.

Testing revealed what we expected--there's room for much improvement. We were surprised by how well the Corrado did on the skidpad--those Kumhos really hooked up.

So far, the Corrado has proven to be hugely entertaining. It's fast, fun and very comfortable. Fellow staffers have commented that a car in such fine shape should remain unmolested. While I'm apt to agree, the urge to continue development is overwhelming.

I'm going to make Volkswagen wish it had a real sports car of its own.

Testing Results
Acceleration
0-30 mph: 3.1 sec.
0-60 mph: 8.1 sec.
1/4 mile: 16.1 @ 87.6 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph: 131 ft
Skidpad: 0.87g
Slalom: 67.9 mph

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Sources

Eurosport Accessories
Anaheim, CA 92806

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