Volkswagen's R32 is a great car. It's got a feeling of solidness that makes you want to rub the steering wheel and pat the shift knob, just sit there and appreciate the cabin's elegance.
In truth, the R32 is pretty damn complete, lacking for nothing save fuel. As usual, we found ourselves wondering if this would be the shortest project car we'd ever done.
If we had to adhere to a school, it would be the OE+ school of modification. Ideally, it needs to appear as if it's been assembled with factory hot rod parts built by craftsman after hours, you know, for kicks.
Short of having a key to VW's workshop, we assembled a smattering of gear that follow the aforementioned parameters.
HRE Type C90 Wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
The wheel industry is a fairly polarized place. At one end are great wheels, the other, crap. There are a few stratified through the middle but only a handful would pass stringent TUV and Euro-Union standards.
We've known of HRE Wheels for nearly 15 years, admired their work on Porsches, Lamborghinis BMW's, Audis, Vipers, etc. Every year at the SEMA show in Las Vegas we tend to hang around their booth too long, usually fondling whatever new design HRE has introduced that year.
Rather than typical sales people, you find yourself speaking with engineers, the guys that actually designed the wheels and know them from the alloy up. These guys deal in fact rather than marketing fantasy. We like that.
We chose HRE's C90 wheels for their classic multi-spoke styling, two-piece design and solid construction. While the R32 is capable of running 19-in gear, the decision to retain 18-in rims was based on the fact that more tire means more protection to the wheel. However, should we injure the HREs, we could simply order another outer section rather than a whole new wheel.
Like all HRE wheels, the C90s reek of quality, right down to the fasteners holding them together. And while the outer face of the wheels looks fantastic, the inside is just as beautiful. Every surface and each curve has been optimized for strength and lightness, neither bowing to the other but rather striking a perfect balance. That pretty much sums up HRE's product-balanced performance.
No, the C90s ain't cheap but neither is the forging technology that created them. Moreover, the C90s provide a classic look that should serve this car or any other that one day may wear them.
Measuring 18x8.5" ET30 with a 5x100 bolt pattern, the C90s have been wrapped with Michelin's exceptional Pilot Sport PS2 tires. We managed to get 255/35ZR-18s under the fender wells, leaving this R32 extremely well-tired. Switching the generic rubber for the Michelins was like substituting standard craft paste (the kind we ate in school) for Cyanoacrylate adhesive. The original tires were some off brand we'd never heard of and in truth, they were fun. The R32 slid all over the place like a rally car. With the PS2s, it doesn't budge. The car feels much more centered and cornering is very sharp.
There's not much we can add to what's already been said of the Michelin PS2. They are perhaps the best performance tires in the world, blending huge grip with outstanding road manners and decent wet performance.
We are huge fans of VW's narrow angle six. Both robust and powerful, it responds well to normally aspirated enhancements.
This first round includes hardware designed to enhance the car's respiration. We replaced the airbox with Eurosport's ITG Intake featuring its oil-impregnated element, heavy-duty fittings and heat shield. A Tectonics' exhaust replaced the heavy factory system, an impressive piece of work with great build quality and excellent fit and finish. It's augmented with Tectonics' own breed of camshaft wrought from stainless steel billets, ground in house and then chill-hardened. A gem-like underdrive pulley from ECS Tuning and GIAC software complete the program.
The summation of these bolt-on parts was a substantial increase in engine performance and tonality. Baseline power figures showed the R32 produced 218 whp (measure at the front wheels via Haldex switching). The car was now making 244 and the sound coming from the polished tips of the TT exhaust is simply glorious.
For and up-close look at this install, go to www.europeancarweb.com. Get to the "project car" section. We can only say how good it sounds so many times. You've gotta see and hear this thing to believe it.
•While your cars wheels may not seem like the most complex component, manufacturing a high quality aftermarket wheel isn't nearly as easy as one may think. Wheels are subjected to complex loading from drive and braking torque, side loading from cornering and radial loads from the car's own weight and magnified by road irregularities.
Once you have optimized the design, you need to figure out how to build it. You wont find any cast wheels coming out of HRE, they just don't have the required consistency or strength. All the hunks of aluminum coming out of HRE have been forged. The centers start life as a piece of 7-inch billet of 6061 that is mashed into shape with pressure, not heat. Think Play-Doh fun factory just shinier. Forging allows the crystalline grain structure of the Aluminum to orient itself in the direction of the spokes, optimizing strength. The centers are then heated treated to a T6 Temper before being CNC machined entirely in-house.
The rim halves start as sheets of 6061 aluminum that are spun forged on a lathe. Think of a pottery wheel except instead of clay a giant sheet of aluminum that will slice off appendages or entire limbs. The spin forging aligns the structure in circumferential grain to maximize the hoop strength of the rims. Once the spin forging is completed they are brought to the same T6 temper as the halves. The inner mating surfaces of the wheel halves are then machined to make sure they are perfectly flat to match the centers and the holes for the fasteners are then drilled. The bolt-holes have to be incredibly precise for they determine concentricity of the final wheel. A slight mistake in drilling can turn your high-end European sports machine into a Teutonic paint shaker.
Once all the components are individually completed, each wheel is hand assembled using quite literally the highest-grade fasteners they can find. Most HRE receive full stainless fasteners from legendary ARP. For higher-end applications where weight is an absolute priority, HRE offers titanium fasteners. The super light and strong Ti fasteners are actually sourced from a German manufacturer that also supplies Airbus. Most modular wheel manufacturers out there are using chromed steel. The stainless ARP fasteners are roughly four times the cost of chromed steel while the titanium is actually twenty times the price of steel. This may sound extreme, but standing in the middle of HRE's factory filled with the best CNC equipment, with the highest quality control in place, holding a high-priced, German made titanium fastener makes total sense.-Michael Febbo