The last time we met on these pages (et 2/07) I boasted that some forged connecting rods were next on the list for Project Jetta. Well, do we have a story for you! It has love, romance, drama; all the things you expect from a rush job. Rest assured, you'll not be disappointed.
Since 3/07 my life took a different path. I shed my Sergeant stripes and picked up a Warrant Officer bar at Fort Rucker, AL where I've been attending flight school. The goal is to become a Blackhawk pilot in the Utah National Guard and I moved down here with the intention of buying a Suzuki GSX-R750 to ride while bumming rides on rainy days. All the while, Project Jetta would be tucked snugly in my garage at home, gathering handlebar marks from my daughter's bicycle until I returned a pilot. That idea lasted three months until I started to get the "itch." So after graduating SERE school, I decided I needed my car, but not until I'd finished the engine work I originally set out to accomplish.
So I called my friend Cameron Brewster, owner of Thirty 20 Motoring, to have him throw in a new set of forged rods from Integrated Engineering. Following our previous GT32 turbo upgrade, this would give the motor the internal strength to push us closer to 400whp.
As we worked out the details over the phone, we decided a ball-bearing turbo might be a nice addition, and while the GT32 was a great turbo, it was hard to maintain boost between shifts, having a touch more lag than I liked. Therefore, we decided that with only 2500 miles on the GT32, it was time to swap to a GT3076R.
The problem was, I only had a 10-day period to finish the car and drive it from Utah to Alabama. That gave us five days to get the car built and on the road. Cameron was confident it was achievable, provided the parts arrived on time.
Since I last visited Thirty 20, the company had outgrown its modest shop and planned to relocate to a larger one. After a tour of the new shop, Tim Semple introduced me to what used to be my car, minus half the motor.
In less than two days the Thirty 20 crew had managed to tear down the motor. The first job recommended by Cameron was to change the connecting rods in order to keep the motor in one piece under the increased boost pressure and power load we were aiming for. So a set of forged-steel, H-beam connecting rods were sourced from Integrated Engineering. These rods are computer designed, then two-piece forged from 4340 Chromoly. After being machined to exacting tolerances, they're inspected and Magnafluxed to check for potential flaws. Integrated Engineering offers specialty applications for most VW/Audi applications, including the rods used here, which were designed to work with the factory Mahle pistons. These pistons have been tested up to 700hp, so retaining them is a good way to save some money.
Placed alongside the new rods by Integrated Engineering, it was easy to understand how the stock 1.8T rods could be the motor's weak point. Not only are the new rods made from a more durable material, they're thicker and forged into an H-beam to increase the beating they can take. The new rods were then fitted onto the stock crank without a hitch.
With the head removed, we checked Thirty 20's original custom exhaust manifold and downpipe for cracks in the welds, but found everything was as good as the day it was fabricated.
Having the head removed eased the installation by giving us the opportunity to mount the new GT3076R turbo out of the engine bay, rather than trying to squeeze it behind the head in the engine bay. It also gave us a better opportunity to see the size of the turbo in comparison to the head. The rest of day was spent refitting coolant lines for the new water-cooled turbo.
Once the head was refitted to the block, Cameron returned to work on the welder, ensuring the new turbo would get a 4" mounting flange due to the size of the anti-surging compressor housing.
After the circus-sized flange was installed, the intercooler piping needed to be adjusted, which inevitably meant another few hours of surgery with the welder before the piping fitted perfectly. Cameron then suggested we upgrade the ignition coils, and given VW's track record on coil packs, I need no further convincing.
Once everything was strapped in, it was time to start the car. This would be the second major overhaul and I winced before turning the key, replaying the entire installation in my head to see if we overlooked something. My worries were in vain and the car started as easily as the day I bought it. The Unitronic software made for the GT32 wouldn't need changing but might need slight adjustments, so Cameron and I took the car for a quick spin.
The car sounded a lot stronger. The blow-off valve seemed louder and more pronounced. The car started boosting earlier and seemed more eager for speed.
The turbo now spools to about 5psi around 2000rpm and builds full boost at around 3900-4000rpm. While this was fairly similar to the GT32 turbo, the boost delivery is smoother and doesn't drop off between shifts as much as the GT32.
Once I hit the freeway ramp it was time to see what the car could do (within the limits of the law, of course). We hit the ramp pulling in third gear all the way to 7800rpm and I was trembling in my seat. The higher the revs climbed, the harder it seemed to pull. After logging the ECU's behavior, it was decided the car was accepting the transplant well and no tuning was required.
On The Dyno
We'd seen enough and wanted to get on the dyno. Starting with a 20psi baseline, it recorded 312whp and 278 lb-ft of torque. On the second pull, with the boost turned up to 27psi, and a touch more aggressive ignition timing, the car returned 400.68whp. The goal had been reached!
However, Cameron decided that since we had room to play with boost and timing, we could push it a bit further. So we went back for more and the final dyno numbers were 416whp and 358 lb-ft at 29psi boost pressure. The goal had been surpassed!
The biggest difference when comparing the old GT32 and new GT3076R dyno curves was how the boost now seemed to hold all the way through the rev range, rather the falling off after peaking.
While big numbers were nice, what good is a daily driver if it's not reliable? The true test was yet to come, since it was time to start taping up the car for the long road trip.
As the sun rose on the fifth day, I kissed the family and started back to Alabama. I stopped by Thirty 20 one last time to thank them for their support. I'm sure most of us know how the smallest hiccup in a car after a build seems to be magnified but I made it back to Alabama without a single problem. Well, no mechanical problems, anyway... I was pulled over twice in Utah, once in Wyoming, once in Missouri and again in Alabama. Nevertheless, I'm more than happy to report not a single ticket!
As unlikely as it sounds, every cop who pulled me over seemed to get a kick out of the graffiti and painter's tape and asked me where I was headed. When I told them back to Fort Rucker for flight school they turned into the coolest people on the planet. I even managed to get a state trooper-recruiting packet out of the officer in Missouri.
I've been driving the car for a few months back in Sweet Home Alabama and the car's as good as the day it was reassembled.
Having returned to Alabama it seemed appropriate to complete this build and usher in the next stage of Project Jetta. And since we'd managed to make the car plenty quick and had improved its handling at an earlier stage, it was time to start working on the cosmetic side.
Everybody knows that wheels can make or break a ride. With this in mind, we felt that a good wheel selection would set the tone and direction for the car. So after searching for the right set of wheels we came up with a few different designs from the TSW catalog.
I wanted a wider set of wheels than stock but was surprised to discover how much actually went into choosing the right set of wheels. Sizes ranged from 15" to 19", depending on the particular wheel.
We discussed some fitting and technical aspects of the wheels with the experts at TSW and despite a number of new designs released at the recent SEMA show (et 2/08), I decided to opt for a set of five-lug 19" Thruxton wheels.
So the car was fitted with 19x8" front and 19X9.5 in the rear, with an offset of ET35. This gave us a 2.75" lip on the front wheels and a generous 3.25" on the rear. However, I was a little nervous about using such wide rims but TSW assured us they'd fit.
Wrapped with a set of 225/35 front and 255/35 rear Toyo Proxes T1R tires, I'm very pleased to report that after mounting the wide rear wheels, they fill the rear fender perfectly, yet are conservative enough not to need any fender modifications. With the car dropped about 2" from the stock ride height I was wary of the rear tires being eaten away by the fenders, but despite the local roads and the many speed bumps around the post, I have an aggressive stance with no fender rubbing.
In addition to the technical aspect of finding wheels that fit, the bold design and color both work well on the car. Finished in what TSW describes as Hyper Black, the color enhances the darker theme I was trying to create, while the deep polished lips add plenty of contrast to get them noticed.
This is only the start of the next stage for Project Jetta, so stay tuned and look out for me down south because you may just bump into me at a local car show. Keep Dubbin'!