Greg's 1983 Rabbit GTi

"What a long, strange trip it's been..."

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My Rabbit GTi. Been through more variations, modifications, derivations than I can think of. Now, I'm not going to go into the history of the GTi, but of MY GTi. If you want to learn about the GTi in general, there's plenty of links out there, such as this one.

Several folks have asked about what I've done to my Rabbit. Not because it does 11-second quarter miles (it doesn't) or because it's the prettiest example around (it isn't) but mostly, I guess, because I've had it (in one form or another) for so long. You see, I was one of the ORIGINAL GTi nuts. I liked the GTi long before it came to the United States. I wanted one of the original European Golf GTi cars, the ones based on the 1.6 liter that no one around here knew about. Those were hot little ships.

Well, OK, a tad bit of history on the cars.

Why GTi? Why is it that such a small car, with such a small engine (related to today, anyway) is so popular? Well, consider its environment at the time: fuel shortages, high fuel prices, Pintos, and Chevettes. Are you old enough to remember the wheezing engines that we ended up with after the "fuel crisis" hit? Well, the GTi was a breath of fresh air. It was the first sporty car that evolved from the anemic 4-cylinder, horrid cars we had post-OPEC-tantrum (actually, the Rabbit/Golf wasn't so bad a car in its own right). And it was kinda cute (not as "cute" as the Beetle, I suppose, but the writing was on the wall for that old car and there had to be a replacement...)

I've always been a fan of Volkswagens. My Dad always had several (I remember the brand-new orange Karmann Ghia, which I hear I "drove" down the driveway as a toddler when I accidentally released the hand brake). We later had a VW Van, and I remember Dad's green 1968 Type III Squareback (mostly because I got it when I turned 16...) Well, I ended up wrecking the Type III. It was a good car while it lasted, but it just can't stand up to a Pontiac Tempest rear-ending it. So, I looked around and bought a 1961 Beetle with a Baja Bug kit on it and an almost-burned-up 1200cc engine. OK, let's see: wrecked Type III over here with a 1600cc. Beetle with a cut-out back end needing an engine. Hmmm...I built up an 1835cc engine from the Type III and installed it in the '61. I think the remnants of the Type III ended up in auto-heaven.

I graduated from high school. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I was a pretty good student, honors and all that stuff, but I remember wanting to be a military pilot. Well, I couldn't pass the physical exam (eyes), so I was kind of lost. I attended Texas A&M University for a semester because a couple of my friends were going there, but was "asked to leave" after that first semester (bad  -- no, horrible -- grades. Too many late nights delivering pizza or playing videos games. You remember the 25 cent video arcades, don't you?) Well, I came home, attended a semester at the local university, and really didn't think it was for me. Instead, I took a job at the local Volkswagen dealer, Haus of Volkswagen, in Wichita Falls, TX /(RIP). Started to really like the water-cooled Volkswagens, especially the unobtainable European-spec ones. The regular Rabbits and Jettas didn't do anything for me (grocery-getters).

This new job allowed me to seriously start modding the Bug. Spent lots 'o cash on it. Rear disk brakes off a Porsche 914, more engine mods, body fix-ups, etc. After a while it just didn't ring my bell. Then, Haus of VW got in its first 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTi. Wow! what a neat car! I WANTED it! Might as well be a Porsche 930, for what I could afford...Instead, I bought a used four-door 1974 VW Dasher off the dealer's lot to use as a daily driver. Two weeks of that car and it's like, HEY, there's really HEAT coming out of the heater! And it drives really nice! And it's sporty, and QUIET! And it starts on cold days!

I got officially bit by the water-cooled enigma.

Can't leave well-enough alone: I did various minor Dasher mods. Engine overhaul, transaxle overhaul, balance and blueprint, minor head porting, header, springs and shocks, Rabbit GTi road wheels and steering wheel, Corbeau seats, race harnesses. Trying to make my own low-cost GTi out of parts...Then I did my first autocross, at the old "Greater Southwest Airport", now defunct (but you can still see part of it off the interstate south of D/FW airport.) The bug has bitten: now not only did I REALLY want that 1.8 liter GTi, but I wanted to RACE it!

Well, the poor Dasher met an ignominious ending: I wrecked the Dasher in a head-on collision on the way to corner-work my first road race event, at Texas World Speedway in College Station, TX. February, 1985. I was fine, but my buddy was hurt pretty bad. Fortunately we both healed. The Dasher ended up in that good ole junkyard in the sky (starting to see a theme here...?)

Good side was, the car was kept in so obviously good shape that I got a good insurance settlement. So, I used the insurance money to place a down payment on a not-so-used 1983 VW Rabbit GTi. Royal Red, sunroof, A/C, cruise. I finally got my Rabbit GTi!!!

I decided to try some serious racing. I had previously bought a small motorcycle off the dealer's lot for commuting and almost killed myself a couple times. So, I traded the old Baja Bug and the motorcycle for a 1969 Merlin Mark 11 Formula Ford. A Real Race Car. I raced the Ford in autocross for a couple years, 1984-85. I actually used the GTi to tow the Formula Ford to various autocross events. Most notable: Solo 1 type event at the old Green Valley Raceway, Dallas Metroplex area. Now defunct. Ah. The racing career was on its way...

Eventually, I sold the Formula Ford to a guy in Camillus, NY for $2500 and used the money to prep the GTi to ITB specifications. (I heard he turned the car around a couple years later for about $22,500. Sigh.) I left the GTi pretty much stock, and installed a rollcage, fire extinguisher, harnesses, window net. Well, OK, not totally stock: I bought a set of new 14" BBS wheels for the GTi. I drove the ITB car in 2 driver's schools (both at TWS) and one TWS race in 198-6. In the spring of 1986 I rolled the GTi in my 3rd driver's school at Hallet. Totaled it.

I had just destroyed my dream car.

gti1.jpg (52144 bytes)Well, I pulled out all mechanical parts and rollcage from the GTi and dropped it all into a dead-engine, silver 1981 Scirocco S, 1986. The remainder of the GTi ended up in that big old junkyard in the sky...The Scirocco was a nice car. I don't know how I had ignored the Sciroccos in the past. A couple of races into the year I got protested for wheel size in its first ITB event (Sciroccos are supposed to have 13" wheels, and I had the gold 14" wheels from the wrecked GTi on it), so I bought a set of silver 13" BBS wheels, sold the gold ones to pay for it.

Began modding the engine:
- .5mm overbore, Techtonics 10-1 pistons
- intake exhaust manifolds port and polish and port matching
- Drake 426 camshaft
- Drake baffled oil pan
- very good balance and blueprint
- lightened flywheel
- Neuspeed throttle body, modified to look stock, manifold ported to match
- Poly suspension bushings
- Sport springs
- Sport shocks
- upper stress bar

Blew the engine (detonation, holed #3 piston) at a race at Texas World Speedway 1987 due to running wrong fuel. Never run street fuel on a 10:1 engine without knock sensors...Re-built the engine, 1 mm overbore, Techtonics 10-1 pistons again. Won a couple of races, but pretty much got my ass kicked by Ed Peters in his non-turbo 2.2 Omni GLH. Decided to build an ITA Shelby Charger for 1988 (The ITA Shelby Charger was a hoot. If you're a fan of the VWs, you'd really like the Dodge 2.2 engine.) Pulled out all the drivetrain and cool suspension parts from the Scirocco, built a stock 1.6 to stuff into it and sold it, 1987. (Later saw it was rolled and destroyed at Hallet in 1988. Ironic, isn't it?) It, too, ended up in that good ole junkyard in the sky...(yes, I know. This is getting tiresome...) Bought a 1981 Rabbit Convertible for the street. Installed all the trick GTi drivetrain and suspension components into it. Made it my daily driver. Added:

- Euro bumpers
- new top
- custom red paint
- complete GTI interior
- 15" aftermarket wheels 205/50-15
- euro headlamps, driving lamps in grill
- upper stress bar
- Horr Tech springs
- Tokico Sport shocks
- 1986 GTi rear disk brakes
- convertible 5th gear
- cross-over lower stress bar 

Prepared and raced the 1983 Dodge Shelby Charger in ITA, 1988. Engine in Charger blown by renter, late 1988. Sold Charger to Ed Peters and bought and prepared a SSA Shelby CSX, 1988. Raced CSX in SSA 1989-91. Raced an Eagle Talon at the Runoffs, 1991. Raced a Nissan NX-2000, 1992. Third at Runoffs, October 1992, never to turn a wheel in anger again (well, except on I-95...) Through all this, drove the hopped-up Rabbit convertible as my daily driver.

Bought a VERY clean 1984 GTi (no sunroof, with vent wings) from Boston, November 1992 with blown engine (what is it with me and dead-engine cars?) with the intention to install all of the hi-po convertible parts into the GTi and race ITB again. Well I DID remove all hi-po GTi components from Convertible, put all the stock GTi parts into the convertible and then sold it, February 1993. But, as life goes on, I had lost my job November 1992. The disassembled 1984 GTi had to sit. I ended up selling it with all the cool parts to Bill Wittstein for $1500, because I really needed the money. The GTi sat in Bill's garage, 1993-1995. Bill never really got to working on it. In the meantime I did odd temp technical work during this time, Bill still never got around to building the car. Was a shame seeing it sitting there.

Finally I got a good job in 1995, and started looking for a good driver car. I mentally compared everything to how much I enjoyed my old GTi cars. So, I thought, why not buy a GTi?!? So, I bought back the car and all parts from Wittstein, for the same $1500, September 1995. Re-built the car as time allowed, got it back on the road and registered January 1996.

- all the hi-po ex-Convertible parts, plus:
- new radiator
- tubular header of unknown source
- Autotech SportTuned exhaust with catalytic converter
- Momo Monte Carlo steering wheel
- Momo leather shift knob and shift boot
- Neuspeed single bar lower stress bar (the cross-over ended up missing; I think Bill sold it)
- replaced center clock with oil pressure gauge (volts, oil press. oil temp)
- heavy-duty motor mounts (not Sport mounts)
- Short shift kit

For cosmetics, I removed all the side body moldings and wheel arch moldings, and the vertical bumper stays from stock bumpers (good thing I kept the stock bumpers, too; I hit someone in a rear-end accident and didn't damage my own car.) Using the Internet and the dealer, I obtained all missing and damaged interior parts. Had a nice car! Later, the tubular headers broke, replaced it with a 1981 Scirocco 8V exhaust manifold and Techtonics downpipe, 1997, and added:

- Euro headlamps 55/100W bulbs
- 14" silver BBS wheels, 195/60-14 tires (Ron's Parts Euro locks on the wheel nuts)
- Neuspeed Sport Springs and Koni Sport shocks (the race Horr Tech springs were way too harsh for the street. Maybe I'm getting too old...)
- 1986 GTi electronic ignition with knock sensor

In 1998, the Scirocco exhaust manifold cracked. couldn't find an acceptable replacement, so I replaced it with a real nice Brospeed header

Latest mods:
- Scirocco 16V front disk brakes with Speedbleeder valves (
- 1985 RD hydraulic valve head, stock
- Horr Tech hydro cam

Of course, then there's that wrecked Callaway GTi drivetrain that I bought, which finds itself in the chassis occasionally (it's so darn easy to change the engines!!!) The Turbo Bunny gets up and goes on the top end, but the built non-turbo Bunny kicks its butt around town (much more low-end torque.)

In early Winter 2000, I noted that I was driving my 2000 S4 a lot, so much so that the GTi sat in my driveway most of the time. Well, my Dad had always shown interest in the car, and I decided that instead of selling it (and never seeing it again) I'd give it to him with the agreement that he was never to sell it without my permission. So, we finally began to clean up the spots of rust and make it presentable. Matt Kessler removed all rust, repaired all panels, and we shot the whole car in its original color. Here's Matt busting his hump to get it ready for Thea and I to drive it from CT to Florida. You can pretty much see Matt's displeasure at my always asking, "Is It Ready Yet?!?"

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You can read all about our trip from Connecticut to Florida, and all the way across to Louisiana to present it to my Dad. Needless to say the trip was fun, and the car ran flawlessly. It would have been a hell of a lot easier getting on that commercial airliner had the car run like crap and stranded us somewhere in the middle of nowhere, but that wasn't to be, and it was truly with a heavy heart that I walked away from it. I can always get it back, though...I call him every once in a while to make sure he's taking care of it. He loves it!

Here's what it looked like the afternoon we left. That's about the cleanest it's been since it left the showroom floor.

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Still love my GTi!!!

Update, Summer 2003

I just can't stay away from these A1 VWs...

In December of 2002 I was driving down the road, minding my own business when I saw a Rabbit sitting on the side of the road with a "For Sale" plate on it. I stopped. It looked to be in good shape, it was a diesel with a 4-speed. It was $100. I bought it. Now I'm going down that same road all over again, but this time I'm building a "GTD" Rabbit, one with a turbodiesel engine, 5-speed, and GTi mechanicals otherwise. Watch this space...

I don't know why I beat on myself the way I do...

Update, Spring 2010

Well, this month (March) I went back to Louisiana to visit my Dad. Of course, I wanted to see my old GTi. Dad had told me a year or so ago he had a problem: they left the gas cap off and water had gotten into the fuel system, and it wasn't running. This, after I specifically told him that the quickest way to destroy the car was to get water into the fuel tank (getting water into the fuel tank would cause immediate rust inside, and those rust particles would quickly propagate up the lines, past the filter and pump, into the hydro-mechanical fuel injection system and clog everything up.) So he tells he he left it at some shop a few years ago, and the guy was supposed to work on it and get it running. I figured since I was there, and nothing had happened, I'd talk to the guy, see about getting it running, and taking it back home.

I was f****g SHOCKED at what I saw when I got there. Take a peek at some photos from my crappy cell phone camera.


Seems my dad, against my explicit wishes that he not let anyone else drive it, gave it to my brother-in-law to use as he saw fit. It's immediately apparent that this person had ZERO respect for the car, and ZERO respect for the labor, time, and money I put into this car. It's apparent he decided to use it like a pickup truck, with no regard to what he had. It's fairly obvious he had NO CLUE what he was driving.

To say I'm "unimpressed" is quite the understatement.

I'm still trying to decide what I want to do about this. It's too good a collection of parts to let rot there, but I'm not sure that I can take on another restoration project on it.

What a friggin' waste...