The year was 1975; the U.S. was formally introduced to the Volkswagen Rabbit and the term “hot hatch” was born. The Mk I Rabbit was a hot commodity at a time when consumers were trading their big, gas-guzzling American cars for smaller, nimbler imported cars. With its watercooled powerplant and front-wheel-drive layout, it also set the scene for a new generation of Volkswagen tuners.
One of the first watercooled VW tuners on the scene was GMP of Charlotte, N.C. Founder Joe Klitzsch, a machinist who grew up in the backyard of the pre-war Audi group, came to the States in 1967. A Porsche enthusiast, Klitzsch was looking to set up a Porsche service and repair shop, drawing on his German roots to import the parts. Then in 1976 he and his wife, Claudia, purchased a Rabbit as a daily driver. He became dissatisfied with the 1.5-liter carbureted engine’s performance, however, and as a racer, began making improvements. His first was mating a new single downdraft carb to the engine with an adapter plate. Word on the modification got out, and it wasn’t long before Claudia was taking orders and selling them by the dozen.
The tinkering continued, and that Rabbit became the launching point for Deutsche Motoren und Teile. It translates as German Motor and Parts, which was later shortened to GMP. Word spread quickly, and the Klitzsches decided they needed to expand and maintain an inventory to keep up with demand. To finance the business, they sacrificed Joe’s beloved Dolphin Gray Porsche 356 coupe. The rest, as they say, is history.
Last year marked the company’s 35th anniversary and to commemorate the occasion, they unveiled a trio of special tribute vehicles. They represent the company’s past, a restored 1975 Rabbit in full racing trim; its passion, a race-prepped Audi S3; and its present, a Mk VI GTI.
The Past: 1975 VW Rabbit
This Rabbit is none other than the Klitzsch’s first daily-driven car. Even after the business’ inception, racing continued to be a big influence on the company and that Rabbit began a slow transformation into an SCCA GT racer. The engine was replaced with a blueprinted and balanced 1.6-liter 8-valve powerplant. A set of 11:1 Mahle pistons were placed in the bottom end and the head was ported and polished. A custom-ground Schrick camshaft with heavy-duty valve springs were added, along with a custom airbox and an ABT intake manifold mated to a pair of dual side-draft carburetors. A dry-sump oiling system and side-exit exhaust were also fabricated.
Power from this new engine went to a close-ratio five-speed gearbox and limited-slip diff (replacing the standard four-speed) through an unsprung twin-disc sinter-metal clutch and lightened flywheel. The brakes were improved by installing four-piston calipers on the front assemblies and relocating the stock front calipers to the rear; a Heim-jointed pedal box was also added for balanced brake proportioning.
The chassis was fortified with a complete rollcage and VW Motorsport wing strengtheners. Underneath, the suspension received a fully adjustable coilover setup from Sachs and redesigned lower ball joints. Custom sway bars and strut braces designed by Joe himself complemented a rear axle triangulation setup, which eliminated the car’s notorious rear-wheel lift during hard cornering (a stance Joe refers to affectionately as the “Pissing Dog”). Up top, the shock towers were built for increased camber adjustability and the car’s suspension pickup points were relocated to lower the chassis overall.
The Rabbit was set to roll on 8x13 three-piece BBS racing wheels and Goodyear “Sports Car Special” slicks. GMP fabricated aggressive fender flares to allow for a wider overall track. A front spoiler was sourced from Zender.
The Rabbit was campaigned throughout the SCCA’s southeast region between 1980 and 1990.
January 2010 welcomed a new year, and the S3 as the new company racecar. The S3 silhouette received the Rabbit’s signature white paint and blue stripes. And since they were undertaking that project, and celebrating their 35-year milestone, they decided to roundly celebrate the history by having the Rabbit restored to its former glory. Both cars would be unveiled at the company’s Thawout event in May 2010.