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.
But the Rabbit restoration could not begin without Joe finding The Guy—the one who could really make the restoration shine. The Guy happened to be one Chris Luker, whom they found, after a three-month search, at a local Porsche repair shop. Having maintained and crewed on many VW Rabbit race teams throughout the years, he was intimately familiar with the car. He started by completely disassembling it and washing and painting everything.
All parts are entirely original and period correct as the car last raced in July 1990, except for the windshield and hood. These two items were kept original to preserve the tech inspection stickers and paint and stripes. However, they hardly knew that finding a “survivor” hood and windshield from a 1975 Rabbit would be so difficult. Luker searched locally and checked all 13 Rabbits in his yard (yes, 13 Rabbits). Sourcing parts was also impossible and most components were fabricated as needed or were either repaired or rebuilt. But the vinyl stripes proved to be the most difficult part of all. Hundreds of color swatches were reviewed to find the exact matching colors. Two weeks and many different sets of eyeballs went by before the right material finally arrived.
1975 VW Rabbit
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
1.6-liter I4, sohc, 8-valve. Blueprinted and balanced, 11:1 Mahle pistons, ported head, Schrick cam, ABT intake manifold and custom airbox, dual sidedraft carbs
Five-speed manual with custom ratios, twin-disc unsprung clutch, lightweight flywheel, limited-slip diff
Sachs coilovers, custom lower ball joints, custom antiroll bars and strut braces, rear axle triangulation
Four-piston front calipers, stock front calipers relocated to rear
Wheels and Tires
BBS racing alloys, 8x13
Goodyear slicks, 20x9.5
Custom flares, Zender front airdam
The Passion: 2008 Audi S3
As 2009 approached, GMP began looking for a suitable vehicle for their return to club racing. The VW Group 1.8T engine was still a hot commodity with an established history of performance tuning, so GMP decided it would provide the basis for a new racecar. Having raced a B5 Audi S4, Joe and Claudia’s son Stephen began to search for a suitable S4 1.8T platform. And then by a stroke of good luck, he ran across a real, live Audi S3 that had been secretly tucked away in a local warehouse. The choice for the new race project became blatantly obvious.
The build began with putting on a fresh coat of paint that was color matched to the Rabbit’s. The stripes were laid out in a similar pattern, with softer angles to capture the S3’s curves.
The engine is based on a 1.8-liter block bored 1mm over stock with a set of JE pistons and forged rods capped with an AEB big-bore head. The drivetrain uses a stock six-speed gearbox equipped with a lightened flywheel and unsprung six-puck clutch disc. Induction comes from a Carbonio carbon intake and cooled with an APR Z-shape intercooler with in-house fabricated piping. The factory turbocharger was changed to a ball-bearing Garrett 2871 bolted to an APR Inconel manifold. The downpipe and exhaust were built in-house to fit around the car’s rear driveshaft. The rear wheels are locked into place with a competition Haldex controller.
Said wheels are custom painted two-piece 8.5x18 RH RANs wrapped in BFGoodrich R1 track tires. Behind those are brakes using four-piston Alcon monoblock calipers with Performance Friction PFC01 race pads. The suspension uses coilovers made by Ohlins featuring external reservoirs for easy adjustability.
On the inside, the instrument panel features a host of gauges to keep the vital signs in check. The driver sits in the car securely with a Recaro Profi XL seat and a six-point set of Schroth belts and center net. The Sparco steering wheel is mounted on a Sparco quick-release hub.
2008 Audi S3
Transverse front engine, all-wheel drive
1.8-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve. Block overbored 1mm, JE pistons, forged rods, AEB big-bore head, Carbonio carbon-fiber intake, APR intercooler and Inconel exhaust manifold, Garrett 2871 ball-bearing turbocharger
Six-speed manual, unsprung six-puck clutch disc, lightweight flywheel, Haldex rear diff controller
Four-piston Alcon monoblock calipers
Wheels and Tires
RH RAN alloys, 8.5x18
BFGoodrich R1, 245/40
Recaro Profi XL bucket seat, Schroth harnesses, Sparco steering wheel, custom instrument cluster
The Present: 2010 VW GTI
The Mk VI was built to showcase suppliers represented by GMP—and as a GTI that can be taken to the track, perform well and be driven home, all while looking good. GMP Performance partnered with APR, renowned VW and Audi tuners, to improve on the vehicle’s power with a Stage 3 turbo kit. The Mk VI’s 2.0 TSI heartbeat now beats to the rhythm of 376 hp and 361 lb-ft of torque on 93 octane from its initially relaxed 216 hp and 238 lb-ft. On 100 octane race fuel the power climbs to 404 hp as the turbo fully spools at 3400 rpm delivering 350 lb-ft and continuously delivering up to redline, peaking at 5800 rpm with 368 lb-ft. An APR intercooler upgrade and Carbonio carbon intake system help keep the intake charge cool. GMP partnered to develop a signature turbo-back stainless steel exhaust system designed to deliver a prominent sound announcing the
Mk VI’s arrival. The suspension was dialed with a set of H&R Street Performance coilovers and sway bars.
The GTI rides on a set of ADV.1 modular wheels, a rendition of the classic mesh design. The design utilizes the entire spoke face as the wheel center has been meticulously machined to lie precisely into the polished wheel lip. This detail combines the deep lip look with a larger full-face diameter that extends to the edge of the rim where it meets the tire. The wheel faces are also staggered in concavity, the front 8x19 faces are relatively flat whereas the matching 9x19’s spokes bow outward from the wheel center to the rim’s edge. The centers and inner barrels are painted in satin gold, a classic BBS finish from the ’70s and ’80s that matches both the Rabbit’s restored wheels and the S3’s track wheels. The GTI’s wheels are wrapped with Continental ExtremeContact DW rubber.
Along with the GMP 35th anniversary tribute stripes on the outside, the GTI features subtle interior appointments—a set of embroidered floor mats, lightly tinted windows and 35-year anniversary “golf ball” shifter. The exterior features a carbon roof wing and a custom Razor hood with vents to release heat from underneath. The underside of the hood is finished nicely with Kevlar rain trays protecting the engine compartment from debris.
All three of these cars represent different aspects of the GMP history and philosophy. Yet all three share an undeniable common thread. And as they roll into the next decade, you can bet that GMP Performance will continue as it always has. Says Stephen Klitzsch: “Even after all these years, the driving factor is having our customers leave happy with their individually improved European cars.”
2010 VW GTI
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
2.0-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve. APR Stage 3 turbo kit and intercooler, Carbonio carbon intake, GMP turbo-back exhaust
H&R Street Performance coilovers and antiroll bars
Wheels and Tires
ADV.1 ADV8, 8x19 (f), 9x19 (r)
Continental ContiExtremeContact DW, 225/35 (f), 235/35 (r)
Peak Power: 376 hp
Peak Torque: 361 lb-ft