It's been a long, hard road with many twists, turns, ups and downs, to completely overcome my Canadian R32 Blues. Over two years have passed since I began the quest, and I have learned many things along the way, both on the technical side, and about myself (some good, some not so good). As you may know, I started with a brand-new, front-wheel-drive MkIV GTI VR6 24V and the original objective to create a car with equal or better performance in every way to the highly-regarded factory 4Motion VW R32. The R32 was impossible to import into Canada for regulatory reasons, which are fully explained in Part One. As someone once said: "Mission accomplished". But I think I'm right this time. In fact, I believe I have actually surpassed even my own ultimate performance aspirations for this little grocery-getter.
In this final installment, I will take you through some of the finishing touches of the 'My R32 Blues' Project Car. The last required R32 equalizing item to be fitted was the hard-to-find quick-ratio R32 steering rack. Also, there are some additional suspension modifications to achieve even better handling.
I'll describe my new interface with the road and track: two sets of beautiful new tires. I've even added a little bling for the first time. Don't worry, these flashy new items still have functional merit, as I would definitely not spoil a project that has been all about performance modifications. A full track review is included to describe how all the mods are working together on this extremely flexible custom performance car. At the end, you will also find a complete listing of the R28 Turbo's final technical specifications.
While work on the turbo system and clutch was being undertaken at HPA, I took the opportunity to have the techs install an R32 quick-ratio steering rack. The original GTI steering rack was noticeably slow on track days. I also elected to add a Neuspeed 22mm front anti-roll bar to match with the Neuspeed 22mm rear anti-roll bar. There are thicker and stiffer units now available, but because my car was already equipped with a KW V1 coil-over suspension, I felt it was unnecessary to run stiffer bars, as the car was already cornering predictably (and relatively flat). The new bar is slightly larger than stock unit (21mm) and you may even think this is a bit too stiff for the front (i.e. creating more understeer). However, this is not the case. When used with the matching rear bar, it actually keeps the front end a little flatter, enabling better front-wheel bite into any type of turn. This is also complemented by the additional suspension touches:
1) The installation of KW camber plates up front, enabling more negative camber to be dialed in. This improves turn-in and reduces abnormal tire wear under heavy cornering loads.
2) The replacement of the KW V1 rear shocks with HPA/KW adjustable Launch Shocks. This swap allows for adjustability of rebound and compression, as with KW V3 shocks. With a little trial and error, the rear can then be dialed in easily, achieving an extremely neutral balance with ultra-flat cornering.
The nose-heavy R32 has benefited significantly from these final additions and understeer rarely occurs even when pushed hard on the road (more on the track review later).
Every project car series deserves a new set of tires. I was lucky enough to get two sets at a significant discount through Toyo Tires Canada. The first set (for the street) came through Toyo's showcar sponsorship program, whereby an agreement is made with an enthusiast based on the number of specific show and/or media appearances the vehicle will make. The successful applicant then pays a discounted price for the set of new tires, in my case some top-line Toyo 225/40/18 T1-Rs. After the agreement is fulfilled, an additional rebate is paid to the applicant. This is an extremely fair way to give enthusiasts a break on tires and in turn helping to promote the brand.
A second set of tires, this time for the track, was arranged through Toyo Racing. Traditionally, this has been 'racers only' territory, but I was able to make my case as a 'track day junkie' and performance driving school instructor, attending many events per season. Fortunately, Toyo's research also indicated that driver's schools and track day enthusiasts were definitely up and coming target R-compound markets, so a discounted set of sticky 235/40/17 RA-1s was also granted.
At the request of some of my sponsors, this project car was entered in several local car shows for promotional purposes. Therefore, it was necessary to upgrade its appearance slightly. I didn't want this to be at the expense of any performance, so careful decisions had to be made. First up was new set of show wheels. An easy call: I went straight to Neuspeed for a set of beautiful and lightweight forged RS-10 road wheels. I selected the smaller diameter 18x8 size in order to keep my ride around town both comfortable and safe on the bumpy roads in and around Calgary.
I have always been a great fan of the OEM R32 body kit, being both aggressive and subtle at the same time. But as a purist, and as much as my car emulates an R32, I could not bring myself to install it. My car is NOT an R32, therefore it should not appear as one. I decided my humble VW would keep its original GTI VR6 badging, maintaining its heritage and sleeper/pocket-rocket status. The only addition to the bodywork was a new R-line front spoiler (aka, the 20th Anniversary spoiler). This piece not only creates a mild high performance appearance, but it also improves airflow under the car and, more importantly, into the radiator (a welcome benefit for the turbocharged engine). I'm sure I also saved a few pounds in extra body weight with this decision.
One last trip to see Rob Leech at Tunerworks Performance Parts House. I picked up a new set of Hawk HP+ track-rated brake pads in preparation for the car's first track event since its power upgrade. I also asked Rob about ways to improve headlight performance. At this point, my funds had reached their limit, so the only affordable solution was to replace the existing bulbs with PIAA 55W Extreme Whites. This significantly improved both brightness and whiteness, without blinding oncoming traffic, and I saved quite a bit of money by resisting the high-quality and expensive factory HID upgrade.
With all modifications to the R28 Turbo finally complete, and the new RS-10 show wheels and T1-R tires in place, I set out to one of my favorite roads for an easy shakedown run. After an hour of moderately spirited driving through some scenic and secluded mountain roads in the Alberta Rockies, I had finally reached handling nirvana. Here in the mountains, I could fully appreciate the new quick-ratio R32 steering rack. Understeer was now non-existent, the new camber plates and front sway bar improved turn-in and front-end grip, and the car felt well planted and neutral.
I was also pleased with the performance of the tires. Quiet, grippy and comfortable, these are well suited to a sporting street application. The sidewalls are perhaps a little soft, but this is the trade-off for enhanced comfort on the street. By experimenting with slightly higher air pressures, a balance could be found between lateral handling firmness and ride comfort. On another occasion, this time in the rain, the T1-Rs were found to be worth their weight in gold. The directional water-evacuating design does absolute wonders to eliminate hydroplaning. In heavy rain, I couldn't believe it was possible to drive through over an inch of standing water at highway speeds.