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.
At the track, the car was fitted with its new track-day wheel and tire setup, 17x8 OZ SLs and oversize 235/40/17 Toyo RA-1 R-compounds. Finally, the chance to see what the completed car could really do. After a couple of progressive warm-up laps, I let loose down the long front straightaway. The new turbo system really did its thing, pulling strongly and smoothly to redline in third, fourth and fifth gears. My terminal speed was nearly 25mph faster than in naturally aspirated form. Then I had to get hard on the brakes for Turn 1. The freshly bedded-in Hawk HP+ pads easily hauled me down from 137mph to 78mph, while I heel-and-toed down to fourth before entering the corner.
Initial turn-in was precise and confident, and the car took a comfortable set through this relatively high-speed left-hand corner. Once past the apex, it was time to get on the brakes again and drop to third before entering the tighter right-hand Turn 2. The car has been known to step out in this turn, however, the combination of R-compound rubber, matching anti-roll bar set and revised alignment kept everything well in check. Braking hard again for the late-apex left-hand Turn 3, the slowest corner on the track, the car turned in well and I was able to easily modulate the throttle and steering to quickly exit without the usual understeer. There is a short straight before Turn 4, allowing you to get back on the throttle again. The turbo does not disappoint here, as the engine is revving at just under 3000rpm at full spool. A quick and satisfying squeeze on the throttle is rewarded with a brief blast of third gear acceleration before braking hard and negotiating the left-hand medium-speed Turn 4.
I continued around the 11-turn track, pleased that all the new parts were now working together in harmony. The steering and suspension provided excellent feedback and I had no trouble dealing with any transition, curve, or bump. The new HPP Haldex controller helped distribute power more effectively to all four wheels. I was also happy with the Toyo RA-1 R-compound tires. Once these tires were brought up to the recommended temperature and pressure (200 degrees F and 42psi), they delivered firm steering feedback and kept me safely glued to every corner, well beyond any street tires I have experienced. The RA-1s also work exceptionally well in the rain, provided they are at near-new tread depth.
The power from the new turbo system is spectacular, coming on smoothly with whatever degree of vigor you care to modulate. And I really enjoy the wild new exhaust note. The new performance clutch provides smooth and easy operation while handling the gobs of upgraded power. Extremely important is the big Porsche front brake kit and Hawk HP+ pads that continued to scrub off the speed lap after lap without fade, even with the greatly elevated speeds this car can now achieve. Pedal feel with the four-piston calipers is excellent.
I have been lucky to have created an extremely solid and driveable performance car. It is a car that can do it all: daily driver, people mover, cargo hauler, winter beater, and track day thriller. Best of all, this all-wheel-drive sleeper puts all of its 403bhp to the pavement with negligible wheelspin, resulting in exotic-level rates of acceleration. Just pick a set of shoes (summer, track or winter) and you're off.
On any custom car project, large or small, the process never really ends until you actually sell the vehicle. New products come out, your tastes change, you change your mind on some things, and end up completely shifting your approach, or you just plain want more. I do have some thoughts for a few minor bits and pieces in the future, but I think I'll just enjoy driving the car for a while. For four seasons of fun, at least.
Complete specifications: R28 Turbo
CHASSIS: 2002.5 VW GTI
ENGINE/TYPE: VR6 2.8L 24V
POWER OUTPUT: 403 bhp/420 ft.lbs
INTERNAL MODIFICATIONS: Compression-reducing spacer (to 8.5:1), race-grade con-rod bearings & ARP hardware.
EXTERNAL MODIFICATIONS: HPA FT410 turbo system including: Garrett/HPG R30 ball bearing turbocharger, proprietary HPG short-runner cast aluminum intake manifold, tuned cast exhaust manifold, dual side-mount intercoolers, custom stainless steel boost piping, high-flow fuel injectors, large diameter mass air flow (MAF) unit, auxiliary inline fuel pump, dual race cats, Blueflame stainless steel catback exhaust system with HPA ECU controlled exhaust bypass at 3100rpm.
ENGINE MANAGEMENT: HPA FT410 ECU program re-flash
DRIVETRAIN/MODIFICATIONS: HPA 4Motion conversion with Euro R32 close-ratio six-speed transmission, HPA/Sachs racing clutch, HPA short shift kit, R32 Haldex driveline, Haldex HPP upgrade, fully integrated electronic stability program (ESP) with complete disable switch.
SUSPENSION: 4Motion factory independent rear multi-link suspension setup, R32 KW Suspension V1 coil-over kit lowered 30mm, KW/HPA V3 Adjustable Launch Shocks, KW Camber plates, Neuspeed 22mm front anti-roll bar, Neuspeed 22mm rear anti-roll bar, Custom Performance Products stainless steel adjustable rear control arms, precision alignment and corner balance.
BRAKES: ECS Tuning Porsche front Big Brake kit: Porsche Boxster four-piston calipers with 13.1-inch drilled and slotted two-piece rotors; slotted stock 10.1-in R32 rear rotors with R32 rear calipers, Hawk HP+ performance pads and stainless steel braided flex lines.
WHEELS/TIRES: Street/show: 18x8 forged Neuspeed RS-10 with Toyo T1-R 225/45ZR18 tires. Track: 17x8 OZ Racing Superleggera with Toyo RA-1 235/40ZR17 R-Compound tires.
INTERIOR: R32 steering wheel, Auto Meter boost and oil temp gauges, dual CG-Locks, Audi TT aluminum pedals and dead pedal, Euro 4Motion leather shift knob and boot, JOM aluminum door pins.
EXTERIOR: VW R-Line front valance spoiler, custom cut rear valance with dual exhaust outlets, PIAA Extreme White 55W headlight bulbs, chopped and sealed OEM antenna.
CURB WEIGHT (full tank): 3205lbs.
PERFORMANCE/TRACK RESULTS: 0-60mph in 4.2 sec, quarter-mile in 12.8 secs with 112mph terminal velocity