It sat for years, baking in a searing California sun. Rats lived in its trunk and pigeons used its Giugiaro-styled flanks for target practice. I thought about saving this Rabbit more than a few times, rescuing it from this inglorious end. And then the reality of such a project hit and I punched myself in the nether bits for even considering such a task. It would take a better man than me to reanimate this hulk, and one with far deeper pockets.
"I've wanted a GTI since I was a kid," says Jack Mardikian. "When I was growing up in the Lebanese foothills, the GTI was the king of the mountains. I couldn't shake those pesky cars, not even in my BMW."
Jack's GTI obsession would germinate for more than 20 years as life had different plans for him.
A passionate racer, Jack toyed with the idea of making it a career. He's won rallies in Quebec, autocrosses in Montreal, and the TCRA GT3 championship the first year out. He later joined NASA and ran in the Super Unlimited SU class. In 2006 he came to the attention of Chevrolet and was commissioned to drive the Chevy Cobalt in the GrandAm Series. While competing across the country, Jack built a monster RX-7 to compete in Super Street's Time Attack, our sister magazine's hotly contested series. He also managed to set a track record at Buttonwillow Raceway and walk away with the championship.
So yeah, you could say Jack has racing in his blood. And as any racer will attest, staying competitive requires money. Jack took some time off to form a company called Fast Track Motorsports, you know, to fill the piggy bank. All the while that pesky GTI obsession continued to germinate.
This project is based on a diesel Rabbit that had been converted into a racecar that sort of lost its way to the finish line. Completely gutted, the Rabbit was fitted with a rudimentary cage and little else, including rust (which was a good thing). It was a bare shell, like something filched from the Westmoreland factory line.
The crew at R3 Motorsport in Santa Ana, CA, spent many months sourcing the bits that make a GTI a GTI (in this case, everything). Louis and Charles at R3 reverse-engineered every piece, improving it where possible and fabricating more than a few custom components to replace the irreplaceable.
"I remember the day R3 finished the wiring," Mardikian recalls. "I went over there with a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Being able to work the dual-speed wipers, fogs, headlamps and, horn was a huge victory."
R3 fitted the GTI with the high-revving 1.8 16V engine of a Scirocco that includes hotter cams, injectors, and pistons. A Haltech ECU expertly tuned by Nelson at R3 replaced the factory management system and is augmented with a custom fuel rail.
Auto Explosion (a curious name) was responsible for the stunning bodywork, including the beautiful single stage paint job. It's the sort of finish you can "reach" into and a true test of a detailer. Auto explosion also seam-welded the entire front end and included the dual Euro-spec headlamps and grille.
The interior was completely recreated by A&G Upholstery and includes Alcantara seat inserts and headliner and subtle red stitching throughout. VDO gauges augment a Scirocco instrument panel.
At this point the GTI was half finished. Finding its way to the VW gurus at Eurosport, Raffi and Vik gave the car a serious performance massage. The GTI exhales through Eurosport's ceramic-coated tri-Y header into a custom-fabricated Eurosport exhaust. Eurosport also supplied its lightened flywheel and Sachs clutch and linked it to a Quaife diff.
The GTI has been suspended with Eurosport-modified stock strut housings that feature a threaded body and include VOGTLAND springs and STAGG shocks. Running gear is the iconic Ronal R10 "Turbofan" wheels (15x7) wrapped with 205/50R-15 Toyo RA-1 rubber. Brakes are the larger Scirocco 16V units.
"I never appreciated how much work goes into a car... even a cheap car," Mardikian says. "I don't recommend anyone do what I did. Finding the parts for this car took us all over the world. It was a freakin' nightmare. I can't thank the guys at R3 and Eurosport enough. They made the project happen."
We had been looking for a restified GTI for years, someone who appreciated the brilliance of Guigaro's design and the spirit of the VW tuning industry. Jack Mardikian was that man.
From the moment I slammed the Dynamat-lined door shut, it felt like I went back in time. Weighing a paltry 1990-lbs, this car is the reason you wake up early or take the long way home. There is a "connectedness" in this car that is sadly missing from its more modern siblings. This is the car that created the Euro-spark in many an enthusiast.
We commend Mardikian for realizing this obsession. It reminds us of everything good in the automotive world.