Whenever the hood of Project GTI 16V is opened, my knuckles start to bleed. I'd like to think it's a mechanical form of stigmata, a sympathetic melding of man and machine, but the truth isn't quite that romantic. The truth is, I don't belong working on cars, at least not unless I'm clad in a chainmail suit with Nomex underwear, a sapper helmet and heavy, studded gloves.

Raffi and Vik of Eurosport won't let me work on my own car anymore, and not because I don't know what I'm doing but because I invariably get blood on their tools. I don't know why, it just happens. Also, I tend to pick the path of least resistance, the quick and dirty route to fitting or fixing stuff. That's because I'm a photographer, and my subject has to be there a mere fraction of a second. Duct tape and zip ties are my best friends--not the best way to ensure the longevity of my projects.

In the privacy of my own, remodeled garage (thanks to a Home Depot charge account), I figured I'd do a few things myself--you know, pride of ownership types of stuff. Besides, Cole, my 4-year-old son, is a hardcore motorhead, and he wanted to "work" on the car with me. He'd got his own set of plastic tools all ready and was looking at me with eyes the size of dinner plates. "C'mon, dad; let's fix it."

I'd ordered a gorgeous upper strut tie bar from Eibach and was determined to install it myself. How hard could that be? Drill six holes, tighten six bolts, sit back and crack a beer.

Here's how it went: I jack up the car and take off the first wheel. The H&R spacer slips from the hub, rolls through the door and falls down my newly installed storm drain. I run after it, but it's too late. I can see it three feet down, peeking from behind the grate; it looks like a half dollar covered in dog poo. As I ponder getting it out, the tire begins rolling down the driveway, bowling over kids on their Big Wheels (I don't see this but hear the screams). I run out just in time to see the wheel heading for my neighbor's new Toyota 4x4. The wheel sees me, slows a bit, daring me to give chase, and then speeds up as I step forward. It is alive--I just know it. Just before it reaches the truck, it bounces for maximum damage.

A few minutes later, Cole and I are back at it. I drill starter holes (just like Vik taught me) and enlarge them with the larger bit. As I feed the bolt from the top, metal shavings fall into my eyes. This is really bad because 1) metal shavings are sharp; and 2) I'm allergic to steel. My eye swells with magnificent color, and blood trickles from the corner. The wife walks in and is very concerned, not about my eye but about our neighbor. She asks if he's still mad about his car.

If anyone knows a good exorcist, send him my way, because this car hates me--and I think it hates its new motor, too.

It's not all bad, though. I did have a few glorious days when the planets were perfectly aligned and all was right with the GTI. Initial dyno tests showed the new motor was making gobs of power, a fact I already knew. First and second gears were greeted with a gorgeous haze of tire smoke as the Toyo FZs fought for traction. I had to learn how to drive all over again; the Quaife diff literally changed the car's fwd personality.

Typically a front hooker will gently push (understeer) when its limits are breached. Let off the gas and the nose comes back in line. Now it's a whole new animal--when the front end starts to wash out, you stab the throttle and the front tires bite so hard, it actually swings the tail around--instant oversteer. YEEEEHAWWW!

And the sound. Project GTI 16V trumpets its presence like an elephant on speed. I know I should remove Eurosport's ceramic-coated headers and quiet it down, but it sounds so damn good. Although my wife's embarrassed, I'm the envy of every kid on the street.

The H&R coilovers are the best suspension I've driven so far. Period. I sometimes think Roland Graef, H&R's suspension guru, valved these especially for me. They are the perfect blend of firmness and compliancy, providing an ideal ride in town or on the local track (some credit belongs to Eurosport's polyurethane bushings, too). Eurosport's meticulously assembled gearbox (thanks Vik) adds to the sensation of precision. Each shift is greeted with the snap of an HK chambering a round.

Despite my inept attempt at fitting the upper stress bar, it eventually found its way between the shock towers and made a huge difference. The entire car feels different, and turn-in has been improved a great deal. That's typical of older cars with joints loosened over time.

A few things still need sorting, namely the brakes and the headlamps. Despite looking great, neither system works very well, and there is serious concern; both are critical. The Wilwood brakes lack the bite a four-piston, 11-in. system should have. Pedal feel is fine, but there's no modulation or progression--and they are noisy as hell. I've driven Wilwood-equipped cars before and they've worked well, so I know there's hope yet. I meet with Wilwood in its Camarillo, Calif., facility next week to try and sort this out.

The European-style headlamps have all the illumination of a pair of good flashlights. Hotter bulbs and relays are in order, but before that I've got to find a way to better seal these things--simply driving through water will short out the bulb or lead to internal condensation.

I also wish I had gone with the solid motor mounts rather than the hydraulic ones. I can already feel a good deal of flex as the motor spools up.

Which leads me to the final bug. Despite running well, the motor runs out of steam around 6100 rpm when things get dangerously lean--this engine should spin to 7800 rpm. Autotech's Power Module seemed to be everything we needed, a black box that fools the computer into a cold-start enrichment mode. It didn't work, another victim of the wiring demons infesting the GTI's harness. Ron Wood at VW Specialties spent a week performing various rituals and incantations until the evil spirit surfaced--a bum knock sensor was fooling the car into various default modes.

I pick up Project GTI 16V tomorrow, hopefully clean of all unclean spirits.

VW Specialties
17682 Gothard
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
(714) 848-3766
Fax: (714) 848-4336

Eurosport Accessories
1350 N. Hundley St.
Anaheim, CA 92806
Ordering: (800) 783-3876
Tech: (714) 630-1555
Fax: (714) 630-1599
www.eurosportacc.com

RPI
1940 Broadway St.
Port Coquitlam, BC V3C-2N1
Canada
(604) 944-0494
Fax: (604) 944-1797
www.rpi-equipped.com

Autotech Sport Tuning
32240-E Paseo Adelanto
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Order: (800) 553-1055
Tech: (949) 240-4000
www.autotech.com

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