The only cure I could think of to help me through my case of the "R32 Blues" was to start working on the plans to build one. By late 2003 I had done all of the research and many iterations of the cost estimate to build my own Canada-legal R32, or "R28" as it ended up. The calculations were done using various engine scenarios for both hypothetical used GTI donor car values and brand new GTI donor car values, along with HPA Motorsports' estimate for a complete 4Motion conversion. But no matter the combination, the project was just too damn expensive for me to justify. However, subliminally, I must have still wanted a 4Motion GTI in some shape or form, as I would find myself systematically scanning the web and the local newspapers on a regular basis for the perfect Mk4 GTI donor car. On Saturday January 30th, 2004 my search was over. I had stumbled across an absolutely unbelievable deal!!! After inquiry and verification, I had found a brand new 2002.5 VW GTI 2.8L 24V with 293 km on the clock. The car had been on the dealer's lot for one and half years and the asking price was several thousand dollars under sticker. They obviously wanted to move this one out! Also, the vehicle was at a VW dealer in the Vancouver area, conveniently about a 45 minute drive from HPA Motorsports in Surrey, British Columbia. Better still, the 200 HP 2.8L VR6 24V was the best possible engine choice to begin with according to my calculations and personal requirements. My "R28 project" became instantly economic by inputting the drastically reduced new car price in to my cost estimate spreadsheet, and without hesitation (apart from the time to get clearance from my wife), I negotiated the purchase of the car over the phone from my home in Calgary within 3 hours of my initial "stumble".

This was to be the perfect all-round car, a certified "pentathlete": Daily driver, people mover, cargo hauler, track day car, and Canadian winter beater all in one. VWAG can certainly be credited with conceiving the concept, but I would be in control of this production line. My project goal was to at least achieve the performance level of the factory R32. In the beginning it was all really too good to be true. Everything was perfect, even the color. The lonely car nobody wanted was a beautiful Reflex Silver GTI with a sporty Black cloth interior,incorrect 16 inch GTI rims, and no sunroof. Originally, I assumed that the car did not sell because it had no leather interior and no sunroof. But there was something about this particular car that was unknown at the time of purchase, something mildly unpleasant or unlucky, almost as if myself, or anyone else for that matter, was not supposed to own it in the first place. Was this car cursed? This R28 project almost got the better of me. True, I did have a bad case of the "R32 Blues", but this was nothing compared to "My R28 Dues".

My run of hassle and bad luck on this project began right out of the shoot. It started with the dim-witted salesman and his several iterations of the bill of sale with minor errors such as spelling of my name, address etc..., mixed in with errors of more important items such as the included costs, basic addition, and the original price negotiated. Next, in order to fit the highly complex 4Motion conversion into HPA's busy schedule they needed to get working on it immediately due to the immanent arrival(February 2004) of several US Spec R32's scheduled in for their infamous twin turbo conversions. So it was necessary to complete the purchase and get the vehicle to HPA without wasting a moment of time (i.e. within 24 hours). But for some fickle reason my bank could not instantly transfer funds to the VW Dealer's bank, nor could the Dealer's bank account accept instantly transferred funds from a bank of their own brand. "Hello! I think this is the year 2004". Anyway, I solved the problem by having my bank cut me a certified check for the amount due on the car plus the deposit required for HPA to begin the work and walked down to a branch of HPA's bank brand. HPA could then send their driver over to the VW dealer with a check in hand to pick up the vehicle at the pre-arranged time. Sound simple? Well, apparently my friend, the dim-witted salesman (who did eventually get "fired"), had forgotten all about the scheduled delivery time and attended the 3 hour Dealership meeting instead. This caused the HPA representative to wait over two and a half hours for the car, in what should have been a 15 minute process.

The two month 4Motion conversion process went pretty much according to plan and schedule. Meanwhile, I spent my time organizing the purchase and delivery of aftermarket parts for HPA to install during the finishing process, as well as selling some of the basically brand new take off parts. I purchased new wheels, tires and locks, Schrick performance cams, a high flow air filter panel, an R32 steering wheel and airbag, a 4Motion shift knob and boot, TT aluminum pedals, aluminum door lock pins, and an R32 front grill badge. I transformed the R32 badge into a custom "R28" unit by reversing the "3" and the "2", and filling the "3" to make an "8". The "28" was then painted caliper red and reattached to the backing with the chrome "R". I must say it looks pretty close to OEM. I was able to sell the original steering wheel and airbag, rear axle assembly, and O2M 6 speed from my donor GTI. The additional parts, GTI struts, shocks, and springs, front sway bar, brakes, e-brake cables, and complete exhaust, are now in my basement until there is a better market for such spares.

I arranged the delivery date with Marcel Horn, president of HPA, a week ahead so I could book a reasonable cost flight from Calgary to Vancouver. One small hitch turned up during that week that could potentially delay the project. KW Suspensions had some minor production delays on HPA's R32 SHS (Sport Handling System) coil over suspension kit, but this problem was simply solved by upgrading slightly to a KW Suspension V1 coil over kit. The upgrade was cheaper than changing the flight/delivery date. It's amazing what a little bit of cash can do to solve a problem (Ooops, I didn't mean to say that out loud)!

I flew out to Vancouver the afternoon before my delivery date and eagerly phoned Marcel the next morning to see when they would be ready for me to come by a pick up my new car. Marcel delayed me until later in the afternoon because an engine check light had popped up and they needed a bit of extra time to finish remedying the problem. When I arrived they were just finishing up and I was pleased to finally meet Marcel and his team after two months of phone calls and e-mails. The car looked amazing.... a stock looking brand new GTI on top, with all the 4Motion and upgrades hidden underneath.... totally stealth, and sweet! While the guys finished up, Marcel gave me a tour of the facility and we completed the paperwork.

I loaded up the car with most of my spare take-off parts and after a few photos I was on the 950 km road back to Calgary. It was 5:00 pm on April 8th , the Thursday before the Easter Weekend, so traffic was rather busy heading out of the greater Vancouver area. After about an hour on the Trans Canada Highway in a slow moving traffic jam, I decided that I had better get some gas as I was getting low quite low (The thought of physically pushing my new car on the first day was very unappealing). I filled up the tank and paid the cashier, when I returned my heart dropped as I could see a steady trickle of gas leaking beneath from the slightly downhill driver's side rear quarter. After a quick look underneath, I determined that the leak was definitely at the top of the tank and since I had no tools on hand I decided that my only course of action was to lower the gas level by continuing home. I did try to call to HPA, but they had long since gone home for the long weekend. Then, after about 5 minutes on the highway I noticed that the engine check light had come on. I calmly pulled over to think about the situation and have a look under the hood. My thoughts were as follows:

" I'm leaking gas and my engine check light is on. The fluids and temperature are at the correct level and everything looks OK. The engine is running fine. HPA will not be open for 3 days due to the long weekend. Also, I absolutely need to be at work in Calgary on Tuesday so I can quit my job (the date had been planned for over 6 months). It's likely the check light is on due the leak in the gas tank (as when one forgets to properly tighten the gas cap). OK, I'll just press-on home. There are no other realistic options."

By Doug Neilson
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