Beware the de-badged car. "You've got to be stealth," said Sam Desmarais, his 2003 Jetta wagon, a 331-whp exclamation point in case. "I worked hard at hiding things like the exhaust and intercooler and didn't want any 1.8T badges. Everybody knows the huge tuning potential of the 1.8T. If a car has that badge, chances are somebody's done something to it." Desmarais certainly has. So if by chance you find yourself next to an innocent-looking Baltic Green wagon, speak in a low calm voice, avoid eye contact and slowly move away. You were warned.
After five years as a factory-trained technician at Grappone VW in Concord, N.H., Desmarais knew exactly what car he wanted. "I kept seeing the same old cars: everybody's got a Golf, everybody's got a Jetta, not many people have a station wagon," he said. In January '03, a few months before moving up the road to a new job at TJM Motorsport, he special-ordered his wagon, a1.8T five-speed, Baltic Green over black leather.
Of course, stealth doesn't have to mean mundane and when the Jetta arrived four months later, Desmarais was waiting with a Votex front bumper cover, the marker lights tastefully shaved, 337 side skirts, an FK badgeless grille and the slimmer rear bumper cover and underpinnings from the 2001 model. A Caractre rear hatch spoiler and 35% window tint added the final subtle counterpoints to the clean, understated look. And nary a bit of chrome anywhere.
Unless you count the European headlight lenses. After pulling and disassembling the headlights, Desmarais painted the inner surrounds gloss black and installed Euro-spec H4 reflectors. Having spent too much time in an old Mk II with pitted headlights, he went all out, installing an H4-base Phillips HID headlight conversion kit. The missing marker lights were replaced by a set of amber LEDs protruding from the Euro "city light" holes. In the rear, he rewired and relocated the turn signal in order to add a European-style rear foglight.
The black leather interior stayed stock as well. The only obvious additions are the pyrometer (used to measure exhaust gas temperatures) and wide-band O2 sensor installed to log data during developmental dyno runs, and the little Auto Meter Cobalt boost gauge mounted just behind the steering wheel. Desmarais was even happy with the stock speakers. You might notice the Sony XAV-7W media receiver, especially with the screen deployed, but unless you open the glove box there's no hint of the PlayStation 2 mounted there.
While Desmarais was working on his project, TJM was working on one of its own. Official U.S. importers for Dahlback Racing, the powers-that-be decided what the United States really needed was a bolt-on kit producing 360 hp from an otherwise stock 1.8T. The Swedish tuner had a complete kit available but the weakening dollar didn't bode well for U.S. pricing. Any further fluctuations would price the kit out of the U.S. market and the decision was made to develop an in-house, U.S.-specific kit based on Dahlback's custom KKK turbo, exhaust manifold, injectors and programming. The only thing missing was a test car and the new employee's new car looked tempting. "Tim [TJM principal McLean] said, 'Let's try this turbo on your car and see if we can figure something out.' I said OK, bolted on the manifold and turbo and started mocking up pipes," Desmarais recalled.
He started with a K&N cone filter and carbon-fiber cold-air intake leading to the MAF. From there it was all cutting and fitting as he worked his way through the rest of the intake plumbing to and from the Evolution Tuning front-mount intercooler, using Samco hoses for all the connections. An Evolution Tuning evoheatshield gasket acts as a thermal barrier between the cylinder head and the intake manifold. On the other side of the head, a 3.5-inch TJM downpipe leads to the catalytic converter. Desmarais sectioned and TIG-welded mandrel-bent 3-inch stainless steel tube to fabricate the custom exhaust. Just past the straight-through muffler, he turned the pipe so the slash-cut tip exits out the side just behind the left rear tire. While fabricating the exhaust, he built an electrically controlled dump-pipe to bypass the catalytic converter and also modified a nitrous system to freeze the intercooler core with compressed N2O or CO2. Arm the system and it will automatically fire at full throttle or anytime Desmarais pushes the control button. "I can't wait to get some drag slicks," he said. "Just for fun." And no, the boss wouldn't let him use the intercooler freezer during the dyno runs.
An Autotech lightened flywheel and ECS lightened pulley set gives the engine a free-revving snap. A Clutchmasters Stage 3 228mm carbon-Kevlar clutch kit sends the 1.8T's prodigious power output to a Peloquin limited-slip differential equipped, but otherwise stock, O2J five-speed transmission. "It was a real one-wheel wonder without the Peloquin," Desmarais reported.
For now, the dark green rocket rides on Neuspeed springs and stock dampers with polyurethane bushings all around, a heim-jointed front anti-roll bar and additional Autotech rear anti-roll bar. Tires are easy-melting 195/65-15 Michelin MX4Plus on VW alloy wheels. The combination works well enough for now, but Desmarais expects even better handling when he installs the KW-produced Dahlback suspension he has on order.