Team GTI

Building Project GTI
Showroom Stock C Class

Winter 2003

Given the restrictive rules of the Sports Car Club of America's Showroom Stock category, most of the mechanical changes to this high-mileage VW are made in the name of safety.

To make the required modifications, it was first necessary to remove much of the interior of the car. This was a little painful because the car was so well cared for and the interior was in great shape.

The front seats, carpet pieces, center console, rear interior panels except for the doors, stereo system, and much of the dashboard were removed and tagged to facilitate reassembly.

The dash was disconnected from the car and the electronic components were removed but the bulk of the dash structure was left sitting in place, to facilitate placement of the rollcage tubes that would have to pass through it.

The rear seat was unbolted but left in place. Since it is required that it be in the car in Showroom Stock, it was necessary to design the cage to both clear it and allow its removal for welding.

The 65 cents in change found when the interior was stripped was put into the racing budget. The gum in the otherwise clean ashtray was not.

A full rollcage structure, carefully bent out of 1.75 x .095 seamless steel tubing, was fitted and welded into the stock body shell by Competition Cages of Hillsborough, NC. Careful attention was paid to the joints, as tubes were "fish-mouthed" to ensure tight joints for welding.

The rollcage design is an adaptation of one used in Europe by the VW factory Polo rally cars. More information on these cars can be found at www.vwmotorsports.com.

The racing seat and steering wheel - installed to improve driver control and safety - were test-fit during rollcage construction to optimize the driver's seating location. The seat belt tab in the upper corner of the door area is the quick-release mount for the window net mentioned further down this page.

The cage design incorporates corner gussets as required by rally rules - a feature made necessary by the multipurpose nature of this racer.

The diagonal elements in the cage increase the strength and stiffness of the structure, while the horizontal bar behind the seat guides the driver's harness - the seatbelt - to the proper height behind the seat.

To maximize safety, the cage is designed to fit closely along the roof and pillars of the body shell This posed a challenge for the fabricator as rules require that the stock headliner be retained: Minor dirt and smoke damage did nonetheless result but will be scrubbed out when the car is detailed.

The cage also incorporates optional braces to the back side of the front fenders, to maximize protection of the driver's feet.

All cage elements are welded to plates or boxes, that are in turn welded to strong points of the body shell after paint and sealer have been stripped from those areas.

The massive triangulated structures in the lower door opening area serve the dual purposes of stiffening the chassis and providing intrusion protection in the case of side impact. They actually touch the door speaker grill and interior panel when the door is closed, to provide as much room as possible for the driver.

The rollcage was cleaned and painted - with a brush and rust-resistant paint - to prevent corrosion and make it easy to keep things neat and tidy.

At this same point in the construction process, fitment of the dashboard was checked and final trimming was done. Electronic components - switches, gauges, and wiring - were reinstalled once the dash was screwed back in its place.

The carpet was cut around the rollcage mounting points and reinstalled, as were the interior panels and door sill trim pieces.

It was necessary to modify the side interior vents where the rollcage passes through the dashboard, in the spaces previously occupied by speakers. Speaker grills were cut and reinstalled as were the dashboard knee pads.

The stock airbags are removed for racing but rigid foam padding is added to critical areas of the rollcage and a window net is installed - to keep the driver's arms in the car and other objects out, in the event of an on-track incident.

The aftermarket racing seat features side bolsters to retain and protect the driver's head, while the stock passenger seat and belts are reinstalled, as required by Showroom Stock rules.

Visible in this picture are the rolled sheet steel "taco" gussets incorporated to strengthen the cage near the tops of the A-pillars. Similar gussets are incorporated in the door bars of the cage to increase strength and stiffness.

Note too that the unusual vertical tubes in the door area provide a direct structural resistance to any force downward at the top of the windshield, as might be encountered should Project GTI have the misfortune to roll on the race course.

The rear interior panels and carpet were reinstalled, with the exception of the spare tire cover and rear parcel shelf, which may be left out under Showroom Stock rules. These parts - along with the stereo and optional fog lights - were sold to offset a small part of the cost of construction.

The rear seat was installed in a semi-folded position to accommodate the rollcage structure but must remain in place as well. The rear seatbelts will never be used again.

Required graphics were completed in the evening on a day in January when it wasn't below freezing in Greensboro, NC. Not the ideal conditions but it is necessary to have numbers, class designations, and sanctioning body stickers before a car is eligible to compete.

That this car is intended to be used for more than one type of racing under a variety of sanctions is reflected in the presence of both Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and National Auto Sport Association (NASA) stickers on its flanks.

Competitiveness between the organizations makes it necessary to tape over one set of stickers while running in events put on by the other group but Project GTI is all about "getting along" in a variety of racing settings so it's a small price to pay.

Project GTI sits on full-tread 205/55-14 DOT-approved Toyo racing tires from PhilsTireService.com, that are substantially wider than the 195/60-14s that come stock on the car in 1996.

Showroom Stock rules limit tire width to an increase of not more than +20 beyond the original size and aspect ratio to a decrease of not more than 10. The final decision was made considering clearance (since the fenders cannot be modified in any way), and outside diameter - since that influences the effective final drive ratio of the required stock gears.

The tire manufacturer, model, and tread depth were chosen to be a compromise toward lower cost and better longevity. There are "faster" tires available but not as economically.

Wheels are stock 14x6" VW "Orlando" alloys, one of just a couple of options that satisfy the requirements of the SS rules.

Hiding behind the wheels are new stock brake calipers and lines, struts, rotors, CV joints, wheel bearings, balljoints, and hardware - all replacing the corroded, 118,000 mile pieces that came on the car.

Stock brake pads may legally be replaced with aftermarket racing pads, like the Hawk Blue compounds available from Cobalt Friction.

The "E" logo on the upper door shows race emergency personnel that the fire extinguisher is located just inside the window, which must be open when on the race track.

A 2-pound Halon 1211 fire extinguisher is mounted in a metal bracket within reach of the driver. While the manufacture of new Halon is prohibited under international environmental accords, recycled gas is still available commercially. It is a superior extinguishing agent in many respects, even if relative scarcity and complicated procedures have made it expensive.

The steering wheel is a smaller-diameter, suede-covered unit. The smaller size facilitates driver entry and exit from the car and, since the stock power steering must be retained, there is no measurable increase in steering effort as would be the case with a manual rack.

The hole in the dashboard is evidence of the removal of the radio - one of the few pieces that may legally be tossed out in Showroom Stock.

Cup holders will not typically be used in racing conditions.

The driver is held firmly in place by a set of 3-inch-wide, FIA- and SFI-rated, 6-point harnesses. The shoulder straps wrap around a rollcage member, while the lap and double "anti-submarine" belts mount to the floor immediately adjacent to the stock sliding seat brackets on the floor.

This mounting hardware utilizes high-strength eye-bolts, to which the harness ends clip, and stainless nuts and washers on the bottom of the car, to prevent corrosion.

Red harnesses were selected to improve visibility, for driver changes during endurance races and driver safety, should anyone have to find and undo the harnesses in a hurry someday.

The triangular box structure at the base of the main rollcage hoop is just visible to the left of the door jam. It ties into both the rocker panels and a main transverse element in the stock body shell, on which the rear seats are mounted.

The final package is ready to go racing, even as it retains typical street car driveabilty and license plates.

The suspension has been aligned and all engine hoses, accessory belts, and what appears to have been the original timing belt - yikes - have been replaced. Coolant and fluids have been serviced, as have filters and a number of electrical components.

Now, see Project GTI in action or check in on the second evolution of the modification process - upgrading Project GTI to Improved Touring specifications.

Breaking News

PhilsTireService.com Team GTI is a confirmed entry for the Charge of the Headlight Brigade 13-hour endurance race, to be held at Virginia International Raceway on October 23rd. This will be interesting from a technical standpoint because the decision has been made to upgrade the trusty Golf from Showroom Stock C to Improved Touring B specification, with a variety of bolt-on performance parts - including high quality KONI coilover racing struts, race-ready brake pads from Cobalt Friction Technologies, original equipment and racing parts from Bildon Motorsport, and wider-section, lower-profile Toyo Proxes RA-1 tires from PhilsTireService.com.

That pretty interior will be coming out again - this time to stay - and a variety of other minor improvements will be made to bring the car to ITB standards and prepare it for more than half a day of on-track excitement. The next phase of the build will be documented here, so check back regularly.

If you are interested, you are invited to follow the technical story of the upgrade.

Last updated 09 May 2004

Project GTI is headquartered in Greensboro, NC


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All text and images © copyright 2003-2011 Kirk Knestis unless otherwise indicated. Other copyrighted images used with permission.