Team GTI

Golf Version 3.2
The Next Generation

Winter 2005

One bad morning at a rally can certainly change things...

When we found this Golf - dubbed Version 3.2 - the plan was to build it into a purpose-built Improved Touring car, with a variety of improvements over Project GTI, intended to maximize on-track performance at the cost of being able to use it for rallies, hillclimbs, and other events that require a street-licensed car.

Well, our roll on the first Sunday stage of Rally Tennessee put paid to that idea, so Version 3.2 will instead be an improved version of the multi-purpose concept introduced by Project GTI.

>> Safety - the Competition Cages roll cage will be constructed of smaller diameter steel tubing, to maximize weight and stiffness of the structure, based on Improved Touring rules. It will feature additional triangulation, as compared to the cage in Project GTI.

>> Engine - since v.3.2 is an earlier OBD1 Golf, the engine includes the desirable forged crankshaft and piston oil squirters. We were originally planning an IT-spec rebuild of the 129,000 mile lump in Project GTI but will instead build up the new one. The engine management system on the OBD1 cars is easier to maximize as well, and will be developed as part of our ongoing collaboration with Bildon Motorsport.

>> Suspension - from the outset, the suspension will be more race-optimized than that in Project GTI, with solid bushings replacing rubber - using more MkIII development pieces from 247-parts.com - plus adjustable strut top mounts, revised rear anti-roll bars, and stouter Koni racing struts to accommodate higher spring rates.

>> And more - Version 3.2 is being constructed as an "additive" racing car, whereby we are taking it down to the bare shell and putting back only the parts required by the IT rules. Project GTI was a "subtractive" construction - where bits were removed piece-meal, without truly working to make the entire package as light as possible.

This is the basis for v.3.2 - a straight, 1994, 2-door, Golf III. It came without many of the extras included on the original Project GTI - air conditioning, sunroof, central locking, and antilock brakes. It does have rear disc brakes, however.

The only notable problems include sun-broiled paint and a hood that seems to have come up at speed somewhere in its life (not big deals in the grand scheme of race car building), a dog-stink interior (that will be gone in short order anyway), and bad syncros in the gearbox - which would be rebuilt regardless. It started right up once the battery was charged, and runs like a champ.

All told, not a bad deal for $378. The car was abandoned at Greensboro, NC European car specialists Foreign Accents. We purchased it from the owner, who had since moved back to the Northeast, for the amount owed to the shop plus $250.

For comparison purposes, this is the interior at 9:00AM on the Saturday set aside to prepare v.3.2 for the first major work required to turn it into a racing car - installation of the roll cage by Competition Cages in Hillsborough, NC.

Here is the same space just 8 hours later, down to the sheetmetal. Race preparation forensics is an imprecise science but the glass particles inside the dashboard, rusted support brackets in the dash, and a small amount of rust in the floor - around a dent that looks like this Golf has already had a little "off" in its life - suggest that the windshield may have been the victim of vandalism at some point.

The driver's door shows clear evidence of having been forced with a crowbar, next to the latch - a common theft strategy applied to VWs.

Generally though, the shell is in great shape and is now several hundred pounds lighter than it was, although a few items were left in place - heater core and fan box, steering column, and pedal cluster - to facilitate fitting of roll cage elements.

The engine compartment received the same aggressive treatment. The engine and transmission were pulled - a job made easier by the complete removal of the bumper, grill, radiator and cross members.

The entire wiring system was removed by strategically unfastening connectors, leaving it in four major sections and a couple of smaller looms. It will be tidied up before being reinstalled.

The lower radiator support was found to have been damaged at some point, and was badly rusted. It went into the growing trash pile and will be replaced.

At this point, only the front and rear suspension, the front subframe, and the brake system will remain - just enough to allow the car to be easily transported and rolled around the shop at Competition Cages.

Even with the parts we left on still installed, the shell is light enough that two healthy people can pick up either the front or back end.

In this picture, chief wrench Cameron Conover (foreground) is busy shoving it around in front of the shop, as we prepare to load it on the trailer for the run to Competition Cages in Hillsborough, NC.

Temporary spares make great storage wheels, by the way. Very low drag so they are easy to push around.

We did discover one little surprise - and not the good kind, either: The rusted floor is bad enough that it's going to require a little metal work before painting begins. However, on the plus side (for those keeping score) we recouped $90 of the original $378 purchase price by selling the early style, clip-on side moldings, which are much in demand by the Golf street car modification crowd.

Cage construction has started, with main elements bent from 1.5x.095" steel DOM tubing. Secondary optional bars are made of thinner-wall tubing (.065" wall thickness) to save some weight by taking advantage of SCCA's new rules.

The design is an evolution of that used in Project GTI, and it's interesting to note how much thinner the 1.5" diameter tubing looks, than did the 1.75" material required for the heavier Showroom Stock version of the Golf.

It is desirable to get the cage as close to the body as possible, to preserve the shell in the event of an impact. The main hoop actually touches the sides of the roof line at its upper corners.

The revised door bar design makes it necessary to move the main hoop forward almost 2 inches, and dictates that its legs run vertically rather than bowing outward at the level of the crosswise "harness" bar. Without these allowances, the door bars would require a recurve - or "S" bend - to connect to the main hoop, decreasing their strength.

Beefy plates were welded to the rear strut towers, to provide a solid base for attaching the required rear supports, and the optional cross bar and diagonals to the bottom of the main hoop legs - the latter an addition over the last car.

To provide maximum strength, tubing joints should be designed such that the centerline of tubes intersect, as is the case with this junction.

The main cage legs will stand on fabricated box structures, that spread the load over a greater area and provide more weld surface. They can also be knocked out during construction, to allow the cage to be lowered to complete the welds on the top of the upper tubes, where they end up very close to the roof.

Minor rust damage was discovered in several spots in the floor, which required clean-up and the installation of welded patches.

The door bar structure is a logical extension of what we learned from the original Project GTI installation.

New rules dictate "two door bars," so to be sure the new design complies, bars were "siamesed" rather than "X-ed." The formed steel "taco" gussets, visible in the thumbnail below, have not yet been installed in the larger picture on the left.

The bars also project into the door panel area where they meet, providing more driver room without sacrificing the crushable structure in the door itself. This feature, combined with the smaller diameter tubing used in this structure, combine to allow the critical bar down from the top of the windshield pillar to run higher without interfering with the driver's hand.

Click thumbnail image to enlarge.

The original Project GTI cage installation

The forward mounting point of the new cage is several inches farther forward, compared to where the last one mounted. This increases the "footprint" area of the structure, which should theoretically increase the stiffness of the chassis.

This design uses a pair of tubes that run from the main hoop, over the door and down the A-pillars and joined by a cross piece over the windshield. The previous one used a "halo" bar, connecting individual A-pillar uprights - a decision made necessary by the fact that the car was not completely stripped, as has been done here.

Again, the cage elements are fitted closely to the body shell - to the point that they actually touch in several places.

Chris Schimmel of Competition Cages (Hillsborough, NC) will put the final touches on the cage installation, build a mount for the Recaro seat, and work will start in earnest on preparing for paint - repairing rust spots in the floor, stripping undercoating, and priming the cage tubes.

The rollcage is completed, with .080" folded, "taco" gussets added to the door bars to complete the structure. Made of .080" thick sheet, these elements add significantly to the strength of the system.

It's hard to tell from the pictures but the door bars actually protrude into the door panels, in a pyramidal structure. This increases their resistance to intrusion as well.

Also difficult to see from the side view is how much more room there seems to be in the cockpit with the new cage, over the original Project GTI installation - a function of smaller diameter tubing, a tighter fit to the roof of the car, and a seat mount that is another inch lower than the previous design.

The cage also features an additional diagonal alongside the driver's head, and duplicated on the passenger side. The Recaro race seat in Version 3.2 utilizes lateral head restraints, that will keep the driver's noggin from coming in contact with these reinforcements.

The entire cage is built of seamless drawn over mandrel (DOM) steel tubing, and conforms to SCCA and NASA technical specifications.

Visible here is the insulating lint in the ceiling of the Golf - just part of the large amount of useless sound- and weather-proofing that will be removed in the coming weeks.

Calculations indicate that the new rollcage includes 13 feet more tubing that the one it replaces but weighs only 6 pounds more - 109 pounds, not counting gussets and mounting plates in both designs. Approximately 9 pounds were saved using the thinner-wall tubing in optional diagonals.

Progress on v.3.2 has been slowed dramatically by the discovery of significant rust in the floorboards, particularly on the passenger side.

It was decided that it would be silly to build a new car around a patched-together bodyshell so old floor sheetmetal was completely removed, by grinding off the spot welds that secured it to the other body pieces.

The long finger of steel structure that protrudes over the hole where the floor used to be is the subframe mount. Luckily, it was in good shape.

Factory-replacement sheetmetal was trimmed to fit the hole resulting after corroded metal was removed.

The lateral structure on which the passenger seat would mount was also replaced with a new piece - far easier than trying to remove the old one in a way that would leave it undamaged for reinstallation.

Kids - don't try this at home.

To simplify the final floor repairs and undercoating removal, v.3.2 was hoisted to a 42° angle with a heavy duty cherry picker lift, and secured with a 2000# tow strap to the shop rafters.

As it turns out however, even though it was precarious looking, it was overkill because the nearly ready bodyshell, with windshield and quarter windows installed, only weighs approximately 480 pounds. After lowering it back to terra firma, three people could easily lift each end onto jackstands.

The last significant repair before final body and paint work was repairing rust damage in the front strut towers.

Here Cameron Conover tacks in a piece of formed sheetmetal to replace a section cut out where two stock pieces were originally joined with spot welds.

The Improved Touring rules stipulate that repairs such as this not result in reinforcement beyond that found in the original chassis, so it is necessary to resist the temptation to go crazy with the MIG torch.

The completed bodyshell is back from the painter and looks great in its VW Jazz Blue Pearl color/clearcoat, shot by Tom Landock of Winston-Salem, NC.

Click thumbnail images to enlarge.

Days have been spent sorting, checking, cleaning, and rewrapping the wiring harnesses - all 25 pounds of them - prior to installation. A couple of minor issues were identified and resolve, including some potential shorts due to damaged insulation and a very dodgy repair.

Luckily, the body used for the v.3.2 rebuild started life without any options, so the wiring is far less complicated than that on the original Project GTI.

Working out wire connections and placement in the dashboard area is a project best taken slowly, to make the package as easy as possible to service and to avoid the potential for damaged wires due to contact with edges, moving parts, or high temperatures.

The fully functional heater box, without the air conditioning option, is a tidy installation, and the pedal cluster and steering shaft out of the first Golf - already modified for racing purposes - have been carried over in the new car.

Though built of all stock parts, the engine in v.3.2 has been carefully optimized to the SCCA Improved Touring rules, with a slight increase in compression ratio, balanced internals, light alloy pulleys, cast aluminum oil pan, and a few other tricks intended to make a little extra power.

The new powerplant uses OBD-I injection, rather than the later, more sophisticated OBD-II system in the old car. It was also necessary to offset the cam pulley slightly, to put the valve train timing back to its stock relationship with the crankshaft position, after decking the block.

One part we are excited to learn more about is the PowerGasket Plus by NewSouth Performance. The manufacturer's testing indicates lower intake air temperatures, resulting from the decreased transfer of heat from the head to the intake casting. We plan on doing some independent testing to assess the effectiveness of this piece, made of a trick looking composite material.


The Conover engine and gearbox are in, as are most of the other underhood parts. Fenders are mounted and the front lower cross members are in.

Next steps here include installation of a new radiator, upper cross member, headlights, grill, and bumper components.

It was decided to wait on completion of the dashboard assembly until after the engine has been run, in case it is necessary to troubleshoot the wiring harnesses or their installation.

Out back, the fuel tank and plumbing has been reinstalled, as have the hatch, rear wiring, tail lights, and rear bumper parts.

A unique rear anti-roll bar system has been designed and will be assembled onto the rear axle beam, before bolting up the KONI struts.

Getting closer...

Assembly goes slowly when all of the parts going on have to be as clean as Tom Landock's VW Jazz Blue and white paint job.

It's also pretty amazing how many parts it takes to build a car, if they all come off of the chassis and spend weeks in bins and boxes before getting bolted back on - shift box, lever, rod, bushing bracket, linkages; door seals, strike plates, hinges, and wiring bellows; a whole bundle of silliness in the hatch; bumper girder, foam insert, air dam lips, urethane cover, four lights, and rock screen; radiator core support, radiator, fan, and shroud assembly.

And a couple of nuts or bolts for every, single bit.

Cameron Conover fabricated mounts for a trick, adjustable, and very huge rear anti-roll bar. The original Project GTI tended toward understeer, which made it comfortable to drive but not as quick as it might have been. The new set-up will allow a range of adjustability, including a simple disconnection to take the rear bar out of the equation altogether, in case of rain.

Another trick detail going in during the rebuild are these all-metal bushings in the front suspension A-arms.

From 247-PARTS.com these parts take advantage of the new Improved Touring ruling allowing spherical bearings as replacement bushings. It is expected that the change will further control geometry changes in the suspension, increasing control and grip.

 The original Project GTI - nicknamed Pablo - lives on, as the grill that survived the Rally Tennessee roll has been retained in tribute.

It will be retired and replaced with a matching Jazz Blue piece following the new car's first class win.

The KONI struts were checked for straightness and run on a shock dyno to check that they were performing as they should.

The screw-in wheel studs used last season have been replaced by really nice metric press-in studs from the GM Performance Parts catalog. They have a "speed nose" unthreaded point, to start the lug nut threads, and are of excellent quality.

The pretty white fender wells will not be visible when v.3.2 hits the track. We run the plastic fender liners to prevent gravel and "tire worms" from collecting in the nooks, and to keep water from splashing into the air box when racing in the rain.

The interior treatment of v.3.2 is essentially identical to the original Project GTI - Pablo the First.

Subtle differences include dual brake proportioning valves for the rear wheels - one per side - replacing the single-circuit system run last season.

The required door panels have not yet been cut and fitted around the roll cage door bars, that protrude into the space occupied by the panels but not into the door structure itself.

Additional gauges are scheduled for installation, as are the DL-1 data acquisition system, and a remote fuse block to power it and a radio for endurance events.

The RECARO seat sits approximately 1.5" lower than last year, giving the driver additional head room and lowering him in the chassis for better handling.

Golf v.3.2 - Pablo the Second - is almost ready for the track.

Final details to be completed include a competition alignment; a trip to the chassis dyno for tuning; installation of the race harness and window net; some minor wiring projects; application of graphics; and completion of a few details like door handles, glass, and latches.

And we're ready to go. Many hundreds of hours of preparation time later, a very nice Improved Touring B car is ready for its track debut.

Next - to the track with Golf v.3.2.

Last updated 28 November, 2008
All photos K. Knestis unless otherwise noted

Project GTI is headquartered in Greensboro, NC


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