VWvortex Feature Car: Jay and Shannon’s Excellent Caddy

The Greek philosopher Plato once said that necessity is the mother of invention. He forgot to finish that sentence with the part about creativity being the offspring of desire. It was necessity that landed a Rabbit Pickup (known throughout the rest of the world as a Caddy) in Jay Ayers’ driveway. But it wasn’t long before desire took over his creative urges.

Having purchased their first house in the summer of 2001, Jay and his then-girlfriend Shannon decided they needed a cheap utility vehicle to haul the numerous shrubs it would take to landscape their new property. The only viable candidate at the time was a pale-blue 1980 Rabbit Pickup that the couple acquired for the fair sum of just $500. It served its landscaping duties well, even if certain parts of its owners’ bodies stuck to the old vinyl seats in the summer, and the windshield was threatening to fall through its rusty frame.

It was only a matter of time before Jay, who had already owned 16-valve VWs in the past and was working to finish his mechanical engineering degree, was thinking of the potential for making the pickup into a true “sport” utility vehicle. The original plan was to replace the little 1.6-liter, 8-valve engine with a performance-tuned 16-valver, and update the tacky plastic seating with something a little more comfortable and supportive. He and Shannon, who herself was already working as a mechanical engineer, began looking for possible donor cars for all the interesting parts it would take to transform the sad truck into a viable project vehicle.

It wasn’t long before the first piece of the puzzle was found – a perfect dashboard from a 1991 Cabriolet. Jay fitted the more handsome dash immediately, glad to be rid of the hideous blue original piece. This was just the beginning of the transformation process, but sadly it would also prove to be the end for the little truck. Just days after fitting the new dash, the Rabbit was rear-ended by a Dodge Ram. Needless to say, the tiny VW was no match for the full-size Dodge.

Jay and Shannon were sad to see their new project destroyed, but they knew they had to pick up (no pun intended) where they had left off. The search was on for a suitable replacement. It took three months to find one, but when they did, there was no question they had found the right one. Tucked away in the California mountains they found not just a pickup shell, but a shell with a 16-valve engine already bolted in place. It wasn’t long before the new truck was sitting silently in their driveway, awaiting the completion of what had already been started.

Now that they had the perfect foundation for building their dream truck, the only problem was finding enough time to work on it. Jay was working full-time during the day and finishing his degree at night, and Shannon was busy at work with projects. The weekends were the only time the couple had to work on their toy, and that they did. Every weekend for over a year the determined duo could be found sanding, scraping, cutting and wrenching from dawn to dusk.

Eventually the truck became more and more complete. Jay recalls the feeling of satisfaction when the engine was finally running and he bolted-in the driver’s seat so that he could take it for a test run. He’ll never forget how fast it felt driving down the orchard roads at midnight. Of course, the fact the truck had no windshield, and it was the dead of winter, probably had as much to do with that sensation as anything else.

Aside from performing the alignment, Jay and Shannon fabricated and built the entire vehicle themselves in their home garage, all for less than $5500. And don’t let Shannon’s delicate appearance fool you – she did more than a fair share of the wrenching herself, especially in all the tight places where Jay’s hands wouldn’t fit. To all you single fellas out there, keep in mind the many advantages to marrying an engineer!

The finished project is a masterpiece of parts-bin engineering and homebrew fabrication, as Jay calls it. Mechanically, the little pickup is essentially a Scirocco 16V, but even that’s selling their accomplishments short. Jay and Shannon put their engineering skills and resources together to produce a beast of a Caddy.

The standard 1.8-liter Scirocco block was ditched in favor of a torquier two-liter. The 1.8 head was retained however, bolstered by a Neuspeeed 260-degree intake cam. Engine management duties are now handled by Bosch Motronic running GIAC software. The exhaust is a combination of Scirocco 16V and Golf III VR6 bits, with power being delivered through a late-model 020 5-speed.

The chassis has been upgraded to suit the potent powertrain. Once again, Scirocco components were used, in this case the 10.1-inch vented front brakes and the 8.9-inch solid rear discs. Koni springs are controlled by Boge TurboGas shocks all the way around, while Jay fabricated the custom rear drop plates himself, giving the truck an aggressive stance. Neuspeed upper and lower stress bars help tighten things up and restore a bit of stiffness to the tired old chassis. Rolling stock on the Caddy includes a set of 16-inch ATS Planet alloys wearing 205/40-16 Dunlop FM901 performance tires.

So the truck’s a runner for sure. But it’s no slouch in the looks department either. Jay and Shannon pulled out all the old-school catalogs to make their Caddy look more like a European GTI than a workhorse pick’em-up-truck. The first thing you notice is the round-headlight grille with inner driving lights, a GTI hallmark. Naturally, the lamps are European-spec H4 units.

This conversion sounds simple, but actually required welding in a new core support from a Cabriolet before bolting on the new fenders. The front side markers were shaved from the new fenders as well, lending a cleaner look to the nose. The work was worth the effort though, as the face of the truck now looks more appropriately European than it did with its square American-spec front end.

Completing the Euro-inspired theme are the GTI fender flares and air dam and a European front bumper with smoked turn signals. The rear bumper has been omitted – a custom-made (by Jay of course) stainless steel roll pan now resides below the tailgate. Other choice styling elements are the Kamei grille spoiler, Audi side mirrors, Fuba roof antenna, and late-model door handles sourced from China, where some of our old models are still new to them.

The couple performed all of the bodywork themselves, and even painted the truck in their driveway. An ambitious attempt, no doubt, but they played it safe by choosing the ever-forgiving white (not Alpine White, not Cashmere White – just white) as the new color. The total cost of the paint job was around $350, though Jay admits now he would have preferred to spend more on the paint to get it done right. He’s too modest, really. To enhance the lowering effect of the suspension, the rocker panels were blacked-out. And so as not to forsake its utility role, the bed was sprayed with a protective coating.

Inside, the same attention to style was paid, starting with the dashboard. This time around the Cabriolet dash was left behind in favor of a Golf II piece, dressed up with a Nardi steering wheel and filled with an Alpine CD player. The old torn vinyl chairs have been put out to pasture, replaced with Golf III GTI seats, which are complemented by first-generation Jetta GLI door cards.

More of Jay’s “homebrew” pieces are featured on the interior, including billet door lock pins, heater fan switch and emergency brake handle. The shift knob is a vintage VW Motorsport piece, while the instrument faces are Jay’s own creation. A custom headliner finishes out the sporty cab.

The couple got married last summer, and their white Caddy continues to serve them well. They enjoy the look on peoples’ faces when, say, they drive off from the hardware store with 800 pounds of cement in the bed and the tires scream as they grab second gear. The offspring of Jay and Shannon’s creativity is as much sport as it is utility, and that’s just the way they like it.

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