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21 October 2010

The first generation of the Volkswagen R32, based on the fourth generation Golf platform, was a special car, sold in the US only in limited numbers. It had caught the eye of Ellery Boudah, a member of the Connecticut National Guard, right from the start but he wasn’t able to afford one when they were new. He did eventually own a fifth generation GTI, and while he enjoyed his lightly modified example he still pined for that special R32. In late 2008, he and his girlfriend started shopping for a new Jetta for her, and when walking a dealership lot, he saw “it,” a Black Magic Pearl R32, languishing away in the corner of the dealership’s used lot. He took the car for a test drive, put a deposit down, and came back the next day to complete the sale.

Ellery freely admits that at this point, he was just plain excited that he had finally found an affordable example of his favorite car, and that lead him to overlook some things that he would later regret. “I didn’t ask all the questions,” he says. “I looked under the hood and it looked like new – I just wanted the car.” When he took it for the test drive, he noted that the ride was somewhat harsh, a bit noisy, and felt less composed than his GTI did. He was told by the salesman that “that’s just how they are,” since an R32 had a more “aggressive” ride. The car came with a CPO warranty, though, so he decided he would be safe if anything turned out to be wrong, and made the purchase.

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After putting the car in to duty on his 120 mile daily commute, he would have plenty of opportunity to make use of that CPO warranty. When purchased, the car sat on AT Italia RS4 style replica wheels – wheels that turned out to have bends, which in turn had caused damage to a front wheel bearing, which in turn resulted in that harsh vibrating ride that he had noticed on the initial test drive. During repeated trips to the dealer to correct issues as they continued popping up, the car then went through several batteries, a new ECU, a thermostat, a fuel pressure regulator, and several other rather important bits. It also came out during this time that the engine in the car was not original, and had been replaced at some point earlier in the car’s life. After repeated trips to various dealerships, the major warranty claims were finally satisfied but there were several ongoing issues that caused Boudah to eventually become extremely frustrated with the car.

The “final straws” came in the fall of 2009. First, while commuting to work one day a large chunk of asphalt kicked up by a tractor trailer resulted in a destroyed headlight, severely damaged hood, and cracked windshield. A botched repair attempt on the hood by Boudah and a well meaning friend resulted in even more cosmetic damage. Non-OEM suspension components were purchased and installed in an attempt to correct some ongoing issues caused by the bent wheels, but due to poor design, actually caused more damage when a ball joint failed while a friend was driving the car. After replacing the replacement suspension pieces, a new set of VW Monte Carlo wheels were installed to rid the car of the vibrations from the bent AT Italias. He continued driving the car with the damaged hood and headlight while he prepared for his second deployment with the Army, this time to Afghanistan.

Finally, several weeks before his deployment Boudah accidentally slid the car in to a parking lot curb while enjoying the combination of all wheel drive and some fresh snowfall. This removed a large chunk from one wheel, as well as destroying the newly replaced suspension on that corner of the car. Boudah began to collect the parts needed to replace the damaged suspension components, including a used set of H&R Clubsport coilovers and new VMR 710 wheels with H&R adapters. He also collected some other needed maintenance parts – a new OEM clutch, a Four Season Tuning billet flywheel, tie rods, axles, and a new set of headlights. Before he was able to install any of the new parts, though, the time came to depart for Afghanistan. Before leaving, he placed the car in the hands of his friend Matt Zwilling for safekeeping.

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It was at this point that Zwilling and the other members of CT Eurospec, their local European car club, swung in to action. They told Boudah that they would install the parts that he had acquired while he was away, but in secret they arranged for quite a few extra surprises as well. The first thing to get tackled was some bodywork. While that’s not the usual order that things might get done in, Zwilling explains that he was already in the middle of some bodywork on his own car, and so while all the supplies were available they made some much needed improvements on the R32. The cracks in the bumper from the run in with the flying asphalt were repaired, as well as numerous other body dents and dings. The hood and bumper notches were filled, the bumper line, sidemarkers, and repeaters were shaved, and the fenders were rolled. After the bodywork was completed, the affected areas were prepped for paint, and a coat of primer was applied. The new headlights that Boudah had previously purchased were also installed, to complete the cosmetic restoration of the front end of the car. Elsewhere, the club members carefully removed the purple window tint that had been on the car when purchased – a change that, while simple, Boudah says is one of his favorites.

Of course, even with the cosmetics sorted out there was still the issue of the damaged suspension components as well as several other lingering issues. The members of the club, working with money donated by other clubs as well as paying out of their own pockets, purchased or creatively sourced all the remaining parts needed to bring the R32 back to a fully functional state. Haus of Dub generously agreed to furnish needed parts at cost with free shipping, and the remaining bits were quickly assembled.

Over the next few months, the club went to town on the car. The damaged suspension linkages were completely replaced, this time with OEM components so as to avoid any further issues, and the set of H&R coilovers were installed. A new Monte Carlo wheel was purchased with donated money to replace the damaged one until the VMR wheels came in. The brakes were completely replaced at all four corners, and the damaged wheel bearings were swapped for fresh ones. One of the lingering issues that had caused a lot of trouble was a bad ABS sensor, which in addition to causing the ABS brakes to be non-functional also interfered with the proper operation of the Haldex all wheel drive system. During the brake replacement the broken sensor was replaced as well, which restored functionality to those two critical systems.

Inside the engine bay, a number of operations were carried out. Some time was spent tracking down a coolant leak, and the offending cracked hose was replaced. Zwilling fitted a used set of motor mounts he had removed from his own car, and installed a K&N intake. Both the brakes and the AWD system got a fluid change, which were long overdue. Various other small corrections were also made, and finally the car was ready to be re-united with its owner when he returned to the US on leave in July of 2010.

Boudah says he was extremely excited to see his car again when he got back to the US. He was picked up at the airport by a club member, and taken to the garage where the R32 was being stored. “The car looked great,” he says “though it was odd to see it looking so different from when I left.” He took the car out for a drive right away, even though it still had the Monte Carlo wheels on it. “It felt like a completely different car – it was great to run it through the curves and feel confident that nothing was going to go wrong for a change!” As soon as he returned from that drive, the car went up on a jack, and the VMR wheels and spacers were installed, lending the car that final special touch.

Boudah says that the car is now nearly totally complete – it needs some stitching on the driver’s seat where one of the bolster seams is pulling out, which is a common issue on the deep Koenig buckets. It also needs a fresh coat of paint, but Boudah is waiting until the spring for that, as New England winters can be hard on freshly painted cars. After a few short weeks of driving the car he returned to Afghanistan to finish out his tour, but he knows that when he returns, he’ll have both a special car and a very special group of friends waiting for him.

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