VWVortex

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6 May 2014

What does $5k get a budding VW enthusiast?

It started with a conversation we had at the Vortex last summer, during the height of show season. We love the newer cars–they’re fast and very easy to make faster and better. But a car like the 500hp AWD Super Beetle isn’t something that you can just buy at a dealership, nor is it a vehicle you’d be able to build unless you’ve got two donor cars and $100k lying around.

So we figured that since $5,000 in today’s dollars is roughly the equivalent of what we had to spend on our first cars, that’d be the target budget for our spring ’14 project car series.

Now sure, we could’ve bought a pretty nice car for $5,000–even mk4s have dipped down into that price range, though they’re pretty ragged for that kind of cash. But we believe very strongly that “built > bought”, so our idea is pretty simple: build/restore a car that anyone would be proud to call their own for less than $5,000. It’s a bit ambitious, to be sure, but we’re pretty confident it can be done for that amount, and in time for the big shows this summer.

We’re starting with a car that we purchased in Georgia over the winter. The craiglist ad said it was a black 1985 GTI with double headlights and a big bumper kit. In actual fact, it’s just a once-Cashmere white Golf with the world’s worst paint job, big bumpers that were held to the small bumper rebar with sheet metal screws, and a complete interior from a 1990 GTI. To most, the realization that the car was far from its advertised state would’ve been a no-go. But to us, it was a perfect starting point for a full restoration. It seemed rust-free (more on that later) and the bodywork was straight and original.

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While not Recaros, the sport seats are still supportive while also being quite comfortable for us old-timers. The cigarette burns and musty smell just added to the car’s Southern charm, and didn’t bother us since a custom reupholstered interior was always in the plans.

The rest of the interior had a je ne sais quoi quality to it to it that could be best described as a crusty, smoky, vintage patina. Between the headliner slowly emancipating itself from the ceiling, the truly half-assed paint job that didn’t even include removing trim before painting, and the random electrical modifications—both inside the car, and under the hood—our project car had definitely seen better days. On the other hand, the staggering number of unused (thankfully) condoms under the back seat, led us to believe that the previous owner seemed to have high hopes for the future, so we’re optimistic as well.

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Now a basic Golf may be what we’re starting, but it’s damn sure not what we want to end up with. Like one of the many previous owners, what we really desire is a GTI. Another craigslist search led us to Detroit, just a quick 5hr drive from the home offices, and a fellow Vortexer who had already torn-down an actual ’85 GTI. Like too many enthusiasts, his dream of restoring a car was unfortunately interrupted by family life, and the disassembled car had been sitting in his garage for years.

Everything from his car—minus the chassis itself—was piled into a rental SUV and hauled back to Chicago. This included some really great upgrades like a set of Bilstein coilovers, MSW wheels, and even a fully-rebuilt engine on a stand, just waiting to be transplanted into our project car. The groundwork laid, it’s now just a simple matter of time, money, and motivation.

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Our timeline will be as follows:

1. Tear-down of the car, including removal of all interior, glass, engine, bumpers, trim, etc.

2. Prepping the body for paint (stripping old paint, powerwashing, bodywork, and priming)

3. Reupholstering the seats & door cards, and upgrading the trim and headliner

4. Reinstallation of the engine and hardware, including upgrades and modifications

5. Reinstallation of the interior, glass, & trim.

6. Final shake-down, and off to the shows!

We’ve started documenting the tear-down and restoration process here:
http://forums.vwvortex.com/showthread.php?6916032-Introducing-the-new-VWVortex-project-car but we’ll be posting updates and upgrades in our project car series as well.

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