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Project Scirocco: Part IV

The three words that I would offer any person interested in the complete restoration and modification of a vintage vehicle like this one are patience, finance, and, of course, persistence. While the relative low cost of entry of the first generation of VW watercooled cars is very enticing, the real costs will emerge when you consider the time that you have to dedicate to a project like this to see it to fruition. A task like this is not like bolting on suspension and brakes to a relatively new car; if you want to build a car that performs reliably and will function for years to come, you will want to invest the time to do it right the first time. The financial part is obvious; when consulting with people interested in undertaking such a project, I tell them to make a list of their goals, build out a cost structure, and once they arrive at a figure, to consider that to be about 50 to 60 percent of what they will ultimately spend on the project if their best laid plans pan out.

My original goal for this car was to accomplish the following: restore and modify a worthy MKI Scirocco to a level that would provide me the ability to turn the key and drive the car every day while still having a better-than-average power-to-weight ratio than most modern cars, while all the while getting better-than-average fuel economy.

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The Motor

When I originally embarked upon this project in 2001, I had several routes to consider when it came to the powerplant. My history with MKI Sciroccos and GTIs was dotted with a variety of 8V and 16V motors, and each of them had enticing qualities that required some thought.

When the car came out of Annapolis Collision, I had all but set my thoughts on building a high-compression Audi 3A bubble block and solid lifter 8V JH head on CIS, which I had sourced from an enthusiast in Baltimore. It was then I had the opportunity to take a spin in Dave Graf’s 1983 GTI with a 2.0 16V powerplant swap, and from there, the decision was easy; the free-revving feel of a 16V was what I was after.

Fortunately for me, the motor of choice was available in a convenient place — NGP, which was going to be my Scirocco’s home for the next year. This particular unit was a project that was abandoned by a friend of Dave’s, and since it was already on an engine stand in the garage, I didn’t even have to bother with shipping. I purchased a 9A 2.0 16V short-block motor that was originally part of a B3 1992 Passat 16V that had been freshly rebuilt and upgraded in a variety of ways. Comprehensive work, from a fresh cylinder hone to a simple displacement boost (courtesy of Autotech’s 2092 kit, which features a JE 83.5mm x 92.8mm forged piston set), left me with a 10.8-1 compression ratio. The bottom end was fitted with an Autotech forged 95.5mm factory stroker crank and all of the engine’s internals were balanced and blueprinted by a shop that NGP uses regularly for such work.

For the top end, we sent out a 1.8 16V motor and received a stage II port and polish from NGP’s preferred machine shop, and we installed a set of Techtonics Tuning ABF grind camshafts and new valve springs. We also installed a TT timing gear and all new gaskets, water pump, belts and hoses on a freshly painted block. To top it off, I found a later style European 50mm intake manifold that was designated as a “Passat-side” entrance rather than a “Scirocco side” (driver’s side) manifold. These were all port matched and cleaned up to optimize the intake of air.

One major decision that we collectively made on this car was to ditch the old-school CIS injection system that came with the car to upgrade it to a later-model Motronic unit found on the same Passat 16V. The computer was mounted in the rain tray in a very inconspicuous place and updated with a tuning EPROM from Techtonics to deliver better timing and better fuel control for performance. The engine was then dropped in the car using heavy duty diesel engine mounts that were stiffened by inserting fuel line in the opening holes to reduce the amount of movement of the engine while maintaining a relatively low amount of pulsing at idle. Once the motor was safely in the car, Ronnie Weaver (head fabrication technician at NGP) installed a Techtonics Tuning Tri-Y street header, high flow catalytic converter, and Techtonics Borla 2.5” exhaust system to the vehicle. All of the major visual parts in the engine bay, such as the intake manifold and valve cover, were powdercoated and all parts were painted so that they were better than factory. Ronnie wired the car with later-model VW wiring loop and protectant covers, relocated the fuel system lines from the driver’s side to the passenger side, and mounted the Motronic controller and airbox to the passenger side fender well.

On the cooling and oiling side of the installation, we utilized a factory-fresh Scirocco 16V radiator with a new fan motor, lower temperature thermostat, and fan switch, along with brand new 16V hoses and heavy-duty clamps. The factory oil cooling system was upgraded with an aftermarket Motul external cooler.

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Gearing is critical in a car like this that features relatively low horsepower and develops power in a relatively narrow power band. That being said, this particular 2.1-liter motor was built to deliver a solid belt of torque off the line and solid linear power up to roughly 6500 rpm, so for those purposes, I experimented with quite a few gearboxes in the Scirocco.

The first gearbox I tried was a standard AGB unit that is normally found in the 16V Sciroccos from 1986 to 1989. This transmission is a typical 020 close-ratio transmission with a 3.67 final drive and gives decent performance out of the box. To help make this transmission more reliable, we used a bolt kit and differential shim kit from Peloquin to help control the dreaded 020 “self-machining transmission” scenario and also give the car better control in the corners. We initially considered the AGB because there was a point at which Dave Graf and I gave some thought to building a turbo kit for the car, but in the end, I found the normally aspirated route to be more suited to the car’s character.

This transmission, combined with a lightened Eurosport flywheel and Luc clutch, worked well and allowed the car to rev freely with just a hint of driveline shudder when idling, which is a relatively common byproduct of a lightened flywheel. It worked well in nearly all driving conditions and the differential shim kit performed as advertised without any adverse effects.

Some time passed and after driving the car for several months, I started to realize that there was probably a better compromise in regards to getting better acceleration off the line. If you look at the 020 transmissions that were produced that are suited to the car, you will find that the later-model 16V cars came with a 3.67 final drive, which is relatively tall. These transmissions retain a close gear stack and use their higher-end power to perform comfortably at higher speeds, while the older 8V cars have a shorter ratio and taller fifth gears to cruise smoothly. With the increase in power of my 2.1, along with the cams, crank, headwork and fuel modifications, I could use a shorter final drive and a taller top gear and still reap the benefits of both worlds.

The second transmission in this car was one that I sourced out of the Vortex classifieds, an AWY transmission out of a second-generation Jetta diesel. It featured a 3.94 final drive, close-ratio gear stack, and a .71 fifth gear conversion for relatively relaxed rpms at highway speeds. It also had a Quaife differential, which was a very nice upgrade for the price. I contracted with NGP to take the transmission to their vendor to have it checked, and aside from one weak syncro, it was given a clean bill of health. While it was apart we painted the cases and filled it with Redline MTL upon reassembly. In this case, since the pressure plate and clutch that I had from my previous transmission were from a 16V car, I replaced them with identical pieces with the correct 8V splines just because the previous setup had such great feel, overall.

This transmission was a remarkable transformation to the car; not only did it have better acceleration off the line, it had stronger acceleration in third and fourth gears due to the shorter final drive. While some would argue that the fifth gear might be a bit tall for a stock car, it did allow the car to cruise along at 65 to 90 mph without feeling strained and yielded fuel economy in the mid- to high-30s over repeated long drives.

So the real question is, why mess with success if you have already achieved it? Well, the answer is that there is really no reason to do anything different with the drivetrain on the car at this point since it had reached the goals that I had outlined, but sometimes the urge to change and modify a vehicle can be too hard to resist.

In late 2005 I was perusing the Scirocco classifieds on VWvortex and came across a listing for a VL option 6-speed transmission, which was a conversion of an 020 to add a tail shaft to accommodate an additional gear to a 5-speed transmission. These transmissions were built by Vince Longo and carried the reputation of featuring difficult-to-obtain parts and having issues mating to 200+-horsepower motors. Throwing caution to the wind and personally knowing the person who was selling it convinced me to crack open my wallet and pay for the box sight unseen.

I had the previous owner carry the gearbox to NGP, and since I was now safely in Phoenix where I currently reside, I asked Dave Graf to oversee the opening of the box to make sure that it was in good operating condition. This particular transmission was built on a 9A transmission, but rather than having a 3.67 final drive it carried a 4.25 final drive with a .71 sixth gear and a Quaife differential. The disassembly of the box was a bit daunting because sixth gear was essentially welded onto the pinion shaft, so removing that gear to inspect the stack was a time consuming task.

Before reassembling the transmission, I had NGP powdercoat the casing and after it was reassembled, they shipped it to me in Phoenix along with a new Spec stage II clutch setup. One of the challenges that I now faced was that the tailshaft of the VL 6-speed box was a good six inches longer than a standard 5-speed 020 transmission and I would need to do some clearancing of the inner fender well of the Scirocco to accommodate the new transmission.

I turned to John Streeter of Eurojet Racing in Phoenix, since he has a solid reputation for working on odd tasks like this one. Johnny very carefully sized up the job, carefully trimmed out the space needed for the endcap to clear, and took his saw to my precious 25-year-old car. We installed the clutch and pressure plate, torqued it all together, readjusted the shifter, and it worked perfectly.

Three weekends later, I was off to California with a group of Scirocco enthusiasts for the maiden voyage, figuring if it was going to break on me, I might as well get towed back at considerable expense. Fortunately, it ran and shifted perfectly. The transmission shifted smoothly and the 4.25 final drive made the acceleration blistering and the .71 sixth gear left me at about 3200 rpm at 75 mph, which was just about perfect.


As this project draws itself to a close, I thought I would thank some people who made this project happen through their hard work, inspiration and perseverance.

Dave Graf and Ed Sheets of NGP — Both of you put in a ton of time helping me to wade through they myriad of options available to me and gave me good, sound advice. I would encourage anyone who is looking to build a car that will perform solidly and reliably to seek out NGP as a tuning partner.

Mike and Kristen Potter of Virtual World Auto Parts — Mike is a plethora of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work in the braking and handling side for VWs, and there is nobody who knows his stuff like Mike. Kristen has helped me track down critical parts for the car many times, and her help was invaluable as well.

Derek Scott of Exklusiv Motorsports — Derek lent a helping hand on a couple of occasions to help me to fix some of the problems with the car that occurred when moving it via transport truck from Maryland to Phoenix, and provided me with painting services when I banged up my front spoiler. Thanks for your help, Derek!

The Scirocco forum and Scirocco.org mailing list — All of you have been an invaluable resource for unobtainable used parts, as well as providing inspiration for all stages of this car’s creation. Thanks for being my friends as well as a tremendous resource.

My wife Lara — I will always cherish your support and enthusiasm for my hobby and I appreciate you always making time for me to fool around with any and all of the old cars that I seem to accumulate.

Get familiar with Project Scirocco (which dates back to 2000!) and read the other installments here.

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