Tech Series: New Wave 1.8T Swap

Ever since its 1996 appearance in the Audi A4, V-Dubbers have been dying to slip that car’s turbocharged, 20-valve 4-cylinder engine into their cars. The 1.8T: delicious fun in a great motor, with hands-down the most horsepower per cubic inch of any VAG engine (1996) and almost limitless tune-ability. As you’re well aware, the only drawback to the 1.8T motor’s introduction was that you had to buy a new A4 to get one – and what kind of lunatic would buy a brand new car only to strip its motor, and stuff it into something else? (I came close to it, but my mother selfishly insisted that she needed her motor to drive her car…)

As time went on, and prices came down, the 1.8T became much more accessible to the average enthusiast. Soon, you began seeing the 1.8T in an array of Volkswagen cars. The appeal lay in the motor’s awesome bang-for-the-buck. However, the 1.8T also has its share of limitations. The main problem is its management system.

An early computer with no immobilizer is not too difficult to install (if you can read a wiring diagram and use a soldering iron), but you only get 150 horsepower. To squeeze any more power from the motor means paying dearly for a chip. Additionally, we can all agree that it’s getting harder and harder to find a complete unmolested early setup.

The later management systems are immobilized, so it’s a lot more difficult to install successfully. You must splice enough of the donor car’s wiring to put in the cluster, key and computer, which again results in approximately 150-180-hp. Some companies can now bypass the immobilizer in a later ECU, but the chips they put out are expensive, and you still have to go through the painstaking installation procedure.

The last alternative is to completely put aside the factory management, and install an aftermarket stand-alone engine management system. These can be expensive, difficult to install, a real pain to tune properly, and aren’t compliant with most state/provincial emission laws.

Let’s face it: cutting and splicing all the correct wires, no matter what system you’re trying to install, is nerve-wracking, difficult, and incredibly time-consuming. There are no manly bragging-rights to be had when you spend your hard-earned time and money, only to give up on the swap mid-way because nothing’s working properly and the car won’t run. We’ve all heard the horror stories of swaps gone bad, and then abandoned altogether. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a simpler way?

Well, there is, and in an upcoming series of articles, I intend to show our readers a new, much more basic and less expensive alternative to installing a VW/Audi 1.8T engine into an older CE-II equipped Volkswagen. The new part of this equation is that the method I am going to use does not involve removing your existing wiring harness or engine management system, and there’s not a single wire to cut or solder – plug-and-play is the end result. Sounds pretty cool, right?

We will run this series on a weekly basis (scheduling permitting), so please check back next week for Part II of this series.

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