Project SportWagen TDI: GTI Front End Conversion and Lighting Upgrade

Sometime during the last seventy years, “a Volkswagen” rose to prominence and then fell out of favor as a standard unit of measure. A heavy piece of office furniture weighs as much as “a Volkswagen.” A mainframe computer was as large as “a Volkswagen.” Dolly Parton and … eh, you get the picture. So let us lapse back a generation or two and say that when the box arrived at VMG offices, it was the size of a Volkswagen.

The box, in this case, contained the next major update for our TDI SportWagen. TDIs have always fallen prey to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in the US – VW tries to define them as an enthusiast car (and why does our TDI have a flat-bottom steering wheel) but the reality isn’t there to support it, or they gain an enthusiast following, but aside from the TDI Cup Edition Jetta VW doesn’t offer anything stateside. If we wanted an enthusiast TDI wagon right here in the good ol’ US of A, we were going to have to do the hard work ourselves, and in this case it meant going taking a page from the holy grail of sporty TDIs – the European GTD Variant.


Fortunately for us, the GTD borrows heavily from the GTI parts bin, and for that we turned to our friends at Deutsche Auto Parts. After talking over our plan to simply upgrade the front grille and replace the appurtenant badges with GTD logos, Paul at DAP enthusiastically suggested a genuine GTD front-end conversion. Previously-convinced “You never go full refit,” we were persuaded to take the plunge. Just three days later, the box (that one the size of a Volkswagen) arrived at our office with everything we would need to perform a complete front-end swap, including a GTI bumper cover with its various grilles and strakes, the LED fog lights that we’d need to replace the stock filament bulbs, and the new wiring plugs for the LEDs, since the original fog light harness plugged directly into the bulb. Topping off the look, DAP sourced and sent us a European GTD honeycomb grille and both fender spears to complete the badging.

It’s at this point that we really need to tip our hats to Deutsche Auto Parts for indulging us. Not only did they send everything in felt-lined OEM shipping bags, but they also included everything down to the extra screws we’d need to mount up the fog lights. Given the tight turnaround we had to perform the swap, we simply couldn’t have done it if everything weren’t included.


We had the body shop scan a section of our wagon to make sure the color of the new bumper would match exactly, and while the cover was being painted and curing we began disassembling the old front end. Fortunately, DAP has a video (link here) for a headlight swap that shows step-by-step how to remove and install the grille and bumper, so we were able to run through the process visually before taking our car apart.


With the painted bumper back in our possession, the car fell back together (let’s hear it for OEM parts!). There were a couple of concerns we had with the shape of the front air deflectors that funnel air from the grille into the condenser and radiator, but after holding the GTI bumper in place, we found that the fit was exact – every screw hole lined up, every shroud fit, and even the rebar is the same between the US-spec base bumper and the US-spec GTI bumper. The only thing we needed to do is to splice wiring for the fog lamps. The fitment is exactly as you’d expect from a factory piece, and we know it’ll hold up just as well as if it came from the factory this way.


Though our car was not equipped with the Volkswagen Lighting Package (blah, blah, poverty-spec, whatever), we thought this would be a great opportunity to upgrade the headlights. But as the GTI headlights come standard with a red stripe through them to match the GTI’s red-striped livery, they’d present a visual non sequitur when flanking the gray/chrome stripe on the GTD upper grille. So to round off the conversion, we decided the chrome-striped Golf R headlights would work best. Our friends at BEC Auto Parts were happy to supply a set of aftermarket replicas. Unlike other kits (and even the factory Golf R lights), which feature a reflector housing for the high-beam, the BEC-supplied lights use a projector assembly for both the low and high beams. To be honest, when the ‘brights’ are on, it’s hard to see any benefit to projector vs reflector. We just thought they looked cooler when running just DRLs. Once we figured out the ideal spot to mount the ballasts/igniters from the HID headlight kit, they popped right back, and used all the factory mounting hardware.


So, yeah. While the first modification most owners make is to debadge their VWs, we just re-badged ours, and in the most craven way possible. We’ve always been a little off like that. It’s not contagious, though – we think – so stop by the VWVortex booth at H2O International this weekend and see our TDI SportWagen, as well as our TSI SportWagen, in person!