Project SportWagen: Wheels and Roof Rack

Before work could get underway on our Golf Sportwagen, I needed to retrieve it from Chicago. Fast forward a few short days and I found myself entering airport security just before 5am at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (a.k.a. BWI), and soaring 30,000 feet above the roads I’d be traveling back on in just a few hours.

Once safely on the ground at O’Hare, Head of Sales John Acton was waiting just outside of baggage claim half asleep and eager to drink the foam-free Starbucks latte I’d gotten him. It was only 7am local time but he was already talking lunch, going on about the “sammich” I had to try and what kind of “pop” was the preference of the locals. None of these words made sense, but I nodded along anyway.

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Eventually lunch came and went, and it was time for me to hit the road- a 692 mile journey back to my east coast base. Nine hours and forty-three minutes later, I’d return home in the same total darkness from which I’d departed nearly 24 hours earlier.  The car averaged about 37 mpg on the trek and performed flawlessly, keeping it’s lone occupant cool and comfortable.  Obviously it was a much less tiring trip for the Golf than it was for me.

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Within the week following this journey, the SportWagen and I would also hit New Jersey Motorsports Park for the 24 Hours of Lemons, and Helen, Georgia for Southern Worthersee.  I’d estimate that about 45 hours in total were spent within the car, giving me ample time to get acquainted with it’s many strengths and very few weaknesses.  Luckily for us, the weaknesses are more personal preference than character flaw, and we started addressing them immediately.

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First up was the roof rack, or lack thereof.  Sure, the wagon shape is an extremely practical one, but we’d rather keep our bikes outside and our interiors clean.  So shortly after getting back to the east coast, we sourced Golf SportWagen-specific Base Carrier Bars and a Bike Holder attachment from Volkswagen Accessories.  The pieces come with clearly marked instructions, making installation a breeze. They’re designed to fit the Golf Sportwagen specifically, so fitment is never in question. And, for those looking to go off the reservation when it comes to attachments Volskwagen doesn’t offer, they’re compatible with Thule’s Rapid Aero rack system.

Installation took roughly 20 minutes to assemble and affix everything, including taking all necessary measurements.  As we like to have the Golf SportWagen’s panoramic sunroof open as much as possible, we were happy to see that the kit utilized the aforementioned aero-bars, making it much quieter than many other racks currently on the market.  Even better, both the rack and the bike rail have locks, meaning that we can hit the local watering hole without having to worry about the cargo on our roof.

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After installation, we’ve noticed a decrease in fuel economy of about 10-15%, which in the grand scheme of things, really isn’t terrible.  In fact, our only real complaint is that the Bike Holder Attachment’s front tire tray is a shade too narrow to fit the 2.25 front tire on my Mountain Bike.  There’s fair warning directly from Volkswagen Accessories that all tires may not fit, but we certainly didn’t think that our 2.25 would be included in this list.  That said, my road bike fits perfectly, and if we let about 10psi out of the trail rig’s front rubber, it’ll secure without issue. There’s plenty of room in the boot for a pump, anyway.

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With the rack installed and a bike sitting proudly atop it, we noticed something was still….. missing.  Nothing Leaves Stock’s Cult Classic was coming up quickly, and our final wheel choice wasn’t quite ready for primetime just yet.  Fortunately, our colleagues at Fourtitude have a set of R8 GT front wheels shod in Audi TT fitment Michelin rubber that aren’t currently installed on anything, and would probably work just fine for temporary rollers.  With that in mind, we headed to their garage, jacked the car up, and got to work.

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As you can see, the car has clearly become quite a bit more aggressive looking, but it’s also a bit taller (1.25″) than it was on the stock 18s. Still, it’s a look that we’ve become fond of, even if it is just temporary.  More importantly, we’ve got a few key takeaways from this experiment.

  1. R8 GT wheels look good on nearly everything.  Perhaps even better than they do on an R8 GT.
  2. The offset and size looks great for what we’re after.  So much so, that we ordered our final wheels in the same size- 19 x 8.5 et42
  3. Not everything needs to be lowered to look good.  With that in mind, we’re going to lower it anyway.
  4. The Audi TT, for which these tires were ordered, runs a larger rolling circumference than does a Golf or even on an Audi A3 where these wheels were most recently used. The meaty look of the tires is cool motorsport-inspired look, but this setup is definitely more than Volkswagen specs on the Golf Sportwagen and thus the reason for the higher ride height.

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So with those lessons successfully learned and our wheel’s tracking info already sitting in our inbox, our next step is to take the boxes currently collecting dust in our office, and get crackin’ on a suspension install.  It’ll be a two steps forward, one step back kind of day, as we’ll need to re-fit the OEM 18″s in order to get the clearance needed to physically drive the car home.  Still, the OEM style is quite handsome, and even though they will only be back on the car for a short amount of time we’re quite sure it’ll still look good.

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To see more images of our Project SportWagen, click here.