It has always fascinated me how sometimes the smallest of things, can make the biggest of changes.
It was only through the process of gathering the photographs together for this update, that I realised there has been considerable upgrades to the car since we last convened in November; yet none required a considerable amount of work.
It has been an interesting period with the car as we have just temporarily converted it to ‘winter mode’ (despite winter not having actually shown up here, yet), made some significant improvements to the dynamics of the car, but also got dumped on the side of the road with its first breakdown during my ownership. You might ask why would I show you the last point, but this is exactly what this project has always been about, to bring you the whole story. Warts and all.
So, I’ll try and recount these things in chronological order because, well, that’s the order the photographs are in and it makes my life much easier.
I concluded the last update with the suggestion that I wanted to ‘tighten’ things up. The car will be nine years old this year, and while it’s mechanically in tip-top shape, I’ve always felt that there was little bit more that could be extracted from it, without taking away from its abilities as a daily driver. That’s been pretty much the whole ethos with this project: to balance performance with as little compromise on comfort as possible. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s something we’ve been largely successful in achieving so far.
With this in mind, I spoke with Leonard at Tyrolsport last year, who was more than happy to help out with Project GTI and suggested a couple of products which he felt would best suit my plans with the car. Just a couple of days later, a package showed up which contained their rear hatch brace along with their front and rear rigid collar kits.
To install the rigid collar kits would be easiest on a lift, but the rear hatch brace is something I was able to tackle myself. Full disclosure: I’m not a professional mechanic by any means, but I’ll at least give things that won’t potentially render the vehicle immobile a shot. To start with, you need to access the rear seat latches. I was grateful then, for retaining the stock passenger seat which offered easy access to the rear of the car.
It’s then a case of bolting these custom two-piece billet clamps onto said latches with three hex screws. You need to trim roughly an inch square from the plastic trim around the latch for a good fit. It’s the only ‘destructive’ part of the installation, which means it can be reverted to stock and nobody would be any wiser. There was no drilling or other modification required, except for something unique to my car, which I’ll get to in a moment. They also included a 3mm T-handle ballhead hex tool. Neat.
With the brackets installed on both sides, I made some adjustments to the length of the upper bar before fitting and securing everything.
It was literally as simple as this.
With the top bar snug and in place, my focus moved to adding the second diagonal bar which wouldn’t be quite as straightforward. In this instance, the second bar runs from the bracket on the right to another latch in the luggage compartment on the lower left hand side.
When we installed the air setup in the spare wheel well, we used foam organisers (from a Volkswagen Touran, as far as I remember) to raise the boot floor in order to clear the top of the air tanks. These were now in the path of the second bar reaching its target of the luggage latch.
Thankfully, the foam is soft (although it makes one hell of a mess when cut) and I could clear the path quite easily, once the original latch had been replaced with the Tyrolsport item.
With the second bar secured, I then worked on notching the homemade covers we previously made to cover the foam organisers, which houses the wiring and relays for the air management, before slitting the carpet so everything could sit right when all was reassembled.
It was a very straightforward installation, which would have been even easier for someone without a raised boot/trunk floor. The bars sit nice and tight against the rear seats, so I haven’t lost any notable amount of luggage space, and the fittings and finish look the part. They’re extraordinarily light, too.
Over the Christmas period, I needed to access the full load capabilities of the GTI, so had to remove the bars, which came out in practically no time whatsoever and were simple to re-install again as you just leave the brackets in place. I tend to leave everything installed from day-to-day as they’re not an obstruction, but it’s nice to still have the option of easily accessing all of the space available when required.
The purpose of these bars is to reduce body flex at the rear of the car. Even at fast road speeds, you’re not going to notice too much of a difference, but I am looking forward to seeing what affect they have on track. On the plus side, there are no downsides to running them every day, with regards to noise, vibration or harshness etc.Winter Mode Activated
2018 saw one of the worst snow events in my lifetime to hit Ireland, which rendered the vast, vast majority of vehicles here redundant. You see, because our climate is normally quite mild all year around, the majority of Irish road users tend to run traditional ‘summer’ tyres all year around. The issue is, when it does snow, even a tiny little bit, we’re just not prepared for it.
Seeing as I’m fortunate enough to have two sets of RAYS Volk Racing wheels, I figured it was the logical choice to mount something more suited for a winter scenario onto the ZE40s and keep the TE37 Sagas for the (slightly) warmer weather.
I didn’t want to go with a full winter tyre, though. As said above, our winters are still pretty mild for the most part, and temperatures rarely drop low enough to make full use of the winter compounds. In fact, a full winter tyre in Ireland is probably ill-suited 90% of the time.
Instead, I went with Michelin’s Cross Climate+, an all-season tyre but approached from a different angle. Traditionally, an all-season is a winter tyre with some summer capability, but the Cross Climate+ is more of a traditional summer tyre with some snow capability. My main criteria were wet braking performance, snow ability, and dry handling under normal circumstances, for what it’s worth.
In most tests I read beforehand, they faired pretty well, but I’ll make my own judgement in time. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s not the fastest tyre up a snow covered incline, as long as it reaches the top.
As the ZE40s – freshly repainted by Flipsideauto, as you might have noticed – are 8.5-inches wide at the front, I’ve reverted back to a 225/40R18 tyre all around (down from a 245/35R18 on the front with the TE37s). My logic here is that a narrower tyre will be less prone to aquaplaning during the typically very wet winter months. Also, tyre rotation.
It’s been a case of so far, so good with regards their performance, although I won’t be venturing out on track with them mounted.
Of course, now that I’ve gone and mounted them, Ireland will probably never see snow again.That’s Not Gone Well
My initial response was that this was bad. Very bad.
We were gently cruising along the motorway at a relaxed 110km/h (68mph) when the car developed a sudden, severe and unexpected vibration. A quick check of the misfire counter on the MFD revealed that cylinder three was almost certainly not firing, as it racked up misfires at an astonishing rate. I knocked the car out of gear, switched on my hazard lights and coasted to a stop on the side of the motorway with a cloud of smoke behind me. Then I shut it down.
This was the first time in my life that I’ve ever had a car breakdown. I remembered reading that in the UK, your life expectancy reduces to 30 minutes while you’re sat in your car on the hard shoulder of a motorway, so while Ireland isn’t the UK, I still got both my girlfriend and myself out of the car and as far away from the side of the motorway as possible (she was thrilled, obviously) while I started to think things through.
I gave it a few moments and tried to restart the car, but while it would turn over, it wouldn’t start and would expel some smoke from the exhaust again. There were no fluid leaks, and nothing obviously amiss under the bonnet.
The first person I called was John Stone, of Stone Motorsport, to bounce ideas off as to what it could be based on what we knew (misfire, not starting, smoke) before he offered to come and recover the car with a trailer. While we waited far away from the car, I knew it would make everyone’s life easier if we could get the car off the motorway, so I decided to try and start the car again.
So, I tried and whilst it was still smoking, it sounded like it wanted to start. I then caught a whiff of the smoke, which smelled heavily of fuel. At this point, I figured it had flooded itself so kept cranking. Eventually, it started, the smoke cleared and the cylinder wasn’t misfiring any longer.
It didn’t take much persuasion to get my significant other back into the car and straight up to the next exit of the motorway, and to the safety of a much quieter road (where these photos were taken, because even I’m not that much of an idiot.)
With the car running again, I called John back who advised to turn it off and he would still recover the car (and loan me the trusty Stone Motorsport Toyota Auris to get home). At this point, all things pointed to a failing coil pack which would break down as it got hot, meaning I could have ended up stopping again not much further away.
John has always been the voice of reason, so I sided with him and waved goodbye to the GTI…
…for about 18 hours. As this was that awkward period between Christmas and New Years, trying to find a main dealer which was both open and had the required parts in stock, was a challenge in itself, but I managed to get four brand new OEM coil packs from a local Volkswagen dealer. Once fitted, everything was once again well with the world.
On examination, you can see which coil pack had failed. I originally fitted these ‘R8′ type coils a couple of years back to avoid an exact situation like this occurring, but it looks like they are spurious coils as opposed to genuine Audi ones, which may explain the failure.
What we now know is that the coil pack failed and caused a misfire in cylinder three. When this misfire occurred, the engine management’s wide-band sensor in the exhaust detected it as running lean, resulting in the closed-loop fuelling going wild to compensate, which in-turn flooded the engine, leaving me temporarily stranded. It’s easy to look back and see that it was about as simple an issue to resolve as they come, but it’s funny how you automatically jump to the worst case scenario in your own mind.
Needless to say, there’s a pair of spare coil packs in the boot now. What better excuse, then, to go for an epic drive the next day than just ‘to make sure’?Locked Down
It was just last week that I found myself back at Stone Motorsport to finish the Tyrolsport installation. This can be done on axle stands in your driveway, but it’s so much easier on a lift, that it was worth booking in for.
When installed, the rigid collar kit is all but invisible. It’s so simple, that it’s barely believable the impact it has on the car when in place.
The kits are supplied separately for the front and rear axles, but perform the same function of locking the front and rear subframes in place and eliminating all movement in them. The Mk5 and Mk6 platforms, along with their derivatives, are renowned for developing a ‘clunk’ or ‘creak’ as the subframes start to shift over time due to the use of factory stretch bolts.
My Mk6 has had a slight creak for a while, but more significantly I’ve always felt that there was a certain vagueness in steering feel, particularly when driving the car immediately after driving my father’s 2016 Focus ST. I always put it down to being a Volkswagen thing, and I wasn’t even sure that this was the solution to the problem beforehand. Truthfully, I didn’t really think of it as much of an issue at all, as the car was quite good.
We (John) started by removing the two bolts for the exhaust hanger on the rear of the subframe, before removing two more bolts on the dog bone to the gearbox. This allowed us (again, John) to loosen the subframe bolts which allows just enough subframe movement in order to make installing the bronze collars and custom ARP bolts in place much easier.
Typically, when someone says that installation is ‘easy’, I tend to budget for at least a whole day of swearing and hardship. This, however, was very straightforward.
On the front subframe, as an example, there are three points either side where the subframe is secured to the chassis. You place one dual-sided bronze collar between the body and subframe (which is essential to accurately locate the subframe), and another between the subframe and the head of the bolt before torquing them to specification.
The rear axle is similar, except that there are two points either side. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly photogenic job as you’re looking into darkness for the most part.
While John checked and double-checked everything, I continued to get distracted by a future Speedhunters feature car. Oh, this is a good one, particularly for those of us who like ‘speed’ in our Speedhunting.
I enjoyed this view of the car on the lift. Also, I noted that the Clubsport S discs (which are single handed) are running around 10°C (50ºF) hotter on one side compared to the other. It also appears that our brake cooling solutions are proving effective.
That, or I need to press them harder next time around.
That really was about as straightforward as it seems. I would love to have dragged it out longer, for dramatic effect, but I would be doing Tyrolsport a serious disservice. If you’re interested, you can read the full installation and product details here.
It’s essential to ensure the car’s alignment is correct afterwards, but the immediate difference in feel when driving towards the alignment rack was obvious.
As it happened, my geometry wasn’t a million miles out following the installation, but I was happy to have it double-checked and noted. Now that my subframes are no longer shifting around, it also means that my alignment settings will be more consistent.
Seeing as it was already up in the air, I added a fraction more aggression to the geometry following a quick conversation with Ryan at Garage Midnight. Again, as if I needed the excuse.
So, final verdict?
While I haven’t put up a million miles since, and I still want to wait until I’ve had some track time to feel the benefit of the rear hatch brace, the rigid collars have made a huge improvement in how the car feels. I cannot fathom how something so small can make such drastic difference. More so, I can’t believe that the GTI doesn’t come from the factory like this.
Steering feel is the first thing I noticed; there’s much more communication through the wheel as to what the fronts are doing. Over rough surfaces and abrupt obstacles (potholes, speed bumps etc.) the car feels more composed to the point where I don’t grit my teeth in anticipation what I’m about to drive over or through.
Brake pedal feel was the maybe the most surprising one, as I didn’t expect really expect or think previously that my brakes felt bad or could be improved upon. I was obviously wrong, because they are much, much better now. Seriously, why are these not on the car from factory?
With these completed, I’m going to turn my focus to the final pieces of the puzzle: cooling. While the factory systems are more than adequate for fast road driving, I learned late last year that I really want to introduce some overhead into the equation when on track with regards to both engine oil and gearbox temperatures.
When these are addressed, I’ll likely spend some time working my way around the car, tidying up the small imperfections which have accrued from years of daily driving: stone chips, swirl marks etc. Things which are barely noticeable but drive me crazy, basically.
Then, and only then, I think it’ll be time for a proper road trip. Any suggestions?
I’d like to offer my eternal gratitude to John Stone for coming to my rescue during his Christmas holidays, and to Joe Power for his help in diagnosing and explaining the issue to me afterwards. Everyday is a school day, folks.Cutting Room Floor