Who are you guys?
1995 volkswagen golf gti engine
The Mk3 Golf and Jetta have existed in North America for some 13 years - long enough to induce the "been there, done that" feeling. Currently, tuning trends seem to favor the Euro approach, with custom bodywork and smaller, wider wheels. On the plus side, this has brought about some beautiful cars awash with creativity. But on the negative side, these trends are so firmly entrenched that many folks are afraid to build a Mk3 outside these unwritten boundaries. In the Dub scene we refer to this kind of restrictive thinking as sheep mentality.
However, Sean Smith from Pacific Beach, CA is no sheep. His decision to run 18" wheels should tell you that. As a Hollywood lighting technician, Sean sees plenty of glitz on a daily basis, and even though cosmetic details are important to him, most of his mods adhere to the form-follows-function approach.
He attributes his performance perspective to time spent with his car-crazy roommate, Erik Duffus, who owns several cars, including a pristine E30 M3 and a 1970 Datsun 240Z with a 350 Chevy V8. Sean's second biggest influence has been his number one mechanic, Tony Woods of City VW in San Diego. Tony's done all the work on the GTI and his skill and advice have been invaluable to Sean over the years.
Sean is the second owner of this '95 VR6, which he purchased back in '96 and has amassed only 50k miles in the last ten years. Having so few miles made him a bit wary of opening up the OBD1 2.8 VR6, but that hasn't kept him from achieving 222whp and 217 lb-ft with select bolt-on enhancements. An OG Z-Engineering supercharger is still going strong, and combined with GIAC software, Sean claims the car's drivability is near-perfect. A Supersprint header and Techtonics exhaust get a few extra ponies from the otherwise stock engine and amplify the unmistakable VR6 growl.
Extra power is always welcome, but not if you can't get it to the pavement, right? So Sean's favorite mod is a Quaife six-speed 'box with straight-cut gears and a limited slip differential. With a final drive of 3.94:1, Sean raves that the combination simply transcends the normal driving experience: "It seems I always have the right gear for any situation, and have no problem keeping the engine smack dab in the middle of the powerband." He admits it's not the fastest car on the highway but adds, "With an attentive driver this car is capable of surprising many cars costing more than twice as much, and I really, really like that."
In general terms, it's safe to say that the sheep in the Dub community are more concerned with how their cars look than how they run, and again Sean's gone a different route. His enthusiasm for things such as alignment specs and corner weighting far outweigh any cosmetic changes he's made to his Golf. He's heavily into autocrossing, and his mission in life is to find ways to reduce understeer and get the nose-heavy car to rotate. Toward that end you'll find Ground Control adjustable camber plates on the front strut towers. These plates allow Sean to add some badly needed negative camber when he hits the track, and then quickly revert to street spec for the ride home. And he does this without needing to adjust the alignment each time.
To further improve the handling balance, Sean relocated his Optima Yellow Top battery to the trunk. H&R RSS coilovers with custom spring rates suspend all four corners, while Neuspeed anti-roll bars minimize body roll. Suspension tie bars all around help keep the 11 year-old chassis rigid.
At one point Sean bought and installed a carbon fiber hood in the pursuit of a lighter front end. We won't suggest that he's obsessively concerned with cosmetics, but he told us he didn't like the look of the silver hood pins he was supplied with. He knew he needed them, but was sure he could find something better - something black. A trip to eBay revealed black anodized quick-release latches, and Sean figured those would work fine. However, a highway journey fully disproved that theory, and cars traveling behind Sean's GTI that day were lucky not to be decapitated by an 80mph carbon fiber frisbee.
Second to his Quaife tranny, Sean loves his Stoptech front brake conversion the best. Along with an Audi TT 11.1" rear brake conversion from Bahn Brenner, he claims the car stops worlds better than before: "I can now drive far deeper into corners than I would've dared in the past, and have far more confidence as a result," he says. We should add that when the GTI is set up for track use, the 18" BBS RCs come off and 17" SSR Competitions wrapped in Toyo R-compound rubber go on. He realizes he'd get more approval if he sucked it up and bought a set of 16x9" wheels with stretched rubber but, well, that combo just isn't his style. And they'd never clear his brakes.
Inside the Golf you'll find a pair of Recaro SRD seats, some helpful VDO gauges, and an Auto Power rollcage. All audio equipment can be easily removed from the vehicle. And while this isn't the most impressive list of interior equipment for an et feature car, at least these are quality parts and each serves a purpose.
As mentioned, Sean favors a few cosmetic changes, and so the exterior boasts period-correct Abt side skirts, rear wing, front air dam and grille. A pair of inR32-style headlights with a Philips HID conversion updates the front and offers improved lighting as well.
What's next for Sean and his GTI? Quite a lot, actually. He's ready to open up the engine and suggests it's time to sell the blower and look to a nice T3/T4 turbo. He'd also like to find an Abt-style widebody so he can widen the Golf's track for better handling. These changes may happen next week, next year or even the next decade - he's in no hurry.
His daily driver is a tricked-out Audi 1.8T Avant and he sees his GTI as a weekend autocrosser/toy. In fact, the Mk3 is Sean's perfect blend of old and new, and because he doesn't see them on the streets of SoCal every day, it makes owning the car even more special.