Project Sipster Part 5 –
By Dave Coleman
Photography by Jared Holstein and Christopher Gifford
Safer. Yeah, that's why we put coil-overs on it! If it sounds like we're trying desperately to justify cool racey bits on our fuel sipper it's because we are. The plan was for the Sipster to survive past this series, and we wanted it to be a real, decent, driveable car. We had dreams of hitting our 7s, and then taking it to track days and beating up on Porsches. Imagine, as we did, driving 3 hours to the track, spending a day passing Euro-snobs, and then driving home on the same tank of gas. Uh… diesel. That's the real reason we were suddenly so safety conscious.
Speaking of safety, a few commenters chided us for lane-crossing in the lead shot of our “safety” story. Fear not. Here's the raw version of that lead shot:
Have you ever noticed how project Sipster looks at you like a puppy? Look at any picture of the front of our little Rabbit and you'll notice it always has its head cocked to the left a little bit, it's square little eyes just off from horizontal. It looks either a little sad or a lot stupid depending on your mood.
At first we wrote it off as an optical illusion. Then, perhaps the result of a suspension sagging with age. Now, as we pour over the car with Raffi Kazalkasjdfhan at Eurosport Accessories in Anaheim, California, it's becoming apparent the crooked stare is something more serious. This car has been crashed before. Every 28-year old car has been crashed before, but this one, apparently, was repaired by a buzzed chimpanzee. The front suspension mounts on the driver's side are a full inch lower than the ones on the right.
That seems like a reasonable enough excuse for going overboard and using what is essentially a race suspension on a car that we're supposed to be hypermiling. The H&R coil-overs we're installing have adjustable spring perches, letting us adjust each corner individually to make up for the wonky body. Our bent Rabbit is that annoying wobbly restaurant table, and the H&R suspension is the packet of sugar we're jamming under the table leg.
Truthfully, we ordered the suspension bits before we noticed the crooked stare. Our original motivation was simple self preservation. We are not the manly men that inhabited the earth back in 1981, fearlessly cruising the streets without airbags, side impact beams or any hint of structural integrity; in all honesty, driving around in this little box kinda scares us. Since making an old car actually crashworthy is beyond even our powers of exaggeration, we're avoiding the whole crashworthiness issue by making the car easier not to crash. Handling and good brakes are our airbags.
The coil-overs are a start. We're also adding H&R anti-roll bars at both ends. On a GTI, a Scirocco, or a Cabriolet, the H&R anti-roll bars are upgrades, just like the stock bars but stiffer. On a Diesel they're a whole new concept. Our car never had any, which goes a long way toward explaining the terror with which we dropped into the corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last week.
Not having stock bars means we also don't have any of the factory mounting brackets the H&R bars are supposed to mount to. This is one of the many times we'll be lucky we know Raffi. Half clean race shop, half clean parts warehouse, Eurosport thankfully still has one messy corner. It's into that messy corner that Raffi disappears, returning a few minutes later with a fist full of greasy little metal scraps that make it possible to bolt the sway bars to our little barless wonder. Plan to spend some quality junkyard time if you don't know Raffi. Eurosport also replaced the original rubber control arm bushings, which were on the rancid side of fresh, with shiny new red polyurethane units.
Our Rabbit came with no sway bars whatsoever. It was so unready for bars, we even had to drill end link mounting holes in the control arms. At the rear, we had to hit the junkyard to get some sway bar mounting hardware from a Rabbit Cabriolet. It's a shame I can't find pictures of that hardware, since Volkswagen did some seriously clever/goofy engineering back there. The rear bar is held to the rear twist beam with a crazy clamp that took us an hour of hammering and swearing to figure out.