Project Sipster – Part 5 – Safer Sipster

Even 28 years ago, our Rabbit’s body wasn’t strong enough to deal with race-stiff suspension and sway bars. Three decades of fatigue, crashes and primate repair jobs haven’t helped. To make up for the fatigue, we’re adding Eurosport braces all over the place. The lower arm brace that hangs under the engine is normally hard to install; strangely, it bolts straight to our car without complaint. The strut tower bar, which connects the front strut towers above the engine requires extensive modifications to deal with the chimp’s handiwork. A third brace, connecting the rear suspension towers across the rear cargo area, drastically cuts into the amount of crap Jared will be able to carry around the country. The rest of us, though, think the handling gains will be worth the sacrifice.

sipster can turn

Getting under a Rabbit was a lesson in old-school minimalist engineering. I cut my wrenching teeth on Datsun 510s, which used beefy subframes for all the suspension mounting points. Rabbits, which are theoretically 6 years more modern, not so much. Not only do the front lower control arms bolt straight to the flimsy unibody, the part they bolt to is cantilivered out in space with very little support. These flimsy mounts are a great opportunity for guys like Raffi, who can look like a hero when his lower control arm brace makes a night-and-day difference in steering response. Rabbit control arm mounts are so flimsy they normally deform so far in normal usage that the brace doesn’t even fit without some serious prybarage. How a car this bent could have control arm mounts still straight enough for the bar to just slide on is beyond me, but this car is chock full of the strange.

The scariest part of the corkscrew, truthfully, wasn’t the steering delay, the body roll, or the relentless understeer, it was hitting the brakes at the entrance to the steep, downhill Rainey curve that comes next. Mashing the Sipster’s middle pedal was like popping a parachute–a little, 6-inch G.I. Joe parachute–and then patiently waiting for it to slow the car down.

We had originally planned to install bigger front brakes from a Passat, but as Raffi correctly points out, the bigger calipers will only make the brake pedal squishy if we don’t also swap in the master cylinder and brake booster from a Scirocco 16V, which we don’t have. Putting stronger front brakes on without upgrading the rears would also make the brakes too front-biased, making the front brakes lock up well before the rears have done their best work.

Instead, Raffi suggests simply using the setup that has served his 178-hp Rabbit racecar for over a decade, slightly thicker GTI rotors, more aggressive brake pads, and maybe some rear wheel cylinders that aren’t leaking, along with new shoes and drums. By now we’ve learned to do what Raffi says, and the improvement is dramatic.

sipster can turn

In all, we’ve added almost 40 pounds with these upgrades (24 pounds of sway bars, 13 pounds of braces; the coil-overs and brakes are basically a wash), which isn’t ideal for either our acceleration or mileage goals, but those pounds may just help us live long enough to see those goals realized. A fair trade.

With the car now safe to drive 60 mph, we’re getting serious about that 0-60 goal. So serious, we’ll have results up next installment, along with a description of our visit from the torque fairy. See you then.



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