(Really) Broke Status
It was supposed to be so easy. The Mk2’s KR was broken, ridiculously unreliable and needed too many bits replacing to bring it back from the dead. What’s more, the prices of KR bits were going up by the day as they became more and more obsolete. £120 for 10” of breather hose; really? New plan: press the fastforward button on what I always wanted to do anyway and put a new engine in. Ideal world choices pitted against a real world budget on a daily basis. Whatever I did I wanted to do the majority of work myself with friends, not just ship it off (famous last words right there…) to be done, mainly because I couldn’t afford to do that and I liked the idea of learning stuff. R32? Too expensive. 20vT? I knew I’d want a quicker one than I need and the price soon started added up for the spec I wanted.
For a long time I wanted a Bahn Brenner-fed 16v but that was the costliest option of all, plus the most complicated and, by the sounds of things, the most likely to explode on a regular basis. A VR, that’s it. The ‘do it in a weekend’ conversion, the beginner’s conversion, the easy choice. Plus I could supercharge or turbo it in the future when funds allowed. Keeping the car narrow-track meant I could keep my existing wheels and brakes and going for a later OBD2 engine meant I’d have the most scope for messing around with it later on plus, I was told, the most reliability, too. A work of art manifold from Dubpower, heavy duty HT leads, also from Dubpower, two slimline fans from Revotec Ltd, a Sachs clutch, new driveshafts, VR-specific engine mounts from Vibra-Technics and 268 degree cams, heavy duty springs and retainers from Autotech were ordered too to make fitting the engine easy and, in the case of the Autotech goodies, to make the big ol’ six-pot a little more lively once running. I’ll get to all those bits and pieces in more detail another time.
Anyway, as is always the way, things got a little more serious when it came to actually pulling the old KR motor out. I’d decided that if I was going to put a new engine in, it made sense to tidy up and repaint the engine bay, too. There wasn’t much point fitting a nice new motor in a dirty old engine bay after all.
And so, a couple of days into January I took the car to good friend Steve Hiscocks’ house to take the KR out. Being the only person I knew with a proper driveway, plus his never-ending enthusiasm for doing stupid things to stupid cars long past the point where most normal people would have thrown in the towel, Steve giving up his driveway for the job was a godsend. And so, with friends Luke Pappin (supercharged Mk2 VR owner) and Jake Jezard coming over to help, we got stuck in. As it turns out, ripping an engine out is quite good fun even if it is the coldest day on earth. So what were we left with? An engine bay that had seen better days but was certainly not beyond repair, the big hole in the battery tray area being the worst of things.
After ordering a repair panel from VW Heritage, Steve got to work with the angle grinder cutting the rusty piece out and then welding the new panel in its place. Nothing was getting smoothed or deleted so we could put the welder down and start the process of cleaning the bay up and stripping the old paint off. After numerous nights on my hands and knees scraping, grinding and sanding on Steve’s driveway at silly o’clock at night half freezing to death, it was done. All I can say is the process gave me a lot of respect for people that undertake smooth engine ‘bay projects… sod that, just prepping the thing is a right ball-ache in itself although undoubtedly, doing it inside and not late at night in January by lamp light probably makes things more bearable!
A week or so and a lot of lost fingerprints later we were ready for paint. Thankfully, another friend, Andy Fryer, owner of Mill Lane Garage just down the road from Steve’s place, had let us use his spray booth with the proviso that we were in and out over a weekend. And so, the following weekend we got to work. Schutz underseal was laid down on the outside wings and inside the chassis legs, followed by a few coats of primer and then finally, a few days later than planned (sorry Andy) due to the cold slowing the drying process down, Steve laid down a couple of gorgeous coats of fresh Tornado red. So far, so good. Too good, as it would turn out. As it’s around this point that my luck turned. Actually, that’s putting it nicely. It all went to sh*t. Where do I start?
First off, I left the car overnight at work ready to be collected. Being that the car was full of parts I was worried enough as it was but even I at my most paranoid and pessimistic couldn’t have predicted the ridiculous storm that would hit that night. Yeah I should have tied my bonnet down, you don’t need to tell me now.
The bonnet must have bounced up and down in the wind all night, ending up at an angle and pushed right back, almost over the scuttle. Loads of paint had chipped off the wings, while the scuttle panel and the rain tray were all bent up for good measure. F**k me.
The car was delivered down to Moores Motors in Wokingham via a company called MacMotorMovers who quoted me through the shipping and courier comparison site www.shiply.com. Now trusting your pride and joy to someone else to transport is always a bit nerve wracking but MacMotorMovers, based near Wokingham as it turned out, were absolutely fantastic. It specialises in only moving cars and is fully insured, too. If you need something moved email firstname.lastname@example.org for a quote, they’re definitely recommended.
So with the car delivered, Moores Motors could get to work. The idea was that they would fit the engine itself and I’d help out as much as I could. Unfortunately, this is where things started to go wrong. With the subframe fitted, the engine itself went in easily enough. Tim at The Phirm had taken the Mk3’s loom and worked his magic on it to make it a plug ’n’ play system and United Motorsport had taken the immobiliser out the ECU in preparation so that it was a plug ’n’ play affair too (after I’d wrapped it and worked out where to run it). The Mk3 heater matrix went in simply, too, once we had figured out how to remove the entire dash (tip, don’t remove the dash!))
Right, because I’m running out of space this month I’ll have to go in to what else was involved in getting the engine in another time but for now, I’ll cut right to the chase: once it was in and hooked up, it wouldn’t start. Checking everything led to one simple diagnosis, it had very low compression on five cylinders and only slightly better compression on the sixth.
And, some six months later, that’s still where it’s at. An engine that won’t start and a bank account too empty to do much about it. Whether it’s case of replacing the engine itself or rebuilding it, I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that with a dead engine significant paint damage from the loose bonnet incident and from being left unattended covered in bird crap for months, enthusiasm is at an all time low. Will I come out the other side? Will I pour more money in to it to rebuild or replace, or do I cut my losses and give in? At this point, I genuinely don’t know. Do an engine conversion, they said, it’ll be easy…