Rabbit Restoration on a Budget

In August of 2014 I was in need of a new vehicle for I had recently scrapped my 1984 BMW. An ad on usedvictoria.com caught my eye; it was for a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI with a 16 valve swap in it. I visited the seller once and I simply fell in love and had to have it. With a price tag of $2000 but worked it out to $1600 I thought to myself, could this 16 valve converted Rabbit GTI be able to be restored? Over the past month or so I have been donating my car blood, sweat, and tears that it so desperately needed in efforts to bring the look of my car to its full potential. The restoration of my Volkswagen Rabbit can be sorted by 3 sections; the hardships my car and I have gone thru, necessary maintenance and the restoration itself plus additional modifications.

When owning a project car it becomes extremely obvious that you’ll have to overcome many hardships regarding your car. My first hardship with my car occurred in the end of March when my alternator started to fail. After attaching a voltmeter to the battery while the engine was running and meter said “13.1v” I know it was time for an alternator rebuild. When I received my rebuilt alternator back from Mac’s Auto Electric and installed it I realized that thru the course of a day my battery would still die. Searching through many internet forums I stumbled upon a post in onallcylinders.com that directly related to my situation. I soon figured that a bad ground was the cause of all these grievances. Firstly, I replaced my positive battery terminal and rewired my negative terminal, no luck. Then I grounded the negative battery to the car more effectively by sanding the paint off and stripped the wires, still killing the battery. I finally inspected the alternator cables and saw they were electrical taped together and horribly connected. After stripping the wires and creating better grounds the problem was solved. My second VW orientated hardship started in the school parking lot where a fellow student back in my rear right fender. The cosmetic was (is) very minor, but with the force of the impact, a coolant hose adapter tore causing all the coolant to leak out. The unique hose I needed was rare and hard to find, so I ended up buying regular ¾” hosing and cut the size I needed. I then installed it and added coolant. It proved effective. The fact of the matter is that no matter what you have in mind, obstacles will always arise.


A part of the restoration process in giving the car the initial maintenance that is necessary. At the beginning I checked my dipstick to only see a trace of black sludge, it was time for an oil change. After ingesting new oil, a new oil filter, and new wiper blades from Lyall Street Service my rabbit was hungry for the road. Since having new wiper blades I thought to connect the wiper fluid pump to the squirt nipples in my hood. After having my car serviced and inspected I figured a drive up to my dad’s in Port Alberni would be good for the car rabbit. I believe the nicest part of drive up island was getting pulled over on the highway. To my surprise, when I got pulled over and cop came to talk to me he said “Your brake light is out and you don’t have your N displayed, but since you’re driving a really cool car I’m not going to give you a ticket”.  Surely enough the when I got into Port Alberni I did a pit stop at Napa for bulbs, I also grabbed high performance spark plugs (seeing as I haven’t changed them yet). With the change of spark plugs I noticed much better throttle response and improved fuel economy. Many people overlook the importance of an oil change and basic service; both are very significant to having a reliable/restorable vehicle.


Lastly, after all the repairs and maintenance are done comes the actual restoration plus the additional modifications. A massive part of the restorations process is he paint. My idea of a perfect glossy white finish went down the tubes after witnessing the impact of 8 hours of what polishing actually does to the paint. Although the hood is relatively shiny, the rest of the car seemed to just “clean up” throughout the process, which was good enough for me. Before even insuring my GTI I had purchased a stereo deck and speakers for it. With the help of a friend the stereo and speakers were installed in less than an hour. With some help from another friend the passenger side speaker was ripped out in less than a second. I’ve always been a huge fan of lowered cars, so I wanted my rabbit to be low as well. I bought a set of used lowering springs on a local automotive shop and swap group on facebook. Lowering the car proved fairly easy, until I realized my rear anti-roll bar is in the way of the shocks. Making is a full day process. The improved handling and physique made the exhausting hours worth it. With performance and cosmetic looks in mind I decided one night to remove and front and rear bumper. Once I removed the 4 bolts for each bumper, they just slip right out. I was amazed with the look of that easy modification; it looks similar to a race car now. Also losing the bumpers cuts the weight of the car down at least 100 pounds. I removed my spare tire to further reduce the weight, so then I decided to filled the spare wheel well with fluids (coolant, engine oil, wiper fluid). Since removing the front bumper I had these 2 big openings in  my front, where lights would soon be mounted. I planned on purchasing fog lights that would make a perfect fit in the opening but after a trip to Canadian Tire I came back with a set of 50 watt running lights, which I thought would do the trick. After drilling holes for the light mounts in the sub frame (where the bumper shocks were), wiring the lights to the battery, and then wiring a switch under my dash I had another completely functional set of lights. They help improve my field of vision in the car at nights, but are just as much cosmetic as performance. Overall, the restoration resulted in a success, but with a couple bumps in the road perfection simple wasn’t achievable.


At the end of my Inquiry Based Learning project I have succeeded in restoring my 1984 Rabbit GTI 16v to the fullest of it’s potential in regards to my budget. The hardships, the maintenance, and the restoration have all contributed to an overwhelmingly amazing English project and project car. A car worth sinking your money into can be difficult to find, and may not even be in the question for others, but I found my Volkswagen Rabbit GTI almost a year ago and I’ve enjoyed every moment with her since, good or bad.



Mike Carlos





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