It now produces almost as much power as a new one.
Volkswagen is set to reveal the eight-generation Golf GTI in just a few weeks at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show following an official teaser of the car’s front end. The original Golf GTI was released back in 1974 but it wasn’t until 1983 that the car arrived in the United States as the Rabbit GTI. We had a chance to drive an original US-spec Mk1 Rabbit GTI and the experience left us yearning to own one.
The GTI’s charms had a major impact on Derek Spratt, a then-21-year-old college student in Ontario, Canada who purchased his Rabbit brand-new back in 1984. “All the automotive magazines had the GTI on their cover, saying that it was the car everyone had to have,” Spratt said. He sold his original car years ago but back in 2011, the former CEO and venture capitalist decided he wanted to own another Rabbit GTI and set out to build the perfect example. What follows is the story of a true automotive enthusiast.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to go back to the first car I had as a young man and revisit that time in my life?'” he explained. “My goal was for the car to feel and drive like an original Mk1 but with modern capabilities. I wanted to show that you can take an old car to the point where it operates like a supercar – without taking away the fun factor.”
Over the course of seven years, Spratt spent more than 12,000 hours modifying his Rabbit, documenting the process with over 180 videos on social media. In total, Spratt estimates that he spent around $140,000 on the project. Talk about a labor of love. He even found another example that was built on the same exact day as his original car and set to work improving it. “I wanted the car to be versatile and flawless with its mannerisms and behaviors,” he said.
Spratt worked on the engine, chassis, handling, and braking performance while also giving the car modern amenities such as electric windows, heated seats, push-button start, an electronically adjustable brake system, two-axis accelerometers, and a touch-screen dash. Working with a custom engine builder, Spratt designed a naturally aspirated engine with around 220 horsepower (more than double the original 90 hp output). “There were times that I felt like this project was eating me alive,” Spratt said. “This was one of the most extreme commitments to a project I have worked on.”
The car, which Spratt calls “Ultimate GTI,” was finished in 2018 and taken to the track, several auto shows, and family road trips before he sold the car to a young couple of VW enthusiasts who live in Vancouver at a fraction of the cost. “If you get into restoration and modification for the money, you should find a new hobby,” Spratt said. “The purpose of the project was fulfilled for me. I made the car faster and better than before and pursued my passion for seven years.”
So, what’s next for Spratt? “My long-term goal is to electrify a 1961 Beetle,” he says. “The technology behind converting a vintage vehicle to an electric car really interests me.”