GTI Has Come a Long Way Tommy! Fahrvergnugen for Sure.

Episode 32
November 30, 2014

Isaiah Smith of Boston and his 2015 VW GTI are the subject of this week's blog. Does anyone else think "IJ" (Smith's nickname) looks like a young Dale Earnhardt Junior?

Isaiah Smith of Boston and his 2015 VW GTI are the subject of this week’s blog. Does anyone else think “IJ” (Smith’s nickname) looks like a young Dale Earnhardt Junior?

2015 VW GTI makes its appearance in Northern Maine

First let me say to all of you looking for Part 2 of the Phil LaPointe story it will be here at Up North Motorsports next week. Since I was in Bogota, Colombia for a week and Phil LaPointe was taking some well deserved time off, he promised to send some photos of some projects he has worked on over the years. I told him he could release some of the super secret Honda aero photos for the Indy Car Series on my blog but so far have not convinced him or Honda Performance development of that.

It seems like high performance street cars just show up in my little town of Westmanland. In an earlier episode I wrote about my former neighbor, Chuck Grettinger’s Ford Fiesta ST. My nephew Isaiah John Smith (IJ) was visiting family in Northern Maine during the Thanksgiving holiday. His newest drive is a 2015 VW GTI with just over 4,000 miles.

As the current owner of four 1983 VW Rabbit GTIs I was curious about what changes have occurred in the 32 years since the debut of the radical Rabbit. I have put over 200,000 miles on the two GTIs that I drove. In 2007 I poured several thousands of dollars into my original GTI the red one.

My "sleeper" 1983 VW Rabbit GTI with the Cumberland Motor Club numbers still attached.

My “sleeper” 1983 VW Rabbit GTI with the Cumberland Motor Club numbers still attached.

The plan was to restore everything except the paint job so that no one would know that all wear parts were replaced including the engine. I wanted a “sleeper” car. Most of the work was performed in Kevin Keaton’s Automotive Shop at Caribou Tech Center over the course of a couple of winters. The machine work on the engine was performed by Guy Caron of Caron and Son’s Machine Shop in North Caribou.

Despite all those mods when I raced it at Spud speedway’s “Race Your Neighbor” races I lost to cars with moderate horsepower let alone the higher performing cars. I also found that my car needed to enter vintage classes at the Cumberland Motor Club’s autocross events at the former Loring Air Force Base. I could not compete with my slightly warmed over engine and several year old BF Goodrich T/A tires.

So how did the two stack up. I have not hard side-by-side performance comparisons only some facts from Car & Driver and Road & Track magazine. Maybe IJ will be up in the summer and we could run the cars at the Loring Autocross in August 2015. Who knows…stranger things have happened.

First a little bit about IJ Smith. Smith said,” Well I’m an electrical line worker currently working for Michel’s Electric of Rhode Island but live outside of Boston. I am building a 345,000 volt line from the middle of Massachusetts to Rhode Island.”

The size of one cable used in 345,000 volt electrical transmission lines. The 22  miles of wire are made of aluminum.

The size of one cable used in 345,000 volt electrical transmission lines. The 22 miles of wire are made of aluminum.

“I took a couple of classes (lineman) at Kennebec Community College about six or seven years ago, then I joined the Marines for 4 1/2 years. I was a production control chief for the jet called the Harrier which does vertical takeoffs and vertical landings. I served in Yuma, Arizona and aboard the USS Peleliu in the South Pacific.”

How does one build a twenty-two mile 345 kilowatt line? Smith replied, “You have to build the structures that the wires are carried across. Then we have to pull the actual wire. First we pull a heavy rope through the twenty-two miles of structures, then pull a hard-line, which is pretty much a steel cable all the way back through”
“We then pick up the actual conductor (pictured). We hook it all up and put electricity through it.”

I noted from conversation with Smith that linemen and race car drivers have something in common other than working in high risk jobs. It is clothing. Just as a race car driver must have clothing that must meet SFI Foundation standards in regard to fire protection, so must a lineman. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that clothing must meet certain arc flash resistance codes.

Smith says, ” All our clothing must be FR rated, Fire Retardant. I think it has to be second level class. If at any time electricity contacts ground it will flash an extremely intense heat just a matter of a second. It would melt normal clothing to my flesh.”

Why did IJ choose the GTI? “I went in (to the VW dealership) originally thinking I would get a VW diesel,” said Smith. “Then I saw this glimmering beauty on the showroom floor. I couldn’t leave without it.”

“I get about 30 miles per gallon (mpg). If I am real nice to it I get about 36 mpg.”

Smith’s normal commute is about 45 minute long and about 25 miles in length. He said the 4:30 am starting time pretty much assures low volume traffic.

I got my first ride in the new GTI on the snow-covered roads in my town, Westmanland, Maine home to about 60 people. The GTO had Pirelli P7 225-40 R18 all season tires which I thought would be useless in the snow and hard packed conditions.

Having some winter driving fun in Westmanland with proud owner of the 2015 GTI , Isaiah Smith originally from Maine, now living in the Boston area.

Having some winter driving fun in Westmanland with proud owner of the 2015 GTI , Isaiah Smith originally from Maine, now living in the Boston area.

On one very steep downward sloping hill I asked Smith to come to a sudden stop. Not only did he stop relatively quickly from 45 miles per hour, he also released his hands from the steering wheel to show how the advanced ABS on the car would keep it going straight. We stopped quickly and without the tail chasing the nose of the car even a minute amount.

We then proceeded up the hill as he floored the accelerator. The traction control system had a work out, however, there was no noticeable torque steer or uneven herky-jerky forward motion, just acceleration. My 1983 GTI had immense torque steering and needed modulation from my right foot to make it accelerate on slippery or low traction surfaces. I was impressed with the leap in technology in both braking and acceleration.

Road & Track magazine said, “It’s easily the best GTI ever in terms of driving dynamics.”

Motor Trend magazine named the VW GTI it’s “2015 Car of the Year”. The car also was named best Sport Compact in Car and Driver’s five car comparison test beating the Ford Fiesta ST as well as the Subaru WRX and WRX STI.

I went back to Road & Tracks’s November 1982 report on the original Americanized Rabbit GTI made in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania to look at a few specifications of the 1983 GTI. It cost about $8500. It had the widest wheels of any VW Rabbit, 185 X 60 X 14 with Pirelli P6 tires. The engine was hopped up from the stock 70 plus horsepower Rabbit engine by utilizing a new head, increased displacement (1780 cc vs 1715 cc), and free-flowing exhaust. Those modifications yielded a whopping 90 hp and 105 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Those figures are very low by today’s standards but were revolutionary in the early 80’s EPA strangled engines. in fact Road & Track editors were quoted as saying, “One quick trip around the block and you won’t want to give this one up. ” They went on to say,” the basic pocket-rocket street racer carried to subtle limits…the fun quotient in this sleeper is maximum.”

The 2,200 pound 1983 GTI featured 0 – 60 times of 10.6 seconds and quarter-mile in 17.7 seconds and 76 mph. besting the Audi Coupe and BMW 320i. The 2978 pound 2015 GTI does 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds and the quarter-mile in 14.2 seconds and 99.9 miles per hour.

Top speed for the 1983 version was about 105 mph while the 2015 is 124 miles per hour. The new GTI MSRP of $23, 495 is almost three times that of the 1983 version. Over the span of 32 years that price is probably fair when one looks at inflation as well as the significant number of improvements.

Does all this mean I will run out next week and purchase a new GTI? No I think I will stick with my four 1983 GTIs. After all they are “Classics”.

Austin Theriault races in the Snowball Derby next weekend.

Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault finally made it home for Thanksgiving to his family this past week after experiencing travel difficulties. Theriault will be contesting for the top spot at the 47th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida December 7, 2014. Qualifying is Friday with a 50 lap “Last Chance” race on Saturday for anyone qualifying outside of the tor 30. His job will not be easy as preliminary figures show 68 entries for the 37 car field.

The field features some of of the hottest young names in racing today including 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Champion Chase Elliot, Ross Kenseth, Eric Jones, Corey LaJoie, Augie Grill, former team-mate Brian Hoar, John Hunter Nemechek, and more. Hoar from Williston, Vermont and Theriault are the only New England entries.

The race is being carried pay-for-view on 51 TV. You can find information about coverage on Speed51 TV website. The 300 lap race is Sunday December 7 on the 1/2 mile oval.
Best wishes to Austin in his #57 Maine car!

Let’s Go Racing

Tom Hale
Soli Deo Gloria

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing.