Project Rabbit GTI: A New Turbo for Our Callaway Setup

Fixing a few issues with the Bosch CIS injection system brought our 1984 VW Rabbit GTI back to life. Now to figure out the exhaust leak. 

This car had been turbocharged by Callaway soon after delivery, so we hoped for the best while diving in. Maybe that exhaust leak was just caused by a rusted-out downpipe? We checked it only to find bad news: It was perfect. 

That meant that we had turbo problems. The turbo is located behind and underneath the engine, so it’s not easy to see or work on. A bit dismayed, we started uncovering things to see what was going on.

Sure enough, once we removed the intake manifold and got access to the bolts securing the turbo to the exhaust manifold, we discovered our problem: The original Roto-Master turbo that came on our car had a huge split down the middle of the hot-side of the unit.

We asked the experts at BorgWarner if this could be repaired, and they told us it was doubtful. Plus, they added, any repair would likely not hold up. 

So, we asked them if they had a replacement turbo that was similar in size and shape. They laughed and said it has been many years since they built anything as small and inefficient as what was installed on our car back in 1985.

Back the drawing board. 

We decided that we were trying to restore an iconic car, even though it might have been easier to just throw away the crude but cool turbo kit and go with a modern setup backed by aftermarket injection.

A tip from our new best buddy at Everglades Diesel–where we had sent our wounded turbo for evaluation–solved our problem. He pointed us to an ad on theSamba.com, the popular old-school VW website, where someone had a good used Rayjay turbo for sale. While not identical to ours, we were assured that it was very similar and would fit well and solve our turbo problem.

We paid $800 (ouch!) for the turbo that was said to be in perfect shape. Still, we sent it to Everglades Diesel, a highly recommended source for turbo rebuilding here in the Southeast, and they went through it and confirmed it was good to go.

With our new turbo in place, our GTI finally was running properly and was surprisingly quick as well.

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