I’ve ruined another perfectly practical car–and I’m grateful for it

By Tom Suddard
Apr 20, 2024 | Volkswagen, VW, GTI, Project car, VW GTI, Mk7 GTI | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Tom Suddard

I started laughing at a red light yesterday. No, nothing funny happened and I wasn’t listening to the radio.

Instead, I was laughing because I’d just realized I’d ruined yet another car. It’s a milestone that every project car crosses, as making good cars terrible at their intended purpose is sort of my job.

What car? None other than our Mk7 VW GTI, which came into my life just eight months ago as a perfectly normal used car. It was quiet, comfortable and would look at home in any office parking lot.

Now, as it squealed to a stop before settling into a shaking idle, all I could think about was the other motorists staring at the big vinyl logos, wide wheels and giant tow hook. They didn’t know the brakes squealed because they were the same race pads I’d run on the Tire Rack One Lap of America Presented by Grassroots Motorsports. They didn’t realize those stupid fake sponsorship decals were actually from real sponsors. And they didn’t realize the car was shaking at idle because I finally got around to installing that 034Motorsport dogbone insert, which eliminated the car’s wheel-hop at launch at the expense of a bit more NVH.

[One Lap of America: How competitive can a daily driver actually be?]

No, the GTI was just another ruined car, probably owned by some kid vaping or stealing or something.

Hence my laughter—my car is stupid, and I’m proud of it. Ruining cars in the eyes of normal people driving appliances is what this hobby is all about, and I’ve come to enjoy the process. The GTI may be 10% worse as a street car than it was eight months ago, but it’s also seven seconds faster around our official test track, the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park.

Go to any track day, and you’ll see a paddock full of ruined cars like mine. It’s a fun part of the process, and finding that line of compromise with a street car—then blowing straight past it—is a project milestone I’ve always relished.

So does this mean the GTI will be losing its garish stickers, squealing pads and stiffer motor mount? Absolutely not—the stopwatch doesn’t think I've ruined anything at all.

If the next owner wants a boring appliance, they can put the stock parts back on and peel the stickers off themselves. Me? I’ll be well on my way to ruining the next project car, smiling the whole time.

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Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
8/30/23 9:24 a.m.


David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
8/30/23 9:25 a.m.

Been there, done that. 

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/30/23 9:27 a.m.

i would like to subscribe to your, oh wait, nevermind.

roninsoldier83 GRM+ Memberand Reader
8/30/23 10:07 a.m.

It's been a while since I've truly ruined a perfectly good car, but I'm working on it! Solid work, sir! 

docwyte PowerDork
8/30/23 10:08 a.m.

BTDT, have multiple T shirts.  At this point I'm very careful to NOT do that anymore, as I realize the amount of time I spend with the car on track is 1% of my driving time.  I'd rather swap brake pads in for a track day and then swap them back out afterwards so I don't have to deal with the squealing and pick a more street friendly motor mount so the car doesn't shake all around at idle.  When I did One Lap, I pulled all the decals off afterwards so it wasn't a rolling billboard.  

It's just more enjoyable that way on a car that sees 98-99% street use

Captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/30/23 10:21 a.m.

My favorite transition is the one after that. When you take said vehicle that's been ruined for everything that doesn't entail driver engagement and start eliminating potential failure points. Hydraulic power steering? Gone. Ignition switch and tumbler, gone. Coolant temperature sensor and fan switch, standalone pre-wired flexcool setup. Dodgy 30 year old fuel pump, now a 340lhp setup with enough overhead to support E85 

Traum New Reader
8/30/23 1:40 p.m.

My favourite story is the time when I somehow thought it was a good idea to take STR-prepped Miata to go pick up a girl for a first date -- and this was happening maybe a week or 2 after I've installed high durometer polyurethane engine mounts on the car...


We kinda had to yell during our in-car conversations, but somehow I still managed to get a few more dates with the same girl afterwards -- picking her up in my daily beater, of course...

Noddaz GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
8/30/23 2:01 p.m.

If it bothered me at all I would just drive my Wife's stock Honda.

8/30/23 2:17 p.m.

Yeah, been there done that to a 2008 Subaru STi.......modded it to the point it was barely streetable. Loved that car. Driving it in traffic made you feel like predator looking for your next meal. Finding a smug exotic car driver and shutting them down was great fun.

bobzilla MegaDork
8/30/23 2:21 p.m.

I did that to the Rio.... and now I'm promising myself the Forte stays stock. hahahahahahahahaha as if that is even possible. 

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