posted on February 17, 2011 20:00
Project Sipster: Frugal Sipster (is what I was gonna call it)
Project Sipster: Sipster Indeed (is how it ended up)
by 2009 Dave Coleman with commentary from 2011 Dave Coleman
On February 20 (2009), TopGear.com America declared war on oil, poverty and slow cars, all at the same time. We naively proposed that we could build the car that no car company could manage to build themselves. Specifically, we proposed to marry timeless Italian style with thoroughly adequate performance (0-60 in 7 seconds) shocking fuel economy (70 mpg), and humble frugality (you can duplicate it for $7,000), and we decided to build it in 55 days.
We didn't exactly decide on 55 days. Word had come from the home office in New York that the project would finish, and Jared would be back in the office by April 1, no negotiations. Office politics trump science once again.
In retrospect, both symmetry and our own sanity would have been better served if we gave ourselves 77 days to pull this off, but no matter, one cannot change the challenge once one has made a declaration. It just isn't done.
In a perfect world, we would have started with a 1974 Volkswagen Scirocco. This paragon of low-rent sex appeal would easily swallow the turbodiesel Volkswagen engine we planned to use, and it's far more aerodynamic than the brick we finally settled on. We rejected that plan because we feared the bureaucratic hurdles involved in registering a car that had been converted from gas to Diesel. We have since been informed by countless readers who have easily registered Diesel-converted cars that we're complete idiots. That would explain a lot of other things too…
Having settled on a Volkswagen Rabbit instead, we really should have shopped for one that was cheaper (we paid $1,700, but should have paid closer to $0), hadn't been crashed, and that didn't have a fuel tank full of rust and french fry bits from its former life as a grease-powered hippy car. See idiot comment, above.
Maybe you have to own wrenches to know just how ridiculous this idea of putting a modern (2003) engine in an old (1981) car really was. Putting a Jetta TDI engine in a Rabbit is an egregious abuse of the word "put". You can put your hat on a rack, and you can put a head of lettuce in your grocery bag, but try putting an elephant in your trunk. Just as easy to say, but its a fair bit more complicated to do, and odds are pretty good something will go wrong when you actually try it.
Unconstrained by realism, we drove the car to Canada, where Cam Waugh, owner of CWS tuning, skillfully coaxed the engine under the hood, along with its turbocharger, computer, and hundreds of wires. Surprisingly things didn't really go wrong at first.
It ran, in fact, for a full 40 kilometers before we figured out the old fuel tank and new fuel gauge couldn't agree on what was in the tank. The gauge said half, but the dead Sipster on the side of the road clearly said empty. As soon as we made it to California, the car died again when our new fuel filter again filled up with rusty old french fries. Two weeks later, black smoke started belching out the tailpipe, accompanied by a distinct lack of quickness. Another fuel filter--this time a German one--and a new Diesel injection pump fixed it for a while, until, a few days later, it just refused to turn over.