Rabbit obsession comes to an end

Episode 279

September 1, 2019

The herd of Rabbits I had accumulated at HTF Motorsports is no more. An obsession with 1983 VW Rabbit GTI cars that began in 1984 has come to an end. (HTF Motorsports file photo fall 2018)

The obsession

In 1984 I was driving Danny Brewer’s car lot in Caribou, when I spotted a used 1983 VW Rabbit GTI for sale with less than 20,000 miles on the odometer. I stopped in and talked to Fred Manzer the salesman. Fred said another guy was looking at it and he would let me know if that fell through.

The other buyer backed out of the deal and after some thought I became the owner of a relatively new car. This was the closest I have ever come to owning a new car. We did by a new pickup earlier in our marriage.

The first owner had traded the car in with a slipping clutch, which eventually was replaced by Presque Isle Volkswagen shortly after I owned the car. When oil seeped from the engine rear main seal that clutch went bad and was replaced a second time.

This car had been used as a pace car at Spud Speedway and was driven by Gary Willette a VW mechanic who became a our mechanic until he closed his shop and went into education.

The car became my daily driver many years until I accumulated over 200,000 miles. I purchased another 1983 VW GTI and ran it for several years until I parked both on the tree line pictured above.

An article in Automobile magazine in 2007 titled, “Best Sports Cars” caught my eye as I was waiting for my car to be finished at Hogan Tire in Caribou. I opened the magazine to the section on best street sports cars and lo and behold the #1, yup # 1 car picked by Automobile magazine readers was the 1983-84 Rabbit GTI made in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania!

I went on to pick up two more 1983 GTI cars over the course of the next couple years. I decided to restore the original red GTI and make it my “sleeper” street/autocross car.

The car spent a year at the automotive shop at Caribou Tech Center where every bushing, spring, shock, and eventually the engine was rebuilt or replaced. I had the machine work done locally and rebuilt the engine which the auto class put back into the car.

The GTI engine before rebuild. The pistons were seized to the walls by rust and crud coated the block. (HTF Motorsports)

VW GTI engine after boring just before rebuilt cylinder head was installed. Local engine machinist Garland Caron performed his machining magic with the engine. (HTF Motorsports)

This was typical of the Rabbit’s suspension bushings which were all replaced with poly or hard durometer bushings. (HTF Motorsports)

New lower a-arms and suspension bushings as well as other parts that went into the car. (HTF Motorsports)

The car eventually was street driven, probably 200 miles or less, run at Spud Speedway in the “Race Your Neighbor” event once, and autocrossed twice at Loring with the Cumberland Motor Club. Despite all the new parts and the gain of about 10-15 hp  (estimated). New technology allowed mundane street cars to easily match the 100 plus hp of the GTI.

The car sat parked with its three other GTI “friends” for a couple of years until I got a message from Edwin Walker, Caribou, who wanted to look at the cars and make them one of his next automobile projects. You may remember Ed from the segment I showed with his Isetta frame off restoration project.

The deal was sealed on Saturday and Ed began the pickup process today (Sunday September 1, 2019). The cars left on the flat car hauler operated by Dan Robertson of Beaulieu’s Garage in Caribou for the new home.

The red Rabbit GTI that got the whole thing started in 1984 leaves Westmanland for the last time aboard the Beaulieu’s Garage wrecker operated by Dan Robertson on left. New proud owner of four 1983 GTI Ed Walker is on the wrecker. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Two of the three black painted 1983 GTI Rabbits leave for their new home. It was not as tough saying goodbye as I thought knowing that they are in the capable hands of their new owner. (HTF Motorsports)

Some of my Loring Timing Association highlights Harvest Event 2019

When I arrived at Loring on Friday afternoon, I noticed that the paddock area was not packed with land speed racers like it has been in the past and I was quite frankly disappointed. My attitude changed when I saw the quality of the motorcycles and cars that made the trek to the largest speed trial in the northeast United States.

Hamilton, Ontario land speed racer Paul Calaguiro 2.7 liter Ford Pinto engine parts that display some of the damage that put his 1962 Ford Ranchero on the sidelines. Calaguiro shifts the modified Pinto engine about 11,000 rpms. The exploding parts “windowed” both sides of the Ford black. He was chasing the 150 mph mark that he set a few years ago and has not matched since. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Heading home after detonating his race engine, Paul Calaguiro trailers his 1962 Ford Ranchero back to Hamilton, Ontario. Calaguiro has only missed a couple of events in the 10 year running of the land speed races at Loring. (HTF Motorsports photo)

While conversing with Paul Calaguiro he showed me the broken engine and the large holes in the Pinto block. As we brought our conversation to a close, Paul said, “Did you see the Big Red Camaro over that way”?

I said, “What? The real Big Red Camaro from Hot Rod Magazine”?

“Sure is ,” he said, “Great story with that team.”

Big Red Camaro

I have read about the famous Big Red Camaro, Outlaw Racer, in Hot Rod Magazine a couple of times. I never thought this Los Angeles based team would consider traveling across the United States to set records at the County track. The team has raced at a myriad of locations of which two stand out to me, Pikes Peak and the Silver State Classic where they averaged 199 mph on the closed street for 90 miles.

Big Red Camaro driver RJ Gottlieb wanted to try someplace different and chose LTA Harvest event. The car transit took 5 days with team hauler driver Mark Ewing at the wheel. I talked to a couple of folks who made the long trek to northern Maine simply to see the Big Red Camaro in person. One gentleman drove from Massachusetts near the Rhode Island border and the other from northern New Jersey.(HTF Motorsports photo)

Big Red Camaro sporting their “Elephant” engine. This engine is used for land speed racing by the team. It sports 598 cid with Pro-Charger supercharger and makes 1400 to 1900 hp depending on the tune. The “Elephant” was built by team engine builder Larry Mollicone. (HTF Motorsports)

The Big Red Camaro with RJ Gottlieb at wheel begins his 256.67 mph run. This car thundered up the runway with an exhaust note that echoed off the trees all the way to the finish line! According to Gottlieb, his Camaro bested Hot Rod Magazine Editor David Frieburger’s run of 215 mph set at Loring  in the HRM Camaro in 2010. (HTF Motorsports photo)

I was unable to ask why the exhaust pipes were adjustable on the Big Red Camaro. I suspect it may have had aerodynamic purposes similar to dragsters…. (HTF Motorsports photo)

These two almost identical 1993 Pontiacs were fun to watch. They ran about 4 mph apart. The Trans Am in the background driven by John Lalor, Holly Springs, North Carolina had a six speed manual transmission and ran 151.9 mph vs the Firebird in foreground driven by father and son duo Madison (son) & Matt Dick, Mapleton, Maine. Their car with an automatic ran 148 mph. (HTF Motorsports photo)

New Hampshire’s White takes Wanner Top Speed Title again

When Big Red Camaro rolled into Loring his team goal was to best the 267.4 mph speed set by Jason White in 2018 in his 2006 ZO6 Corvette. This made it interesting to watch the two teams juggling back and forth for top speed. Ron Keselowski was in the mix with his 1963 Corvette which ran in the low 250’s.

White’s RecMech Team was unable to make the 2019 Summer Event at Loring due to engine issues. This gave them time to get the Chevy ready for their goal of 270 mph.

For the first time White’s engine sported a turbocharger rather than a supercharger. The turbo was massive! A gray squirrel could have run through the cavern inside the turbo with room to spare.

The team tried high boost on the test track prior to making a run on the main runway. The characteristics of the new engine with a lag in boost combined with the high boost prompted the team to take the more conservative approach and reduce power for their initial run and creep up the power as they got in more passes.

Rec Mech Racing 2006 Corvette driven by Jason White, Northwood, New Hampshire, pulls to the line in preparation for his record-setting run 269.673 breaking his old record set in 2018 267.4 mph. (HTF Motorsports photo)

At the other end of the track the Rec Mech Corvette gets slowed down with the help of the parachutes.(Pattie Bennett photo)

Loring Timing Association Race Director Tim Kelly presents the Bill Warner Top Speed Award to Jason White at a starting line ceremony near the conclusion of their Fall 2019 event. This was White’s second such award. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Area high school student restores vintage muscle car

Connor’s Coleson Theriault brought his restored 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 to the Loring event so I could see it in it’s almost completed stage. The 425 big block powered Olds was rebuilt by the Caribou High School sophomore with the help of his father Cole over the course of two years. Good to see a father/son project like this. Further details will be in a future episode. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Holler Customs ties the knot

Garrett Holler, and fiance Heather Hershkowitz were married at DirtFish Rally School facility in Snoqualmie, Washington 30 miles east of Seattle Sunday afternoon. The couple who live and work at Holler Customs, Addison, Vermont wanted to be married at the race school for whom Heather works as a freelance rally race prep mechanic. (Sam Leombruno photo)

Substitute driver finishes on podium

When I needed to be at a wedding in Caribou on August 24th, I called on an enthusiastic Jenny Crawford to take my place at the Northern Maine Karting Association Double Header that day. She did well finishing on the podium in both races. (NMKA/Jen Crawford photo)

Let’s Go Racing

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)


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. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine