Junkyard Audi Parts Made My GTI Extremely Grippy, but I Went a Little Too Far
Using upgraded factory parts from a similar car is a good place to start.
I’ve spent a lot of time behind the wheel of my 2010 VW GTI. Ten thousand miles of motoring, a lot of it in the canyons, have helped me formulate a list of mods, nay demands, I have of my plucky German hatchback. I’ve tried my unsprung weight mods, some trick Whiteline bushings, and some Bilstein PSS coilovers, but I’m still left wanting. In my search for insane barely-steering-through-this-corner turn-in and rotation, I’ve deduced how to add camber and, crucially, track-width to my GTI.
During research for aluminum knuckles and control arms, I learned that the Audi TT shares most of its suspension componentry with the Golf, with the primary differences being the uprights (things that hold the wheel bearing and strut) and lower ball joints. There is a common misconception that the TT control arms are wildly extended, and that’s how the TT has a 25mm or so of extra track-width. I do not think that is the case.
In my search, I couldn’t find a definitive answer for the control arm length question. Visually, the Volkswagen Passat/CC control arms look damn near identical to the TT stuff. The big difference that I saw was the ball joint geometry. Clearly, the TT ball joints are much different. The mounting plates for the lower control arms are much longer compared to the Passat/CC/Golf and have different shank lengths for the actual lower ball joints. The ball joints were my ticket.
I researched some part numbers and put in an order for both front lower ball joints and the retaining plates that worked as studs. The classic Parts Wait ensued. Meanwhile, I dug my tie rod kit out of storage and budgeted for an alignment at West End in the LA South Bay.
Once I got my stuff in the mail, I got to work. I jacked the car up, used some jack stands, broke the air gun out, and promptly unbolted the front axles and three nuts holding the old lower ball joint to the control arm. I pulled the uprights and struts towards the outside of the car and popped the axles out of their splines. In doing so, I freed up the space to unbolt the ball joints from the uprights.
The ball joint swap went off without a hitch. Well, mostly. I ended up fashioning studs and nuts for the new lower ball joint completely eschewing the retaining plate/stud setup. I used the studs from my old lower ball joints by pressing them out on my Harbor Freight press. That might seem sketchy, but to jump into the future for a second, I tracked and canyoned with this setup for 8,000 miles, so it was cool.
With that problem solved, I knocked out my inner and outer tie rod refresh and eyeballed the alignment for the trip. I nearly maxed out the safe amount of threads on the tie rod, but it was just within acceptable. The result? This.
Hectic fitment and camber. My eyeballs told me I got -3 degrees of camber, which looks sick as heck, but was a bit more than I bargained for. Judging by the amount of extra tie rod I had to use, I had gained about 20mm of track width. The change was nuts.
The alignment shop corroborated my eyeballs. Final alignment was at -2.9 degrees per side, give or take. West End agreed with me that it was a bit much, but that I should trial it for a while. I definitely gave those ball joints the abuse of a lifetime, with multiple track sessions and spirited canyon runs.
I was massively impressed with the results. Sure, the tramlining was terrible, the car was a bit on the darty side, the car suddenly had torque steer, and the steering had a bit less feel, but the front end of the car beggared belief in the turns. Turn-in was immediate, and the car never failed for lateral traction in the front end.
The moment I fell out of love with the setup was when my brand new Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires wore down more quickly than the last time. This set lasted 6,000 miles, about 3,000 miles fewer than last time. It really stung the wallet this time because I couldn’t take advantage of the Michelin Promise warranty. You gotta pay to play, I suppose.
With obvious evidence of camber wear and superheating of the inner tire shoulder, I decided to explore other methods to achieve front-end authority. The TT ball joints came off, and I started searching for sway bar combinations and camber plates.
The journey to optimize the GTI continues.