Jason Balaze and his gorgeous 2.0-litre 16v ABF engined Volkswagen Rabbit GTi Mk1

Jason Balaze and his gorgeous 2.0-litre 16v ABF engined Volkswagen Rabbit GTi Mk1

When somebody is nicknamed ‘GTI Jay’ the hope is that they will be our kind of guy. Let’s just say that Jason Balaze and his gorgeous Mk1 didn’t disappoint… Words: Graham Leigh Photos: 4th Media.

Pretty Fly

“What’s the weather like in Britain?” came the question down the phone from Montreal based Canadian, Jason Balaze. “In the last few days we’ve had rain, wind, hail, and a tiny bit of sun” was my typically British 20th May response. Thankfully I didn’t kill the vibe as Jason was buzzing. Quebec was experiencing the hottest day of the year so far; thirty-odd degrees, brilliant sunshine and the Mk1 Rabbit polished to perfection for a drive out and photoshoot that very evening. One of those days that make all the late nights and skinned knuckles a project car demands worth it. “Today is a good day” confirmed Jason.

Jason Balaze and his gorgeous 2.0-litre 16v ABF engined Volkswagen Rabbit GTi Mk1

The infectiously upbeat 44-year old explained that he has had a long career working in the automotive performance parts industry. In recent years he has grown the Liqui Moly brand in Canada, spreading the word on their quality oils, lubricants and additives as their Sales Territory Manager. “I love the job, I’m genuinely a big fan of our products and I get to spend time with a lot of my buddies from the car scene, meet new gearhead clients and attend shows such as SEMA which is always a great experience”. Jason takes us back to where it all started and explained that his late father was a serious petrol head and keen drag racer. He fondly recalled attending events such as the Montreal Car Show with him so it is fair to say that petrol is in his veins. The whole VW obsession started in high school as a 15-year old when Jason and his best friend, Robert Lalier, would catch a lift in older brother, Mark Lalier’s, 1984 Mk1 Rabbit GTI.

Jason passed his driving test at 16 and the search was on for a Mk1 Rabbit of his own: “My Dad came with me to see a bunch of them for sale and he decided they were all too beaten up and decided he wanted me to get something newer. He spotted a clean 1988 Mica Red Mk2 Golf GTI 16v in the newspaper. We went to see it and the rest is history”. It was this first car that kickstarted Jason’s modified addiction and led to the aforementioned ‘GTI Jay’ moniker where the oh so period additions of 17” TSW Stealths, Euro bumpers, Rallye front end, lowering springs, Recaros and sound system sealed his fate. “The older guys had their muscle cars and with my generation, you were either a Honda guy or a Vee-Dub guy. Me and my pals quickly became the latter”.

Jason Balaze and his gorgeous 2.0-litre 16v ABF engined Volkswagen Rabbit GTi Mk1

Numerous cars followed including more Golfs, a Scirocco, Jettas, an air-cooled Porsche, Audi TT, and an A4. Jason’s impressive current fleet consists of a Mk4 R32, a Porsche 996 Turbo, the Mk1 Rabbit you see before you and a Mk5 Jetta. The 2004 Mk4 R32 was bought in the summer of 2019 and has always been a cherished car. The three-door beauty is finished in Black Magic Pearl, is lowered on Bilstein PSS9 coilovers and sits on 19” BBS CH wheels.

The 2001 twin turbo 911 is another sight for sore eyes. A triple black example with a droolworthy list of high-end modifications including Bilstein PSS10 coilovers, Tubi exhaust, TiAL Alfa 28 turbos, uprated injectors, COBB access port, iForged custom split rims, Recaro Sportster seats and Alpine Audio. An involved long-term project, Jason modestly commented “when you have a car for over 10 years, that gives you a lot of time to spend on her”. Although the Mk5 Jetta daily is more humble, Jason explained that for something that was bought as a stopgap, four years later it is still a trusty warrior of a car.

The Mk1 was bought by Jason back in 2016 as a means of finally scratching the itch of his high school dream. The car had been owned within his circle of friends for many years previous and after looking at a ridiculous number of disappointing examples when the chance arose to own this Rabbit he just had to pull the trigger. Ethan Doyle was a long-term owner; it was then owned by Daniel Theriault of HT Turbotech before going to Mark Rizk who Jason bought it from. It’s an ‘82 restored to ’79 spec hence the smaller taillights and daintier dash.

Jason Balaze and his gorgeous 2.0-litre 16v ABF engined Volkswagen Rabbit GTi Mk1

The car sat in storage for a year whilst Jason decided which direction he wanted to go with it. The Mk1 was a great starting place for the project and already featured a host of trick bits including the fully built ABF 2.0 16v motor that had been built by Daniel Theriault and KW V3 coilovers. “At first I just wanted to build a cool driver but I’m a perfectionist and hanging around other high-end builders like Gab (Gab Eurosport) and Remi (Unix Performance) inspired me to decide to take the car to the next level”.

Once the decision to go big on the diminutive hatch was made, the long process began of stripping the car down to every nut and bolt component. The underbody was stripped, sprayed and suspension parts powder coated. Whilst the car was apart the opportunity to work the engine bay was taken and the result is stunning. Jason wanted an OEM+ vibe and the ‘bay has been partially decluttered but retains a healthy functionality and is now immaculately finished. The battery is relocated to the spare wheel well and the redundant tray was removed as was the washer bottle and motor. Daniel Theriault built the custom alloy radiator that features double fans but clever touches like retaining a VAG cap mean that the flavour is still decidedly Wolfsburg. The Rabbit was initially Miami blue but Jason wanted to put his stamp on the car.

Jason Balaze and his gorgeous 2.0-litre 16v ABF engined Volkswagen Rabbit GTi Mk1

Luckily close friend Alvin Haynes is a master painter and owns the renowned A&J Body Shop. Jason admits that the bodywork was his greatest challenge. It took over a year alone and Alvin was on hand to help and school him through the painstaking preparation process. A rotisserie was used to allow access to the entire surface area. The car was then primed and block sanded. Alvin sprayed the base coat but it wasn’t quite how Jason had envisaged so the perfectionist pair added more metallic and tweaked the shade. Thankfully after sanding back the results of the next base and clear were perfect and the arduous wet sanding and polishing process began. Despite being a custom colour, once again it has a Germanic feel which we feel totally nails the classy vision.

Reassembly was a careful process and new rubbers, wiring and hardware were utilised to achieve the concours results. Early euro bumpers had their rubber impact strips removed, the apertures welded up and smoothed. The gloss black finish contrasts nicely against the lighter bodywork. Side trims were de-chromed and powder coated and tie in with a retromod vision that simultaneously manages to look fresh as well as timeless. Crosshair headlights, smoked indicator lenses and FIFFT rear taillights complete the holistic flow of the exterior.

The KW V3 coilovers were bolted back on along with Fast Bunny raise strut mounts and 034 Motorsports top mounts which have resulted in a smoother ride and a neat underbonnet detail. Period correct finds in the form of Nuespeed upper front stress bar, Eurosport lower front stress bar and rear stress bar join an Autotech rear sway bar. The well thought out chassis package is evidence that this car is used in anger as well as polished.

Jason Balaze and his gorgeous 2.0-litre 16v ABF engined Volkswagen Rabbit GTi Mk1

The powerplant came with the car but was a strong, nostalgic selling point in itself. “Back in the late ‘90s, I fell in love with the ABF swapped Mk1s that George Grisanti at GTA performance was building here in Montreal. You never forget that induction bark of the 45 twin carbs on a screaming 16v engine”.

Previous owner and close friend, Daniel Theriault had gone to town on the engine build and it features a ported head, light lifters, titanium valve springs and retainers, Techtonics cams, Autotech oil pan and long intake.

Despite the horror stories, there were not any issues adjusting the twin Weber 45 DCOE carburettors. This was due, in part, to having carb guru, Fred at Tech 53 on hand: “He had often been down this road before and knew the correct recipe to get us ripping. He regrets not filming our first ride and my resulting smile”.

A 4Y transmission with Techtonics short shift kit and weighted rods keeps gear changes precise. A Carter fuel pump and custom fuel lines, 42 Draft Design oil catch can, EAA Engineering ABF serpentine conversion, Custom CE2 wiring harness and Techtonics Long header and exhaust with upswept tip complete the informed mechanical package. As a self-confessed wheel whore, Jason agonised over the choice of rolling stock but a period set of polished and detailed BBS RS won out. The square set-up measures in at a purposeful 7.5x15” whilst Toyo 195/45 T1Rs provide the grip.

The fact that Jason is also a Porsche fan is evident in the interior. Sought-after Electric Recaro Mk2 Jetta GTX front seats provide a good balance of comfort and support. GTI tartan has been utilised for the seat centres with leather being the material of choice for the bolsters. The GTI tartan door pulls ape the plaid used in many a retromod Porsche.

Jason Balaze and his gorgeous 2.0-litre 16v ABF engined Volkswagen Rabbit GTi Mk1

The minimal but beautifully finished door cards also have an air of Stuttgart about them. Their red stitching picks up the matching colour on the VDO gauges, horn push and 20th Anniversary seatbelts subtly tying the whole cockpit together.

With the R32 and 911 competing for Jason’s attention will the fi nished Mk1 get the use it deserves? “I love my Porsche and it was a great feeling to achieve the ambition of getting the dream car I promised myself way back as my late Dad and I marvelled at the, then new, 996 Turbo at the Montreal Car Show. However, it’s getting ever more difficult to enjoy a car like the Turbo on the public road. You can really go for a blast in the Mk1 and use the power available and come back beaming. There’s also a magic about the old VWs. When you see somebody blast by in a Rabbit GTI, you know they’re a car guy”. Praise indeed.

«You can go for a blast in the Mk1 using all the power and come back beaming»


  • ENGINE: Fully built 2.0-litre 16v ABF motor including ported head, light lifters, titanium valve springs and retainers, Techtonics cams, Autotech oil pan, Weber 45mm DCOE carburettors, long intake, Carter fuel pump and custom fuel lines, custom aluminium radiator with slim fans and factory cap, 42 Draft Design oil catch can, EAA Engineering ABF Serpentine conversion, Custom CE2 wire harness, transmission: 4Y transmission, Techtonics short shift kit and weighted rods
  • CHASSIS: Custom 7.5x15” BBS RS, 195/45 R15 Toyo T1Rs. KW V3 coilovers, Fast Bunny raise strut mounts with 034 Motorsports top mounts, Neuspeed upper front stress bar, Eurosport Lower front stress bar, Eurosport rear stress bar, Autotech rear sway bar
  • EXTERIOR: Custom paint, custom smooth euro bumpers, powder-coated trim, FIFFT smoked rear taillights, crosshair headlights, smoked indicator lenses
  • INTERIOR: Custom Mk2 Jetta GTX Recaros, bespoke door panels, Momo Monte Carlo steering wheel, OMP pedals, Hurst Shifter, custom rear seat delete, 20th-anniversary seat belts
  • SHOUT: Special thanks to my bud Yves for helping me pull the motor and putting it back in, special thanks to Gab (Gab Eurosport) for coaching me and helping me with my custom harness, huge shout out to my boy Alvin who put up with me at his shop and pushed me to be my best on the bodywork.
«The GTI tartan door pulls and seat inlays ape the plaid used in many a retromod Porsche»
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