314bhp Volkswagen Polo GTi 9N3
When you’re tall, round and knocking on for substantial rugby player stature, what better car to make an animal than a Volkswagen Polo GTi 9N3?
Words: James Wallace
Photos: Ross Delaney
SMALL CAR SYNDROME
A few weeks back we were watching an episode of Police Interceptors where a particularly smug officer was belittling a Fiesta ST and bigging up the superiority of his Octavia VRS, “As if that was ever going to outrun our VRS,” he said in a particularly haughty and arrogant way. Part of us was thinking, you’re blooming lucky it doesn’t have a hybrid, remap and an intercooler bolted to it or you wouldn’t have seen which way it went.
That same sense of knocking cars based upon size is something Jack Hills, an HGV driver from Northern Ireland, knows all about. Little cars with big power have always been an intoxicating recipe, but a Polo with over 300 horsepower, now that’s a supermini indeed. For Jack, from Omagh in Northern Ireland, his Olop journey began back when he was just 18-years-old. “I bought the car from my brother, Jayme, who had upgraded to a Leon FR, it was sort of my 18th birthday present with a little help from my dad that I had to payback over a few months — it was quite a serious car for a relatively new driver,” Jack told us. Shortly afterwards Jack joined the army and began working for the Mechanical Transport Platoon as an engineer and mechanic, so during his down time he’d come back home to Ireland and start tinkering with his Flash Red GTi with some help from his older Bro, “Jayme is to blame entirely for my modifying of the car and it all started out with a fairly innocent stage 1 Revo remap that saw it comfortably nudge over 200hp with the K03s AUM motor onboard.”
Naturally, Jack did what any 19-year-old with a remapped hot hatch would do, he drove it, “like a dick”, hooning around everywhere with his foot welded to the carpet at every opportunity. As time ticked by, and his experience on the spanners began to take on new levels of prowess, he started delving further into the 20vt rabbit hole, joining 5 valve per cylinder geeks on Facebook, signing up to Polo forums and sussing out what would be required to truly unleash the beast within. When a trip to the drag strip saw him net a 15.05 second one day, it was Jack’s eureka moment.
“I knew straightaway the direction the car should take at that point, it had to be track and motorsport focused.” With help from his brother, who as it happens has also built a classic Mini with a BMW K1100 engine onboard with Jack’s help, things started to escalate, rapidly. “It was vital that it remained my daily driver as well, but I loved the wee thing that much that I was worried about keeping it anywhere around London in case something malicious happened to it, so it remained at my folks,” beams Jack. Before the power could really take a hike though dynamics were sorted with a set of BC Racing V1 coilovers, H&R uprated rear anti roll bar and some Mk5 Polo front top mounts with CM Camber plates which allow for up to -2 degrees of negative dial in, “They’re a swine to fit though as you have to cut out the strut mount top section and weld the Mk5 platforms into place, it’s no five-minute job. Meanwhile stopping power is amplified by matching 323mm Cupra FR discs with the corresponding Brembo four pot calipers, while out back 312mm EBC discs provide a little extra leverage, “Even with 200hp it felt like I was taking the piss with the factory brakes, so with big plans in store, sorting the chassis was vital.” As a steadily evolving project over the years each phase of the build has been tackled methodically using the very best parts wherever possible with no corners cut. “It was when I was sent to Africa on an exercise and I tore some ligaments in my foot that things really started happening.” With time on his hands to contemplate life, Jack decided to fit an Airtec twin pass front mount intercooler, and from there things really started to flow.
Being a self-confessed, “Lanky and round fellow,” Jack decided that ditching the rear seat and making his own solid side mounts for the Corbeau Club Sport pews was essential, “We managed to fabricate them as low down and as far back in the cab as possible, but people still laugh at me when I’m climbing out of the car because it’s like a giant is escaping. Thing is, you can’t help the cars you fall in love with, right?” retorts Jack. Size issues to one side, he also opted for a 02jb quick shift setup from Coolerworx for a much tighter and precise action between cogs, ”It’s crazy how much more engaging the drive is with the CW lever especially as my brother had already swapped in the 02jB five speed ‘box when he owned the car.”
With the building blocks of something very special coming together for Jack, he was lucky enough to win a work-based lottery prize and that’s when he secured the Cup Edition bodykit and proceeded to bolt the front and rear bumpers on with the Votex side skirts along with the 25mm wider SRS Tech front wings, “It looked a little bit like a high-speed, limited-edition Harlequin for a while,” laughed Jack. Having committed his engine plans into motion, and saved for a while before splashing out on a Beach Buggy Turbos K300 K03s hybrid turbo as the catalyst for the build, things were powering up, “I was so naïve when I bought the turbo, I thought it would just bolt on, map it and make the power, I didn’t quite realise how many supporting mods I’d need to get the very best from it whilst making reliable power,” mused Jack pragmatically, the spec list now reading like a who’s who of 20vt tuning greats. Hell, the bottom end has even been on the receiving end of a healthy shopping list courtesy of some Pro Race rods, ARP rod bolts and ACL bearings during a refresh, “I spent a year in total stockpiling all of the parts I needed to do the engine build so it could all go together and get the car back on the road quick as possible.”
At the front, just barely squeezed in behind the expertly trimmed Cup bumper rests the Airtec intercooler, “I wanted it to remain under the radar, just as any tidy GTi would, so there’s an element of surprise to the performance unless you spot the rims or brakes.” That same ethos extends throughout this car with hardly anything out of place or giving any hint of the urge under the hood. Starting with an ITG foam filter and three-inch turbo intake pipe, things are swiftly compressed by the BBT hybrid that features both uprated compressor and turbine wheels, machined core and an uprated 15PSI actuator. With a Badger 5 ported cast turbo manifold and the expertly reworked internals in such a small frame it hits boost quickly from around 2500rpm but holds on strong all the way to the redline thanks to the flow characteristics of this very neat little package. Joined by 550cc Bosch injectors, an Integrated Engineering intake manifold, injector rail and fuel pressure reg this is a car capable of delivering even more, Jack almost over engineering everything ready for an even bigger turbo at a later date.
The engine work was carried out by a local garage close to Jack as he was away in London, but at every step of the journey he’s been involved with the spanner twiddling. Waste gases now fire out of the rear courtesy of a full 3” turbo back Milltek non res system, while the VW ECU was live mapped by Dave Howlett, who’s regarded as the 1.8T Polo whisperer online, after Jack delivered the car to him for a few weeks during lockdown. “He’s a 23-year-old 1.8T nut who seems to use his Mum’s old Windows 98 laptop to work his magic. Initially I sent him the ECU for a base map just to get it running, but later on I drove over to Macclesfield and left it with him for a few weeks right in the middle of lockdown. Initial runs saw in excess of 330hp, but Dave decided to pull some timing out and settled on a final figure of 314hp with faultless drivability, bags of low-down torque and epic power delivery when required.
“It’s fairly savage,” says Jack, “And always puts a smile on my face, but traction can be an issue.” That’s when the gearbox got a good seeing to, with a Wavetrac LSD, VR6 clutch and G60 flywheel to try and stick that ample power on the floor. A set of semi-slick 205/45 Nankang NS-2Rs now wrap around 8x17-inch OZ Ultraleggera rims which leave no doubt in your mind as to the trackday and drag strip aspirations of this unique and exceptionally spirited little car. There are no holes in this build, it’s a Polo with power and make no mistake. Unfortunately, most of the Irish drag strips and motorsport venues have been shut since Jack got it on the road, so he’s yet to test the fruits of his labour, but rest assured the gnarly B-roads of Northern Ireland have well and truly been battered into submission. One thing is for sure, Jack’s Potato Bread engineering crew certainly have a lot to answer for since they visited Edition 38 a few years ago.
DUB DETAILS 314bhp Volkswagen Polo GTi 9N3
- ENGINE: 1781cc (AUM) 20vT, ITG air filter, 3” intake pipe, BBT K300 hybrid turbo, 550cc Bosch injectors, ARP rod bolts, ACL race bearings, Pro Race H beam rods, Airtec dual pass FMIC, IE intake manifold, IE fuel rail and FPR housing, Deutschwerks DW65 265LPH fuel pump, 3” turbo back Milltek exhaust, Badger 5 ported cast exhaust manifold, R8 coilpacks, Forge coilpack cover, Forge N249 blank, Forge DV. Gearbox: 02jb Five speed, VR6 clutch, G60 flywheel, Wavetrac LSD, Coolerwerks short shift lever, Quaife gearknob. Power – 314hp and 300ft. lbs of torque
- CHASSIS: 8x17” (ET48) OZ Ultraleggera, 205/45 Nankang NS-2R semi slicks, Vibratechnic engine mounts, BC Racing V1 coilovers, Mk5 Polo top mounts, CM Camber plates, Cupra Brembo four piston calipers, 323mm two-piece discs, H&R rear anti roll bar, 312mm rear discs
- EXTERIOR: Full repaint in Flash Red, Polo Cup edition front and rear bumpers, Votex side skirts, SRS Tech 25mm wider front wings
- INTERIOR: Corbeau Club Sport seats, custom low profile side mounts, Momo wheel and boss kit, rear strut brace bar, Coolerwerks shifter tower
- SHOUT: Jayme, David (Dad), Callum, Dave Howlett, Mrs Jack (the legend), the Potato Bread Engineering crew and all who have contributed towards the build
“He’s a 23-year-old 1.8T nut who seems to use his mum’s old Windows 98 laptop to work his magic"
“I spent a year in total stockpiling all of the parts I needed to do the engine build"
«People still laugh at me when I’m climbing out of the car because it’s like a giant is escaping»