The Art Of The Sleeper

I’ve got to admit my daily driver – an ’87 VW Passat is nearing the end of it’s operational life. It has 190,000 very hard miles on the odometer, the seats have all the cushioning properties of the edge of a kerb and my colleagues and friends are now making excuses not to go in it. I refuse to give in and sell it (read: scrap it) however. The more I think about it, the more I want to give it a new lease of life as a “sleeper”. In The Art Of The Sleeper I investigate turning my downtrodden daily driver into a stealth traffic light weapon.

There is a part of me that is distinctly hot-rod i.e. I grew up with Motorsport and Classic and Sportscar magazine littering my bedroom but I also always had a few copies of Street Machine kicking around. The covers had things like Vauxhall Ventora’s with blower intake stacks reaching sky high out of the bonnets and Ford Model B’s with the obligatory Jag IRS. I’ll always have a lot of time for the crackle of an alcohol guzzling big-block and thus as tribute to this there is nothing better than big power dressed up in white bread bodywork – the ultimate low key statement.

Considering the character of the Passat, I think it would respond quite nicely to this kind of open heart surgery which could essentially turn it from an eighties shopping mobile into an undercover street/strip monster. There are many different variations on a theme when it comes to building this sort of vehicle. As the Passat is already a five cylinder (albeit a humble 2.0 Audi derived unit) part of me wants to drop in a tuned 20v lump from an Audi URS6. These are immensely tunable engines with very strong main bearings so can handle pretty crazy power without doing a whole lot of work internally. This would also allow the car to give a nod to it’s Audi 5 cylinder heritage. The other option is to source a 32v V8 from the forerunner to the A8, the type 44 V8. These came in 3.6 or 4.2 litre flavours. The latter would be the obvious choice here…The 4.2 puts out close to 300bhp in stock trim so with the addition of a supercharger and some injector and cooling work I would say a reliable 350/370bhp is achievable. Coupled with the 6 speed ‘box from the same S6, this would make the most of the substantial torque without getting too much frictional loss from an auto.

Now it’s all very well to supplant the engine and give it straight line speed, but what about when it comes to the many twists and turns that characterise our roads here in Britain?. Also not to mention the less than clement weather we seem to experience more and more of these days. To that end it’s important to look at getting that power down and making the most of the available mechanical grip. The standard suspension and drivetrain although perfectly adequate for the stock 115bhp is not going to last long trying to contain 350bhp’s worth of V8 going through it. My idea is to source some bulletproof Quattro running gear from a B2 Passat Syncro (EU only). With some persuasion and head scratching i’m sure it could be made to marry up to the gearbox. Couple all this with uprated bushes, dampers and firmer spring rates plus the obligatory Brembo/Wilwood monster brake kit we should slowly start to see the emergence of true sleeper qualities. So bar a few other items that is it for our mechanical entree.

The beauty of building a sleeper is that bar the mental powerplant and subtle brake/suspension upgrades there’s not a whole lot more to do. Keeping it looking as standard as possible is the order of the day but with enough stealth firepower to cause a few red faces at the lights. Realistically it’s going to be a tough choice when I move on to driving my resto project Audi 100. I would like to think that with some time and effort I can get the old Passat back on the road stronger than ever so until then all I can say is watch this space.

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