Ben Beacock’s 1981 Volkswagen Scirocco had one slight problem: its engine was toast. So, he swapped it for the beloved 24-valve VR6 engine, and fabricated a ton of custom parts to move the engine to the middle—yes, the middle—of the car. It’s perhaps the most complicated fix to a relatively simple problem, and I couldn’t love it more.
Beacock’s logic here makes perfect sense to me, a fellow total nutcase. (Hey! Admitting it is the first step, right?) That wonderful naturally aspirated VR6 would make the Mark I Scirocco suck in the corners when it was up front, so he all but had to move it to the middle of the car. Given that this completely changed how the Scirocco worked, it set off a chain reaction of fascinating modifications to make it the best Scirocco I’ve ever seen.
This isn’t the first time Beacock has swapped out an engine. His build thread on VWVortex notes that his old 16-valve engine was swapped in during Waterfest in the parking lot. However, his Scirocco sat a while after it was purchased in 2005 due to the usual life stuff, as he told Jalopnik via email:
When I started building the car in 2005, I had just bought my first house which didn’t have a garage. Therefore I was hesitant to start cutting into the rear floor just for exploratory/mockup purposes and also allow all the riffraff/critters a free home.
Fortunately, his day job managing a Formula SAE team reminded him that he missed tinkering with his Scirocco, so he started virtually messing around with it in various modeling programs. He considered replacing the engine with a turbocharged one, but that wouldn’t be any fun the second the turbos spooled up and spun the front wheels.
The solution he came up with instead is the stuff of dreams: take the naturally aspirated VR6 engine from a Volkswagen Passat, and put it in the middle.
Then came perhaps the best use of university resources I’ve ever seen. I mean, you have to stay active in your field when you work at a university, and if you’re teaching the next generation of engineers how to build a wicked fast race car, why not use your own car as an epic guinea pig?
Through his job at the university, Beacock had access to all kinds of software and tools to design exactly what he thinks will work on the car.
Hours were spent modeling how the new engine and transmission would fit inside, and fixed up to work better. The next step was working up to a place where he could work on it at home as well, as Beacock explained to Jalopnik:
I started off early buying a fairly simple new 120V MIG welder and a belt-drive (translation: reasonably quiet) compressor and then stored them in my 8x8 shed. The bigger step up came after I moved for the first time to a house with an attached garage and bought an inverter-based plasma cutter. That is by far my favorite and most useful piece of equipment.
I think the same might be said by anyone who’s ever used and/or owned a plasma cutter, to be honest. Any tool that allows your basic human hands to cut metal with something that looks like the world’s brightest frickin’ laser beam is a hoot to use, and automatically becomes the best feature of your home if you have one.
Beacock also scored a mill and lathe—the latter of which thankfully has metric dials since the VW is all metric— from “a nice guy who was retiring from serious race car building.” That older, sturdy lathe became Beacock’s second favorite fab tool. Yet even his new garage wasn’t completely ideal—lack of heat inside has made humidity a real nemesis.
“Open the main door at the wrong time and everything is beading with water,” Beacock said.
The VR6 engine was out of an automatic Passat, so it received a few mild upgrades to make it run better, including removing the ring ridge to use the full cylinder, a full timing chain refresh, a new metal head gasket, new head bolts, a new coolant distribution pipe, a 268 Cat Cams camshaft, a lighter Unorthodox crank and alternator pulleys and a lightweight flywheel.
It was all hooked up to a six-speed Volkswagen 02M transmission that came with the new engine, and feeds into a custom exhaust system that Ben designed and built himself. A 2003 24V VR6 wiring harness was sourced to make it all work.
That’s all fairly simple stuff. Less simple was the chassis, which Beacock told us he actually digitized to figure out in his modeling software:
The chassis was more difficult, and I was able to borrow a MicroScribe digitizer to get the complex shape of the rear wheel wells, frame rails and floor.
It became apparent that although the subframe would fit, it’s really designed for the front and transferring the engine loads rearwards into the chassis. With that same subframe in the rear, those loads have to make their way back to the main chassis by way of going around the engine.
Clearances were tight and the engine would hang out just a little bit over the rear axle, but sure enough, it would fit.
Making it fit was a matter of completely reworking the car, though. The MacPherson struts that came with the car were ditched for a double wishbone suspension system that would carry the new load on the rear better. It was hard to fit springs and shocks back there as well, so they became pushrod and bellcrank actuated like the suspension on a formula car.
The subframe needed to be light as well, so it was made of aluminum. Beacock told us that he made a template and went to town, this time with an upgraded welder at home:
For the subframe, I roughed by out a template by hand that I could duplicate eight times out of sheet aluminum with the plasma cutter. By that point I had switched jobs and no longer had access to a welder at work, so I found myself a used 180-amp TIG welder— a big heavy beast.
Even the cover around the engine was designed to bear some loads and stiffen up the rear of the car.
“I value my well-being, so it needed a proper firewall engine cover and not just some piece of plexiglass,” Beacock told Jalopnik. “But I might as well add some structure and make the engine cover an assortment of fold-out aluminum-skinned stressed panels.” Well, of course
It all rides on 15-inch BBS wheels from a Porsche 930, which top off an already classic looking car. Bonus: the final rear end setup moved the wheels out a bit more to fill out the car’s fender flares a little better.
The car drove for the first time under its own power last summer. Beacock discovered a bit of left-right play in the shifter, but that was remedied by adjusting a new bushing he’d installed too tightly.
So far, Ben’s build has been a remarkable feat of trial and error. For example, one of the least expected things was the amount of positive pressure the new engine bay generated. It was enough to go up the hollow C-pillars of the car and actually push the headliner down on Beacock’s head the first time he attempted to drive it on the highway. So, he cracked the windows to alleviate this, but was left searching for a more permanent solution.
Currently, Beacock is in the process of redesigning the rear upper control arms as the current ones couldn’t withstand the forces they needed to in use and started deforming.
“I’ve designed new ones (finite element analysis this time) and [am] just waiting on some waterjet time,” Beacock told Jalopnik.
Either way, he’s already enamored with how the 24-valve VR6 sounds coming from behind the driver’s seat. Just listen to this little thing in action, and it’s easy to understand why.
As with any good project car, there’s a full build thread that goes into all the wonderful, custom details that we wouldn’t have the space to mention here, so it’s worth hopping over to Ben’s build thread on VWVortex to gawk at all the beautifully rendered parts, astonishing amount of fabrication work and photos of the final pieces.
We’re featuring the coolest project cars from across the internet on Build of the Week. What insane build have you been wrenching on lately? Drop me a line at stef dot schrader at jalopnik dot com with “Build of the Week” somewhere in the subject line if you’d like to be featured here.