“Before I even got my license I started playing around with cars,” explained Connor Hofford of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who works as a fabricator and general technician for Quality Custom Rides. “I put together a car when I was 15 – a ’77 Buick Regal with a small-block Chevy. Later, I did some work on an ’81 VW Jetta I had and took it to the Motorama show in Harrisburg. I was set up next to a ’48 Studebaker pickup truck, which turned out to be a vehicle that QCR had just completed. That’s how I ended up meeting my boss.”
It’s around that time that Hofford also started toying with the idea of a Volkswagen Rabbit project. “I was just working through some ideas with the chassis,” he said. “I ran into Mike Heim [of QCR] at another car show later on. By then I’d progressed a bit with the Rabbit project – the chassis and all that stuff was done. I showed him the work I’d done so far and he offered me a job.”
That was three years ago. After coming on board with Quality Custom Rides and working on shop builds for a year or so, Heim suggested that Hofford bring his Rabbit project in. “That’s when I really started getting crazy with it,” he noted with a chuckle.
Hofford tells us that the original inspiration behind the Rabbit build really had more to do with necessity than the inherent oddball factor. “When I started out with the whole idea, I wanted to find a small car, like maybe a Pinto, Gremlin, or Vega,” he recalled.
“But all that stuff just seemed like it was too much money for the condition that the cars were in. I had this Volkswagen Rabbit sitting in a chicken coop that I was using as a shop. I’d driven the car to school senior year, but I took it off the road that summer because it’d just gotten too rusty and it had some electrical issues. Once I pulled it apart and saw how bad it was I realized it wasn’t worth putting it back to original, so it became the candidate for the build.”
The completed project made its debut at the 2017 SEMA show, where it garnered enough attention to put Hofford in the top ten in the Young Guns class of the Battle of the Builders competition, along with no shortage of head-turning interest from event attendees. To say this LS-powered Rabbit build is both wild and shockingly sanitary is an understatement. Here’s how it all came together.
“Basically everything on the car is custom aside from the roof, sunroof panel, and the doors – everything else has had something done to it,” Hofford explained. “The majority of the frame is 2 x 3 box tubing. I built the chassis in my garage at home – the whole bottom of the car I just basically chopped apart with a Sawzall and pretty much started over with a bunch of box tubing.”
What he ended up with was essentially a Pro Street-style chassis that kept the overall shape and external dimensions of a stock Rabbit. “I wanted to conceal what was going on underneath and make it look fairly normal on the outside.”
Basically everything on the car is custom aside from the roof, sunroof panel, and the doors – everything else has had something done to it. The majority of the frame is 2 x 3 box tubing. I built the whole chassis in my garage at home – the whole bottom of the car I just basically chopped apart with a Sawzall and pretty much started over with a bunch of box tubing.
As to why he chose an M20 versus a more modern Tremec six-speed that you’d typically find paired with an LS mill, Hofford explained that, like the Rabbit itself, part of the strategy just came down to accessibly. “I like driving old four speed cars – I think it’s fun to crash through the gears with a Hurst,” he told us. “But the other part of it was that I was 19 or 20 when I bought the trans, and that’s about all I could afford in a manual gearbox!”
Though he didn’t design the build around a particular set of competition rules, racing or otherwise, Hofford said the setup is mainly aimed at the drag strip and cruise nights. “Basically I wanted to be able to take it out on the street and romp on it when I wanted to, and if I wanted to take it down to the track on a Friday night or something, and I’d be able to do that kind of thing, too.”
To that end, the front suspension is all custom Mustang II-style hardware with QA1 coilovers while the rear is a parallel four-link setup. A set of custom 15-inch BBS wheels conceal a Wilwood brake system and are wrapped in Hankook performance rubber measuring 295mm in the rear. “The wheels needed some customization to fit too,” he added. “To clear the Wilwood wheel hubs we had to machine the center of the wheel face out to make it work.”
The interior saw its own fair share of customization, too. “The dash is a custom fiberglass piece that I made,” he said. “I wanted it to have a smooth, minimal look – I didn’t want to have a bunch of gaudy looking crap and gauges all over the place.” Instead, a Racepak IQ3 digital display allows Hofford to monitor the Rabbit’s vitals, which is mounted to the top of the rollcage where it’s hidden away from view unless you’re behind the wheel. He also tossed the stock seats in favor of race buckets with contrast stitching which blend well with the car’s factory red paint hue.
The transmission tunnel is another area of the project that saw quite a bit of attention. “It’s bead-rolled and also slip-rolled to get the contour we wanted. The pieces in the center that are a bit raised up are painted the accent color of the BBS wheels we used, while the outside sections are polished.” Along with housing the gear-shift, the tunnel also has a collection of buttons installed in it that operate the windows, turn signals, and other functions.
The benefits of Hofford’s meticulous attention to detail with the project are obvious. And as you can imagine, making it all work the way he wanted it to didn’t come without its fair share of challenges. “I’d say the biggest thing was that I really wanted to be able to keep everything under the hood of the car,” he recalled.
“I didn’t want to have a scoop or anything like that. At that point in the build, I was making all the motor mounts in my garage, and I didn’t have a lot of people working on the project with me then. And of course, nobody had ever really done this before – this was the first full chassis I’ve built, so there was some trial and error involved. The biggest challenge was just getting the engine, oil pan, crossmember, and everything to line up while keeping it low enough to fit under the stock hood.”
Like many builds that make their way to SEMA, the project got the finishing touches just a few days before it arrived in Vegas, where it placed in the top 40 overall in the Battle of the Builders competition, and in the top ten in the Young Guns class.
For the time being though, he says that the Rabbit won’t see any dramatic changes versus what was shown last fall. “There’s a couple of things I didn’t have a chance to finish up before SEMA that I still want to do. But I’m pretty much just going to tidy up that stuff and just kind of enjoy for a while – take it around to as many of the shows as I can and relax with it for a bit.”
If that’s what equates to downtime for Hofford, we’d say it’s well earned.