All it takes to modify a sedan to be able to push past 200 mph is to acknowledge its limits – and then find a way to break them without breaking the car itself.1 That’s where Tom Habrzyk’s talents come to life.
“The power levels required to set records are very high,” explains Habrzyk, chief executive officer of THR Manufacturing, “so to get to those power levels from the drivetrain, we have to basically overcome some of the failure points that would inhibit us from safely reaching high speeds.”
That’s part of the challenge Habrzyk considers each time he tunes a vehicle to perform record-breaking land speed runs across Bonneville’s slippery salt flats. This year, he and his California-based manufacturing team joined forces with Volkswagen to push a modified 2019 Jetta to 210.16 miles per hour and smash its class record at the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association’s World of Speed event.
The Jetta that was prepped for Utah over the course of a seven-month build, was transformed from compact car to 600-horsepower racer. The engine began as an EA888 2-liter turbocharged and direct injection four-cylinder engine. Even though Habrzyk swapped out many internal parts, including pistons, turbocharger and exhaust, the block and crankshaft remained stock.
Considering Habrzyk’s no stranger to LSR Volkswagens, other modifications allude to past Bonneville successes.2 His third collaboration with Volkswagen, Habrzyk equipped the Jetta with a similar drivetrain he used to power the LSR Beetle at the 2016 World of Speed. The car earned notoriety as the world’s fastest Beetle for reaching 205.122 mph over a flying mile; this was a well-deserved win for Habrzyk and his team, who recall a tough challenge in overcoming the car’s aerodynamic disadvantages.
In contrast, the Jetta has its own quirks.
“The Jetta has an aerodynamic advantage over what we’ve done in the past,” says Habrzyk, “though because the rigidity of the factory chassis is so good, we ran into issues drilling holes for mounting certain things in some of the floor panels because they turned out to be high-strength hot-formed steel.”
“So we had to use different techniques to attach things in those areas, or even avoid those areas,” he adds, laughing. “It was kind of a new experience for us.”
Powering the car is half the battle. To help ensure a car is ready for the salt of the ancient lakebed, Habrzyk lowers its suspension and adds ballast for greater stability that minimizes the need for steering correction on the salt flats.
“The consistency of the surface at Bonneville is similar to freshly compacted snow almost at its melting point,” says Habrzyk, “so it’s not as solid as most people would think.”
That makes safety a paramount concern. Habrzyk assures each car he works on follows safety regulations put forth by the Southern California Timing Association, which oversees Bonneville’s annual Speed Week and other related events. To do this, the Jetta is outfitted with a roll cage, racing seat and harness, as well as parachutes that help bring the car to a stop.2
THR Manufacturing typically takes on a new car build project like the Jetta once a year. While Habrzyk has experience building drift, drag race and road race cars throughout his 12-year career, his more recent LSR projects run at Bonneville. Between the delicate salt track, design hurdles unique to each car and perhaps a penchant for pushing the limit, Habrzyk always welcomes the challenge.
“If anybody could do it, everybody would do it, and it wouldn’t be challenging,” he says. “It would just be boring, which it’s not by any means.”
On race day, Habrzyk’s not in the driver’s seat; rather, you’ll find him chasing down his creation in a separate vehicle along the side of the race track, all the while listening for a radio announcer to confirm whether the car reached its goal.
The Jetta may have just rolled off the salt flats, but Habrzyk’s already hunting for future projects. Namely he wants to tackle electric vehicles for the first time, which currently do not have their own class at Bonneville.
“Anything new that’s out there that’s powering something with wheels is always in your head,” he says. “I’m interested in going fast with it.”