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Hitting 209 mph in VW’s speed-record Jetta

I finally crest the 200-mph mark on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Volkswagen’s modified Jetta land-speed record race car.

Volkswagen Bonneville Jetta

Volkswagen has been on a bit of a motorsport tear lately. First it sent the I.D. R, a purpose-build electric race car with 680 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, up Pikes Peak, obliterating the 5-year-old record of 8:13.878 with a time of 7:57.148. Then it set a land-speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats of 210.16 miles per hour in a souped-up 2019 Jetta. Impressive accomplishments, both.

Nobody except racing driver Romain Dumas got to drive the supersweet I.D. R, but Volkswagen recently invited me out to Bonneville to have my own go in the 2019 Jetta land-speed record car. And my oh my, what a go it was.

Now playing: Watch this: This Volkswagen Jetta goes over 209 mph

The 2019 Jetta sports a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, good for just 147 horsepower. So in order to break a speed record, some serious modifications were in order. The folks at THR Manufacturing swapped out the 1.4T for the a 2.0-liter engine (that you'll see in the soon-to-be-released Jetta GLI) and modified it with new connecting rods, pistons, valves, camshafts, turbocharger and exhaust system. The basic block and crankshaft are stock, but all told, this thing now puts out a whopping 600 horsepower.

Power gets to the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. Special wheels and tires, as well as a limited-slip differential, help provide traction on the salt while stopping power is improved thanks to a rear-mounted parachute. As you'd expect, the interior is totally stripped out in order to save weight, save for a full roll cage, racing seat and fire suppression system.

A full roll cage and not much else adorns the inside of the Bonneville Jetta.


When I arrived in Bonneville, I told myself I'd be happy if I hit 185 mph. My previous personal land-speed record was 160 mph, achieved on the front straight at Laguna Seca Raceway in a 2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat. I figured topping that speed by 25 mph was an achievable goal that would still push me just above my comfort level. The team buckled me into the Jetta's five-point harness, showed me how to pull the chute and let me roll up to the starting line, palms sweating and tummy aflutter with nerves.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself at 120 mph during my practice run in what seemed like 10 seconds, with nearly 4 miles to go on the 5-mile track. "Oh hell," I thought. "This is going to be easy."

Turned out to be not quite so easy. I won't spoil the surprise here, but my second run was, shall we say, far from perfect. Check out the video above to see what happened.