CLASSIC CUTS Classic #Volkswagen-Jetta-Mk4
1.8T / #Volkswagen-Jetta-1.8T
American Jetta 1.8T gets a timeless makeover to die for. Jealous? Us…?
Keep it simple, stupid. We’ve all heard it a million times but when it comes down to it, it’s a hard rule to follow. Not for Alex Bednarik, though, he’s pretty much got it nailed. Words: David Kennedy. Photos: Sam Dobbins.
Sometimes we wonder if the guys at Matchbox and Hot Wheels have any idea of what their little toys are responsible for. You don’t need us to tell you that since their launch in 1953 and 1968 respectively they’ve given millions of children countless hours of entertainment and drained the bank accounts of many adult collectors. How many of us spent our childhood flinging them off kitchen table ramps or round the lounge set circuit? We would bet that virtually all of us at one point or another have had these toys, and that a lot of us still have some in a box in the loft somewhere. So how many of us can trace our current interest in cars back to playing with Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars when we were kids, then? Maryland resident, Alex Bednarik – owner of this rather fine Mk4 Jetta you see here – certainly can. Well, that and a little family influence, too. “I have been into cars for as long as I can remember,” he started. “Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my dad around classic American cars and at the drag strip. And I had buckets of Hot Wheels cars and tons of other model cars, too. However, I had always been more into Japanese cars, and imports in general. This interest really kicked off when my brother got a Mk4 Jetta Wagon as his first car and I’d tag along with him to some of the big East Coast shows.”
Here in the UK the good ol’ Bora has always been something of an underdog. You hardly ever see them on the road these days. Heck, you rarely saw them when they were fresh off dealer forecourts, thinking about it. And at shows, other than a few memorable creations built over the years, you could probably reel off on two hands the number of modified examples that have been built. Strange, then, that in the US the Bora, or Mk4 Jetta as we should really call it, has always outsold the Golf in massive numbers. Alex explained it this way: “I loved seeing what people were doing to them when I started going to VW shows. The Jetta has a very simple design but it’s a good looking car from the factory. And it can be made to look even better when the modifications start piling on, too.”
Alex tells us that he was fortunate enough to have his parents buy him his first car – this very car, in fact. With just 50k on the clock and a clean bill of health, it seemed like a smart choice for the youngster to cut his driving teeth on. We’re sure that neither his parents or even Alex himself knew where it would end up, however! “The week I got the car, I booked it in with the garage to remove the pinstriping and badges. Shortly afterwards I put coilovers on the car,” he remembered. “At that point I still didn’t have my licence, so I couldn’t even drive it without one of my parents in the car with me.”
Alex’s parents helping out with getting the car in the first place was a pretty sweet deal but it did have one drawback: they had something of a vested interest in the car and, in particular, what Alex wanted to do to it. “My brother’s wagon was pretty low, and he broke his oil pan one night,” Alex remembered. “My parents were pretty annoyed by that so they made it a rule that I wasn’t allowed to do anything to my Jetta that they didn’t approve of until I turned 18. Since they bought me the car I couldn’t really argue the rule, unfortunately. However, on my 18th birthday I jacked the car up, spun the coils down and cut the sway bar out. Well, I had to, didn’t I?”
Unfortunately, this was a case of parents knowing best because just a few months later Alex followed in his brother’s footsteps and, well, broke it. “The Tiptronic gearbox is the lowest point underneath the car and hangs down,” he explained. “I was on my way to a meet a few hours away and I hit a large hump in the road and the car got air. I’d cracked the transmission casing, which made for an interesting journey back after my dad had to come out to tow me home.”
Killing one transmission prompted our man Alex to look in to air-ride. “I knew I wasn’t going to raise the car and have it sitting really high so it seemed to me that air-ride was the only viable option really,” he figured. Air Lift XL front struts and Firestone rear sleeves were drafted in along with the ever-popular AccuAir E-level management system to keep everything in check. A couple of different valances were bolted up and a set of cloth Sport seats were acquired from his brother. And for a while, Alex was pretty happy with how his Jetta was working out for him.
“As it is a Triptronic I’ve never been too concerned with trying to get any performance out of it. Everything I’ve done has been with the aim of building a car that looks good and is fun to cruise around in,” Alex explained. “The engine bay was never a huge focus point for me until I started running out of things to do to the rest of the car really,” he smiled. It’s funny to think that this might be the first US car for a long time with a 1.8T engine that doesn’t have a Dub Details box packed full of big turbo specs, larger injectors and the like. Big turbo kits and performance modifications are so affordable in the US, not to mention the vastly cheaper fuel and insurance costs compared to Europe, that sometimes you think #VW
should have just thrown a GT28RS on the 20v in the dealers to save everyone time! “I only really got the 20v engine by default really,” Alex explained. “I knew I didn’t want the 8v as they’re just so slow, and I might be the only person in the world who doesn’t like the VR noise. The only other option is a TDI but the US didn’t buy many diesel Mk4s in the first place, so finding one is really tricky.” The engine bay hasn’t been untouched, though. Far from it, in fact. A session clicking around on eBay.de brought a SEAT Ibiza Cupra engine cover to Alex’s attention which, while not that big of a deal over here in Europe where SEATs are commonplace, in the US, where they aren’t, well you don’t need us to explain why it was cool, do you? “I realised I would need a new intake manifold to put the throttle body on the other side of the car in order to run the engine cover,” he explained. “I started sourcing a TT 225bhp intake manifold but was not pleased with the prices people were asking so in the end I imported a SEAT intake manifold along with the engine cover that I wanted.”
Next up came the issue of what to do with the intercooler. “I didn’t want to run a big front mount as I don’t like when you see them through the bumper, and I didn’t want to have to cut the bumper up either,” Alex said. “Then I remembered a VRT Jetta from Texas that had dual side-mount intercoolers so I started looking and then found a TT 225 dual setup which worked perfectly.”
The Audi S3 engine plastics are another part of the car that but actually took a lot of thought to get right. This was because the S3 covers have rounded corners and the Mk4 core support doesn’t. “A friend pointed out a small trim piece from the European market that goes in that corner to round off the core support so I had a buddy of mine in England source me one and send it over,” Alex explained. “I like to pay attention to the details, you see. I like looking over a car, noticing all of the little things, and thinking ‘wow, that is awesome!’ and so I put that mentality into the build of my car. I want people to stop, look and see all of the little things that differ from the stock car while keeping it looking factory.
It’s an ethos that’s been carried on inside, too. The retrimmed R32 seats and complimentary trimmed headliner, parcel shelf and door inserts are the first things you notice, and they look great, but look a little closer and you will spot all the little things that really set it apart, like the 2013 Beetle steering wheel, the SEAT headlight switch, the stubby rear headrests and, possibly the most subtle bit of all, the right-hand drive door insert with the smoothed door pull.
“There are always times when I wish I had gone a little bit more ‘out there’ with the build and done a motor/transmission swap and a full shaved bay or gone with a different colour for the interior,” Alex explained. “In the end, though, I am satisfied with the path I choose. It serves the purpose I built it for: to look nice and cruise around in.”
We’re pretty massive fans of the Alex’s choice of rolling stock, too. Part of that has to be down to the fact they’re so understated. Don’t get us wrong, we love seeing a trick, intricate wheel design or a finish combo that leaves us staring but sometimes it’s just nice to see a simple elegant wheel design. “I contacted CCW about making me a set of totally custom wheels similar to OZ Breytons,” Alex explained. “In the end the guys there said they would make a set of Classic 5s – which hadn’t been made in a good while and they would be the first set in 18” which sounded good to me. One of the main things that attracted me so much is that I like having rarer items.”
Since our shoot Alex has been pretty busy with his car although, unusually, not actually through choice! “About a month after the shoot I was visiting a friend when a storm hit. The wind ended up picking up a canoe and dropping it on my car. Yes, a canoe, you can’t make it up!”
Well, that’s definitely a first for Drive-MY! It sounds funny now but at the time not so much, as Alex confirms: “It messed up the passenger rear door pretty bad, ripped the door handle off, and cracked some filler on the quarter panel. Fortunately, my insurance covered canoe damage (that must have been an interesting call to the insurance company ~ All). It ended up needing a full respray and while it was in the bodyshop I decided to have the antenna and fender markers shaved.”
Since then Alex has actually parted with his beloved CCWs for a new set of rollers and is planning to change a few things up inside and maybe tuck a few wires in the engine bay, as he explained: “The wheels have since been sold and changed up. As far as future plans are concerned, the only things I want to do at the moment are some small changes to the interior and possibly a wire tuck in the engine bay. “For the most part, I’ve received a positive reaction to it at shows and meets. I’ve even had people tell me that it is their favourite Mk4 – which is pretty crazy. Add to that, the fact that I now have a feature in #Drive-My
is just surreal. I never expected the recognition the car gets. I am just a kid throwing money at a car, having fun.” And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Keep on having fun Alex…
ENGINE: 1.8T with TT 225 intake manifold, 5.5L wiper fluid reservoir, SEAT Ibiza Cupra engine cover, SAI delete, N249 delete, EVAP delete, 42DD cat-back exhaust, 2.0T coil pack upgrade, dual side-mount intercoolers, S3 engine plastics, R8 oil and coolant cap, smoothed and painted core support, misc Euro trim pieces, billet dipstick tube.
CHASSIS: 9.5x18” and 10x18” #CCW-Classic
5 wheels, #Air-Lift-XL
front struts, Firestone rear sleeves, #AccuAir-E-Level
management, R32 control arms and spindles, 330mm front discs with Tarox ten-pot calipers, 308mm ECS Tuning rear disc upgrade.
EXTERIOR: Custom Japanese-spec front moulding, smoothed and painted 4motion front valence, Emphase Clean side skirts, GLI rear valence, custom OEM HID reps, #PZWO
Magic white tail lights, Passat Lingyu door handles, stubby mirrors, OEM Lexan headlight covers, custom billet antenna.
INTERIOR: Retrimmed R32 seats, retrimmed headliner, parcel shelf, trunk liner and door inserts, black headliner trim, 2013 Beetle steering wheel, right hand-drive door insert with custom smoothed door pull, SEAT headlight switch and climate control knobs, stubby rear headrests, polished Euro Image billet door lock slides, armrest removed, GLI pedals, JCaps billet seat adjustment knobs, shortened and trimmed two-gallon air tank, custom hardlined tank setup.
SHOUT: My family, especially my father and brother, KDI Customs, Bagriders, Joe, Travy, Swoops, Doey, Sam, Dehate, Ramon, Adam, Sammy, Jonny, Piney, Garrett, Muffin, RollHard and anyone who has helped me with the car in any way over the past years.
Engine bay is a masterclass of OEM+ modifying with plastics and parts brought in from across the VAG range and modified to fit.
Smoothed right-hand drive door plastic is a neat touch that you don’t spot at first, as is the relocated switch gear in the door pocket.