- DARWIN AWARDS
Bernd Stich’s Jetta could roll its way to the top of the podium at any show-and-shine you care to mention. But this is no cynically thrown-together show pony – this is the culmination of over twenty years of evolution… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Igor Vucinic.
Evolution has a lot to answer for. Lots of your body parts serve no useful function – body hair is pointless for modern human living, for example. And wisdom teeth do little other than to misalign jaws, while the auricular muscles around your ears are unnecessary as we don’t swivel our ears to hear sound like some creatures do, and your coccyx has no purpose because you don’t have a tail. Your appendix is rubbish too – when people largely ate plants it might have had some role in digestion, but nowadays the only thing it can do is get inflamed and explode, which doesn’t help at all.
Nevertheless, evolution is super-clever. Just look at the quirky national characteristics of speech patterns – the Spanish are loud and boisterous, the Italians lyrical, the French romantic, and acoustic adaptation theory suggests that such traits develop so that the sounds we make work best with our natural surroundings: harsh consonants get lost or distorted in rainforests, but have room to breathe among European hills and valleys. Open syllables like ‘aloha’ work better in tropical climes. And so it goes. It’s not just humans, this is true of birds and cats and all sorts.
In modern Germany, evolution is evidently working overtime. This beige Jetta proves it. In the time that Bernd Stich has owned his trusty coupe it’s passed through more radical evolutionary changes than a millennium of walking sea creatures, each phase markedly different to that that preceded it. It’s as if Bernd and his VW are syncing DNA code to determine the ultimate fate of this well-beloved car. Well, either that or he just really likes it and happens to change his mind a lot. “I can tell you the exact date I bought the car – 22nd November 1996,” he tells us. “And how it looks now - this is what I call my Level 5 modifying…”
The love affair, which has clearly endured, began early; Bernd was desperate to get his hands on the Polar silver car in time for his 18th birthday, and it’s been through a multitude of looks and setups since then, with each year bringing fresh enthusiasms. The whole merry-go-round was spun into action when he swapped out the original 1.3-litre motor for a rather more robust 16v, and it was the act of gradually but irreversibly becoming a regular show-goer that cemented his keenness for modifying in general and the #VW scene in particular. At the time people weren’t really modding Jettas, it was all about the Golf, so that immediately gave Bernd the edge, and with the ‘valver’ in place he opted to augment it with a set of G60 front brakes and GTI 16v rears – and it was at this point that the aesthetic evolution went into overdrive. Before it knew what had hit it, the ’89 Jetta was wearing big bumpers and slathered all over in pearlescent orange Volvo paint, the smoothed bonnet and boot lid complemented by an absence of arch trims between those fat bumpers. And then the interior was trimmed in cream leather, some Porsche 944 wheels appeared, there was talk of air-ride… the car made it into these very pages, in fact, such was the radical nature of it all.
Bernd wasn’t done yet, though because not long after the 2.8-litre VR6 motor appeared. It’s just a natural function of the survival-of-the-fittest ethos, is it not? Bigger is often better.
Forget ‘less is more’, increasing your piston count by 50% is where it’s at. So in 2003, Bernd got hold of an Mk3 Golf VR6 and basically tore it to pieces, harvesting everything he might need to pump up his Jetta’s creds. The engine is naturally the first thing you’d spot from this major round of surgery, artfully tarted-up as it is by oodles of chrome work and a smoothed bay for it to snuggle down in, but the eagle-eyed will also have spotted the Mk3’s dash, which has been fettled and honed to fit perfectly inside the cabin. Some oh-so-early-’00s König seats found their way in, too, along with a polished Wiechers roll cage and a beefy audio install. Oh yes, the exterior wasn’t a lurid orange any more either – it was something far more OEM-subtle from somewhere within the silver/blue/grey Venn diagram. Air-ride was taken care of by a simple #BSS single-pump system with a five-gallon tank and much of the wiring hidden away.
“Lots of the ancillaries were chrome-plated before refitting,” Bernd explains. “The slam panel, driveshafts, wishbones, gearbox end casing, front sub frame, brake servo…” It starts to turn into a very long list. Even the Typhoon induction kit is shiny enough to hold a mirror up to the fact that you don’t own a Jetta this cool. It was once all of this work was done that Bernd decided to strip the thing down to a bare shell again and paint it all in VW Passat Grey Pearl. That was back in 2006. And if we fast-forward to 2013, we find it all being stripped down once more. That’s the crux of natural selection, it favours adaptability.
There are two key elements that immediately grab the eye as a result of this latest, fastidiously executed evolution. The first is the colour: now swathed in Nevada beige, the Jetta flies deliciously under the radar to all but those in the know, having the air of an OAP-spec budget runabout that’s secretly pumped full of steroids. The second is what Bernd’s been up to underneath the car. This is the kind of detail that’d only become apparent to you if you were on your hands and knees, greeting the car in the manner in which a dog might romance another (unless, obviously, you’re looking at photos of it in a magazine – which, mercifully, you are), but the level of work that’s gone into it is really quite phenomenal. The entire underside has been stripped, perfected, and polished to an improbable shine, a festival of beige that culminates in a mouth-watering fuel tank (there’s a phrase you don’t hear very often) that’s wrapped in sumptuous leather and held in place with polished straps – a gift from buddy Ralf K, who used to own the very tank fitted to his Golf.
This is very much the pinnacle of the modifiers’ art. None of this stuff needs to be done. The fact that it has been done, and done so well, demonstrates Bernd’s commitment to doing things properly. Those shows he used to go to in the nineties clearly left quite an impression.
Beyond the paint, much has been done to ‘retro up’ the look: those big bumpers are long gone, replaced by the period skinny items that work so well to amp up the element of stealth, and the nerds among you may have spotted the 1986-spec doors, chosen for their old-school quarter-light windows. And the interior is now a fabulous showcase of what might have happened back in the late-1980s if a tuner like Radford or Tickford had offered a coach-built version of the Jetta – it all oozes with custom vintage flair, and yet the materials are distinctly premium and high-end. Porsche 924 seats wear bespoke faux-leather and corduroy, the rear seats trimmed to match and with a colour-keyed carpet to suit, and the pillars are trimmed in a tasteful brown to dovetail with the dash. There’s no stereo any more as today Bernd simply prefers the aggressive bark of that VR6 through its shiny Supersport system.
“It was my first car,” he grins. “All the others are just dailies… it started off all original and cost me DM7500 back in ’96. And now – plans for the future? No, I have none for this car. The baby is coming in May, the next Jetta driver, that’s my future.” Sure, he says that, but it’s not really his decision to make is it? This Jetta has held Bernd in its thrall for over two decades, its very physical construct controlled by the whims of nature and evolution, and we can’t see this pattern breaking any time soon. For now, this car exists as a perfect showcase of age-old passion and flawless craftsmanship. What happens next is in the hands of anagenesis and biodiversity.
Dub Details #Air-ride / #1989 / #Volkswagen-Jetta / #Volkswagen / #VW-Jetta / #Volkswagen-Jetta-II / #Volkswagen-Jetta-VR6-II / #Volkswagen-Jetta-VR6 / #Volkswagen-Jetta-Air-Ride / #Volkswagen-Jetta-Air-Ride-II / #VW /
ENGINE: Chromed and detailed 2.8-litre VR6 ( #AAA ), with #SuperSport stainless steel exhaust system, Typhoon induction, Mk3 Golf VR6 manual gearbox – lacquered gloss black
CHASSIS: 7.5x17” BMW #BBS split-rims with 195/35 Nankang tyres. #GAS ( #German-Air-ride-Systems ) air-ride setup, Mk2 VW-Golf G60 front brakes with 280mm discs, Mk2 Golf GTI rear axle with disc brakes, braided lines
EXTERIOR: 1989 shell painted Nevada beige, 1986-spec doors, small bumpers, shaved bay, detailed underside, leather-trimmed fuel tank with polished straps
INTERIOR: Mk3 Golf dash, Porsche 924 front seats – custom-trimmed in faux-leather and corduroy with rears to match, Raid wooden steering wheel, Beetle shifter, beige and brown #Vorwerk carpet, chrome air tank in boot
SHOUT: My best friends Björn, Timo, Maik, plus Ernst-Equipment (tuning parts), Febi (aftermarket parts) and Carlack-Schwung (painter)
The whole merry-go-round was spun into action when he swapped out the original 1.3-litre motor for a rather more robust 16v.
Polished #VR6 lump lives in engine bay so clean you could, well, lick it!
Single air tank fixed to back of rear bench means boot is left clear.
Since we last saw the car Bernd has gone balls-out with the underside. Note the leather-clad fuel tank.