We find ourselves grimacing every time Project Dub's tires rub against the fenders while trying to keep pace with Derek Jenkins as he flings his newly completed GTI up one of his favorite canyon roads near Malibu, CA.
The GTI turns hard into hairpins and for a moment, disappears from sight. The body remains rigidly flat on its H&R suspension, the wide tires giving unexpected grip.
Apparently he sometimes ran out of brakes on his canyon rides but was now reveling in the new Brembos. He drives hard but safe, cautious where he needs to be. He was also enjoying the new APR upgrades, and the lightning-quick DSG gear changes were putting pressure on Project Dub to keep up.
After a breathless climb up the canyon, and another millimeter of rubber milled off our sidewalls, we finally reached the photo location. We'd planned to capture the man and his car in its natural environment, and as he made frequent passes for our cameras it felt like a stage on the World Rally Championship. The APR exhaust echoed around the rock walls of our mist-cloaked canyon, the ignition spluttered between DSG gear changes, the tail pipes crackled on the over-run. It was one of those moments that burn into your memory.
For those of you who don't know, Derek isn't just another Euro enthusiast. He's VW's Chief Designer in America. And as our relationship with Volkswagen of America has flourished, we've been delighted to discover some hardcore Euro enthusiasts work there.
You might have assumed this would automatically be the case, but too often car makers are dominated by accountants and people with business degrees but little interest in the product. Certainly VWoA's reluctance to support the tuning scene was always viewed as evidence its personnel knew or cared little about its products and customers.
However, a breakthrough came in '05 when VWoA made its SEMA debut. The driving force behind the project and the subsequent RGTI at SEMA '06 was Derek. He graciously granted us backstage access to RGTI during its design and construction at VW's American Design Center in Santa Monica, CA. During our visits it became obvious he shared our passion for European cars. In fact, we discovered he'd sold his beloved 911 to buy a GTI, set about modifying it, and that many of his own mods led to some of RGTI's innovations.
With new VW projects absorbing his time, Derek sought our help to complete his GTI. We accepted, provided we'd be able to show you the results once the project was complete.
"I think the 2.0T and DSG are a great combination, and since we'd already done our first SEMA before I bought the GTI, I wanted to take part in the same process with my own vehicle," Derek explained.
"I wanted to tune it but little was available at the time," he continued. "The first thing was wheels. I'd done black wheels on my last four cars and we'd experimented with red stripes on tires with the Ragster and RGT concepts, so black wheels and red graphics was a natural progression. In fact, I tried it on my own car before we designed the similar RGTI wheels."
What's more interesting is the RGTI wore wide 265/30-19 tires all round to enhance grip, thinking that again stemmed from Derek's GTI. "My buddy and co-worker, Bob Wake, suggested we modify some Porsche wheels for my car. I always liked the wheels on the 997 S, so we decided to modify them to fit the GTI," he explained.In the process, Derek discovered he could fit 265s under the stock rear fenders. He then extrapolated this idea for the RGTI, fitting the same front width under custom carbon fenders.
For his own GTI, the problem was making the tires fit the wheels. He couldn't use the Porsche's rear wheels, so he took stock 19x8" Porsche front wheels to a specialist who cut the rim and welded a new hoop on the back to add an extra inch. "I don't recommend you try this specialized task yourself," he suggested.
Using 15mm H&R adapters to mate the Porsche and VW bolt patterns, the 19x9s with 265/30 tires haven't had rubbing issues.
Up front, the 19x8s were fitted with the same H&R adapters and 235/35 tires. Unfortunately, these did rub, so he now runs a narrower 225/35.
H&R Street coilovers create the stance and great handling. They dropped the GTI 2" and are "a good compromise of height, performance and comfort," Derek opined.
Next he added VW's Votex body kit. Comprising front spoiler, skirts and rear valance, "it makes the car look lower and chunkier," Derek said. It also covers the black sections on the GTI's bumpers and skirts that "make a high car look higher," Derek added.
While looking for carbon fiber parts for his car, Derek found Hong Kong-based OSIR Design. He liked the parts so much he purchased a carbon wing for his own car and fitted many parts to the RGTI.
Before becoming embroiled in SEMA '07 preparations, he tinted the windows and brought home R32 tail lights from a visit to VW Germany.
At this point, et got involved to help finish the project. In order to do this, we stuck to suppliers Derek knew and called on our friends at Eurocode and DTM Autohaus.
Having created such a strong black and white theme, all agreed there should be more carbon. We suggested OSIR's chin spoiler with central carbon diffuser, as well as their carbon grille surround and mirrors. The surround is affixed with automotive tape, while the mirrors were disassembled to fit the new housings. Each piece is manufactured to incredibly high standards and fit flawlessly.
The parts are from OSIR's US distributor, ZMax Autosports. They have both exterior and interior parts for the GTI, TT and Audi A3.
OSIR also has single- or double-sided carbon hoods, but we decided to involve DTM Autohaus; through its subsidiary, DTM Karbon, they produce a number of carbon parts including a GTI hood.The added advantage of using DTM was access to its professional paint and bodyshop. The OSIR chin spoiler needed painting, and we also opted to paint the sides of the hood to emphasize the characteristic GTI nose.
Fitting the hood was easy since the tuner uses the stock hardware, while the OSIR spoiler also used factory attachment points.
Under the hood, we added OSIR's carbon engine cover. It replaces the silver panel on the GTI's plastic engine cover and was installed by Eurocode. They needed to grind off the retaining clips on the stock part and heat the VW badge before it could be removed and glued to the OSIR cover. Four flexible metal tabs now hold the new cover in place.
Eurocode is an APR dealer and was able to contribute the APR/Carbonio carbon intake. It replaced the stock inlet snorkel with a bigger carbon unit. A performance filter was then placed inside the airbox.
We'd previously had the chance to see APR's individually numbered stainless-steel turbo-back exhaust, and had no doubt we'd fit one. Derek had also been impressed with APR so we stuck to what he knows.
The old exhaust simply unbolts from the turbo. Then the stock system is removed from its hangers and the APR unit goes in its place.
Derek opted for the "Stealth" exhaust - it has an additional silencer and is quieter than APR's Sport system. There was also a downpipe and cat but Eurocode recommend fitting a VF-Engineering pendulum mount with this turbo-back to reduce problems associated with engine movement.
Eurocode uploaded APR's software into the ECU; 91- and 93-octane programs can be selected via the cruise control stalk.
We previously fitted APR software and turbo-back exhaust to a Mk5 GTI on the East Coast (et 9/06). Running 93-octane it made 211hp and 258 lb/ft, which is close to the GIAC software and Techtonics exhaust on our '06 GLI, Project Dub.
The two cars also share braking equipment after we fitted the new "Brembo by APR" kit. These are basically the same 328mm slotted front rotors and four-piston calipers that are on our GLI (et 11/06), except Derek's kit has new APR hats and special pads.
The braking improvement is immediate. Often a set of big brakes can be overkill, but are a godsend on a hard-driven GTI/GLI. The pedal is more responsive, and the braking significantly more powerful. They certainly didn't fade under hard use in the canyons, and that was good enough for Derek.
"The GTI is a super base for tuning," Derek confirmed. "Aesthetic changes make it more aggressive and masculine. On the performance side, the suspension needs some help. It also needs more exhaust note, and added power pushes it to a whole new level.
"Even before all these mods, I was addicted to the car. But unlike the Porsche, it's not a status thing; it's just a great car."
It was funny listening to Derek worry about how the mods would affect his warranty and servicing schedule. You'd think VW's Chief Designer would have a secret password to let him get away with things.
What's more, he has the same GTI ownership experience as us - addictive fun, servicing worries and petty police tickets: "I got pulled over one Saturday morning driving through the canyons. They popped the hood to look for engine mods but I didn't have any. So I got a ticket for the tints and no front plate!"
Living the dream
Let's face it, Derek has a dream job. His story starts as a boy growing up in Huntington Beach, CA during the '80s. "Hot hatches were just emerging, so there were Sciroccos and GTIs everywhere. Plus my Dad was into air-cooleds, so I was immersed in these influences," Derek explained.
"My first car was a VW Thing I fixed up as my surf-mobile. Then I bought an '86 Audi GT Coupe. It was just after Audi's problems with unintended acceleration, so I got it cheap, but it was an amazing car. I lowered it, fitted 15" Ronal R10s, an exhaust and sound system. I kept it through college and it inspired me to work for VAG or Porsche," he recalled. "I was on a mission, and eventually got accepted to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena on the Transport Design course. I was amazingly lucky to get in and concentrated on VAG and Porsche designs. This paid off when Porsche decided to review our portfolios and I was selected to receive a scholarship. I then interned at Porsche's Weissach Design Center. It was a dream come true, but showed me I had lots to learn and needed to grow as a designer.
"The following year I interned at Audi's Simi Valley, CA studio under J Mays (New Beetle, Ford T-Bird), Freeman Thomas (TT) and Verena Kloos (now at BMW). I learned a lot in that environment and got exposed to VW/Audi design."
He obviously made an impression because he was subsequently hired by Mays to work at Audi in Ingolstadt, Germany. During his tenure, Derek was responsible for the A2 ("I'm really proud of that car, but it was ten years ahead of its time.") and the current A8.
Having worked on production vehicles, he returned to Simi Valley, producing AL2 concepts that preceded the A2 launch.
In '00 he joined VW as Chief Designer in the same facility, a role the 37 year-old still holds. Since then he's produced VW's Concept T, Ragster and GX3 concepts, while heavily influencing the new Scirocco. He's perhaps proudest of the famous Microbus concept, which was inspired by a T3 bus and three Euro vans he owned - each was lowered, some got Porsche wheels, but all were cool.
During this time he took VW to SEMA and produced the RGT/RGTI series. "Only about 5% of what we do bubbles to the surface, most of our work is never seen by the public," Derek admitted, but 100% of his work influences future VW products.
Other cars in the Jenkins stable have included a BMW 535i while in Germany. He also owned motoring icons like the Lotus Esprit S2 and Citron 2CV. "I always wanted a Countach as well, but ended up buying a Lambo Espada. It was cool for a V12 2+2 but was difficult to own, so I finally got the 911 everybody predicted I would eventually buy. The Porsche was easy to own but I wanted the original body, so bought a 993 C2S because it had the air-cooled engine, Turbo flares but no whaletail. It was another icon and the quintessential 911," Derek conceded.
Then suddenly the 911 was gone and a GTI stood on the driveway. "Everybody thought I was crazy," he admitted, "but when the studio moved from Simi Valley to Santa Monica, my commute changed as well. It was less canyons and more city driving. Everybody within VW was saying how good the new GTI was going to be, so I bought one as soon as it came out. I was blown away by how much fun it was. I'll definitely get another 911 one day, but right now I don't miss it because the GTI is so much fun."
Tech spec2006 VW GTI
Owner: Derek Jenkins
Location: Santa Monica, CA
Occupation: VWOA Chief Designer
Engine: two liter 16v turbocharged with APR 91-/93-octane software and stainless steel turbo-back exhaust, APR/Carbonio carbon intake snorkel and filter element, OSIR carbon engine cover
Drivetrain: stock DSG six-speed
Suspension: H&R Street coilovers, lowered 2"
Brakes: APR/Brembo 328mm two-piece slotted front rotors with four-piston calipers, braided steel lines and pads
Wheels & Tires: 19x8" front and 19x9" rear Porsche 997 Carrera S wheels with red graphics, 15mm H&R adapters, rear wheels custom widened, 225/35-19 and 265/30-19 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires
Exterior: VW Votex skirts and rear valance, OSIR chin spoiler, grille surround, rear wing and mirrors, DTM Karbon hood, European R32 tail lights, tinted windows