Erik Gillund is a car guy to the core; one look at his unique creation and it's evident he comes from an automotive background rich in character.
Getting his start with mini-trucks, Gillund was winning dB competitions before moving on to Imports. That was when he owned everything from Honda EG and EK hatches to cars like the Acura Integra, 350Z and even a hardcore Eclipse drag car.
"Back in 2010 I was ready for a break from the Imports and wanted something that was stylish, comfortable, highly tunable and could accommodate my family. And the VW Jetta made perfect sense," Gillund explained.
A trip to the local dealer unearthed a killer deal on a 2008 Jetta 2.5L. And when he got an even better trade-in offer on his Z, the deal was done.
Like so many builds, Gillund had zero intentions of modifying the Mk5... at least, that's what he told his better-half. "I told myself and my wife that I wasn't going to modify the car. It would be a daily driver so needed to be reliable. Yet in the back of my mind I wanted to modify it since none of my cars have ever remained stock," he laughed.
A short two weeks after buying the car, it was already laying on a bed of air, thanks to a friend with a Mk3 on air-ride. It only took one ride in it for Gillund to realize it created a smooth ride that not only handled well, but could also get low.
The drop was handled by Air Lift's XL Slam Series air suspension with a pair of Viair 480cc compressors and twin two-gallon tanks that were vinyl wrapped and mounted in a custom enclosure that's a crowd favorite at shows.
"I like to keep things different. So instead of polishing the air tanks, I decided to wrap them in vinyl when I realized they looked like drink cans; I have a Mountain Dew every morning instead of coffee and I also love Bud Light, so the inspiration was easy," Gillund said. "I swear, more people talk about the cans in the trunk than the wheels or front-end swap."
Speaking of the unique nose, it's got the face of a Mk6 GTI and the derriere of a Mk5. "A while ago, somebody posted a Photoshopped image on Facebook of a Mk5 with a Mk6 front-end. I fell in love with it and had to make it happen. So I contacted Fast Eddie's Autobody in Manassas, VA to do the swap," Gillund said.
"To my knowledge, I was the second person to complete the swap at the time" Gillund added. "As far as I know, only one guy in Japan had successfully done it before."
Since the swap was such a rarity, Gillund was blazing a path to greatness, and Fast Eddie's successfully grafted the Mk6 GTI front-end onto his Jetta using OEM parts.
"The swap was anything but a bolt-on deal, a lot of things had to be custom modified, like the core support, headlight brackets, bumper brackets and especially the fenders," he said.
The GTI fenders were roughly 2" short, so the bodyshop cut and welded the rear portions of the stock Jetta fenders to the Mk6 GTI panels for a perfect fit. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and Gillund admits that if he'd started with Jetta fenders, it might have been easier. But, like we said, the swap was so new he was blazing his own trail.
With a fresh face and a slammed stance, the car proceeded to see four sets of wheels until he landed on what could possibly be the defining feature of the car: its 19" Blonix Snowflakes.
"It's difficult to find a set of wheels that are different but also suit the car. But when I saw a Hyundai Genesis at SEMA 2012 with the Snowflakes, I knew they were the ones," Gillund said. "I contacted Blonix about the rims and a custom set arrived four months later," he added.
Of course, the fenders had to be heavily massaged. After a lot of rolling, the effort resulted in arches that swallow the massive mesh rims that feature 3" front and 3.5" rear lips.
With a killer stance and unique wheels, not much more needed to be done in the way of body mods. "I added Votex skirts, filled the hood notch, smoothed the upper grille and added a Dorbitz Designs lower grille. Beyond that, I didn't go crazy with the exterior because it already looked so good," Gillund said.
Life on the inside is good thanks to plaid GTI seats, an NRG suede steering wheel with quick-release hub and plenty of black and red suede on the pillars, roof and door panels. Gillund also had trim pieces Hydrodipped in a wood-grain finish, while other accents were dipped in a black metalflake tint. The result is a simple yet effective combination of colors and finishes that complete a solid build.
Although Gillund didn't opt for the 2.0T motor, the 2.5L five-cylinder is no less of a workhorse, especially with a throaty intake howl thanks to an APR cold-air intake and software re-flash. Along with some cosmetic mods like an Integrated Engineering polished valve cover, a mild wire tuck and Porsche reservoir caps, the engine bay upgrades are concise but choice.
If one word summarized this Jetta it would be presence. It's low, wide, clean and commands attention no matter the company. And it's been achieved without a mile-long mod list as further proof it's not the quantity but rather the quality of a build that defines it.
2008 VW Jetta
Engine 2.5L five-cylinder 20v motor with APR/Carbonio carbon cold-air intake and software, Integrated Engineering billet valve cover, Porsche 911 oil, coolant caps, K&N breather filter, semi-wire tuck
Brakes R1 Concepts drilled and slotted rotors, StopTech Street pads, stainless braided lines
Suspension Air Lift XL Slam Series air kit, two Viair 480cc compressors, dual two-gallon air tanks with custom vinyl wrap, custom enclosure
Wheels & Tires 19x10" ET+32 Blonix Snowflake wheels from ISS Forged, polished 3" f, 3.5" r lips, flush-mount valve stems, brushed faces, color-matched windows, 225/35 R19 Hankook Ventus Evo tires
Exterior 2012 VW GTI front-end conversion with European-spec front bumper, Votex side skirts, filled hood notch, Dorbitz Designs lower grille, smoothed upper grille, rolled fenders, smoked mirror signals
Interior VW GTI plaid seats, NRG suede steering wheel, quick-release hub, black suede upper and lower B-pillars, red suede headliner, A- and C-pillars plus door inserts, Hydrodipped wood-grain trim pieces and grab handles, black metalflake door panels
Thanks my wife and family, Lorenzo Hicks at Iceboxx Customs, Janoy Fuentes and crew at Blonix Wheels, ISS Forged, Fast Eddie's Autobody, Jeff and crew at Custom Functionz, Kenneth Marion, Jay Martinez at Tuner Evolution, Ken Appell at Carlisle Events, Xclusiv Alliance, Nick Bottini at Alles Gute Designs