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 |   |  2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8t - Air Tran
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2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8t - Air Tran

Christina Tran has built one of the most electrifying Volkswagen show cars on air ride

Sep 1, 2008
Photographer: Paul Carlon
Eurp_0809_02_z+2003_volkswagen_jetta+front_side_view Photo 1/15   |   2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8t - Air Tran

If you can't tell from the car already, I love attention," Christina Tran of Cleveland, OH began. "People automatically assume a guy owns my car. So when they find out it's mine, they're in shock."

This '03 Jetta 1.8T is one of the more extreme female-owned Volkswagens to appear in et. Custom paint, air suspension, big brakes, shaved bodywork, full stereo; it possesses an abundance of show qualities that rival anything on the North American tuning scene.

Eurp_0809_09_z+2003_volkswagen_jetta+christina_tran Photo 2/15   |   2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8t - Air Tran

Currently in her mid-20s, Christina has poured sweat and tears into her Jetta since she acquired it in '02. Still a student, the road toward building her dream car wasn't easy, having started out in an old Mitsubishi Eclipse GS when she turned 16. "I always liked cars because my dad subscribed to lots of car mags," she explained. "I got the Eclipse and then met my husband, Minh, a year later. He helped me build it up and eventually turbocharged it."

The rice-rocket quickly showed signs of poor reliability, so Christina moved onto her first VW. "I always loved the Jetta," she told us. "I used to go online and see what people were doing to them. I quickly realized the possibilities, and after driving one I discovered it was so much nicer than the Eclipse I had!"

Christina drove a new 1.8T sedan off the dealer lot with parts already waiting at home. She did plenty of the labor herself. "This Jetta has been a joint project with my husband," she mentioned. "I selected all the parts, installed the bolt-ons and did some of the bodywork, while my husband helped with the electrical work."

Eurp_0809_05_z+2003_volkswagen_jetta+engine_bay Photo 3/15   |   Show-stopping engine bay with smooth and color-matched covers along with polished caps, intake manifold and intercooler piping

The project began with plenty of go-fast bits, such as a Techtonics Tuning exhaust, cold-air intake and APR software. A Eurojet front-mount intercooler ensured cool air was fed into the combustion chamber, while a Forge Motorsport diverter valve released excess pressure.

Christina eventually stopped adding engine upgrades when the five-speed Tiptronic became an issue. "I wanted a fast car," she admitted, "but realized I needed that third pedal for speed. So I decided to forget speed and build a show car."

Shifting her attention to visual upgrades, the project gained momentum the night before a car show. "The garage was a mess, so I parked the car outside, not thinking anything would happen to it," Christina recalled. "The next morning, I found the Jetta had been broken into. When everything was calculated, the thieves inflicted damage estimated at $13k to fix and replace."

Eurp_0809_12_z+2003_volkswagen_jetta+side_view Photo 4/15   |   2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8t - Air Tran

Christina turned her misfortune around. She contracted a local bodyshop to shave the door handles, moldings and emblems. With the car at home, she dipped her hands in fiberglass and bondo to fill the hood notch, mold the Oettinger valances and shave the bumper moldings

The car was originally white but Christina wanted a color that would scream for attention. So a custom tri-coat blue paint was applied, emitting a purple glow from certain angles.

With an eye-popping exterior, Christina wanted her car to sit on the ground so she also experimented with air ride.

The suspension consists of AirRide Technologies' rear bags with Mason-Tech coilover strut bags in the front. Two Viair 400c air compressors fill the five-gallon tank at the touch of a button.

Eurp_0809_10_z+2003_volkswagen_jetta+porsche_brake_calipers Photo 5/15   |   2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8t - Air Tran

The right set of wheels was critical, so Christina looked to iForged. "I started with Konig wheels but wanted something more tuner-style," she revealed. "The iForged Aeros are better because if something goes wrong it's easy to replace parts." The polished forged rims measure 19x7.5" front and 19x8.5" rear, wrapped in Falken Azenis tires.

The open spokes of the wheels left some embarrassing gaps for the tiny stock brakes, so Christina sourced a pair of 13.1" big brakes from ECS Tuning that use Porsche Boxster four-piston calipers.

Eurp_0809_06_z+2003_volkswagen_jetta+infinity_subs_and_jl_audio Photo 9/15   |   Two Infinity subs and JL Audio amps sit in fiber- and plexi-glass trunk enclosure

Christina then wanted to showcase more of her skills. "Since I love doing fiberglass, we did everything!" Created in her own garage, Christina built custom door cards, a trunk enclosure and gauge pod from fiberglass. The parts were then color-matched to brighten the interior. Sparco Milano bucket seats with harnesses secure Christina and her passenger.

Not skimping on quality, she used JL Audio, Pioneer and Infinity audio components to play her music. Two JL amps power the speakers and the two 12" subs. A Pioneer AVIC-D3 head unit controls the multimedia output.

It's easy to assume these modifications were done by a shop, but Christina explained how she poured her heart and soul into her Jetta. "Approximately 90% of the work was done by myself and Minh. I like to keep my hands on everything, even the stuff I don't completely understand. The journey to create my vision has been long and hard but definitely worthwhile."

Eurp_0809_03_z+2003_volkswagen_jetta+rear_view Photo 10/15   |   2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8t - Air Tran

Tech Spec
2003 VW Jetta 1.8T
Owner: Christina Tran
Location: Cleveland, OH
Occupation: student

Engine: 1.8 liter four cylinder 20v with APR software, Eurojet front-mount intercooler with polished piping, Forge Motorsport 007 diverter valve, 2.5" Techtonics turbo-back exhaust with dual polished tips, polished 3.5" cold-air intake with K&N filter, ECS Tuning ultimate dogbone mount and race N75 valve, polished intake manifold, throttle body and valve cover, polished Neuspeed oil cap, dipstick, washer, coolant reservoir and power steering cap, polished ABD strut caps, Audi S3 shaved and color-matched reservoir cover, shaved and color-matched engine covers, fiberglass battery cover, Optima Red and Yellow Top batteries

Drivetrain: five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission

Brakes: ECS Tuning brake kit with Porsche Boxster four-piston calipers and two-piece floating 13.1"rotors, Brembo slotted and drilled rear rotors, ECS lines, Hawk HPS pads

Suspension: AirRide Technologies rear air bags, Mason-Tech front coilover strut bags, two Viair 400c air compressors, five-gallon tank, eight 3/8" SMC electric fast valves for FBSS, 3/8" air lines

Wheels & Tires: 19x7.5" front, 19x8.5" rear iForged Aero wheels with 225/35-19 Falken Azenis ST115 tires

Exterior: molded Oettinger front bumper and rear valance, Oettinger side skirts, shaved trunk emblem, hood notch, door handles, door moldings and rub strips, OE HID headlights with leveling motors and Lamin-X covers, Kamei grille and chrome mirror caps, Hella clear tail lights painted with red strips, OE blue aspherical mirrors, Sharan antenna, custom tri-coat blue paint

Eurp_0809_07_z+2003_volkswagen_jetta+interior Photo 11/15   |   Interior has plenty of painted trim

Interior: Sparco Milano seats, harnesses, brackets and sliders, custom fiberglass color-matched door cards, trunk enclosure and gauge pod, color-matched radio cage, vents, ashtray and door trim, AirRide Technologies digital air pressure gauges, seven-switch air ride controller, GLI door pins, Audi TT pedals, New Beetle Turbo S dead pedal, New South Performance dual gauge pod, Auto Meter Competition Series boost and air/fuel gauges, OE Euro rheostat and headlight switches

Audio/Visual: Pioneer AVIC-D3 navigation head unit with iPod adapter, JL Audio 1000/1 and 300/4 amps, XR650-CSi 6.5" component speakers, two 12" Infinity Kappa Perfect DVC subs

Thanks: Minh Tran, mom and dad, Concepts In Motion, Scott Mason at Mason-Tech, Vincent Wong at iForged, R.I.P. D Zaborniak

Sam Du
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