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2004 Volkswagen R32 - Low Life

From garage project to heavy hitter, this VW R32 isn't only slammed on air ride but turbocharged to 500whp

Apr 1, 2009
Photographer: Kris Clewell
Eurp_0904_01_z+2004_vw_r32+front_view Photo 1/2   |   2004 Volkswagen R32 - Low Life

When Jeff Jacobson from Minneapolis, MN contacted us about his '04 VW R32, he wanted to tell us about his "simple but effective" project car. We followed it for months in Garage Projects (starting et 3/08) as he experienced his share of challenging installs and amazing spurts of activity. And today, it's finally done; although it's come far from Jeff's "simple but effective" adage.

Custom air-ride, turbocharged, built motor, shaved body, rollcage, Porsche wheels, big brakes... Do we need to say more? Jeff's car is a heavy hitter in the Mk4 scene and he did it with taste, style and performance.

To celebrate his success, he's organized an elite group of VW and Audi enthusiasts from online forums. "America is doing air ride all at once and I just started a little crew called low.life.society," he explained. With more members popping up in different states, don't be surprised to see more features from fellow club members.

On a day-to-day basis, the 32 year-old builds custom aquariums for a living - the kind of big installations you see on MTV Cribs and in ultra-modern office buildings - but he enjoys Volkswagens on the side.

When he was 18, Jeff picked up his first VW project car, a '91 GTI 16v, and modified it past the typical limit of a hard-working teenager. His passion has survived and when the time came to replace his wife's car, little did he know it was the beginning of a new chapter in his "low life".

"I was definitely into cars like BMWs but stuck with Volkswagen because the R32 was my dream VW. I had two Jettas in a row and was itching to get a hatchback. When my wife's car failed I gave her my GLI and bought a used R32 with low miles."

Like the majority of new project cars, Jeff swore HIDs and coilovers were the only mods he'd do, but that didn't last long.

Eurp_0904_02_z+2004_vw_r32+rear_left_view Photo 2/2   |   2004 Volkswagen R32 - Low Life

"I have always looked overseas for my inspiration. A lot of R32s in the states were geared to the track but I wanted a street car

I could also show," he explained.

Tuned And Turboed"Should I turbo or go fully-fledged naturally aspirated?" was the most difficult decision Jeff faced during the entire build. So after equipping the Mk4 with bolt-on performance from software, to cams and intake, his desire for more would defeat his conservative side. As it happens, Chris Collier at C2 Motorsports was finalizing his turbo kits for the 3.2 VR6 24v and shipped Jeff one of the first to Further Performance, where the R32 would spend the next couple of days on the lift.

To handle the boost, the compression was lowered from 11.3:1 to 9.0:1 with a spacer. More hardware was added, such as a 3" free-flow exhaust, turbo manifold, Tial wastegate, fuel kit and Snow Performance water/meth injection. For the stage one turbo upgrade, C2 included a Precision PT35R turbocharger with a .59AR hot side. The nimble turbine wheel would grant the 3.2L linear power without excessive lag.

Tuned at 20psi, Jeff drove the car with 350whp, but quickly learned more power brings responsibility. In a short moment, his stock clutch disintegrated, and was replaced by a Southbend OFE SS clutch and a resurfaced flywheel.

"I reached a massive horsepower number but decided to upgrade again," he announced. Like a true power freak, he phoned C2 again and found a new turbo on his doorstep. This one had a larger hot side of .81AR. Beefier 580cc injectors also arrived, along with a front-mount intercooler with custom end-tanks to fit Jeff's Euro bumper.

The vehicle's computer was reprogrammed and upon its return the R32 was ready to rumble. Or so Jeff thought. "We had a mishap when a boost hose melted," he revealed. "This let the turbo go full bore, bending some of my stock internals. At that point, the whole motor had to be rebuilt."

Instead of reusing the head spacer, forged 9:1 JE pistons were installed with Wossner rods and Topline bearings. "With forged internals, the motor is nearly impossible to break now," he proclaimed.

After tuning the air and fuel pressure, ignition, boost and other variables using a VAG-Com and Lemmingwinks software, Jeff maximized performance to just over 500whp at 21psi.

"There's a little more lag than stage one, but it pushes a load more air and it's a night and day difference. We could now break all four wheels loose," Jeff confirmed.

Before he was done, some bling was added to woo the show crowd. He polished the intake and intercooler pipes, scattering billet aluminum caps throughout. The stock engine cover and Audi S3 side cover were painted Platinum grey for a subtle contrast with the stock silver.

Low Lifestyle
500whp in an R32 was enough horsepower to give a Porsche GT2 a run for its money, but Jeff's Mk4 still needed some swagger. So he sought inspiration from European enthusiasts, and tried his luck with air ride suspension.

After several conversations with Eurojet Racing, the Arizona-based specialist imported an HPS air ride kit from Sweden.

Once the kit arrived, Jeff and good friend John Nichol commenced on the install. "We didn't have instructions so had to wing it," he told us.

The duo started with the hatch first. They fabricated a raised floor to house the valves, compressors, tank and lines. The new floor hid most of the tank, making it look stealthy and reducing the noise of the compressor. "You can still use the hatch everyday," Jeff confirmed.

To continue the earlier theme, Jeff purchased an additional aluminum tank which he polished by hand.

The front struts and bags were a breeze to install, but the rears posed problems. The components came with Firestone bags but without mounting brackets. So Jeff drilled through the control arms and ground off the spring perches to install the bags. In hindsight, this improved the setup since the bags were secure and not sitting on anything.

For the air lines, Jeff used 0.5" gauge hose, allowing him to set the speed of the suspension movement. To control everything, they wired in an Easystreet Autopilot air management system. "It's an amazing controller. I can individually move each corner or move the car side to side, front to back."

The controller didn't involve separate switches either, because the unit was completely digital. There's even an autopilot function, hence the name. "Autopilot allows me to set a certain pressure at all times. No matter how hard I'm cornering, it won't pull air from bag to bag. I can set it at the height I want and maintain the psi through any corner."

In order to slam the Mk4, he swapped the rear Firestone bags with single-bellow Air House II bags. This set the car 1" lower in the rear, matching the front.

On 19" wheels, the edge of each fender is 21.5" off the ground. "It's as low as it can go. Air ride was the best thing I've done. It handles amazingly and I can clear bumps by hitting a couple of buttons."

Euro Cool
The air ride was only the beginning of Jeff's hardcore Euro rubdown. The wheels and body were next and it started with a Porsche wheel setup broadly used overseas. Jeff embraced the trend but was stopped in his tracks by the mesh design from Porsche tuner Champion Motorsport. Weighing only 19 lb each, Champion made Jeff an offer he couldn't refuse for a set of 19x8" RG5B wheels. "The forged wheels were super-strong and light. It was a dream wheel for the car."

Intended for a Porsche, Jeff used 25mm front and 35mm rear H&R adapters to mate the wheels to his hubs. The 215/35-19 Falken tires have a mild stretch, as expected.

Behind the front wheels lie meaty 13" slotted rotors and four-piston Brembo calipers.

The chassis was complete, but the body posed an additional challenge. "I wanted to keep it smooth and simple - almost stock but with subtle differences," he said.

To start the madness, a European R32 bumper was shipped over, being stubbier gave the R32 a tighter look, plus it had headlight washers.

With the help of good friend Shane Miller, Jeff removed the emblems, requiring the front bumper, hood notch and hatch to be filled. A mild bser hood extension and subtle hatch handle delete was the icing on the cake.

"Our bodywork was pretty bumpy and heat warped, but we took the car to Autowerks where they smoothed and painted everything. It looks unreal!"

The tail lights would be another highlight. "I wanted a set nobody had. So I looked on message boards across Great Britain and found these M3-style lights. I debuted them at a show and people were in awe." Like many of Jeff's parts, he bought them overseas so it would be hard to replicate the look.

Nearly out of breath, the interior came last and Jeff admitted its modest in comparison. The only modifications come from a bolt-on Audi TT shifter and boot, Pioneer touchscreen, plus a New South Performance gauge kit to monitor boost. A four-point Auto Power roll-bar completes the cabin, giving the chassis added rigidity.

For now, the project has slowed as Jeff's been concentrating on the wife and kids. But rest assured, he'll be back with more to show the Mk4 world, including an interior transformation and color change.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the low.life.society

Tech Spec2004 VW R32

Owner: Jeff JacobsonLocation: Minneapolis, MNOccupation: aquarium builder and installer

Engine: 3.2 liter VR6 24v with forged 9:1 JE pistons, forged Wossner rods, Topline bearings, stage 2 C2.500 turbo kit and software, Precision PT35R turbo .81 AR, 580cc injectors, 38mm Tial wastegate, Forge diverter valve, custom C2 intercooler, stainless steel tubular header, stainless steel 3" downpipe, mid-pipe and high-flow cat with V-bands, stainless steel intake pipe, "Bat" 4"stainless steel intake with polished MAF, Snow Performance stage 2 water/meth kit, VF mounts, painted Audi S3 and R32 engine covers, polished billet caps

Drivetrain: six-speed manual transmission with SouthBend OFE SS clutch

Brakes: four-piston Brembo calipers with 332mm cryogenic slotted rotors

Suspension: HPS front struts and air bags, Air House II single-bellow rear bags with Koni yellow shocks, Easystreet Auto-pilot digital air management system, five-gallon polished air tank, Viair 480cc compressor, 0.5" air-line with polished mini-ball valves for flow control, Easystreet digital controller, SMC water trap, Yarrowsport rear stress bar

Wheels & Tires: 19x8" Champion Motorsport RG5B wheels ET46 with 25mm front, 35mm rear 5x130 to 5x100 adapters, 215/35-19 Falken FK-452 tires

Exterior: shaved Euro R front bumper and hood notch, Bonrath badgeless grille, Helix OEM HID replicas with 6000K drop-in HID kit, welded and molded mild bser hood, shaved hatch, M3-style tail lights and wipers deleted

Interior: Pioneer AVIC D-3 head unit, Audi TT shifter and boot, New South Performance boost gauge, AutoPower Street roll-bar, custom air-ride hatch set-up

Thanks: wife Nikki and family Ava, Sage and Jada, John Nichol, Tristan Henderson, Peter and crew at Further Performance, Chris Collier and Jeff Atwood at C2 Motorsports (www.c2motorsports.net), Mike Olson, Joel at Eurojet, Mike at MCPI, Russ at Raderwerks, Scott and crew at Autoworks, Kevin at AAC, Kris and gang at Eurowerks, Matt at Middle Path Productions, Grounded Crew UK, Low.Life.Society crew, Bar Society

Sam Du
By
813 Articles

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