There's a new definition to the word - low. It used to signify vehicles with slammed suspension, whether it was springs or coilovers. While some of these cars were extreme, they maintained a ride height for everyday (or at least occasional) driving. But in the past couple of years the classification of low has evolved following the adoption of first hydraulic and now air suspension into the Euro scene.
Introduced in the '50s by automobile manufacturers like Cadillac, air suspension improved ride comfort for cars traveling long distances. In the '80s and '90s, the mini-truck and street rod scene repeatedly used air suspension (also called air-ride or airbags) to drop their vehicles to the floor. Air-ride was also beneficial because a car could rise to avoid speed bumps or giant curbs at the flick of a switch.
Today, many Euro enthusiasts have embraced air-ride. It's become a common instrument for project builders across North America, including Clinton Franklin from Cameron Park, CA. He's a prime example of somebody who's taken his project a step further by not only bagging his '03 Jetta GLI but also adding a 300whp supercharger.
The 24 year-old masonry contractor is a newbie to the Euro scene. "My first car was a '65 Mustang, then I had a bagged Chevy Silverado," he said.
"During a spell of boredom I stopped at a dealership to waste some time," he told us. "First I drove a 1.8T GTI but it wasn't really what I wanted. Then I tested the VR6 24v and ended up signing paperwork at midnight."
After two weeks, Clinton became a regular in the VW scene. He loved the family-oriented atmosphere. "Everybody is friends and there are guys across the country I talk to all the time," he revealed.
Clinton didn't waste time and threw on a set of wheels, exhaust and H&R coilovers. Then he rekindled his passion for air-ride. "I wanted bags but hated the experience I had with my Silverado. I got screwed by different shops, so did all the work myself this time," he explained.
Clinton contacted Andrew Marsteller at Open Road Tuning, the North American distributor for Bagyard AirRide equipment from Austria. In all airbag systems, the load capacity and ride height was dictated by the amount of pressure in the airbag. Bagyard used Bilstein struts and shocks to give a constant damper rate for everyday use. To drop the fronts more, Clinton had the struts shortened. Each corner then needed eight valves, but Clinton used one Universal Air manifold per corner to minimize plumbing. Each manifold would allow all four corners to move independently. To generate air, he hid two 480cc compressors in the trunk along with a five-gallon air storage tank. The lines used were thick to expedite faster air flow, with 3/8'' lines in the front and 1/4'' for the rear.
Air suspension can go as low as you want but most cars are limited by the stock components. In this case, Clinton notched the frame rail so all four axles wouldn't hit the body. He also made notches for the tie rods. "It took ten hours trying to get it low," he told us. "I even had to knock-in some of the inner fender to clear the wheels. So now there's 0.25" before hitting the ground."
Using an AVS Billet switch box, Clinton could adjust the airbags numerous ways. Each corner can be adjusted to a certain height or equally. The pressure of each airbag was monitored via an FBI digital air gauge, cleverly installed in the driver-side air vent.
Clinton had completed some solid groundwork on his project. The exterior styling followed but being his first VW it didn't come naturally. So he went through several stages before reaching today's look.
The front-end started with a Rieger valance, then a GLI lip. But Clinton fell in love with the replacement Votex bumper. Having found one secondhand at a good price, he shaved the markers and lower swage lines with the help of friend Alex Skumatov. He then added a badgeless grille and painted it black, along with the lower grille and center bumper section for an intimidating face. And don't forget those evil eyes thanks to the böser hood.
The Votex side skirts and rear bumper complemented the package, along with a shaved Euro trunk. Clinton credits local bodyshop Carter Brothers for the flawless paint. Smoked lights, a black roof and stubby Euro mirrors balance the black 'n silver theme.
Having achieved the perfect Reflex-silver body, the next step was wheels. "My previous two sets were black with polished lips," he explained, "but I wanted to change it up so tried swapping the colors to see if I liked it.
So the DPE R16s were given body-color centers and black lips. They turned out good when they showed up at my house."
The 19'' wheels came staggered with 8.5'' front and 10'' rear widths matched to Toyo T1R tires.
Behind the front rollers were 12.3'' slotted Brembo rotors. Clinton retrofitted Boxster S calipers using brackets from Neuspeed. The rears were upgraded to 10'' rotors from the '05 GLI. Paying attention to the details, the rear calipers were smoothed and painted red to match the Porsche ones.
Clinton intended the Mk4 to be both a daily driver and weekend show car so he planned to leave the engine and drivetrain alone. That was until an accident: "My axle came off and punched a whole in the tranny. At that point, I had to buy a new tranny so got a six-speed manual," he told us. He then took the opportunity to fit a Peloquin limited-slip and stage two clutch from EIP Tuning.
The tranny was capable of handling more power and at a local gathering of force-fed cars he was interested by all the turbos and superchargers. "I went home and got a VF supercharger!" he laughed.
After finding a used kit online, Clinton installed the stage two system in his garage with the Vortech blower, aluminum bracket and piping, Bosch bypass valve, injectors, fuel pump and front-mount intercooler. GIAC supplied the software to increase the rev limiter and fuel the 8psi boost. With a Techtonics cat-back exhaust added, the 24v produced around 300whp.
To tidy the engine bay, the intake manifold was painted black and Clinton deleted the washer reservoir: "I never use it anyway," he explained. "I don't even have wipers on my car!" Billet oil and coolant caps finished off the job nicely.
Since Clinton must regularly attend construction sites for work, he's sidelined the Jetta and made it a weekend car. But he's not finished with the project. More bodywork is planned, including pulled fenders, shaved rub strips and filled door handles. Water/methanol injection will also be added.
As his first VW, Clinton's got the right mix of power, appearance and stance. Undoubtedly more bagged Euros will follow a similar tuning regimen as this VW newbie.
2003 VW Jetta GLI
Owner: Clinton Franklin
Location: Cameron Park, CA
Occupation: masonry contractor
Engine: 2.8 liter VR6 24v with VF-Engineering stage two supercharger, high flow injectors, fuel pump, 4-bar FPR, front-mount intercooler, Techtonics Tuning 2.5'' stainless cat-back exhaust with Borla muffler, Stratmosphere billet oil and coolant caps, gloss black intake manifold
Drivetrain: six-speed manual with Peloquin limited-slip diff, EIP stage two clutch, 8.25 lb lightened flywheel, short shifter and dog-bone trans mount
Brakes: 12.3'' front Brembo slotted rotors with Porsche Boxster S calipers, 10'' rear '05 GLI brakes, stainless lines
Suspension: Bagyard air ride with shortened front struts, five-gallon aluminum air tank, dual Viair 480cc chrome compressors, Universal Air manifolds, 3/8'' front and 1/4'' rear air lines, continuous-duty solenoid, Neuspeed rear sway bar and front strut bar, polyurethane control arm bushings, trimmed subframe, notched frame rail, deleted front sway bar, Mason-Tech Great plates
Wheels & Tires: 19x8.5'' front, 19x10'' rear DPE R16 wheels with Reflex silver centers and black lips, H&R 5mm front spacers, 225/35 R19 front, 255/30 R19 rear Toyo T1R tires
Exterior: Votex bumpers and side skirts, shaved markers and lower body line, painted lower grilles, Hofele badgeless grille '05 GLI headlights with smoked Lamin-X, böser hood, shaved fenders and antenna, black OE Euro stubby mirrors and roof, OE Euro trunk with shaved emblem and swage line, Hella smoked tail lights, tint
Interior: '05 GLI Recaro seats and brushed aluminum trim, black headliner, black interior swap, R32 pedals, 42DD dual-gauge A-pillar pods and triple gauge holder, Stewart Warner boost, air/fuel, volt, oil pressure and oil temp gauges, FBI brushed digital air gauge, AVS billet aluminum seven-switch box, Black Forest Industries C-pillar bar, '98 Passat mirror switch, Euro headlight switch, black W8 console, OE lower dash trim with switch pod
Audio/Visual: JVC KD-LHX550 head unit, Alpine V12 MRD-m1005 amp and 10'' Type R sub, Fat Mat sound deadener
Thanks: Alex Skumatov, Andrew Marsteller at Open Road Tuning, Bagyard, Rob at SGR, Manu Gill at DPEngineering, Mike at FBI, Landon C, Ricky S, Shawn W, Heath T and wife Cambria