Every passionate car builder has a goal. He doesn't simply buy random parts and bolt them to the car hoping it looks good or makes power. These individuals spend countless hours researching and daydreaming different scenarios in their head. They collect influences from the clothes they wear to different car cultures and then construct something unique. So when the car's finished years later, there should be a breathtaking vehicle, in which all the hard work and fine detail leave you awestruck.
Steven Ilagan from Los Angeles shared this level of passion as he meticulously sculpted his '03 VW GTI VR6. His story begins in '01 as a high school student. "I got into Volkswagens when I saw The Fast & Furious," he laughed. "I knew I wanted a VW after I saw the Jetta in the movie, but went with the GTI because I always preferred the hatchback over sedans and coupes."
The tacky movie featured a plethora of riced-out cars, which included a white Mk3 Jetta 2.0 on nitrous with a Wings West body kit and missile graphics. Thank the Lord, Steven didn't adhere strictly to the movie monstrosity, but used the on-screen Jetta as motivation to be different from all his Honda-owning buddies. So in '03, he acquired the keys to his first VW and he commenced a six-year adventure.
For the first five years, the Mk4 remained Steven's daily driver. He added mild mods such as H&R Sport springs, ASA wheels and window tint.
It wasn't anything crazy, but that changed in '08 when Steven reached a crossroads. Having two very expensive hobbies, he reasoned to drop one. "I used to collect sneakers but I decided to quit one hobby and concentrate on the other, so I sold my entire sneaker collection. There were more than 90 pairs of shoes. I dumped the money I made into the car because I wanted to be a heavy-hitter with a showstopper," he explained.
From these photos, you can detect inspiration from some of the most hardcore Euros around the world. Interestingly, he told us his biggest influence was the Japanese tuning scene. "A lot of my friends were into imports," he said. "I admired how they'd theme their car from the engine bay to exterior a+nd interior. So I started to think what would be a good theme for me...
"I always loved plaid, especially lumberjack patterns. It's on hats, clothes, scarves and even shoes. And I remember Notorious BIG's song Juicy where he sang, 'Way back, when I had the red and black lumberjack, with the hat to match.' In my head I knew lumberjack was cool, so I started picturing everything in my head. I started putting things together and wanted to make the car like a lumberjack - people in the woods, chopping down trees!"
Steven wasn't about to be a Paul Bunyan and cut his car into pieces, but drew inspiration from the clothes and colors lumberjacks typically wear. He started with the red and black lumberjack pattern - reupholstering the headliner and pillars in plaid thanks to Joe's Modern Upholstery in El Monte, CA.
The owner stocked up on extra material because he hadn't finalized his strategy. But the pieces of the puzzle came together once he could visualize the lumberjack theme. All the missing parts would be imported or rebuilt, so when spring '09 came around, the GTI was ready for the show season.
For the exterior, Steven contacted TMTuning, which imported several OEM parts from Germany including Euro bumpers, stubby mirrors, tail- and headlights, side skirts and 25th Anniversary valances.
"I wanted to make sure everything was original. Nothing replica," he told us. "It was one of the reasons why I sold my kicks, because I wanted the fit and finish to be flawless."
The body parts were shipped to Unity Autobody in Covina, CA where the chosen bodyshop shaved the antenna, markers and hatch on the GTI. The hood and bumper notches were filled and smoothed to fit a Bonrath badgeless grille.
Once the bodywork was done, it was time to choose a color. Steven knew he couldn't keep it black, so opted for brown to follow his theme. "You see black, red, white and blue, but you never really see brown," the owner explained. "But there was BMW brown, Honda brown, Infinity brown and more. In the end I went with Porsche Macadamia metallic because it was the perfect shade."
While the car was under the knife, Steven looked for wheels. "I wanted BBS RS - they're the holy grail of wheels if you own a VW," he smiled.
He picked up a used set of 17x8" front and 17x9" rears from RB Motorsports in City of Industry, CA. "I wanted them wider because the Mk4s have a big ass. I wanted a good stance with a hella-flush look," he explained. So Steven ordered wider polished lips, chrome bolts plus flat BBS center caps from JustMatz in the UK. The new lips measured 1.5" in the front and 2" in the rear, increasing the width of each wheel by 1".
He then visited The Wheel Supply (TWS) in Walnut, CA to have the wheels assembled and change the color of the centers. "I wanted more color so they would pop," he rationalized. Dipping the centers in gold was his first idea, but that would be too expensive so he did the next best thing - gold chrome. TWS chromed the faces, then applied a gold clearcoat. Finally, 205/45 and 215/45 R17 Falken Ziex 912 tires were appropriately stretched around the rims.
The GTI was reassembled in time for Wüstefest (et 11/09) - the first major West Coast show of '09 - where it deservedly picked up the people's choice Best VW award. Although recognized for his flawless modifications, Steven wasn't done. The car was back in the workshop directly after so Genesis Autosport in Rancho Cucamonga, CA could install an Autopower rollcage. "It was black but I wanted to turn necks, so was thinking about gold again but was worried it wouldn't match the wheels. So I chromed it. But that was a hassle because no shop had a tank big enough to dip the cage," he recalled.
After visiting three shops, TWS offered to chrome the cage along with the Yarrowsport rear strut bar to match.
For the interior, Steven ordered Recaro Pole Position seats from Genesis. Luckily, he'd saved extra lumberjack material, so reupholstered the seat centers to match.
From there, Steven uncovered a rare Nardi wood steering wheel to complement his theme, and the gold spokes even matched his BBS to a tee. A 25AE shift knob and e-brake handle completed the interior.
Almost every aspect of the Mk4 was madeover, except the stance. So Steven swapped his springs for affordable V-Maxx coilovers. "They're cheap but they go low and I wanted the stance. Because if the stance is good, some people don't even care what it's on," he said.
In a mad rush before Dubfest Los Angeles, the last show of the year, Steven ached to work under the hood. "My import friend does wire tucks and shaved bays as a side jobs, so he did a wire tuck on my car," he told us.
The battery was relocated to the trunk, while the coolant and power steering reservoirs were tucked under the chassis. Steven ditched anything else he could, even hiding the plug wires under the intake manifold.
To show off the VR6 24v, Steven opted to remove the engine cover and painted the intake manifold black to match the original color of the engine bay.
As for performance, the owner kept it simple. The tuning options aren't as numerous as with the 1.8T, plus Steven focused on making a showstopper, not a racecar. So the basic add-ons were installed, including a Neuspeed intake, Milltek exhaust and GIAC software. Steven credited Genesis for all his maintenance and bolt-on work.
"I pretty much grew up with this car. I got it when I was in high school and even had it impounded because I got in trouble street racing. I lost my license for a month. This is like my childhood car," Steven concluded.
After several years driving the GTI and a year rebuilding it with a lumberjack theme, the GTI can undoubtedly hang with the heavy-hitting Mk4s in the VW scene. Now that's what brown can do for you...
Tech Spec 2003 VW GTI
Owner: Steven Llagan
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: customer service rep
Engine: 2.8-liter VR6 24v with Neuspeed P-Flo intake, 2.5" Milltek cat-back exhaust, GIAC software, wire-tucked engine bay
Drivetrain: six-speed manual
Suspension: V-Maxx coilovers, chromed Autopower four-point rollcage and Yarrow Sport rear stress bar
Wheels & Tires: 17x9" front, 17x10" rear BBS RS wheels with polished lips, gold faces, chrome bolts and flat caps, 205/45 front, 215/45 R17 rear Falken Ziex 912 tires
Exterior: OE Euro bumpers, R32 tail lights and stubby mirrors, 25AE valances, side skirts and headlights, Bonrath badgeless grille and mono-wiper conversion, shaved hatch, antenna and fenders, car painted Porsche Macadamia metallic
Interior: Recaro Pole Position seats and sliders, Lumberjack plaid headliner, pillars, armrest and seat centers, Nardi wood steering wheel with NRG quick-release hub, OE 25AE shift knob, boot and e-brake handle
Thanks: Mary, friends and family, Genesis Autosport, Unity Autobody, Joe's Modern Upholstery, Just Matz, The Wheel Supply, Jaypee Bays