Susannah Kirstine and her boyfriend pull up to a gas station in their hometown of Toronto, Canada. The 22 year-old student steps out of her slammed GTI and walks inside to pay the cashier. While she's away, her boyfriend waits outside when an onlooker comes by to ask a question. "What offset are your wheels? Did you do all the work on your car?," the stranger says. Susannah's boyfriend replies, "I didn't do shit on the car," as he points to Susannah inside. "It's her car!"
It's a very common misconception but she takes it in good humor. "Random guys always ask my boyfriend questions. And if I post pictures online, some people think it's a guy and ask why I painted the wheels pink," she laughed.
Susannah isn't your average enthusiast. Her '01 GTI was built with her own hands - broken nails and everything. The only areas where she required assistance were the motor and tranny, or jobs that demanded extra arm strength. Otherwise, everything else was accomplished with her sweat and tears.
Susannah's passion stems from her father, a former Trans-Am racer, who got her into cars from a young age. When she was 17 it was finally her turn. "Initially I wanted an Acura RSX but it was out of my price range. The GTI was the cheapest I could get at the time and I liked the hatchback styling. This is the first car I bought and it's been a slow work-in-progress," she explained.
For the next five years, the Mk4 would be transformed from stock to superstar status. The project debuted with a set of OE wheels, suspension and an exhaust. But that would change... "I just wanted Euro-style - simple, not over-the-top," she told us. "In Canada, there are always people with body kits. I wanted something OEM+ that wasn't being done here at the time. I didn't care about speed either."
Two key elements would set Susannah's car apart: the wheels and stance. After starting with a basic Cup kit, she graduated to coilovers and finally moved up to air suspension. "When I got air-ride, it made my life a lot easier. I moved to downtown Toronto where the streets are shit.
"I sold my coilovers and put together the kit myself. People were buying kits for $3.5k but I spent under $2k putting it on my car," she explained.
Altered Altitude Customs provided the compressor, tank, eight-way adjustable valves and rear Firestone bags. Susannah then sourced Bagyard struts for the front. When all the parts were ready, she installed the kit with the help of Mike Joe in her parents' garage.
The controls were hidden in the center console, while pressure gauges were mounted inside the glovebox. Susannah opted for a system where each wheel could be raised or lowered independently. She claimed it gave the car better handling and allowed her to fine-tune the ride height.
Low enough to scrape insects off the pavement, wheels were the next priority and Susannah hit pay dirt on her third attempt. "I liked the 17" BBS RS after seeing my friend Milos Cadikovski's GTI (et 10/07)," she revealed. "I knew they were what I really wanted but people were asking $3500 for them. So I did my research and came across these ones. I sold my Rial Nogaro wheels and got the RS for only another $300."
With the intention of rebuilding them, Susannah disassembled the 17x7" fronts and 17x8" rears. She wanted to have the deepest lips, rarest center caps and most unique color possible. So she refinished the wheels herself, beginning with new lips from Racing Team Hofmann in Germany. "It took a lot of tweaking to get the wheels to fit, and I'd still like to have 3.5" lips in the back, but right now they're 3" rear and 2.5" front," she explained. This changed the widths of the wheels to 9" front and 10.5" rear.
Every bolt was individually brushed and cleaned, while the original hex center caps were swapped for flat caps, which were uncommon at the time. Then, the centers received a fresh coat of pink paint. According to Susannah, it's actually Magenta and if she had her way, the color would have been even brighter, but this was the best she could find.
The sexy rollers were fitted with 205/45 front and 215/45 rear Falken FK-452 tires, which were stretched to their limits.
Fitment was difficult, especially with the low and bagged stance, so the fenders were appropriately modified. The fronts were rolled while the rears were 'pushed out' according to the owner. "Every millimeter counted. I pushed the fenders out with a fender roller and heat gun. The body line is bent out, not pulled," she explained. Even so, the front wheels were milled an additional 4mm to sit flush.
Low, stretched and wide, Susannah had achieved her goals. But she came across some great deals on body parts, so the project continued.
The rear Euro bumper was sourced from RPI Equipped during a Canada Day sale. The used front Euro bumper and 4Motion valance were also grabbed for cheap. For a cleaner look, an FK badgeless grille and cup mirrors were added to the list. The bumper and hood notches were filled accordingly.
To finish the exterior, Susannah stripped the moldings so they were all black and textured like European cars. "At the time, I didn't see too many GTIs with black rub strips, so I did it to be different. I ended up hating it though because it was a pain in the ass sanding off the texture," she laughed.
Her Mk4 finally looked the part with its OEM+ styling with a super-aggressive stance, but a string of misfortunes forced her to upgrade the engine and tranny - two things she wasn't so concerned about.
"First gear was toast and the stock turbo was on its way out," she noted. "It was making a whistling noise, so I parked the car over the winter and saved my pennies."
Susannah discovered it was easier to buy a new tranny than fix the old one. So she obtained parts from SEM Motorsports and swapped in an O2M six-speed manual from the later Mk4. Friend Milos helped again with the install.
When replacing the turbo, a stellar deal came up on a big-turbo kit. It included a GT3071R turbo with a Ross Racing intake manifold and fuel rail, plus 630cc injectors, a new ECU and wiring harness from the later-model AWP. To remove gases, a 3'' downpipe with mechanical cut-out was connected to a 2.5'' Eurospec exhaust.
Once SEM Motorsports had installed the hardware, Unitronic then custom-tuned its latest software to provide optimal daily driving conditions.
At 19psi using 94-octance, the 1.8T threw down 301whp and 275 lb-ft. "Everybody wanted me to bump-up the boost to 23psi but I didn't want to break anything. I don't want to poke a rod through the block, so I'll wait until I get stronger rods. I also have the stock clutch, so that's another reason why I have the boost set low," she admitted.
To clean up the bay, Audi S3 engine covers were painted pink to match the wheels.
Some last minute updates were tossed into the mix, including Brembo drilled rotors, stainless lines, 20AE interior and a custom 'Funk' button in the dash, which is wired to disable the traction control.
"I built the car to be slow and low. It's nice to pass people on the highway but I don't need 600hp to do that!" she reasoned.
The GTI was Susannah's daily driver up until the winter of '08. Now she has a BMW E30 she's messing with, plus an E46 330ci Cabrio on the way. She wants to modify both BMWs in similar fashion, but also plans to overhaul the GTI in the near future. "I'm shooting for 400whp with a little bit of tweaking and rods. I also plan to pull the motor, shave the bay and change the color of the car," she confided.
For her first project car, Susannah's proved she's a heavy-hitter in the VW scene. Just don't make the mistake of thinking it's her boyfriend's car...
Engine: 1.8 liter 20v four-cylinder with GT3071R turbo, AWP ECU, Unitronic software, SEM piping, Ross Racing intake manifold and fuel rail, Siemens 630cc injectors, Walbro 255 lph fuel pump, Forge Motorsport SMIC, HKS blow-off valve, 3'' downpipe with mechanical cut-out, Eurospec 2.5'' cat-back exhaust with turn-down tip, deleted N249, N75 and SAI
Drivetrain: O2M six-speed manual, B&M short shifter
Brakes: Brembo drilled rotors, PBR pads, braided lines
Suspension: Bagyard front struts, Altered Altitude Customs Firestone rear bags with Koni shocks, 3/8-lines eight-way adjustable valve, compressor and tank, deleted front sway bar, Eurospec rear upper stress bar
Wheels & Tires: 17x9'' front and 17x10.5'' rear BBS RS wheels with 205/45 R17 front Falken ZE-512 and 215/45 R17 rear Falken FK-452 tires
Exterior: OE Euro bumpers, 4Motion front valance, Jetta GLI side skirts, FK badgeless grille, filled hood and bumper notches, textured moldings, FK mirrors, late-Mk4 headlights, flared rear fenders, rolled front fenders, Passat side markers
Interior: OE Euro headlight switch, VDO boost gauge, custom 'Funk' button, New Beetle headrests, color-matched Jetta vents, 20AE pedals, steering wheel, door handles and center console, Dakota Digital air tank pressure gauge, B&M shift knob
Audio/Visual: Kenwood head unit with Garmin GPS, Clarion component speakers, Sony Xplod amp, 10'' Alpine sub
Thanks: Katja at TMTuning, Tom and Marco at SEM, Kevin at Altered Altitude Customs, Unitronic Chipped, Randy and Kerri at the Hobby Shop, koolhaus, Knee Deep, German, Jaimie, Rob and 'white' Rob, mom, Manolo