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2003 VW GTI 20AE - Manifest Destiny

Dylan Barbone grew up dreaming of his Anniversary-edition VW GTI rather than being President!

David Putty
Dec 1, 2011
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Every American kid is told he or she can grow up to be president. That might be a potential goal, but is that really how you inspire a child these days? Who the hell wants the job anyway?

Why not tell our kids something that will truly inspire them to be everything they can be – like if they work real hard and stay in school, some day they could own an Imola yellow 20th Anniversary Edition VW GTI and build it into their dream car…

Admittedly, that might not guarantee a country full of young people capable of competing in the global economy, but for US citizens like Dylan Barbone from Nutley, NJ, that sort of encouragement helped him achieve an important goal in life and left him feeling pretty good about himself.

All kidding aside, Dylan takes his modding seriously. For proof you need only pop the böser Jetta hood on his IY20AEGTI and check out the graffiti painted on its underside that reads “manifest destiny”. As Dylan puts it, “I interpreted that to mean making my dream happen, which is what I’ve done with my car over the past two years, from owning it to modifying it exactly the way I wanted.”

When Dylan talked about modding his car his way, that’s precisely what he meant. He claimed no inspiration from any people, cars or trends. For example, not everybody digs a Jetta face on a Mk4 Golf, but Dylan does and considers it the defining aspect of the project. “The Jetta front,” he says, “from the OEM European bumper cover to the böser hood, shaved fenders and retro-fitted Jetta HID headlights, were done exactly as I wanted them; those mods set the car apart and finish off the look I had in mind from the beginning.” For good measure, the Euro Bora front skin sports an OE GLI airdam as well.

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Like most project builders, Dylan knew all the cool details swimming around in his head would mean diddly if the GTI wasn’t sitting properly on a killer set of wheels. And like most of the details for the project, Dylan looked at wheels with a big-picture mentality, choosing a set of 18x8.5" and 18x10" BBS RSII two-piece wheels.

Just because these wheels weren’t available at the time, didn’t deter Dylan or change his mind: “I waited for a set to become available and pounced on them,” he explained. Once acquired, the BBS received stretched 215/35 and 225/35 Nankang tires front and rear.

In today’s VW scene, the game can be won or lost on how a car sits on its epic wheels. More Dubheads are turning to air-ride as a way of perfecting the all-important stance equation. So Bagyard Bomber front struts and Firestone rear bags provide the hardware, with an Easy Street digital management kit providing the height control. A Viair compressor was installed to fill the five-gallon air tank.

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While air-ride is common, Dylan’s early experience can offer a humorous reminder there’s more to this stuff than throwing on a set of coilovers. “I finished the install late at night,” he told us, “so decided to take the car out for a shakedown run. Well, what I didn’t know was I’d left the rear lines too long and about four blocks from home heard the unmistakable sound of the system airing out. I made a quick turn into a WaWa lot, parked the car and had to walk home, waiting till morning to fetch the car and fix the lines!”

When working on the GTI’s exterior, Dylan didn’t stop with the Jetta front-end. Along with the new bumper, hood and fenders, he added an OEM 25AE (Euro) TDI rear valance, and Hella Magic Color smoked tail lights. He also shaved the hatch and applied Black Magic pearl paint to the B-pillars. The final touch was a couple of coats of red pearl clearcoat over the Imola yellow base.

Under the hood, the 1.8T was treated to a shaved ’n painted engine cover. It also received Audi S3 battery and coolant covers painted to match, with all the work performed by Dylan, who’s a painter by trade.

Besides its color-coordination, the 50k-mile 1.8T received tried-and-true upgrades in the form of Unitronic stage 1 software and a custom 3" turbo-back exhaust.

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Inside, the OEM Recaros got black leather bolsters and crushed velvet center sections. The rear seat was deleted in exchange for a custom hardwood floor covering the air-ride compressor and tank. For the sake of continuity, Dylan added a wooden Nardi steering wheel (not in our photos) to match the rear deck.

While satisfied with his car, Dylan’s the first to admit it’s far from complete. “As long as I own it, I’ll keep modding,” he explained. “The car will never be finished until the day it is sold. I’m always searching for the next addition, but for now driving it is my favorite thing to do.”

et Tech Spec

2003 VW GTI 20AE
Owner: Dylan Barbone
Location: Nutley, NJ
Occupation: body tech/head painter
Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder 20v turbo with Unitronic stage 1 software, custom 3" turbo-back exhaust, painted and smoothed engine cover, color-matched Audi S3 battery and coolant covers
Drivetrain: stock 6MT
Brakes: stock
Suspension: Bagyard Bomber front struts and bags, Firestone rear bags, Viair compressor, five-gallon tank, Easy Street management
Wheels & Tires: 18x8.5" front, 18x10" rear BBS RSII wheels with 215/35 R18 front, 225/35 R18 rear Nankang NS-II tires
Exterior: OE European VW Bora front bumper, rub strip and E-code headlights with Mercedes E55 bi-xenon projectors and Hella ballasts, shaved front fender markers, böser Jetta hood, JOM badgeless grille, OE GLI front airdam, OE 25AE TDI rear valance, shaved hatch, Hella Magic Color smoked tail lights, B-pillars painted Black Magic pearl, tint, relocated city lights, Thule roof rack
Interior: OE Recaro seats with shaved levers and rear pockets, upholstered in black leather and crushed velvet, rear-seat delete, custom hardwood rear deck
Thanks: family, Angelique, Dan, Flex, Nacisco, Mike, Arthur

By David Putty
12 Articles

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