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Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen R

by: Tom Cassady; photos by: Scott Chu

It’s a dilemma we’ve all had to face before. As car enthusiasts, we want a car that is sheer fun to drive, and it wouldn’t hurt if it looks good either. As, well, people, our lives don’t necessarily allow for such things to happen. Fast cars don’t usually go hand-in-hand with practically, something fast-paced lives usually demand.

Such was the case for Josh Stern. As a car guy, he’s always had the faster stuff, typically with a blue-and-white roundel on the hood. But as a lighting engineer for the movie industry in California, his “M”-prefixed cars wouldn’t make the best haulers for his largish equipment. And sure he has a moving van for his big rigs, but that’s a pain when the loads are small.

As a result, Josh decided it was time for a little change. He wanted something small and maneuverable, but with loads of room inside, and something offering better fuel economy than his van. Most important, it had to be fun. And oh yeah, don’t forget that looks part, either.

Looking overseas, as most of us do, Josh found Volkswagen’s Golf R and instantly loved its looks. There were problems though. First, the Golf R, with all its power and good looks, still isn’t quite big enough for his gear. And of course there’s that small problem that the car isn’t available in the States (and wasn’t even planned to be at that point).

Josh looked at the closest thing to the R with enough space for his stuff, a Jetta SportWagen. The car offered a lot of room for hauling, the same aesthetic lineage of the Golf R, and a TDI engine for economy and low-end torque fun. But Josh didn’t leave the aesthetic lineage to just that, he wanted his JSW to be different, and knew a call to OEMplus was in order.

A call went in to Rich Barker, owner of OEMplus, who had previously worked on Josh’s personal Audi Q7. The plan that hatched from those talks was to take the more practical and capable Jetta SportWagen, which is based on the fifth-generation Golf platform but shares the front end of the Golf 6, and make it into a Golf R Wagon. Josh couldn’t have found a better source for help, with OEMplus being a major importer of European-spec parts since 2005. Rich has all the right connections.

Straight away, Rich got on the phone to his suppliers and started sourcing all the parts needed. In the whole planning process, Josh made one thing clear — if it was on the Golf R, he wanted it on his car. The whole shebang. It was this desire, as well as Josh’s attention to detail, that would later come back to haunt Rich.

One of the big things on the Golf R is the uprated 345×30 mm front and 310×22 mm rear brakes on the car. Brakes don’t merely consist of rotor, caliper, pistons, and pads unfortunately, and in order to mount and keep these components operational, loads of additional small pieces are needed as well. One of these pieces is the anti-rattle caliper clip that holds the pad steady and, in turn, quiet. There are three part numbers for the piece — one blank, one with the Audi TTS logo, and one with the R logo — but the piece was also in extremely high demand, with even European dealership parts counters on the waiting list to get stock. As a result, Rich had to wait three months before he was able to source a pair. Then he had to have Autotech build a custom set of stainless brake lines. Attention to detail has both positives and negatives.

Sourcing parts wasn’t the most difficult part either, as you’d imagine. Having the largest pile of correct parts in the world doesn’t change the fact that this project is mating parts from one car to the structure of a whole different one. This couldn’t be truer than in the case of the front fenders. As mentioned before, while the front end of the Jetta SportWagen may look like a MkVI Golf, it is in fact largely made of MKV parts, including the front fenders, a part the bumper would absolutely have to match. Again, making things perfect proves to be far from easy.

Along the perimeter of the wheel arch, there’s a flat surface that starts at the edge and works its way into the panel. On the MkV fenders then mounted to the car, that depth was somewhere around one and 3/8ths inches, while on the MkVI bumper the measurement is closer to two inches. Rich thought the fix would be simple enough, and ordered up a set of MkVI fenders to mount to the car. But while it worked really well around the wheel apertures, the fender wasn’t even close to lining up by the A-pillar.

Something needed to be done, and that’s where OEMplus’ fabrication shop came in handy. What the crew at OEMplus did was take the front third of the MkVI fender and graft it into the rear two-thirds of the existing fenders. This ensured a perfect fit at all corners and a perfect transition into the Golf R bumper.

From there, it was all relatively smooth sailing because the Votex side skirts and rear valence were made specifically for the SportWagen, There was a still a bit of minor fit-work needed, but “that’s to be expected for aftermarket, even Votex, stuff,” Rich says.

With the main work done, paint was next and the ever-classy Candy White was given the nod. OEMplus also painted the side mirrors, antenna, and window trim in contrasting black to break up the lines a bit.

For the finishing touches, Rich turned to Hartmann Wheels, who shipped over the first Volkswagen-fitment set of its HRS6 – 204 wheels. They look great mounted at the bottom of a set of KW Variant2 coilovers with just the right stance.

Taking a look at the car now in its completed form, it’s easy to see that Rich and Josh hit the nail on the head. The car may be a wagon, able to swallow up whatever Josh may throw at it, but it now has a look to back up its Neuspeed-chipped TDI torque wave. It looks unlike anything else on the road, and we think it strikes the perfect balance of fast car and fast life.

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