How VW goes custom

Building an enthusiast fleet takes an eye for the extraordinary

With car-show season in full swing, Volkswagen puts its creativity on display around the country with the 2016 Enthusiast Fleet—a set of five cars showcasing the breadth of styles possible with minimal changes to vehicles straight off the showroom floor.

Having one of the largest and most fervent fan bases among enthusiasts puts a lot of pressure on Volkswagen of America’s own experts to create looks that connect with that passion while inspiring new ideas. Sean Maynard, Consumer Events Coordinator, Experiential Marketing, Volkswagen of America Inc. (VWoA) walks us through the thought process behind creating each one of these unique vehicles.

Sean Maynard: I started at Volkswagen when I was 20 years old, and while I haven’t quite reached a time where the majority of my life has been spent at the company, I’m nearing the inflection point where I’ll have spent more time working here than not. That kind of commitment wouldn’t come without a deep love for the brand and its heritage. It’s an honor to bring a new set of show cars to our fans around the country this year, and we do our best to create something special with each car that inspires our enthusiasts.

When VWoA first started attending Waterfest in 2004 or 2005, a few of our team members showed up with a Eurovan and a few tents, handing out t-shirts to attendees who had brought their cars to show. To think that the big enthusiast events we go to now with tens of thousands of participants began as self-organized gatherings in parking lots or fields, borne solely out of a love of VW cars is absolutely amazing, and we feel the need to live up to this passion in the cars and setups we bring to the shows where we participate.

We used to build a one-off show car or two about every other year, and while they looked spectacular, they did not reflect what the average enthusiast can do from a budget or time point of view. Since then, we’ve moved to sort of simple customizations that still totally change the aesthetic of already great looking cars.

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Golf 1.8T

This Golf 1.8T is based on the MK 1 Golf which is pretty prolific in the enthusiast scene. The MK1 comes in many different formats, but they often arrive on coilovers with BBS RS wheels. We mimicked that treatment and also decided to find a heritage color to complete the look. We were inspired by the original Bali Green color—and although it’s difficult to match a custom wrap print to a paint color, we thought that something heritage-minded was cool. We finished the car with amber headlight tint—to achieve a more European look—and a black heritage stripe on the doorsills. It’s nice to pay tribute to such a popular heritage car, dressing up a brand new model in those old style trappings. A few well-thought-out customizations can totally change a car’s character.

GLI Custom GLI

The GLI is a real sleeper in Volkswagen’s lineup, and we reflected that with simple visual modifications to the car in our Enthusiast Fleet. The GLI we have comes in its stock Tornado Red paint, but we’ve placed a matte black wrap on the roof and heritage stripe on the doorsills. Beyond the visual customizations, we’ve shown the full capabilities of the GLI as a dual-use daily driver and track car with the ability to carry a second set of wheels/tires and everything you’d need to swap them with your stock set after you arrive at the track. The car will be shown in its track configuration, with lightweight Neuspeed RSe52 wheels clad in BFGoodrich g-Force Rival tires.

Purple GTI

GTI

The inspiration for this GTI was a photo we saw of a gloss purple MK 7 in the showroom of a Dubai Volkswagen dealership. We loved the look of the car—one of our colleague’s favorite colors is purple—and we decided to take it further, finding a matte purple film from 3M to use on the car. We worked with Vossen to find a wheel that’s somewhat reminiscent of something we offered on the MK 5 and 6—the Detroit. We finished this car off with a Volkswagen Accessories carrier box, which is an integral accessory for many enthusiasts, with a complimentary stripe on both the car and the box, matching the gold of the wheels.

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Golf R

This Golf R was based on a package from Germany and the UK on the Scirocco, called the Black Edition. The black roof, mirror caps, and either Lugano or Interlagos wheels that with the package translate really well to the Golf R. This is another vehicle in the lineup that doesn’t call for major modifications; enthusiasts who own these cars usually keep their Golf R models stock aside from minor performance wheel and suspension packages, so we matched that trend by keeping our customizations small. Black mirror caps already come standard, so we added the roof wrap, a set of 19-inch Lugano wheels, and an H&R coilover package.

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Passat

The Passat was a special project. We knew that we wanted to do something dynamic for this car, highlighting the facelift from last year, giving it a more aggressive appearance. To achieve this special look, we teamed with Vossen wheels, Accuair Air Management Systems, and Boden Autohaus, a fabricator in Costa Mesa, Calif. As we were going through the palette of wrap offerings, this satin shade jumped off the book, and that really laid the groundwork for the car. The project came together very quickly, about a 4-week build. The wrap installation alone is remarkable—the most detailed job I’ve ever seen on one of our cars. Boden did the door jambs, trunk lid, and so on, covering almost everything that was painted white with the Satin Ocean Shimmer wrap. People don’t believe it’s a wrap when they first see it, and when you tell them it’s not a paint job a whole lot of opinions on wraps change. The air management system is something that was new to us, but it was something we wanted to explore. Putting this car as low to the ground as possible makes it look very aggressive. When I first saw the Vossen 20-inch wheel, I wasn’t sure how it was going to fit, but once it went on the car it looked stunning, complimenting all the brightwork and chrome trim on the car—it almost looks like the car was built that way originally.

This Passat was a true labor of love for several people, and I think that shows in the final product. It was nominated as one of the Top 50 at the European Experience enthusiast event where it debuted. That’s a first for one of our cars, and to have built a car to the level where our enthusiasts and judges at these events hold it in such high esteem—with all the amazing cars people brought to that event—was something very special for us.

We’re already happy with the feedback we’ve received on all our show cars and it’s so gratifying to see fans stop to take a close look at what we’ve created. It’s also great to see phones come out for photos and the nice comments we get about the cars on social media. We know our enthusiasts serve as the strongest advocates for our brand, so giving them something to talk about is really our goal. We’ll be checking out fan vehicles at every enthusiast event we travel to over the next five months and are already thinking about what we want to build for 2017.

The Volkswagen Enthusiast Fleet will be making stops at events around the country. To catch a glimpse of these cars in person, visit one of the following enthusiast shows:

Fastivus: Fontana, CA — Aug. 13-14
H2O International: Ocean City, MD — Oct. 1-2
NOLA Speed and Style: Westwego, LA — Oct. 8-9

Car appearances subject to availability.