Mike Pitman says he likes to build his cars fast, and he likes to build ‘em custom, too. His VW Jetta here is the latest in a long line of out-the-box builds that has earned the title of a Pitman car.
Show of hands, how many people were introduced to the world of modified VeeDubs by an older sibling? Okay, so how many of you were introduced to this crazy little corner of car culture we call home by an older sister? Not so many hands now we’re sure.
Mike Pitman, owner of this here car, would have kept his hands up throughout our opening paragraph, for he was brought in to the world of modified VWs by his older sister, Christine Pitman. The year was 1995 and Christine had a ’91 Mk2 G60 turbo, which as you can probably imagine, left quite an impression on younger brother Mike. “My fondest memories were watching my sister winning trophies and races in her yellow GTI. Nothing beat watching guys get second best to a girl and I have been a VW enthusiast ever since,” said Mike, smiling. “I was fresh out of High School in the year 2000 and I owned a ’86 Golf which I dreamt of getting in PVW back in the day,” he added.
Over the 18 years since our Mike here has been, as he puts it, ‘the proud and frustrated’ owner of a number of modified VWs including a fully built Mk2, a track-prepped Corrado, a wide-body Mk4 with a couple of Mk3s thrown into the mix for good measure. “At times I regret selling some of them because I’ve always done all the work on the cars myself, you know?” Mike explained. “I guess you could say I’m known around here for building out of the box custom-type cars and building them fast, earning them the title of a ‘Pitman Car’,” he continued. “I’ve still got my Mk2 Jetta too, aka Bamboozled. She’s a completely shaved Coupe, with bamboo wood floors, a VR6 with NOS and a custom orange paint job. I also taught my wife Tifni to drive stick in her first Mk3, she’s now got a Mk4 Jetta GLI with a custom interior, a full Bora kit by Optiwerks and a repaint, too.
With such a varied car history, what was it that drew Mike to building a Mk3 Jetta? “I’ve had multiple Mk2 Jettas and of course my wide-body Mk4, so I figured the Mk3 was the best of both worlds. It’s got the raw driveability of the Mk2 with the comfort of a Mk4, but above all I just like the body lines of the Mk3 Jetta.”
At the time, Mike had already started to get his teeth in to a different Mk3 project car. A good friend, Steve Swigart, got in touch and said he was selling his ‘Coppertone’ Jetta. “Usually I like to start from the bottom and am always sceptical of buying someone else’s project you know, but she was clean on the outside and inside and the paint was good, too, so I figured this time maybe I wouldn’t have to start from the bottom.”
The booted Mk3 might have been in good condition cosmetically but under the hood it was a different matter where she was more than showing her age a little.
Mike, being Mike, wasted no time in pulling the supercharged 12v motor the car came with and dropped in an R32 lump instead. Unfortunately, that particular six-pot decided to throw its toys out of the pram after a few months and seize up. “With that frustration I decided to go big or go home, I don’t like to settle for the latter.
The mechanical misstep put Mike and car out of action for over a year but what he spent that time doing was well worth it when you check out what’s under the hood. “I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before here in Southern California which was a 3.6 swap. Putting it in was the hardest part of the whole car, I didn’t have anyone to bounce questions off and had a couple of mishaps at first with a faulty harness and ECU which added to the time it all took,” he added. Mike didn’t just drop the big six-shooter in the bay though, he decided the bay itself needed smoothing and tidying up too, which as we all know is a big enough job in its own right. “If I could do it again I would have bought the motor from the sedan rather than the SUV. There was a lot of modifications needed in order to get it to fit and run properly in the Mk3.” Mike swapped the original manifold over to one from a Porsche Cayenne and the intake, crank pulley, downpipe and the hidden power steering tank were all fabricated by him himself. Most people would be pretty happy with the power of a 3.6-litre six-pot in a Mk3, but Mike figured it needed a little extra shot in the arm with a 120-shot wet nitrous system and a United Motorsports map. The car puts its power down through a built O2A ‘box with a Katz LSD and TDI 5th gear swap with a Stage 2 clutch and a 9lb billet flywheel holding it all together.
“It’s a torque monster for sure, but I love that I can get in the car and she is fully functional and I’ve still got AC, heating and power-steering,” he said. “I’ve got all the amenities but I have all that power and speed when I want to play with just a little tap of the gas pedal,” he grinned.
The rest of the car’s mechanicals have been attended to with just the same standards as what’s going on under the hood. CX Racing coilovers keep the tyres tight in the arches and Neuspeed front and rear anti-roll bars and a full compliment of polyurethane bushes help keep things in check. The cage is another thing Mike fabricated himself. “I wanted it to be fully functional yet allow for headroom and it had to follow the lines just right, too, so it took a lot of work,” he explained.
You can’t have failed to notice that Mike’s Jetta doesn’t look like your average booted Mk3. Not only is it very, very orange – Toxic orange from the Dodge Viper colour chart in fact – but it’s got an Optiworks wide-arch and matching skirts kit on it, too. “The previous owner fitted the shaved Vento grille, the Vento bumpers and a sleepy-boser hood, and I shaved and painted the engine bay and trunk myself,” he explained. “My painter, Dave Elledge, painted the flares and skirts, the cage, the bumpers and the hood,” he continued.
We don’t know about you but we love the colour of Mike’s car. It’s got the vibes of old-school hot rod paints which suits the car down to the ground. It looks amazing in our photos, so we can only imagine how much it pops in the South Cali sunshine in the metal!
Inside Mike’s gone for the motorsport vibe with a pair of Sparco buckets and a false floor out back. “It’s also got a black headliner and pillar set, and a the ‘dimple’ dash from a Mk3 Cabrio,” he explained. “Most people don’t spot those things straight away.”
What they do spot straight away is the gleaming BBS wheel at each corner.
“I wanted wheels that would I would be able to build wider to suit the Optiwerks flares and I wanted them to be quite lightweight too,” Mike explained. “In the end I went for a set of classic BBS RS which I built up to 9.5×16” at the front and 10.5×16” at the back.” A classic choice, and one that works well against the vivid paintwork.
Looking at Mike’s varied car history at the beginning of this feature, you would be forgiven for thinking that with the car at this point in time Mike here would be looking at selling up and starting the next one. Not so, not with this particular car. “What have I got planned for it? Well, quite a lot. I want to do a full interior in the car and I want to build a custom turbo set up for it and run it on VEMS stand alone. Oh, and convert it to a two door coupe too.” Oh, and convert it to a two door coupe. As simple as that. Seeing Mike’s previous cars though, we wouldn’t bet on him not achieving that goal! And that’s just this car, too. “I also want to take my Mk2 Coupe and rebuild the motor, turbo it, fit a full cage, basically turn it from show car to race car,” he added. “There’s always something. You’re never too old to modify your car, I enjoy what I do and enjoy pushing the boundaries of what I’m capable of. There is no better feeling than looking back at your car and seeing what you’ve accomplished.”
Tech Spec: VW Jetta
3.6-litre FSI engine from a Touareg. Porsche Cayenne intake manifold, 120 Shot of Nitrous set up, United Motor Sports tune, custom under-drive pulley, Billet power steering pulley and custom intake tube to space out the throttle body. 02A gearbox with TDI fifth gear and Katz differential, Clutchmaster Stage 2 clutch with 9lb flywheel, Mishimoto radiator, BeCool fans, Neuspeed short shifter, 2.5” exhaust with Borla manifold
9.5×16” and 10.5×16” BBS RS with Federal 595 tyres. CX-Racing coilovers, Neuspeed anti-roll bars, polybushed throughout, tie-rod flip kit and chassis notch. Mk1 TT front brakes, VR6 rear brakes, EBC pads, stainless steel lines
Dodge Toxic Orange, front and rear shaved Vento bumpers, shaved emblems and grille, shaved Euro-spec boot lid, ‘sleepy’ boser bonnet, Euro-spec core support, E-code headlights, Optikwerks wide-arch kit and side skirts
Interior: Mk3 Cabriolet ‘Dimple’dash, Sparco F200 bucket seats with Sparco harnesses and pedals, Nardi steering wheel, black headliner and A-, B- and C-pillar, deleted back seat, battery box in rear, colour-coded trim, custom four-point roll-cage
I would like to give a shout out to my wife for keeping me motivated to get this project done. Optikwerks for the custom flares and install, Dave Elledge for paint, United motorsports for the help with my ECU and of course those weekend warriors that have helped me get this car to the point it’s at
Feature taken from Performance VW magazine. Words: David Kennedy. Photos: Viktor Benyi