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2006 VW GTI - Designer GTI

We Wondered What VW's Chief Designer In America Drives, And What We Found Was Hardcore Euro Enthusiasm.

By , Photography by ,

We find ourselves grimacing every time Project Dub's tires rub against the fenders while trying to keep pace with Derek Jenkins as he flings his newly completed GTI up one of his favorite canyon roads near Malibu, CA.

The GTI turns hard into hairpins and for a moment, disappears from sight. The body remains rigidly flat on its H&R suspension, the wide tires giving unexpected grip.

Apparently he sometimes ran out of brakes on his canyon rides but was now reveling in the new Brembos. He drives hard but safe, cautious where he needs to be. He was also enjoying the new APR upgrades, and the lightning-quick DSG gear changes were putting pressure on Project Dub to keep up.

After a breathless climb up the canyon, and another millimeter of rubber milled off our sidewalls, we finally reached the photo location. We'd planned to capture the man and his car in its natural environment, and as he made frequent passes for our cameras it felt like a stage on the World Rally Championship. The APR exhaust echoed around the rock walls of our mist-cloaked canyon, the ignition spluttered between DSG gear changes, the tail pipes crackled on the over-run. It was one of those moments that burn into your memory.

For those of you who don't know, Derek isn't just another Euro enthusiast. He's VW's Chief Designer in America. And as our relationship with Volkswagen of America has flourished, we've been delighted to discover some hardcore Euro enthusiasts work there.

You might have assumed this would automatically be the case, but too often car makers are dominated by accountants and people with business degrees but little interest in the product. Certainly VWoA's reluctance to support the tuning scene was always viewed as evidence its personnel knew or cared little about its products and customers.

However, a breakthrough came in '05 when VWoA made its SEMA debut. The driving force behind the project and the subsequent RGTI at SEMA '06 was Derek. He graciously granted us backstage access to RGTI during its design and construction at VW's American Design Center in Santa Monica, CA. During our visits it became obvious he shared our passion for European cars. In fact, we discovered he'd sold his beloved 911 to buy a GTI, set about modifying it, and that many of his own mods led to some of RGTI's innovations.

With new VW projects absorbing his time, Derek sought our help to complete his GTI. We accepted, provided we'd be able to show you the results once the project was complete.

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