A car that ticks all of the classic boxes, Max Chinolla’s 1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 16V will surprise non-VW fans, and that’s before you see its rarest part.
We know most people lust after the Golf GTI when it comes to neo-classic VWs. However, you can have a lot of fun in the four-door version of that car – the Jetta GLI. Even more, because many of the parts between the two cars are interchangeable, you can make the Jetta into an amazing racer or into a head-turning show car using many of the same parts for the GTI. Max Chinolla’s GLI, though, isn’t all show car. Hailing all the way from Mexico, he drove his 1990 Jetta from Baja California, Mexico to San Diego, California for this year’s SoCal Big Euro show.
“I have always loved the second-generation Jetta and Golf because they looked sporty,” Max explained to us, “the driving is great because it’s a light car and there are tons of parts for them from many different brands that you can put on them.” He first purchased this car in 1999 and was influenced to purchase a similar car because a college friend of his had a 1990 Golf 16V (16-valve, which refers to the engine).
“When I had the opportunity to drive it,” Max said, “I fell in love because driving it was cool and, after that moment, I thought that I would buy a Golf or Jetta 16V.” It took a bit of convincing for the owner to let this car go, but Max’s persistence paid off, and he eventually got this clean, practically brand-new Jetta GLI.
We can tell you right away, there are many subtle details built into this GLI; many we won’t be able to show you directly. However, what you can see will immediately help you understand why this car is amazing for more than its Tornado Red paint. “In the end,” said Max, “I wanted something with functionality, luxury, and something I could drive everywhere.”
From the outside, you’ll quickly notice the fender flares from the Volkswagen Golf G60. The fenders themselves are all Jetta metal but feature Mercedes-inspired front fender vents. Also, unless you're very familiar with this car, you probably don’t notice that the hood is shaved to be featureless. The Golf Rallye amber headlights reside under the Kamei Grille Spoiler that matches the Kamei double chin spoiler.
It’s not really effective as a spoiler, aerodynamics-wise, but it is a traditional design that started with Kamei. You’ll sometimes see them called “eyebrows” or mistakenly associated with the Boser-style hoods that also give the headlights a unique shape. This, however, is a real Kamei piece as you can see from the sticker with the part number listed right on it.
Some like to say that the single wiper is a DTM callback, but this is a classic Volkswagen design dating back to the 1975 Scirocco. Many VW enthusiasts would take the Scirocco single wiper mechanism and adapt it to their Golfs and Jettas, Max uses the Bonrath Sportwiper, a bolt-on kit rather than an adaptation. It is like the Scirocco system, though, in that it moves 180-degrees to cover the entire windshield with a single wiper.
Max's Jetta proudly displays the logo of his car club, Westside Mexico, the largest Volkswagen club in Baja California. Westside Mexico has members from Tijuana, San Luis Potosi, Chihuahua, Guadalajara, and many more geographical regions, including Southern California, Chicago, and Minnesota. They are also not limited to Volkswagen but their entire brand family with Audi, Seat, and Skoda.
Here is where we begin wishing we were able to show some of the incredible detail work done to this Jetta. So much has been done to this engine in just chroming alone. The engine has been opened so that it could be made to take the turbocharger system. The rotating assembly features Wiseco pistons attached a forged crankshaft, and the head is attached to the block by a set of ARP head studs. A set of Ferrea valves allow that charged air to flow in perfectly. An MSD 6A with Two-Step controls the coil of the distributor that sends spark to the EuroSport plug wires in red that terminate to Zex spark plugs.
The chromed charge pipe comes from an intercooler mounted to the front with a Garrett T3/T4 turbocharger shoving in as much air as it can by the Turbonetics wastegate. Attached to the charge pipe is a Tial blowoff valve venting into the engine compartment. The entire charge air piping is connected by red turbo hoses from RD Performance matched by RD Performance red coolant hoses. You’ll also see the chromed alternator with a red fan and pulley but what you can’t see is the chromed oil pan, transmission, as well as the air conditioning compressor and all the metal portions of the lines attached to it.
Sending the 91-octane to the Bosch 440cc/min fuel injectors is a Ross Machine fuel rail. Fuel pressure is regulated by an Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator.
The charged air is cooled by a Spearco Intercooler mounted just behind the Jetta's front bumper.
We head inside, and you’ll notice some very Volkswagen parts but also something very rare. You’ll see on the driver’s A-pillar, first, where a gauge pod has been installed to house the Autometer boost and oil pressure gauges. Then, it’s very possible you’ve noticed something you’ve never seen before. Your curiosity strikes, and you ask yourself, “why does that steering wheel look the way it does?”
This steering wheel is a very rare piece made by Momo for Alpine. It is the Alpine by Momo 4352 steering wheel. It was made to house the Alpine 4350 remote in the center of the steering wheel, itself a very expensive piece when it was new in the 1990s. It was innovative enough to earn Good Design Award’s Special Award for Product Design in 1992. Good luck finding it now, however.
Of course, you can’t have a rare Alpine steering wheel without an Alpine deck to go along with it. The Alpine CDA-7939 head unit works with the 4350 and sends its signals to an Alpine ERA-G320 sound field processor. This processor features a 14-band equalizer and finally sends those signals to an Alpine 3552 amplifier. The music you’ll hear comes from Altec Lansing ALS-693 rear speakers and Punch 3.5-inch and 5.5-inch front speakers. A Kenwood 10-inch Subwoofer gets additional signal amplification from a Sony Xplod XM-222.
The gauges are all stock, but you can see just how low the mileage is for this neo-vintage Volkswagen. At the time of shooting, Max’s car just started to tick over 92,380-miles.
Just under the VDO gauge pod – which houses the coolant, oil temperature, and voltmeter gauges – you see a classic staple of Golf and Jetta history: the dimpled golf ball shifter. While the original VW would have been white, this Trimsport UK shift knob is machined out of aluminum and features a “16V” embossed into the top of it.
These reupholstered Recaro A8 seats allow for proper bolstering when you get heavy on the steering and are matched by a set of Volkswagen Corrado rear seats that have been re-trimmed to match them.
Heading back outside, you’ll notice that the taillights are Hella parts that have been “smoked.” The rear license plate holder is a Hella European piece to fit the “DUBMAX” Euro license plate.
While this VW has stretched tires and a show look, it hasn’t been compromised in the fun department of corner-carving. An Air Lift Performance 3H system allows Max to set the ride height and spring rate, but a set of Neuspeed 25mm front and 28mm rear sway bars keep body roll to a comfortable, but usable stiffness. A four-point Neuspeed rear tower bar keeps the rear struts tied together.
Stopping power is done by a set of Wilwood calipers with stainless steel brake lines. A pair of Corrado 11-inch drilled and slotted rotors are used in conjunction with a set of Hawk Performance brake pads. The wheels are straight Euro-style starting with a set of Carline CM6 three-piece wheels. They measure out to 16x9 up front and 16x10 in the rear with Nitto Tires sized in 195/40R16 front and 215/35R16 rear.
There isn’t much left that Max wants to do to his GLI, “For me, it’s almost done,” he stated. “I just need to change from the 42mm intake to the 50mm intake from the European Scirocco and get a bigger turbo.” Despite that, it is the engine he’s most proud of. “I think that focusing on the engine was the best part. Most people choose to build an engine that is fast or something that is show worthy or something that just functions.”
“In my case,” Max continued, “I choose all three by building the engine and transmission with forged pieces, ported the head, and chromed many of the parts of both. I also kept the air conditioning and heat systems at the same time.” He also admits it was more than just his work and determination that made this Jetta into what it is. “I think that I was only able to reach this level (with my car) because I had the support of many of my friends in my club, Westside Mexico,” he stated, “In this hobby, friends are a very important part because they give you the motivation to keep improving every part.”
He also admitted to one other thing, a bit of a downside of owning this car in its current state. While the maintenance and parts are inexpensive and make ownership easy in that way, “The bad thing is,” Max closed with his, “that when you have a car with this high of a level of modifications, you don't always want to use it as a daily driver so you can keep it clean.” He laughed, “You must spend more time with it.”
Though, at the end of the day, could you choose a better car to spend your time with?
Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you like this 16V Jetta, you can find additional Volkswagen content at volkswagen.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS