As Volkswagen enthusiasts, we focus a lot of our time and energy on the cars we love. What we often overlook is the ability of these cars to bring their owners together.
Anyone who has ever built a "project car" certainly knows the importance of having the help and support of friends. But once in a while a car project has the ability to tighten those bonds and bring friends closer than they ever thought possible.
Like so many of us, Jarrod Vigna started driving VWs as soon as he was legally allowed. Among the numerous cars he owned was a white '88 Jetta GLI, which he later sold to a high school friend. It was 3 years and 190,000 hard miles later when he reacquired the car and decided it was time to take it to the next level. The years between ownership gave him the opportunity to consider his options.
Despite the free-revving spirit of the 16-valve GLI, Jarrod had always longed for the muscle of the VR6 engine. With the Jetta once again in his possession, the search for a suitable VR6 donor car began. The ideal candidate was soon found in a wrecked 1992 Corrado SLC. In addition to the powerplant, the Corrado would also lend its transmission, brakes and interior bits to the finished project.
In May 2001, with the engine transplant nearly complete, catastrophe struck. In his final semester of college, Jarrod was killed in a motorcycle accident. Devastated by their sudden loss, Jarrod's friends, who were fellow VW owners themselves, decided to pull together and finish the Jetta VR6 in his honor, using the project as a way to comfort each other in their time of loss.
Jarrod's family was touched by the friends' offer, and having them around for emotional support helped ease the pain of this tragic situation. Over the next couple months the group struggled to pick up and move on, and progress on the car was slow. Still grieving over the loss of their "brother," this close-knit "family of friends" would be dealt another cruel blow. Just over 3 months later, another member of their group, David Stish, was killed in a car accident.
The second accident brought the Jetta project to a halt, as family and friends struggled to grasp the incomprehensible reality of losing these two young men in such a short time. Understandably, this close-knit group needed time to deal with the emotions of their multiple losses. The Jetta suddenly didn't seem much of a priority. It sat neglected for some time. What had begun as a tribute to a lost friend was now simply a painful reminder of two tragedies.
Jarrod's mother, Shirley DeSantis, admits that she was afraid of the Jetta at first, with its unique mechanical and electrical issues. But eventually she embraced the car project as a connection to her lost son. After her first drive, she understood her son's enthusiasm for the VR6. She decided that if it took her the rest of her life, she would personally complete the project for Jarrod, and became committed to making it the nicest A2 possible. Over the next 2 years, Shirley would come to realize that spending time in salvage yards and mechanics' garages was something she enjoyed. Along the way, always seeking and welcoming any help she could find, she shared smiles and tears as she related the story of her project with those who would help her see the project to completion.
A mother's love for a son is immeasurable, and it was this love and maternal pride that guided Shirley on the project. The car became a gift as it helped relieve some of the pain of her loss while fostering new friendships and nurturing old ones. She completed as much of the work as she could herself, but in the end, Jarrod's friends were instrumental in finishing the project, especially Jamie Long, who worked out seemingly endless problems, took on the bodywork, the spray painting and a complete electrical overhaul.
Shirley loves to drive the car, especially on sunny days. The focal point of the "Jarrado," as it is now known, is its VR6 engine, which pulls like a champ and is a thrill to drive, according to Jarrod's mom. Spoken like a true enthusiast, she claims the car is nearly complete but will never truly be done. She figures there will always be something to do, something to fix, something new to buy, so she plans to hold on to the car forever in memory of Jarrod, and to share the car with other VW enthusiasts as often as possible at events such as Waterfest, where she plans to show the car.
If you happen to make it to Waterfest next year, make sure to look for Shirley and the "Jarrado." She would love to hear from her "extended family" of VW aficionados and share her pride in her son's Jetta. In the meantime, check out www.americanmemorials.com, where you can visit an online memorial to Jarrod Vigna.
Shirley would welcome e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1988 Volkswagen Jetta
External ModificationsJetta MkIII GLX factory exhaust with polished tips
DrivetrainDrivetrain ModificationsCorrado five-speed transmission
SuspensionApex coilover suspension
Brakes1992 Corrado SLCExterior
WheelsBBS, 15 in.
TiresFront/Rear: Yokohama, 195/50-15
BodyAudi Casablanca White paint, smoothed rear panel, updated 1990-92 "big bumpers," 2003 GLI chrome trunk-lid emblems. GTI 16V grille with round headlights and driving lights, clear bumper lights, Euro license plate
InteriorCustom-fit center console and emergency brake from an MkIII Jetta, Recaro Trophy seats reupholstered in gray Alcantara with black vinyl bolsters, retrimmed matching door panels, MOMO aluminum shift knob and suede boot, GLI floor mats