Feature Car: John Duda’s 2007 VW Jetta

John Duda set out to make his car invisible, but according to popular opinion, he’s accomplished the exact opposite.

“I’ve always liked the stealth look,” he says. “I wanted to be able to park the car in an unlit parking lot and make sure it wasn’t able to be seen.”

That’s all well and good, but John’s ideal conditions simply aren’t possible most of the time—the rest of us live with what’s called “daylight.” And in any kind of light, this 2007 Jetta wows crowds—evidence includes trophies for first place in the mk5 Jetta class and All Show at Motorstadt IV, and first in the mk5 Jetta class at Midwest Treffen. A girl once approached John in a suburban Detroit parking lot and asked to have her picture taken with the car.

How can a car be stealthy if, at first glance, it dares its audience to look more closely? We won’t argue semantics, though. We didn’t ask John how his Mercedes wheels, for example, can be considered stealthy. But consider this: If the car is so covert, why was his first modification a full treatment of limo tint?

“I don’t like when people can see me when I am driving,” he says. “I don’t like when people can see what is inside my car when it is parked in a public place.”

It’s a theme that carried over from his previous project, a 2005 4-door Golf GL. Although he considered a new GTI or Rabbit to carry on the tradition, he ultimately decided to move away from the hatchback—a wise decision, as the Jetta is much more sophisticated than its predecessor.

“Black is the hardest color to maintain, but when clean and maintained properly, it looks ‘VIP’,” says John. So after he plowed to the photo shoot through a torrential downpour after driving from Detroit to Chicago, he was forced to improvise on his elaborate, highly-choreographed detailing ritual. Abbreviated though it was to accommodate the whims of the weather and limits of our location, it still took the better part of two hours.

It became clear that, when implementing a monochromatic scheme, the appeal lies in the texture. Glossy, spotless black paint. Tinted windows like a still pool at night. Matte black wheels that just barely betray their crests and swirls, contrasting with the car’s shine. The water cascading over the body added another sheath of complexity—the drops’ reflective and magnifying properties distorted the car’s elements in unique, constantly-changing ways—even though it seemed John couldn’t bear to see his masterpiece in a state other than dry, polished perfection. His audience didn’t distract him from his ultimate goal, but it was uncomfortable nonetheless, as if being allowed to watch him work was a rare opportunity, a museum exhibit of sorts. His meticulousness was slightly disconcerting, but one can hardly argue it had the desired effect. This car is flawless.

His fervor has inspired an unlikely pair of supporters—his parents, who accompanied John and his girlfriend to Chicago to check out Midwest Treffen and watch the Jetta’s photo shoot. While John’s mother reminisced about strolling Ocean City’s boardwalk during H20 International 2006, his dad joked about running the “chase car” (the family’s Passat wagon) and helped wash the Jetta to John’s fastidious standards.

“They are now official VW enthusiasts,” John says proudly.

Although John’s mother has little interest in the technical details, it appears his father is one of the few who’s permitted to interact with the Jetta on a level more intimate than that of a passenger. In addition to road trip detailing duty, he also helped John with the suspension install, although John says he’s done 95% of the other work himself. Perfection trumps all other motivation, though, and to John’s credit, he realizes when something is beyond his scope and is best left to the professionals.

“I tried to apply the Lamin-X smoked film on the headlights,” he recalls. “Thumbs down to that whole process! I am not capable of doing it.”

Generally, though, tenacity works in John’s favor. Consider the much-publicized wheels, Alphard 5-holes from the Mercedes-Benz SL550. He first spotted a set on Tiffany Walters’ black 2004.5 Jetta GLI and decided they were a necessity.

“I did a photochop to see what they would look like on my car, and I was even more in love with them,” he says. It took some time to pull the setup together because the going rate for the wheels was about $2,000 per set. John measured numerous times to make sure the 18×8.5″ fronts and 18×9.5″ rears would fit.

After finding a set at a good price, he sent them off to the powder coater, and they were ready just in time to debut at Motorstadt IV in early June. Just days after the show, though, John curbed the passenger front wheel, “not even five days after they were mounted,” he laments. “I had the tire removed, the wheel stripped, the wheel fixed, the wheel powder coated, and the tire mounted in 13 days.”

It’s well worth it, though: “This is my first time running a staggered wheel setup and it really sets the car off!”

Setting the framework for the eye-catching rollers is a set of KW V1 coilovers; they are wrapped in Falken 452 tires and painted black brake calipers hide behind.

The Jetta puts its best face forward with Hella smoked headlights, smoked sidemarkers, and Euro projector fog lights fitted to a front end conversion from the GTI and GLI. In.Pro smoked mirror indicators round out the sides and custom smoked taillights smooth out the rear, tied together with front and back blacked-out VW emblems. An OEM VW Sharan antenna is the final exterior touch. John’s also added a 60 GB Western Digital USB hard drive and a Pioneer DEH-P6900UB headunit delivered through JL Audio 12w3v2 subwoofers and a JL Audio 500/1 amplifier.

Of course, the obvious question is whether or not the Jetta actually sees the road—rest assured, John believes in getting as much seat time as possible. Midwest Treffen was held the day after our photo shoot, and it seemed incomprehensible that John the perfectionist drove his perfectly-detailed car through the deluge. The mere idea appeared to cause him physical pain, which did not go unnoticed by John’s family (“My mom’s surprised he didn’t put it in a trailer,” says his girlfriend).

Although the Jetta’s come such a long way in such a short time, John’s already considering his next project—he hinted that a Jetta SportWagen might be getting the signature all-black treatment when the car lands on US soil late this year. But until then, he shows no signs of slowing down. He’d like to drop the car more on an FK suspension setup and “shave everything.” To that end, the next change we’re likely to see is a smoothed Rabbit front bumper with a Seat Cupra lower lip.

The all-black hand of cards has been played before, but John holds the trump: what sets this project apart is the execution. So does the Jetta really miss John’s mark? We don’t think so. There’s no doubt his invisibility will continue to make waves.

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