Don’t Call It Family Truckster: Ian Avilla’s Passat Estate

Anyone who has seen the classic comedy film “National Lampoon’s Vacation” will remember the look on Chevy Chase’s face when the slick car salesman tells his character that due to an “ordering mistake” the dealership just doesn’t have the Ice Blue Sportwagon with CB Radio and optional Rally Fun Pack. Chase’s character, Clark Griswold, had ordered the car specifically to take a cross-country trip to the Walley World theme park with his family, and of course, the salesman tells him, they do have another model available. Problem is, the model is a giant land yacht complete with pea green paint, fake wood paneling on every conceivable exterior surface, and more headlights than you’d need to land an airliner — the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. The salesman, upon seeing Griswold’s look of disgust, leans in and delivers his closer: “The Wagon Queen Family Truckster. You may think you hate it now, but just wait until you drive it!”

The moment of realization that Griswold has when he knows that he’s just not going to be getting the Sportwagon that he wanted is one that’s all to familiar to the car enthusiasts who find themselves becoming parents, too. Have a kid or two, and suddenly it’s simply expected of you to ditch the fun-to-drive car that you love and park the modern Wagon Queen, a minivan, in the driveway instead. Try to explain to well-meaning friends and family members that you don’t, in fact, think you need seating for 18 people, sliding doors, and enough room in the back to transport gear to supply an entire platoon in the field for a week, and they’ll think you’re nuts. Of course, the fact is that you do need a certain amount of extra room when you’re a parent, and the two seat sports car probably just won’t cut it any more. What is the car nut with kids to do?

For Ian Avilla, the answer was simple. Ian had long been a Volkswagen guy, having worked at various positions at several dealerships over the years, and when VW introduced the sixth-generation Passat Wagon, he’d found the car particularly suited his growing family. At the time, he was working at Elk Grove VW, near Sacramento, California, and so arranging the purchase of the brand new 2007 Passat Wagon was fairly simple. The car arrived in the proper Granite Green paint, with the chosen Package 1 options of sunroof and upgraded audio system intact, and the dealership didn’t even try to crush his trade-in and force him into an ugly boat of a car with options he didn’t want. Avilla was doing better than Griswold right off the bat.

Of course, being both a car nut and a VW enthusiast who had long experience working with the cars, Avilla decided that there were some changes that he wanted to make to the car in order to make it just right for him. The first personal preference that he addressed was to swap out the stock springs and dampers for an H&R Touring Cup Kit. The resulting 1.5-inch drop in ride height addressed the looks issue of the higher-sitting stock suspension setup, and the resulting improvements in ride and handling gave the car that little bit of extra sporting feel that it was missing from the factory.

Having addressed the car’s ride height and handling with aftermarket parts, Avilla next chose to turn to some of the many OEM VW bits to add a few “optional extras” to the interior. Due to his job at the dealership, the parts were relatively easy to source. He started by upgrading the car’s stock audio system to the popular and feature-rich VW RNS510 touchscreen navigation unit. As VW’s top-of-the-line navigation unit, the RNS510 offered many upgraded features over the stock radio, including the ability to play DVDs, integrated Sirius satellite radio, and of course the navigation functionality and large touchscreen display. To fully flesh out the unit’s capabilities, Avilla also added the VW Media Device Interface, or MDI, which allows the unit to play audio from memory cards, phones, iPods, or other devices through an adapter which mounts inside the car’s glovebox. He also added a TV tuner kit, to allow the unit to play over-the-air TV content on the screen. In order to have better control over all of the new entertainment and navigation features, the upgraded four-spoke Multifunction steering wheel was also installed. The wheel, with its control buttons on the upper two spokes, gives control over many of the commonly used features of the RNS510 without the need to reach across to the touchscreen while driving.

Being the sort of person who leads an active lifestyle that often involve transporting the family dog along with the family itself, Avilla next chose some interior upgrades aimed at protecting the car from all of the daily mishaps that come along with having children and dogs along for the ride. First, a set of VW Monster Mats and the Gorilla Gear cargo bay tray were installed, and then a VW cargo partition was fitted. The Monster Mats and cargo tray are perfect for keeping those occasional messes contained, and the cargo partition, a wire grille that fits above the back seats between the cargo and passenger compartments, is perfect for keeping Fido contained. It’s also perfect for keeping actual cargo in the cargo compartment, if, like Clark Griswold, you have a habit of driving your car down closed roads and off those rather sudden drop-offs. Luckily Avilla hasn’t suffered any such mishaps yet, but hey, it’s best to be prepared. Besides, in addition to being useful the partition is a cool looking and rarely seen modification.

Just as his car was beginning to take the shape he had envisioned for it, Avilla’s life took a pretty large turn, one that would require him to take his personal Wagon Queen on a cross-country trip of his own. Fortunately for him, though, his destination was one that, for a longtime VW guy, was even cooler than a trip to Walley World. Avilla packed children, dog, and wife into the car, and set out from California. Destination: Herndon, Virginia, the new corporate home for Volkswagen of America, and his new job as as Specialist with the VW Accessories line of products.

As a VW Accessories Specialist, Avilla is responsible for developing and marketing the full line of official VW Accessories in the US. This line runs the gamut from trinkets as simple as keychains and T-shirts all the way up to complete bodykits and other goodies for the various VW models, and can be found at or at any dealership. In addition to allowing him to work with some fun products, the position also gave him access to a large catalog of parts for his own car, and he wasted no time in going to work selecting some choice goodies. Having previously addressed the interior, he began the exterior makeover of the car by fitting a complete VW Accessories bodykit, consisting of the “Hi Def” front bumper, side skirts, rear valence, and rear spoiler. This bodykit was developed from the wild Passat R-GT that was built for the 2005 SEMA show. Far from being a cosmetic-only modification, the kit was designed to produce both additional downforce and increased engine cooling. The fact that it transforms the look of the Passat from a fairly sedate family wagon to something quite a bit more aggressive doesn’t hurt either.

To compliment the aggressive bodykit, a wheel upgrade was in order, and not surprisingly the parts came directly from the VW OEM catalog. A set of 19-inch “Motorsport” wheels in titanium gray as first seen on the Scirocco GT24 race car, shod in Toyo rubber, were fitted. In order to protect his shiny new rear bumper from dog paws and the general scrapes and bangs that come along with loading and unloading a family station wagon, the VW stainless steel bumper cover was also installed. Finally, to round out the exterior look, Avilla ordered a set of European-market OEM dark red LED tail lights.

With the cosmetics addressed, it was now time to turn to the engine. After all, what fun is it to build your very own custom “Optional Rally Fun Pack” if it doesn’t include some extra get up and go? For this, rather than simply order an off-the-shelf upgrade kit from any of the major aftermarket companies, Avilla stuck to his OEM-based theme, and sourced the majority of his upgrades directly from the VWAG parts catalog. He ordered up a K04 turbo, fuel injectors, and all associated fittings from the European-market Audi S3. When paired with a high pressure fuel pump, Carbonio intake, exhaust downpipe, and engine management software from VW tuning giant APR, the result was a 2.0T engine that offers quite a bit more excitement than factory form. The installation of the engine modifications was carried out at Lindsay VW, a Washington DC-area dealership that has proven itself friendly to the enthusiast crowd. Of course, with the extra engine power came the need for extra stopping power, so Avilla had the technicians at Lindsay fit a set of front brakes from the R32 parts catalog, complete with blue calipers and 345mm discs.

The end result of Avilla’s efforts is, we think it’s safe to say, a success. While the starting point was an innocuous looking green station wagon that would have blended in to the crowd at the grocery store or the soccer field, (or on a cross-country trip with grandma strapped to the roof and kids picking away at each other in the back seat) the end result is a car that is perfectly at home on a show field and yet still retains all of the utility and versatility that is demanded of a family car. With the extra power, tighter handling, and upgraded brakes, the driving experience lives up to the looks, too. Of course, some cars are never quite “done,” and having recently installed VW’s Volk-L Bluetooth integration kit, Avilla is already talking about individual rear seat screens for DVD viewing, among other plans for the future. He has, thankfully, kept the car faux-wood free, at least to this point. He has recently been heard to mutter something about a new vinyl graphics lineup from VW Acessories, though. We think Clark Griswold would be salivating.