It's Wonderful When a Garage-Built Kit Car Comes Together

Our Volkswagen Jetta Smyth Performance Ute build is coming along nicely.

Justin Hughes

After fully committing to turning our 2003 Volkswagen Jetta into a truck by cutting the top rear quarter off it, it was time to start building. My stepson did most of the work attaching the critical B-pillar braces, and then it was time to start installing the aluminum bed panels. These are the main structural components of the back half of the ute, replacing the reinforcement lost when we cut off a quarter of the car.

Justin Hughes

The bed gets built from the B-pillar back, starting with the braces we already installed, then the front wall that separates the bed from the passenger compartment. This bolts into the B-pillar brace, as well as the sides of the bed. Many areas that we cut before need to be trimmed down to size, which is much easier without the rest of the car in the way. As recommended in the build manual, I made a pair of temporary wooden braces to keep the bed square while bolting and riveting everything into position. It's helpful to clamp parts together before permanently attaching them to make any necessary adjustments to line everything up properly.

Justin Hughes

At this point, the tailgate gets installed to make sure everything lines up for smooth operation. It's really starting to look like a truck now! At this point, it's time to tighten down the bolts and rivet the bed sides to the wheel arches. Additional braces get added across the back door openings as well to improve structural integrity. These get bolted to the B-pillar brace and riveted to the back of the opening.

Justin Hughes

Once the sides of the bed are in it's time to install the floor. This begins with a panel across the front of the bed that conveniently includes a removable cover to access the fuel pump under where the back seat used to be. Then five beams are installed that will support the rest of the bed floor. Some bolt into the aluminum bed sides, while others bolt to brackets that get riveted to the trunk floor and wheel arches. The center brace (not yet installed in the picture above) is designed to be removable for access to the spare tire if needed. After installing them I can jump up and down on any one of these beams with no problem, and the floor will spread the weight more evenly across them. Smyth Performance says the bed can carry about 750 pounds. It's no heavy duty pickup, but it's plenty for our needs. And we will be putting this ute to work.

Justin Hughes

Finally, a pair of aluminum wheelwells gets installed on top of the original ones, as well as three aluminum sheets to fill in the rest of the bed. These are delivered slightly longer than they need to be, so it's up to you to trim them to fit. They are also removable, again to allow access to the original spare tire well underneath. If I was really clever maybe I could turn this into a small trunk like a Honda Ridgeline, but at least for now I'll just go with sheet metal screws.

I can't think of any better way to celebrate July 4th than by turning a Volkswagen Jetta into an American pick-em-up truck. The next step will be running and modifying the wiring to the back of the ute. Once that's set, it's time to put the fiberglass body panels on and put this project on the road.