Up until now, we could have chickened out on turning our VW Jetta into a Smyth Performance Ute. We bought the kit, stripped the interior, and measured and marked the cuts, but we still had the option of putting it all back together again into a perfectly good German sedan. But that is no longer the case. This weekend, we fully committed to this project by cutting the trunk, back window, and half the roof off the car.
Unlike many automotive projects, we made this one a true family affair. We made sure that everyone, especially the kids, got a chance to help cut the car. How often are you not only allowed but encouraged to attack a car with a reciprocating saw?
The first cut was a rough one, with plenty of excess metal left behind to be trimmed away more precisely later. Precision wasn't necessary except for the roof cut, which I did myself, so it was a good chance to let everyone get their hands dirty without the risk of messing up the project. This was particularly therapeutic for my stepson Joe, who badly damaged a tendon in a pumpkin carving accident last Halloween. Though a Snell approved motorcycle helmet may have been overkill, he's become extremely safety conscious around anything related to cutting. Helping cut under our close guidance gave him a positive experience with cutting, and probably helped him work past his justified fears a bit.
We cut both quarter panels, across the back of the trunk, and through some bits of metal around the rear package shelf. Then my wife and I grabbed the top rear quarter of the car, lifted it off, and added it to our rather large pile of spare parts.
After trimming back the interior carpet and headliner, I couldn't resist immediately jumping in and mocking up the beginning of the Ute kit. Here you can see the aluminum panels that will be riveted to what used to be the front of the rear door opening. Once assembled, the bed becomes a structural component of the Ute, replacing the structure and rigidity that was lost by cutting off the roof and trunk. Loads will be transferred through the bed and into the original B-pillar to tie the entire vehicle back together again. After driving another Jetta Smyth Ute at an SCCA rallycross last winter, I can confirm that the finished product is at least as strong as the original car.
I also couldn't resist mocking up one side of the bed to get my first look at what our Ute will eventually look like. Ignore the poor alignment. The fiberglass panel is sitting on top of the wheel well that still needs to be trimmed down, as you can see on the other side. This also demonstrates how much longer the Ute is than the original car. I'll have to be careful backing up—or just put the tailgate down so I can see better.
At this point, disassembly and destruction are complete. From here on in, it's all about building and creating. I'm picking up a friend's rivetter today, and then we can really get to work.