In the summer of 2001, a movie would hit theatres that would define a generation. It would not only make blockbuster returns for its stars and production company, but it would go on to spawn a franchise that is still making movies today.
No, it’s not the Harry Potter movies.
The Fast and the Furious was a movie about illegal street racing that spawned from the import tuner scene of the mid-’90s and early 2000s. Originally starting in Japan as early as the 1970s, enthusiasts would take boring old compact cars and turn them into racing machines with a few modifications.
Usually, the cars were of Japanese make but that didn’t stop the occasional American or German car from getting tweaked out.
So it was in The Fast and the Furious with Jesse, a minor character who promptly dies after losing a race to a rival street racer in a Honda S2000.
The rest of the film is about an illegal street racer’s quest for revenge and the undercover cop trying to stop him (played by Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker, respectively). It’s filled with fast car chases and explosions, which are continued in pretty much every sequel thereafter (of which there are many--we’re on Fast and Furious 8 currently, with 9 and 10 planned for 2020).
Despite its minor appearance, Jesse’s Jetta has taken on a sort of cult status for fans of the series. And since Fast and the Furious wrapped, Jesse’s Jetta has had a strange and colorful life.
Jesse’s Jetta was born a 1995 Volkswagen Jetta III in GL trim. It was purchased new in June of ‘95 in Yorba Linda, California, driven for a few years, and then sold to Universal Pictures in 2000 for use in their upcoming film about import racing. That’s when it ceased to be a boring old Jetta III and became Jesse’s Jetta.
On the outside, the modifications done to Jesse’s Jetta are extensive. A widebody kit from West Wing was installed along with a new rear spoiler, along with new headlights, tail lights, and side mirrors. Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires adorn 7-spoke Konig white-painted wheels with Brembo brake calipers clearly visible between each spoke.
If you look closely, you can just make out some Eibach coilovers in what little space remains between the tires and the fenders.
But just as you’d expect from Hollywood, it’s only made to look fast. Under the hood, Jesse’s Jetta is a mostly stock ‘95 Jetta GL. That means a 2.0-L inline 4-cylinder engine with barely 115 hp. Top speed might be 110 mph on a good day, with zero to sixty measured in the high 8-second range.
Although the film featured dramatic gear shifts and nitrous boosts, the car actually has a 4-speed automatic transmission, and all those tubes leading to the cylinders lead to an empty bottle of NOS. Even if it worked, you’d be more likely to blow a gasket than actually get Jesse’s Jetta to move with the kind of speed shown in the film.
On the plus side, Jesse’s Jetta had a truly state-of-the-art interior for the late ‘90s. In keeping with the car’s role as an import racer, the seats and steering wheel have been replaced by designs from Sparco. A roll cage has been bolted into the rear passenger compartment, and a fire extinguisher can be found on the back seats.
In the front, an early LCD screen from Alpine connects to a PlayStation 2 in the rear seats. A CD player will belt out your favorite tunes with the help of a massive Alpine sound system installed in the trunk. An honest-to-God carphone is right beside the center console on the passenger side, while a real racing push-button start can be seen on the left side of the steering wheel.
That steering wheel, by the way, has two buttons for two bottles of NOS, although we only see the only in the trunk. And they’re probably not hooked up to anything at all. Probably.
The interior styling comes from Stitchcraft, whose logos emblazon the door sills. There are bits of carbon fiber here and there to add a bit of sportiness, but it seems to clash with the Jetta’s generally plastic interior. One can’t help but note that a real race car would have stripped out all these bulky electronics, but again, this car is about the show and not the go.
Best of all, the entire cast of The Fast and the Furious signed Jesse’s Jetta, including director Rob Cohen and Chad Lindbergh, the actor who played Jesse.
It only raced once in the film. Afterward, Jesse and his beloved Jetta died in a drive-by shooting.
But the real-life car lived on. It was sold to actor Frankie Muniz (of Malcolm in the Middle fame) in 2001, who barely drove the thing. It had 20,684 miles on the odometer in 2001, and today has only 21,300. We know this because Muniz sold the Jetta at auction in 2016 for $42,000, and now it’s on sale at Luxury Auto Collection in Scottsdale, Arizona for $99,900.
What happens to Jesse’s Jetta now depends entirely on who picks it up. Maybe they’ll connect those NOS lines, refill the bottle, and give this Jetta the performance that it so desperately deserves. Or maybe it’ll stay in a garage somewhere for another 15 years. Who knows?