Vilner builds a one-off Volkswagen Up! GTI that ditches the low-profile look

Unless you’re a seasoned car-spotter, nothing about the Volkswagen Up! GTI screams horsepower. It’s a subtle hot hatch that looks to the untrained eye like a city car with big wheels. Bulgaria-based tuner Vilner set out to give the model more visual attitude by drawing inspiration from Milltek, another well-known player in the aftermarket.

Vilner explained the project was commissioned by a client who loved the look of Milltek’s GTI. “It is not uncommon for us to have customers who like a project on the internet to come to us with the idea of making their car one-on-one with the one seen. Of course, this is technically impossible, because the artist can not help but leave a personal imprint on his creation, and yet it is not right to copy,” said founder Atanas Vilner.

Originally white, the GTI gained contrasting red, black and gray graphics on nearly all of its body panels. Vilner replaced the number 35 with the number 21 at the client’s request, though it didn’t explain why the car lost 14 integers. It also kept the factory 17-inch wheels instead of adding the rally car-like rims worn by Milltek’s build.

Volkswagen’s stock plaid upholstery wasn’t modified; many enthusiasts would consider even the slightest alteration a felonious violation of automotive history. However, this one-off GTI gained black and white cloth inserts on the center console, on the sun visors, and on the door panels before leaving Vilner’s shop.

Vilner made no mechanical modifications, so power still comes from a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine turbocharged to 113 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. It’s the first three-cylinder engine installed in a series-produced GTI-badged car, and it spins the front wheels via a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission. Volkswagen quotes an 8.8-second sprint from zero to 62 mph. For context, the original Golf GTI had 110 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, and it took nine seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop.

Although this is the first time Vilner has modified an Up!, the Bulgarian firm is no stranger to working with clients to create one-of-a-kind cars. Its past builds include a resto-modded 1976 Datsun 280Z that was completely taken apart and rebuilt, and a turbodiesel-powered Jeep Wrangler transformed into a luxurious SUV. It has even worked on a selection of motorcycles, like a BMW F800R built for a wealthy Russian businessman.