Words & Photos by Henry Phull
2016 presented a new chapter for Slam Sanctuary. With the introduction of our Pop-Up Store, I had the task of transporting it around the UK and Europe to multiple automotive events. This meant that I needed a suitable vehicle to haul a lot of gear around, although I still wanted the car to look cool. I knew that whatever I chose, it was by no means going to be a show car, but more of an appealing daily beater that could demonstrate some of the products we sell. A true BMW fan at heart, I first thought about an E46 Touring (having owned one previously, I knew what great cars they are). Unfortunately, they just weren’t big enough, so I then considered E39 530d Touring’s, but the price of these were still ambitious. Then there was the option of buying something newer, like an E60 530d, however then there would’ve been no spare funds to “slam” it.
I started looking at Audi’s with the 1.9tdi engine. Although having never owned one myself, I’d heard nothing but good things about the economy of these engines (essential for my needs) and how cheap they are to maintain. With a C5 S6 Avant in my household already, I knew that the C5 platform was capable of fitting all of the Slam Sanctuary gear inside, as I’d used it to transport everything to Ultimate Stance in 2015. Plus, they were extremely comfortable on long journeys – ideal! So, the hunt was on for a C5 A6 Avant. After wasting my time viewing several poor examples, a clean 2004 1.9tdi finally popped up at a local car dealer, overpriced and finished in an obscure colour (hearing-aid beige, which it is jokingly known as amongst friends), it was much tidier than anything I’d seen previously. A deal was done, and it was time to transform it into a wagon worthy of the Slam Sanctuary name.
Our Pop-Up Store, all this had to fit in the A6!
A TRIP TO ONLY CHARGED DUBS
Naturally, the A6 had to be lowered as much as possible… But coilovers or air? That was the question. I’ve had people ask me why I didn’t just fit coilovers if I was on a tight budget. Well, the car was going to be fully loaded and weigh a lot. Coilovers just didn’t seem like the right way to go. In fact, I knew from the start that it was going to have to go on air, as I wanted to be able to load the car up whilst simultaneously having it stay at the exact height I wanted, so that it wouldn’t even look like it was under load. Also, with lots of driving planned to new places, including Europe, I didn’t want the hassle of driving a static low car. I’ve done it in the past and as much as I respect those that have the patience for it, the whole goal for this wagon was for it to be a hassle-free daily driver. The less worrying, the better.
Prior to picking up the A6, I had been talking to our friends at Only Charged Dubs (OCD) about their own A6 Allroad, which shares the same C5 platform. They’d just bagged it too, so I knew that they would have first-hand experience with the platform and would be able to recommend which method would work best on my car. Matt at OCD was enthusiastic from the get-go and was always keen on discussing ideas to present me with the most affordable custom solution. I was completely sold on taking the car to OCD and letting him work his magic. The toughest choice, however, was deciding what air management to run. I was on a budget, yes, but a manual setup was out of the question. This was going to be a daily driver, so ease of use was essential. I also knew that the more affordable pressure-based digital systems were not as reliable as they claim to be, so it was really Air Lift 3H vs AccuAir e-Level, the two readily available height-sensor based systems. It seemed better to spend more money in the first place and do things right. In the end, seeing as I was going with Air Lift bags, I went with the tried-and-tested AccuAir e-Level management system, so we could demonstrate as many products that we offer as possible.
Of course, Air Lift Performance was the first choice for bags/struts. However, my A6 is a FWD model and unfortunately Air Lift only offered a complete bolt-on kit for 4WD/Quattro models (standard over in the USA, where Air Lift are based) so we had to go with a front-only Air Lift kit. This meant that a custom setup would need to be fabricated for the rear end… Another reason why I took the car to the very capable OCD.
Luckily, Only Charged Dubs were just about to release their new line of universal bags (BAGS by OCD) so Matt reassured me that there would be no issues with creating a custom rear air setup specifically for my car using their BAGS. Using custom CNC’d mounting cups, the BAGS would fit perfectly in the rear suspension setup of the FWD A6 with very minimal modification.
As the A6 was going to be used more like a van than a car, part of my requirements were to keep all the boot space available, in addition to my spare wheel. As I was going to do a lot of long trips in this car, I wanted the piece-of-mind of having a spare wheel should I ever need it. After some test-fitting, Matt and I agreed that the most effective way to go about it was to mount the AccuAir VU4 manifold and ECU underneath the car. Besides, they’re completely weatherproof! With limited spare space in the boot, there was actually one side compartment that was unused. A small Air Lift 2.5-gallon tank and a single VIAIR 400c compressor were selected to mount in this limiting compartment, whilst everything else would be bolted underneath the car.
Matt’s first task was to run and connect the AccuAir wiring harness from the rear to the front of the vehicle to ensure we had power for the ECU and VU4 underneath the car.
Next, he completely stripped the boot, which was actually a lot more time consuming than you would imagine. Audi certainly know how to engineer their interiors! This left the fitting area completely exposed and ready for installation of the air tank and compressor.
In what limited space we had, the compressor was mounted above the rear wheel arch for a very snug fit. Followed by some minor trimming, the 2.5-gallon tank was secured in the remaining enclosure, preventing it from any unnecessary movement.
Once the boot was reassembled, the result was a completely hidden air install, easily accessible using the factory compartment cover. This was exactly what I wanted, with my spare wheel area completely untouched.
The next step was to get the car onto the ramp and into the air to start fitting the suspension components.
The Air Lift Performance struts were a direct fit and designed specifically for the C5 chassis, so installation was straightforward – replacing the existing shocks for the new units, much like fitting coilovers, with the added connection of the air lines.
The front level sensors were fitted next. The AccuAir e-Level system is based on height, which is determined by specialised sensors on each corner of the suspension. They’re extremely accurate and the system will maintain the vehicle height when loading or unloading passengers or when road conditions change… This is also regardless of load, which is perfect for when I completely load the car up with gear. The location of these is absolutely essential to give an accurate reading. Luckily Matt has installed hundreds of these kits, even on his own C5 Allroad, so he knew exactly where to place them for the best result.
He then moved on to bolting the AccuAir VU4 4-way manifold and ECU underneath the car. It was mounted to the driest area, close to the rear bumper, keeping it out of the elements as much as possible. Although, being completely weatherproof, it’s really nothing to worry about anyway.
The 3/8″ air line was then run to all four suspension corners and also into the boot along to the tank and compressor through one of the factory grommets, keeping the install as OEM looking as possible.
Moving on, it was time for the custom part of the install… the rear setup. The original springs were removed, ready to be replaced with the universal BAGS by OCD.
These stunning custom bag cups were CNC’d to place in between the bags and the car’s chassis.
Matt fully pressure-tested the BAGS prior to installation to check for any leaks to ensure no faults during use.
The only modification needed to install the new bags was to drill a hole into the spring locator so that the bag cup could be bolted in for a tight fit and to avoid the bags coming detached from the vehicle.
The OEM rear shocks were kept during installation, but I later upgraded these to shorter TA-Technix sport shocks, as the original ones were worn out.
Finally, the remaining two level sensors were fitted close to the rear beam, to complete the management part of the install.
Once the auto-calibration was set on the e-Level touchpad, it was finally time to air out the A6!
There you have it. Matt and the team at Only Charged Dubs did an incredible job getting the car on the floor. The first part of the puzzle was complete.
THE FINAL TRANSFORMATION
Obviously, I couldn’t rock the ‘broken suspension’ look for long, so a few final elements were needed to complete the A6’s transformation. Firstly I just had to put some nicer wheels on the car, so I opted for a set of 19×8.5 Rotiform IND-T’s, which were then powder coated in matte anthracite by our partners at The Wheel Specialist Bournemouth and fitted to a set of Nankang NS20 215/35/19 tyres resulting in some subtle stretch. 15mm spacers were also added up front. To match the finish of the wheels, I called on the services of Jack & Luke at JCT Developments in Ringwood to apply some Slam Sanctuary branding using 3M wrap film across both front doors, resulting in a perfect match with the anthracite wheels.
I next visited our friends at Xclusive Customs in Poole to get the rear windows tinted – although I wouldn’t usually go for a complete ‘limo spec’ tint, it was important to hide what I was carrying from view, especially when leaving the car in random places overnight. Lastly, the car was finished off with a Seat Cupra R front splitter which makes the rounded front-end slightly more aggressive. Other than that, the car remains standard. I then got on the phone to our insurers, Herts Insurance Consultants (HIC), to declare the new modifications and agreed on a specialised policy. Don’t forget to do this when bagging your car or your insurance could be invalid… it isn’t always more expensive to do so.
Nine months of testing and abuse later, I finally took the A6 to the New Forest one evening to capture these photographs. To conclude, this car has been the perfect daily workhorse and it does exactly what I need it to do without costing the earth to maintain. I’ve driven it thousands of miles all over the UK and Europe and had no issues with the air ride whatsoever. I can jump in it and drive anywhere without worrying. If you want a hassle-free way to lower your car, I can’t recommend bagging your car enough. Do not fear if there isn’t a bolt-on kit readily available for your car, hopefully I’ve shown that there’s usually a way around it by using universal bags and some basic fabrication which doesn’t have to bankrupt you. Only Charged Dubs even offer a bag upgrade for BC Racing coilovers now, so there really are endless options out there. Don’t be put off, make it a life on air.