I distinctly remember the first time I saw one of Paul’s cars while walking the sweltering aisles of Waterfest in Englishtown, New Jersey. He was toying with a mysterious switch box and it left a lasting impression on me that I still remember to this day. While now-a-days it seems that white Volkswagen MK5s must have rolled off the factory lots with air suspension, back in 2007, air suspension was nearly unheard of at euro shows. Airride had existed for ages in the mini truck world, but it wasn’t even a consideration for euro enthusiasts. So there I stood, gawking at a white bagged MK5 as it went up and down, tucking a set of 19s. Air suspension had my full attention. Paul and I connected over shared interests as I moved onto my own air install and airride began to flourish in the Volkswagen world.
As it usually goes, Paul eventually sold the Rabbit and I moved out to the West Coast, so our paths began to veer apart. But, here I stood, 7 years later, in an Ohio parking lot, mesmerized once again by one of Paul’s Volkswagens. He pulled his Jetta Wagon into the lot, commenting that the strong little Turbo Diesel had managed 28 MPG with the heavy trailer in tow thanks to ECOtune software from the guys at C2. He airred out the Air Lift performance struts over a set of large set of OEM+ wheels, like he had done with the Rabbit back in 2007, but this time it wasn’t the bagged Volkswagen that ensnared my attention. Sitting on the trailer, ready for the upcoming Eurohangar show, was the 1965 Beetle Type 1 that had filled Paul’s time since the Rabbit’s departure.
Having made room in his garage, it was time for Paul to find a new project to tinker with. After years of telling himself that he’d one day own an Aircooled Volkwagen, he turned to The Samba. The price of buses had been slowly climbing, and Type 3s often required numerous parts cars for their restoration, so Paul’s sights were set on finding a Beetle. Careful digging through the classifieds uprooted an all-original ’65 that was waiting for him. Many of the beetles that he found in Ohio had already rotted away after decades of harsh winters, but this particular car sat baking in the California sun. Nestled amongst the hills of Santa Margarita, the original Java Green paint had weathered to the perfect patina, and the dry desert air kept the iron oxide at bay. The car ticked all of the right boxes, and its splendor outweighed the initial hesitations inherent in purchasing a car sight unseen. After requesting a few photos from the owner and nervously sending out payment, Paul moved into the world of Aircooleds.
As with any new vintage car purchase, the basic maintenance needs took priority after its arrival. A master cylinder replacement was followed by a conversion away from the antiquated single circuit brake system of the ’65. While the brake circuit conversion is a job that could be completed with the body on, it was the perfect excuse for Paul to justify the body removal to himself. Before long, the momentum had taken over and everything was disassembled and placed away in labeled boxes througout the garage. It was time to get building.
The original parts were all still there: the factory panels and paint remained straight and the 1200cc engine and transmission were still chugging along with all fourty horsepower after nearly 50 years. On the exterior, the patina told stories of its past and the bare metal that crept through the worn paint of the driver’s door was a testament to the previous owners who had enjoyed cruising in the old Volkswagen. The car had withstood the test of time and it was all too beautiful to touch, so he decided to stay true to its original nature. Approaching the car armed with the same tools and techniques that were available in the 60s, Paul set out to build the aircooled he had always envisioned.
Airride seemed too modern for such an original classic, so Paul set off down the path towards the impossibly low static height that is often found on many aircooleds. With such an extreme departure from the inteded range of suspenion travel, you’re bound to run into problems with the resulting geometry. Dropping the rear down a few splines instantly throws the toe out of whack and begins to unleash the camber that’s associated with the swing axle design. Paul fixed the toe with a set of extended swing plates, and opted to preserve the iconic aircooled camber to tuck the widened Volkswagen Smoothies into the fenders. Unfortunately, at such a steep downwards angle, the factory bearings can be starved of the gear oil that sits behind them, which spells danger, particularly when running such wide wheels. Paul took the necessary measurements and replaced the old factory bearings with a set of sealed ones which were much more up to the task.
Up front, a shockless 5″ Narrowed Beam, a pair of 2″ Drop Spindles, and flipped Tie Rods were assembled to bring the nose down and pull the wheels under the fenders. The drastic drop pushed the entire front beam forward in the wheel wells and angled it back, causing trouble with the caster measurements. To draw the wheels back to center in the wheel wells, Paul sectioned the pan and moved the assembly back away from the nose. With it cut, the panhead was cut and angled upwards to correct the caster changes it had endured. Once it was all welded back together, the sectioned and piecut pan was sent off to sandblasting while he wirebrushed through decades of gunk and grime on the other undercarriage bits. Before re-assembling it all, Paul coated everything in Satin Black, lamenting that such a beautiful pan had to be covered by the body.
So, I sat again in a parking lot, enamored with another build that Paul had assembled in his own garage. A lot of time had passed since we last sat and spoke about builds and aspirations, but we started right back where we last left off. He was now married with two children, but thanks to his loving and supportive wife, Helen, Paul was able to still spend evenings tinkering away at another Volkswagen that would leave a lasting mark on me. Paul’s beetle is simple in its approach and execution, but it’s exactly what you’d expect from a 60’s California cruiser. The marks of time lend it a beauty that can’t be replicated and a character that speaks for itself. Hopefully it won’t be long until I next see Paul, but I’m sure he’ll spend it cruising around in his latest creation.