Sometimes my mail carrier delivers things a bit late, which could explain why my April 12, 1958 issue of Das Auto Motor und Sport only just arrived the other day. “Holy crap,” I exclaimed upon looking at the cover, “the new ’58 Dauphine is here!” Excited that perhaps I could be the first American journalist to review the ’58 model, I did a quick Google search and found that I’d been scooped by a frustratingly meager 65 years. “Shit snacks!” I screamed, flinging the magazine at one of the many taxidermied weasels that filled the curio cases lining the wall of my conservatory. The magazine caused one of the weasels to ricochet back at my face, where it caught me, hard on the bridge of my nose. I went down, blinded by pain, and the last thing I heard was a colossal whudd when I impacted the floor.
I must have been out for a while, because I was awoken by the impact of my Roomba against my head, and then fully awoke when a chunk of hair was spiral-wound into the Roomba’s brushes. As I frantically tried to disengage the whining Roomba from my hair, my eye alighted on the Motor und Sport magazine cover, which boldly stated “VW mit V8-Motor!” Huh, I thought, a V8 swapped Beetle in 1958? That’s pretty incredible! Then I finally yanked the Roomba off my head, taking with it a sizable chunk of hair and a bit of scalp, then stumbled backwards through a pair of glass sliding doors and tumbled painfully down a wrought-iron spiral staircase, landing in the warm muck of my compost drum.
People have been swapping engines of all sorts into Volkswagen Beetles for a hell of a long time; the most famous example of this is undoubtedly Paul Newman’s 1963 red Beetle convertible with a 351 cubic inch Ford V8 mounted where the rear seats used to live and driving the rear wheels via a five-speed ZF transmission from a (likely) Ford GT40.
Newman wanted to create the ultimate sleeper, and he was pretty damn successful. This Beetle was completed around the mid-to-late 1960s, and though it’s by far the best known V8-swapped Beetle, it likely wasn’t the first. as both Beetles and V8s were quite common in America about this time. I think the one referenced in Motor und Sport has a decent chance of being the first, because it had to have been build sometime well before April of 1958, and while Volkswagen was gaining quite a foothold in America (VW sold over 64,000 cars in America in 1957), they weren’t the wildly ubiquitous things they’d become throughout the 1960s.
The article only shows one picture of the V8-swapped Beetle in question, and it gives a few clues as to what year the original car was:
The oval window tells us that this is a pre-1958 car, and the bumper overriders mean it has to be a 1956 or 1957 car. A ’56 or ’57 Beetle would have come with an 1192cc 36 horsepower engine, which means that the 4.7-liter/286 cubic inch Corvette engine that replaced the little air-cooled flat-four has almost five times the displacement and, at 283 hp, nearly eight times the power as the original equipment. The first lines of the story explain what is going on:
One likes to dream of the inconspicuous car with the enormous performance. Normally, however, the ambition of the VW driver does not go further than the dual carburettor system or the Porsche engine. What an American set up with his VW, as described here, seems quite improbable: he installed a 4.7 liter Chevrolet Corvette engine. With our statements about the remarkable technical details we rely on the American time SPORTS CARS ILLUSTRATED, the report of which we freely reproduce.
What I find strange is that no name is actually given for the builder, who is just referred to as the “owner.” I also have not been able to find the issue of Sports Cars Illustrated where they reproduced the story from, but I have been looking through their archives online.
I was curious about how the engine cooling would be handled for something like this, and the diagram does show that pretty well, at least. The Corvette engine is mid-mounted, and looking at the diagram, it seems that cooling air for the rear-mounted radiator is sucked in from underneath the car and sent to the fully ducted radiator via a pair of blowers on either side of the engine, right behind each of the front seats. The air seems to go through fat pipes on either side of the engine and then through the radiator, presumably to be exhausted out the VW’s old air intake louvers under the rear window.
Of course, the most striking thing about the build visually has to be the clamshell design that allows the whole rear half of the car to flip open. The article gives a few details of how this was done:
In order to increase the size of the resulting large “bonnet”, the normal hood was welded shut and the underside reinforced with thin steel tubing. Two old Ford connecting rods were welded to the rear cross-member of the new frame and act as hinges for the new hood, which in turn is held in place by two latches, accessible from the front but invisible from the outside. The engine is a standard Chevrolet Corvette engine with fuel injection. The output is 283 SAE hp with a displacement of 4.7 litres. The only non-standard parts are the hydraulic throttle control cylinder and purpose-built exhaust manifolds. The clutch is also from the Corvette; it is operated hydraulically by a Chevrolet master cylinder installed alongside the VW brake cylinder. The last part of the Corvette three-speed gearbox housing was cut off and replaced with a steel plate. The main shaft was shortened and modified to accommodate a Ford cardan joint. The Halibrand differential was bolted to the tubular frame behind the gearbox.
I think when they say “normal hood” they mean the engine lid, not the front hood for the trunk and fuel tank, and it appears the bodywork was reinforced with tubing, and connecting rods (!) were used for hinges. Wow. This setup reminds me an awful lot of the remarkable flat-eight air-cooled 3.2-liter Beetle built by the Brazilian racing brothers Fittipaldi, which used a pair of 1.6-liter VW engines bolted together, and the body was designed to swing open in much the same way as the unnamed Beetlevette builder above. Here’s the Fittipaldi 3200 VW Bimotor:
As you can see, the basic idea is pretty much the same. The Fittipalidi Beetle used a fiberglass body and was built in 1969 – over a decade after our mystery V8 Beetle. Plus, this was a purpose-built racing machine, and the V8 Beetle seems to have been just somebody’s bonkers toy.
What I would love to know is if this is, in fact, the first time that anyone had shoehorned a V8 into a Beetle. I feel pretty confident in saying it likely is. The place is right – if this would have happened anywhere there were Beetles, it would have to be America, with its vast stretches of roads and plentiful V8 engines. Maybe Australia, which got Beetles just a bit after America did, in 1953, though they were actually built from CKD kits Down Under instead of just being imported, as they were in the U.S.
Still, I think America is the most likely place for this to have first happened, and, if this did happen in 1956 or 1957, that seems like about the right time. Beetles were still relatively new in America, starting with two being brought over in 1949, and only selling 1139 in 1953. By 1955, they were selling over 32,000 a year, going up to over 50,000 by 1957, which means that’s just about the first time that Beetles would have been getting common enough in America for someone to likely think of a crazy idea like this.
I wish I had more information on who did this build, and where and why and what happened to the car. I presume that, weighing likely well under 2000 pounds and probably driving on crossply tires with nearly 300 hp on tap, the thing likely got launched into an ocean or something like that. But I feel like even if this one isn’t precisely the first swap of its kind, it’s likely a very early example of what would become a staple of American car culture: jamming Chevy V8s into small things to make trouble and speed.
Look at the kilograms per horsepower rating there: 3.3 kilograms (about 7.3 pounds) per horsepower, which puts this overachieving Beetle in the same class as a W12 Bentley Continental GT, actually better, even, since the 626 hp Bentley gets rated between 7.9 pounds/hp and about 9 pounds/hp. That’s pretty amazing, especially for 1957.
There’s also one other remarkable detail mentioned in the story that makes me really, really want to see a photograph:
Finally, a scoop: so that the machine cannot see through the windows, it is covered with a fiberglass plate which gives the impression from the outside that the rear seats are full of luggage, suitcases, you can see a shoe box there: convincing. And in order to disperse the last one, the owner of the VW-V8 bought another VW that looks the same but is normal, and he and his children take a leisurely stroll in the back on Sunday afternoons.
Wait, what? There’s some sort of fake interior printed on a fiberglass panel, so that if you look through the windows, it looks like the back half of the car is just full of random luggage? That’s astounding! Where are the pictures of this thing?
My curiosity is very energized here, so I’m going to keep looking around, and hopefully can do a follow-up story. As always, if anyone has any clues or ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments. Until then, we can just all enjoy knowing that one of the earliest wildly-hot-rodded Beetles may be older than anyone guessed, and had an engine camouflaged under a picture of suitcases and shoeboxes.
UPDATE: Thanks to the super-sleuthing of commenter RaKr, the original article has been found, in the January ’58 Sports Car Illustrated. How did I miss this? The dirty truth about this business is sometimes you just want to get something up and published. But, happily, this isn’t print, and I can update, like now, showing you the story by autojourno legend Bob Cumberford called Violent VW:
The original story also includes two important pics: a photo of the incredibly stealthy car, and a drawing of the molded fiberglass fake luggage in the rear, which is so clever and fun I just want to spit:
Another fascinating tidbit that shows the level of commitment to stealth from the anonymous builder: he has an identical stock VW that he drives around with his kids in the back seat just to keep everyone nice and confused. Wow.
Also, now that I can read the original article in my native tongue, the tone feels like this is all new and novel, and makes me think it likely is the first V8-into-Beetle swap. Amazing!
Random thought that keeps bothering me, why weasels? I would have thought your curio cabinets would be full of obscure tail lights, turn signals, and trim. Or maybe something more normal like my carburetor an oil can shelf, but weasels? Why? is there some hidden connection that I don’t know about like a weasel powered soviet bloc car or something? This is bothering me more than it should.
The builder of this Cadillac 500-swapped 911 SC did the same fake-luggage thing:
Explains how this happened:
The Vette motor was 283 c.i.d., a very-common Chevy V8 for ten+ years, not 286 which I imagine was arrived at by converting from the stated give-or-take-a-little litre size although I can’t find my TI calculator on this desk. The F.I. version was same advertised hp as displacement. A buddy near you guys in Santa Clarita has a front-mount LS Squareback which looks stock and works pretty well.
Ayyyyy it’s the guy who autocrossed a Mirage! Hey everyone, this guy autocrossed a Mitsubishi Mirage!
Damn I really thought I spotted a “famous” in another forum member in the wild.
Hey! I saw that bonkers squareback a couple of weeks ago at C&C in Santa Clarita- looked like a truly scary drive (I say that with all respect, of course!).
BRAVO! Great content, keep up the good work.
This is delightfully crazy. The detail about the twin being bone stock makes it even better.
That shut line for the new enlarge engine cover/entire rear section of the car must be ‘very fine’ indeed, because I can’t see anything at all in that photo. I know it’s not the best copy of a photo, but if expect to be able to see it in the sill section at least.
How confident are we this actually exists? I get the privacy angle (somewhat), but no photos at all of the engine or cover open? Others in the comments have a better idea on the individuals involved, but this does start to sound like an author with a good sense of humour and a friendly diagram line artist. Not entirely unlike some of the more creative articles from Torch over the years… Is this just game respecting game, Jason?
The “identical stock VW” part is another red flag, so if you ever see the car in public then “sorry I’m in my normal VW today”
Shades of the ol’ girlfriend in Canada – super hot and smart, but no I don’t have a good quality photo and she’s never around for you to see, but trust me guys!
My cousin put an Olds Toronado drive train in the back of his extended ’68-ish Chevy panel van.
Major issue was shorter torsion bars, but being a metallurgical engineer, his v2.0 (after simply truncating the originals) was a pair machined from a carefully-selected alloy.
Owner: Pulls into service station. “Can you check my oil?”
Attendant: “Sure” walks to front of car and hesitates. “You almost got me, I’ve been fooled by this before!” Walks to rear of car…
I didn’t know people were doing elaborate sleepers as early as ’58 !
Same tires and wheel too ?
The best thing is the fiberglass fake luggage.
Now I want to make one of those covers for the cargo area of my wagon, but depict something bizarre. Human body parts? Dead fish? Sex toys?
Why not all of the above?
Bizarre? How about a seeming pile of old manikins? Some of the old ones were really creepy.
Also, would disinvite potential break-ins
How about a seething pile of old manikins? That would be bizarre.
I had some of those Micro Machines cars as a kid where you could hold the car up to a light and look through the sunroof and it would show a (grainy, low-res) shot of what was “inside” the car (actually a tiny stained-glass-like plastic panel on the underbody). Of the two Beetles I had, one was a bizarre clown car contortionism orgy, and the other had a couple of fishermen, no back seat, and fishing tackle all over the resulting shelf.
Whoever came up with that idea was weird.
This feels like a great product idea, something that would show up in JC Whitney but that I’d actually want to buy.
The roomba incident might have improved your hair
Harsh, but fair.
A Roomba is just an autonomous Flowbee after all.
This not being April First, I can only point out that the primary illustrations are drawings. Nicely done, too. And the photos of the car show that the camouflage was so clever that the lift-up rear section is totally inconspicuous. Mr Cumberford has/had a wicked sense of humor….
That said, the late ’50s and early ’60s were a time when Chevy V8s were shoehorned into everything, from Frogeye Sprites to Ferraris. Another example — which apparently actually existed — was the “Roaring Renault,” a Dauphine that got, if memory serves, a carbureted Chevy engine in its backseat space. That one appeared, I believe, in Sportscar Graphic magazine. With photographs, even.
I presume that the weasel ripped your flesh? There’s a Frank Zappa album on the subject.
This thing looks terrifying, and I am all the way here for it.
My first thought was that he was running, running, running like a constipated weiner dog.
Imagine that with an all aluminium LS or even a Rover baby V8 so you pay less of a weight penalty…
The aluminum(Aluminium) BOP ( later Rover) V8 did not see the light of day until 1961, three years of waiting, but then it would be doable. Put your Tardis, back in the garage.
It’s weird you’re hung up on the Rover V8 thing but not the LS which is literally decades later…
Yeah it is.
There are dozens of more modern swaps that would give give comparable power and make a lighter combination.
> der Fahrtwind fehlt
Heh heh heh
Go Far with Fartella! *(Fartella is not for everyone. Fartella should not be given to children under 12 or adults over 18, and has not been tested on adolescents between 12 and 17. We can’t get them past the name. Side effects of Fartella include increased flatulence, gastric discomfort, excessive flatulence, medical bankruptcy, excessively increased flatulence and in rare cases can cause a condition known as Jet Propulsion Syndrome. While on Fartella, patients should avoid proximity to open flames. In clinical trials someone tried to light a Fartella patient’s flatus. Hugeconglom Pharmaceutical denies all responsibility for the resulting city-block-size crater, now a Superfund site.)* Fartella! Ask your doctor today!
In Danish the word for ‘speed’ is ‘Fart’ and the term for schedule (like for a bus or ferry) is ‘fartplan’. I love unintentional linguistic hilarity
Found it: https://archive.org/details/sim_car-and-driver_1958-01_3/page/24/mode/2up
Though it looks like the builder wished to remain anonymous.
However, the article’s author, Bob Cumberford, is still around (according to Wikipedia anyway) if someone wants to see if he remembers anything about the car and its maker. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Cumberford
Thanks. I knew Sports Car Illustrated preceded Car and Driver, but it was before my time (started reading car magazines in the early ’80s). Then, recognizing the illustration style in the article, I went down the rabbit hole looking up Stan Mott drawings among other things.
Yeah, San Mott’s work is pretty great. I love that in the original article he did both the realistic cutaway and the cartoon depictions of the Violent VW going full tilt.
Mott and Cumberford worked together quite a bit over the years, with one of their satiric creations, the Cyclops, becoming really well known. The Lane Motor Museum even has a replica: https://www.lanemotormuseum.org/collection/cars/item/cyclops-two-replica-1957/
Seems like the history of the Mott, Cumberford and the Cyclops would make for a great story and “Jason Drives” style adventure.
That’s some good sleuthing, nice work 🙂
Thank you for doing this important work Jason.
Sometimes I’m very nearly convinced that Jason is paid by the word.
Since the first fuel injected vette came out in 1957 it would have most likely been a new engine rather than from a wreck. I’d put my money on a GM engineer.
I think that’s close, I think this is Cumberford’s own car.
When he worked at GM during the time frame, he drove a VW, he also has the perfect sense of humor for such a construction. I don’t think it too much of a leap to be at least possible.
I particularly like the detail that it has the original brake master cylinder, in turn implying it has the *original brakes*.
I thought the same thing! “Original brakes, huh? I wonder how they make it stop?”
I was entranced by this beast: a Chevy 427-powered drag Beetle, complete with tubbed rear end and parachute. Only $50K! 🙂
It’s always less impressive to me when they have the engine in the front.
I had to hit the bookshelf to make sure this wasn’t an elaborate work of fiction, but there it was right there on Page 20. Jason tells the truth. I’ll never doubt another one of his articles, no matter how far fetched it may seem. (-;
i would give my left testicle to drive that…
Left testicle? Best I can do is YOUR LIFE.
Just as my faith in humanity is waning like a new moon
And my depression has slipped its foot in the door like an obtrusive salesman
Suddenly the elusive Seattle sunlight shines down on my wrenching back
And I’m reminded how great humans can be
By an article from an Autopian
Bonkers is the greatest word in the history of humanity.
I dare you to find a better one.
Bonkers always pulls rock when every other word pulls scissors.
The word bonkers has no history in etymology.
Bonkers doesn’t ever go up against paper.
This. This shit right here is why I always read down to the very last comment. I mean, I just shook hands on a beater Isuzu pickup so was smiling anyway, but that poem is great frosting
An Isuzu pick up
No better way to embrace the muck
Is it an Hombre or a Pup
Or is it simply labeled truck
There’s no better way to part the clouds
Than with a handshake and new vows