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Resurrecting a 1970s kit car project

Ed Gleason

On a road out in the country in the early 2000s I passed a pile of blue bodywork and mechanical stuff for sale on the roadside. They were the parts of a VW Bugatti replica kit-car project, barely begun in the 1970s and stored undisturbed in a barn for about 30 years. Looking it over carefully it was clear that almost all of the parts were there to complete the car- the 1966 VW chassis was complete as was the inventory of body panels, the engine wasn't stuck, nor were the brakes. All that was missing was a dashboard, the wiring harness, exhaust system, the head and tail lights and an instruction manual. I could not pass it up.

After a summer of work I had it complete and driveable. I had to construct the wiring from scratch; I built the dash on a piece of engine-turned aluminum I found in Nebraska, adding old-style instruments and a tach: the only one I could find that matched the other instruments maxed out at 8000 rpm! Not much chance of getting there with the stock motor which made it to about 3800 RPM. That was fast enough for a swing-axle car with no roll structure at all. I bought a MIG welder from Harbor Freight, learned to weld enough to build an exhaust system since none that fit under the boat tail bodywork were available in the aftermarket; I found the "smoothy" hubcaps online.

After driving it for a few months I did some calculations of the weight distribution (it was way too light on the front wheels) and bolted about 250 pounds of lead to the underside of the front, just behind the axle tubes. This allowed the front suspension to operate as it ought to, without changing the stock torsion bars and allowed steering and braking to occur at the same time. It was fun building this car, it's fun to drive at 40 MPH on a winding scenic country road, but the best fun is to park it on a street with lots of pedestrian traffic and see the smiles it generates.

I let anyone who asks to sit in it for pictures, and if they don't have a camera with them I take their pictures, hand them a business card with my email address on it, and tell them to email me when they get home and I'll send the photos to them, no charge. I have about 150 photos of people from all over the world sitting and smiling in my "Bug"- a handy nickname for a VW-based Bugatti look-alike.

I put a chrome "VW" that came from the front of a Volkswagen van on the "radiator" in order to make it as clear as I can that it's not a real Bugatti Type 35B from 1929, it's an old man's toy car that's cute. Nonetheless I still get down-their-noses disdain from some collector car owners, but I don't mind, it's mostly because they're jealous when the folks gather around my car and ignore the shiny muscle car or '60s restored MG or Austin Healey. I don't mind that its performance is that of a well worn 1966 Volkswagen beetle, I have a 1973 Datsun 240Z with a GM V-8 drive train that provides speed thrills, and a collection of cafe racer motorcycles that make a thrilling fun on winding roads.

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