Mystery Beach Buggy Build Pt.1

Posted June 01, 2021

By John Kendall

Hi, I’m John and I have a problem.

I feel like I need to kick this off like an AA meeting, but really my most destructive habit is buying project cars that don’t make sense, or that I have no reasonable time to work on. As if a couple sports cars, a ’66 Hemi Satellite and a diesel squarebody GMC project weren’t enough to keep me occupied, I foolishly decided I needed this mystery VW beach buggy when it showed up right in my backyard. Because why not right? It’s just an air-cooled VW?

Other than the proximity to my address, the other thing the buggy had going for it was a rock-bottom price of $900, which I couldn’t say no to. But the universe spared me the first go round — sold the updated listing read — and I almost felt a sense of relief. But to my wallet’s misfortune, it was actually some friends who bought the car, and I knew it was only a matter of time before they’d punt on the project. “Get this ugly yellow thing out of my yard,” they said coming to their senses, and I happily paid them what they had in it. Inevitably, I came to several realizations when I got the buggy home and gave it once over though.

To start, I soon found that it wouldn’t be up and running with a quick tune-up and a few new gaskets. The old Type 1 turned over alright, but had no spark. I tried to get it running using a few electrical bits from my VW-powered sand rail, but no dice. At the end of the day, the wiring harness was a total rat’s nest and would have to be totally redone. The major mechanicals were otherwise solid enough, other than some super shady welding on that ugly roll bar, and a few sheet metal repairs to do on the pan (not to mention all the standard wear items).

The fiberglass body is a bit of a mystery to me though, as I can’t find any information on who made it. There are no markings on it anywhere, and with all the feelers I put out there I’m yet to come up with any information. What I did find is that it was originally done in a blue metalflake gelcoat, and I knew right away that ’60s-style flake would be the only way to go when I get that far.

The next interesting element of the buggy was the driveline, which I assume to be an early bus setup. It’s the swing axle Beetle-style trans with reduction boxes on the end of the axles, which is allegedly what the early buses used. The bus later moved onto a transaxle with a removable bellhousing, which made them much easier to I.D. The portals are a cool bonus because they reduce stress on the rest of the driveline, not to mention adding ground clearance for that proper buggy stance. Just to top it off, it’s got a set of wide-five hubs just begging for a set of centerline wheels.

Jumping ahead some, the buggy project is now torn all the way down so the chassis and body can be overhauled before their happy reunion — so much for taking it easy on this one. But you know how it goes, you might as well take the engine out to work on it, and then you’re only a few bolts and linkages from having the body off, and so on… And next thing you know I have a bare VW pan taking up half my shop. Yeah, I didn’t count on taking it this far, but the level of craftsmanship applied by the previous owners was far from confidence inspiring. And the reward will be another fun vehicle to cruise around in that people don’t see everyday.

Since summer is here, I do hope to knock this project off the list reasonably soon, and I’ll be sure to jot down a few notes along the way. In the meantime, wish me luck, and please let me know if you have any idea what company built this fiberglass mystery machine!

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Buggy RCN Project Cars VW