THE PORSCHE THAT THINKS IT’S A BEETLE!

Classic Corner

September 30, 2022

 THE PORSCHE THAT THINKS IT’S A BEETLE

There is something poetic about driving in this super Beetle, probably the quickest one in South Africa, and definitely the best-handling Beetle that I have ever driven in, and that includes my time spent in some very special, second-generation New Beetles, as sold here from about 2000 onwards.

Thing is, this Beetle is an optical illusion. It only looks like a Beetle, but beneath that Bug-like exterior, it’s actually a Porsche Boxster.

I wonder if Ferdinand Porsche ever dreamt, when he designed the first Beetle for Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s, that such a Super-Dooper People’s Car would be built?  After all, the Type 1 Volkswagen, or Beetle, as it came to be known, was produced as a cheap car to put Germany’s masses on wheels. With less than 18 kW on tap from its 1 000 cc flat-four air-cooled motor, it had a top speed of 100 km/h and was meant to be affordable by anyone and everyone.

World War Two put a spanner in the works, of course, and it was only after the war ended that, in1946, Beetles began scuttling out of the giant war-battered factory in Wolfsburg, under the supervision of Allied occupying forces.

Miraculously, by 1948, the factory was up to full speed and handed back to the Germans and Beetles were selling like wildfire all over the world. Just a few years later the one-millionth VW Beetle had been produced, and over the next 40-plus years, over 20 million of them would make ‘The People’s Car’ legendary all over the planet!

Now, in 2022, there’s a 1973 Beetle running around the streets of Pretoria that will run to a top speed of 250 km/h, and accelerate to 100 km/h in under seven seconds! The first 1100 cc versions we had here took over 30 seconds to get to 100 km/h. “What you have to realise,” says owner Benhardt Drescher, a 41-year-old petrol-head who runs a used-car dealership in Montana, north of the Pretoria CBD, “ is that the only Beetle thing about this car is the upper body. The rest is all Porsche Boxster!”

This becomes apparent when you climb inside the car and notice the Boxster interior, complete with tasteful Alcantara and Napa leather upholstery, the fact that it has Porsche instrumentation, air-con, dual airbags, and what appears to be an engine beneath a perspex cover in the rear, where a stock Beetle would have another passenger seat.

That’s right. The Porsche Boxster is mid-engined, the first large-scale production Porsche to be so configured back in the 1990s, and because this is merely a Boxster wearing a Beetle Halloween mask, it makes sense that the engine should be there, right behind the two front seats.

Look more closely at this car and you’ll notice that subtle Porsche Boxster details abound. Like those tasty large-diameter Boxster-spec black wheels, and the red Porsche brake callipers behind. Also, there is no stock VW badge on the car. On the rear engine lid, there is a special laser-cut badge that says: “VW-986 S”. That’s a subtle clue, signifying that the underpinnings of the car are based on the first-generation Porsche Boxster, factory type 986, built between 1996 and 2004. The “S” part refers to the fact that the body is, in fact from a late-generation VW Beetle, known as a     1303 S.

In fact, us South Africans never got to experience the 1303 versions of the Beetle here in any significant numbers. The cars that were built in Uitenhage were pretty much based on the same floor plan from 1951 until January 1979, when production of the Type 1 ended. The much-improved 1303 S was sold in the UK and the U.S. from the early 1970s onwards, and featured a curved windscreen and a longer nose, than “our” Beetles, incorporating McPherson strut type suspension. Our Beetles all used the twin torsion beam front end. Okay, we did have a curved windscreen Bug here called the “S” in the mid-1970s, but it still had the same old torsion beam and drum brake front suspension, and the same swing axle rear suspension.

The 1302 S also had a slightly longer overall length and a slightly longer wheelbase than the original. And guess what? The 2 420 mm wheelbase turned out to be almost identical, within 5 mm, to that of the Porsche Boxster S. No doubt the guys that built this car in the UK in 2013, two brothers originally from Brazil, realised this fact when they decided to do the conversion. Marcos and Mauricio Varlotta run a London-based company called VW Two Concepts, specialising in hot VWs. They cut the Boxster body off, and after widening the stock VW mudguards (fenders) and bumpers, they ended up with a car that thinks it’s a Beetle, but goes and handles and stops like a Porsche. Brilliant!

The car was initially bought in 2017 by a South African gentleman who lived in Namibia, and a few years later it ended up for sale in Hermanus, which was where Benhardt spotted it late last year.

The bodywork and paint was slightly shabby in appearance, and so the new owner  had the car stripped down to metal, changing the colour from its original white to a stunning Porsche GT3 colour, known as Voodoo Blue. The excellent re-paint was done by Pretoria’s Dewald Nel, of Nel’s Autobody. It was also completely re-trimmed inside, right down to an Alcantara suede headlining, and suede covering from the integral roll cage that the Varlotta brothers devised.

At the same time, Benhardt commissioned Jaco Scheepers of Stealth Exhausts in Pretoria to build him a new stainless-steel exhaust system for the car. “I told him I wanted the sound to be quiet at cruising speeds and to scream at the 7 000 red-line. It does exactly that!”

It’s worth bearing in mind that the most potent production Beetle to go on sale here, in 1977, was the SP, a limited-edition twin-carb model that is now very collectable. It managed the 0-100 km/h time in 16,8 seconds and had a top speed of 142 km/h, which was still slow by the standards of the day, when a mere Datsun 1200 GX could beat it comfortably to 100 km/h and on top speed.

The SP was rated at 50 kW, so you can only imagine what a Beetle with more than three times the power feels like. With a similar weight to the Boxster and 168 kW, this Beetle should run close to a top speed of close to 250 km/h which was what the Boxster achieved back in 2002. Benhardt says he has had the little car up to an indicated 220 km/h with a lot more to come.

More importantly, the Beetle feels completely stable at that speed. Climb on the brakes and it stops straight and true, enter a corner and it goes where you point it, just like a Porsche!

For Benhardt, his car is the ultimate Beetle, and he owns five of them, including a rare 1957 oval window model, and a 1965 Beetle. Many of his Bugs have been extensively modified, using Mazda Rotary power. But this package with Porsche running gear, with spring rates, dampers and steering geometry remaining exactly as to Stuttgart specs, means that there is no compromise on this car.

It grips like a Porsche, goes like a Porsche, screams even better than a standard Boxster at the red-line, and yet it looks so innocent. What’s more, the automatic rear wing on a Boxster that pops up to aid stability at 120 km/h-plus, is present on the Beetle rear engine lid, and works properly, just as it did once upon a time on its roadster bodywork.

Those little black air vents on the rear flanks, by the way, are stock Boxster items and feed air to the air intake for the engine and the radiator at the rear. Benhardt believes this VW-bodied Boxster is one of only two such examples to be found anywhere in the world, and he reckons he now owns the ultimate Beetle.

After spending time in the car and lingering outside taking in all the details that look to be built to factory-production standards, we wholeheartedly agree with him on that score!

By Stuart Johnston, pics by Jay Groat

 

 

 

Classic COrner & REStoration

Classic cars are the next big investment. As such the sector of restoration is growing in the realms of collision repair and it’s definitely the “sexier” side of the business. There are many opportunities to create exotic special-builds as well as keep timeless beauties in mint condition.

DRIVEN

With three motoring-journalists on our staff, we are able to test drive and review some of the latest models available on our roads as well as attend the latest model launches.

TRAINING

Knowledge is power. Training is key to up-skilling repairers as models launch onto our local roads faster than we can count. We also need to grow new talent into the collision repair industry. Courses are available to help and organisations are in place to train - this information is in Industry Index.

classic corner & resoration

Classic cars are the next big investment. As such the sector of restoration is growing in the realms of collision repair and it’s definitely the “sexier” side of the business. There are many opportunities to create exotic special-builds as well as keep timeless beauties in mint condition.

Driven

With three motoring-journalists on our staff, we are able to test drive and review some of the latest models available on our roads as well as attend the latest model launches.

TRAINING

Knowledge is power. Training is key to up-skilling repairers as models launch onto our local roads faster than we can count. We also need to grow new talent into the collision repair industry. Courses are available to help and organisations are in place to train - this information is in Industry Index.

Browse our other content

Future Tech

what's hot

NEW PRODUCTS