This splendid May #1955
(ribbed door) Oval #VW-Beetle
has been in my family since 1957. It was first owned by my dad’s brother then sold to my dad, Cliff, in 1959. ‘Pappa’s Car’, as my 5 year old son Nathan calls the Oval (and all other Beetles for that matter), was a car destined to never leave the Sedgman fold. My dad had owned many a Volkswagen, mainly Type 3 Wagons for transporting the family around, and he also owned one of the first Split Window Beetles ever to come into Australia and started the #VW
Split Window Club of Australia in the early 80s. There were 13 owners back then.
My dad’s love of Beetles was well known amongst the VW fraternity, both nationally and internationally, and our doorstep was forever awash with boxes of parts ordered in from overseas. This was in the days of pre-internet and fast air delivery, so my dad built up quite a rapport with the local postal and courier people. Patience was a virtue in the 80s, and sea freight did require a lack of urgency when restoring and repairing classic VWs, but people never seemed time poor or in quite so much a hurry as they are these days.
This even applied to photography. Dad and I would always go to the annual DOVW in Melbourne, and I vividly remember taking photos of my favourite cars on my Kodak Instamatic camera and then waiting to take them to the pharmacy for developing. No instant image gratification back then.
Family trips and holidays were very much VW orientated, with my dad always hiding an ulterior motive for wanting to visit a certain place. My mum quickly woke up to this ploy, but it never bothered her too much. My dad was also the ‘go-to’ person for those in the VW circle who needed parts over the years, and although he still attends regular swap meets, his stocks are beginning to run thin. Along with his parts and car, my dad has a keen interest in Beetle models and early literature, something he is still very passionate about. But it is the ‘55 that still gets all the attention.
As an iconic Melbourne Beetle in the 80s, my dad spent many hours doting over the small window bug and modernising it to keep up with the times.
This included 1970s taillights and front fender indicators, a 1500 decklid with chrome vent covers and rear valance, 1500 front bonnet and badge, 1500 headlights and front and rear bars, 1500 seats, a 1835cc engine with 1500 transmission. There were also a plethora of accessories such as a flying #VW-Beetle
emblem, rear stone guard protectors, driver’s side wind deflector, mesh headlight protectors, clear green sun visor, custom hubcaps he adapted from a Humber (pop riveted to 4.5” rims), whitewalls and even a set of Lucas Flamethrower spot lights as used on British cars.
The car over the years has appeared in many publications, including Issue of #Drive-My
, the British Beetling magazine and Melbourne’s The Age and The Sun newspapers to name a few.
This was how my dad used the car as his daily driver, and considering the Beetle covered a 50km round trip every day, it remained a reliable and remarkably sound Beetle. Of course my dad cared for the car in a way a car enthusiast only can. He would always wash and dry the car each time it was out in the rain, and during the day he even convinced the management at Melbourne airport (where he worked) to have it parked in the lock-up area normally reserved for pilots. So when it came time for dad to pass the car onto me, I was given a big responsibility of continuing the ‘55 legacy.
The Oval was in a good used condition when I took the wheel, and I was torn between a full period restoration or keeping the iconic 80s look of the car that had become so well known. In the end, and with my dad’s blessing, I decided to essentially return the Oval to factory specifications along a vintage speed theme with period accessories. Given how heavily modified the car had become, this would be a slow and delicate operation, and my task began with sourcing all the 1954/55 period parts and panels to replace dad’s modernisation design.
Dad got the ball rolling with some NOS heart shaped taillights and a few other odds and ends, and then it was a case of asking and chasing parts. Rick from Volksrecycle chipped in a few period components, as did Nathan Leversha and Boris Orazem from Vintage VeeDub Supplies in Sydney who had many quality reproduction parts in stock, such as rubbers.
I purchased a 1200 twin carb Okrasa motor kit from Wolfsburg West in the States, and had Boris Senek from Volkscare in Melbourne to rebuild an early 36hp engine I had also sourced.
I did keep some of the accessories dad already had on the car, which included the aluminium strips on the vent under the Oval window, the ammeter, Motometer clock and Denhe fuel gauge on the dash and the collapsible gear stick, but of course the 80s mods were all removed. My next challenge was finding somewhere to work on the Oval, and a big shout goes out to my mate Damien Prunty for the loan of his garage during the 4 year restoration. Damien’s garage was where I stripped the ‘55 back to its bare bones and began the transformation.
The build agenda began with Jason Carroll at Chequered Flag Restorations welding up the front and rear fender indicator holes and replacing all the non-period panels. The only rust of any mention was the battery tray, which I replaced with a new period pan section.
Dad had painted the shell in a two tone black over grey scheme - neat, but not factory. After the old paint had been removed, I chose the factory black for that period for both body and pan. Now the time had come to bring it all back together. I decided to keep the 1500 transmission rather than source an original syncro box , and added a Wolfsburg West Abarth 36hp exhaust onto the Okrasa inspired motor.
The drum brakes were also kept, albeit large Type III drums on the rear. I chose to fit an adjustable beam so that I could play with the ride height to achieve a more vintage speed stance. Other than that, the rest of the running gear was refurbished as stock and parts replaced where necessary. The choice of wheels for the car have seen me change styling cues a few times, with Radars, Repro Empi Sprintstars, Porsche Fuchs and even the real deal steel Empi Sprintstars finding their way under the Oval.
The latest set of boots, and the ones I am the most comfortable with, are the tried and true Mangels, 4.5 front and 5.5 rear colour coded to the car and fitted with Sierra Madre imitation 356 brushed chrome drum covers for that vintage speed look. The wheels are wrapped in Nankang 135/R15 and 165/R tyres front and rear respectively.
The interior was given the genuine ‘55 makeover, starting with a restoration of an original batwing steering wheel. Original seats were sourced and restored and painted in their correct factory colour, and then Steve Randall reupholstered them in original stitching style whilst replacing the headlining supplied by Wolfsburg West. The original carpet was threadbare after many years of solid use, so Steve laid in fresh German Square Weave. Period lap sash vintage speed belts in contrasting red and slip-on accessory headrests upholstered to match the interior trim helped finish the look I was aiming for.
I also threw in a few subtle touches that make this ‘55 quite special. Securit rear pop-out windows are a favourite of mine and really add a touch of class, and the bumpers, over-riders, front quarter vent window frames and all handles were rechromed. A combination of NOS and former chrome body moulds make the exterior complete, and I finished with a pair of Amercian style 1955 front turn indicators (basically early Kombi).
The 80s deletes have not made ‘Pappas Car’ any less the cherished ‘55 that either myself or my dad hold fond memories of. I was always conscious about creating a look that was true to the vintage of the Beetle, rather than follow another trend or fad. Therefore, there is no narrowed beam, clear coat patina or rope and canvas wrapped around the front bars. The restoration was not without its moments, though, and had to be worked around moving house twice with renovations and is still being stored, but I am now in the final stages of completing my own garage so ‘Pappas Car’ can finally come home. I would also not start with a pre-built motor, only having to pull it down and start again, but rather build one from scratch to suit the build goals.
And although the collective price of parts used and labour invested into the resto are probably more than the value of the car itself, the ‘55 was well worth every penny and hour spent, and its place in the Sedgman garage is priceless. My son Nathan at 5 years old has started asking me when it will be his - he will have to wait patiently like I did!