A NOTCH ABOVE THE REST / #VW-Type-3
‘I had no idea what I was getting myself into’ concedes James Harris, the owner of this ‘S’-trimmed 1965 Notchback. The road to building this project car proved quite arduous indeed, especially since he elected unusual options such as a custom airbag suspension kit. The result is a gorgeous, well-thought out ride, which became one of the main attractions of the #2015
Bug-In! Words & Photos: Stephan Szantai
Though many Californian enthusiasts prefer unveiling their new project cars during the VW Clasic Weekend in June, you can bet a handful of fresh Vee Dubs will show up about a month earlier at Bug-In. This year was no exception, with a couple of Type 3s coming to mind in particular. One of them, the Notchback S you see here, immediately got our attention due to its fit, finish and overall attitude, being slammed to the ground thanks to an airbag suspension kit.
The vehicle belongs to James Harris, who grew up in a muscle and classic car family. ‘My first car was a ’70 Beetle that was given to me by a friend – it hadn’t been running for years. After pushing it five city blocks to my parents’ house, we worked our way around extracting all the critter nests and troubleshooting the engine and electrical. The issue wound up being a bad starter. So 35 dollars later, plus a day or so cleaning and tuning the stock 1600, I was driving that Bug to school. I was 16!’
Fast forward two decades and seven air-cooled VWs gone through... Ready for a new challenge, James set to wrench on a model never officially imported in the U.S. and therefore rather rare: the Notchback. He reached out to the popular thesamba.com community, eventually locating a ’65 ‘S’ located in Oregon. At 800 Dollars, the price was right, although the car showed plenty of rust, having sat in a field for years. ‘It had seen better days’, he admits. ‘But it had never been hit. And along with the deal came an extra floor pan, four extra fenders and miscellaneous parts to complete the rebirth.’
HerrKooled VW Club president Seb Schmidt came to the rescue to help dismantle the hulk. What they discovered wasn’t pretty, with seats in particular being only held up by the tracks mounted to the tunnel and rocker panels. James continues: ‘At this point, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, given I knew absolutely nothing about Type 3s – let alone had never even ridden in one! I didn’t realize that sourcing parts for these cars is almost impossible, because they are not remanufactured, unlike Beetles.’ He did not give up, spending countless hours trying to identify parts all over the world and corresponding with folks in many different time zones; it prompted the ‘NSOMNYA’ personalized license plates.
For the chassis work, James entrusted Pete at Airkewld, an Arizona-based company known for its quality work, which has translated into several groundbreaking project cars. The team had never done an airbag suspension conversion (their specialty) on a Type 3, but enthusiastically dove into the build. ‘All of us didn’t realize what we were getting into’, continues James. ‘This job took the combination of three full pans worth of donor parts and countless hours of fabrication to finally complete the order.’
Eighteen months and plenty of obstacles later, the chassis – now powder-coated Silver Vein – was finally done. It utilizes new Gearson Type 3 pan halves, a reinforced tunnel with an inspection plate for easy access to the cables, in addition to a CADdesigned rear sub-frame to accommodate the air ride suspension, with 2500-Lbs bags. Up front, a 4-inch narrowed beam based on a Type 1 unit welcomes dropped spindles, all new steering components, stainless hardware and air shocks. Adjustments of the ride height come courtesy of an Accuair 4-valve electric system with remote. The driver won’t have issues stopping the vehicle, thanks to an Airkewld Stage 3 disc brake kit, utilizing Wilwood calipers in the front.
Buggy World supplied the ‘Freeway Flyer’ gearbox with a .82 fourth gear, fitted with shortened axles to make sure the rear tyres would fit under the stock fenders without interference. The Nitto rubber in question, measuring 205/40 and 215/40, fit around unusual yet cool 7Jx17 and 7Jx18 Schott Mod-5 rims.
Although he’s owned his share of fast cars, James wanted the Notch to be a reliable cruiser; so he asked Pete to assemble a mild 1776cc with a compression ratio of 8-to-1. It utilizes a CB Performance aluminium case, along with a 69mm VW counterweighted crank and 90.5mm AA pistons/cylinders. An Engle W-110 camshaft activates stock-size valves installed in VW 041 heads, whilst ignition relies on a Pertronix coil and a Bosch 009 distributor with a Pertronix Ignitor. A pair of short CB manifolds supports the #Weber
40IDFs, set in motion thanks to a modified 48IDA throttle linkage. Fumes exit via a ceramic-coated A-1 header and stainless A-1 muffler. Other well-known engine goodies include a CB oil breather, a CPR ‘Smallternator’ alternator, plus a full-flow oil system with a #K&N
While Airkewld doctored up the floor pan, James called on the assistance of a fellow thesamba.com member, RJ, to handle some of the body’s repairs: sunroof channel, rear quarter panel, headlight buckets etc. The two enthusiasts agreed on a handful of alterations, from the shaved rocker mouldings and rear decklid emblems, to the notched inner front wheel wells to accommodate the Type 1 beam. The paint came next, but the unexpected happened... James requested to have the car sprayed with a first coat of VW Strato Silver (a popular Oval Window metallic colour), but the mix wound up being incorrect and closer to a blue hue.
Thankfully, he ended up liking the final result! The shell then moved from RJ’s shop to JM Designs where Jim McKay shot additional coats of paint, followed by clear coats, wet sanding and buffing down to a mirror shine. Once Type 3 guru Brian Hicks installed a fresh ISP West wiring harness, the body could finally be reunited with the floor pan... somewhat reluctantly as the owner jokingly points out: ‘The chassis was so clean that I didn’t want to cover all of Airkewld’s outstanding work with a shell!’ Audio Addiction later took delivery of the car for – you guessed it – a killer stereo featuring custom speaker enclosures for the nine speakers – the system also relies on Alpine and Memphis Audio components.
The next step involved Tito’s Auto Upholstery, a respected shop that handled the rest of the interior. Powdercoated Dove Blue, the 1958 seat frames were dressed with Midnight Blue vinyl and Steel Blue suede, while the dash lost its distinctive pad to welcome more vinyl. High-quality German Square Weave carpet covers the floor and (both!) trunks, after using plenty of Dynamat sound damping material. Other interior amenities include a Nardi-style steering wheel by ISP West, a Black Mamba shifter from Vintage Speed, together with a couple of Autometer Cobaltseries gauges mounted under the dash.
The fun resumed with the final assembly, with all metal parts being either re-chromed (‘S’ badge, headlight rings, handles, bumpers...) or powdercoated (latches/catches, locks...). New weather stripping, seals, trim and polished window frames followed, in addition to the factory VW glass – note the one-off trim in front of the bonnet as well. James, Seb and other friends spent endless nights on the assembly of all the tedious parts. It was worth it... ‘The car came together better than I had imagined’, reveals James. ‘Had I known then how challenging this project would be, I can’t necessarily say I’d have the energy or drive to do it all over again. Out of all the VWs I’ve built over the years, I can truly say this one is a ‘Notch’ above the rest’!
It took James three years to complete his project – undoubtedly one of the highlights of the 2015 Bug-In.
Below left: Built as a dependable cruiser, the Notch relies on a mild 1776cc motor with an.
Engle W-110 cam
Below: Part of the 9-speaker #Alpine
audio system hides in the (front) trunk.
Left: By using a modified Type 1 beam, 205/40-17 nicely fit in the front.
Below: Vintage Speed supplied the efficient and precise Black Mamba shifter.
1. Under the dash, the Autometer oil temp and voltmeter gauge complement the factory instruments.
2. Alpine head unit and USB port have been cleverly concealed in the glovebox.
3. The car stops efficiently thanks to an Airkewld disc brake kit with Wilwood calipers.
4. Blue handcrafted vinyl replaces the stock dash pad. ISP steering wheel is reminiscent of an old Nardi.
5. Schott rims measure 7Jx17 in front and a whopping 7Jx18 in the back.
“James requested to have the car sprayed with a first coat of #VW-Strato-Silver
Above: James chose a ‘road less travelled’ by adapting large diameter rims coupled with an airbag suspension kit.
Below left: German Square Weave carpet can be found throughout the car.
Note three speakers, too Below: You’ve got to love the bench, still featuring its distinctive Type 3 armrest!
Above: Suede and vinyl nicely match the colour of the vehicle, a custom blend metallic blue.