JUST BUGGIN’ Late-spec air-cooled Beetle gets left-field makeover we canʼt get enough of
Max Edward’s late-model Beetle, running uncharacteristic wheels, may be frowned upon by the air-cooled fraternity but we just love it. What do you think? Words: Elliott Roberts. Photos: Ade Brannan.
We don’t tend to feature many air-cooled Dubs in the pages of Performance VW. Now that’s not because we don’t like them you understand. Far from it. It’s more the fact that there are already plenty of other publications around specialising in non-water pumpers. That’s not to say we won’t run them in the mag though. Every now and again something ‘air cooled’ turns up that’s just so off the wall that we can’t resist the urge.
In fact, there have been a few instances of late where that’s happened. It’s actually been like the early days of PVW when we specifically highlighted one air-cooled Dub per issue. Only last month we featured Richard Jones’ stunning Type 34 Karmann Ghia (albeit it with a 13B rotary motor out back) from Las Vegas. Then, back in the January issue, it was the turn of Jo Riley and his custom ’1972 Karmann Ghia (this one running an MR2 turbo engine). It doesn’t stop there either, because the month prior to that we brought you news of a car we’d been chasing for quite some time: the electric-powered ‘Black Current’ drag racing Beetle. Like we said, it’s only the ‘out there’ cars that really appeal and while Max Edwards, owner of the creation on this very page, has retained an air-cooled motor, his Bug is anything but conventional.
Okay, so we admit, it was the wheels that initially drew us to Max’s ’1978 Beetle, but we soon discovered the car as a whole has been built with a slightly different approach. “Cars have always been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember,” he says. “My dad had air-cooled Dubs in the ’80s. That’s when we started to go to shows and I fell in love with VWs and, more specifically, Bugs.” Amazingly, at the tender age of just 22, Max doesn’t only own this Beetle but also his own restoration business, called EVA VW Retro. “We specialise in air-cooled and early water-cooled VWs mainly.”
Although he’s owned more air-cooled Dubs than anything else, Max admits he prefers the approach to building a water-cooled show car.
“I find the air-cooled scene incredibly samey,” he reveals. Perhaps that’s why we are so fond of his Beetle, he’s put a water-cooled spin on it! “There are just so many people running the same tried and tested looks and not doing anything different. The water-cooled scene always struck me as being a bit more experimental, so I wanted to take some of this and apply it to my air-cooled car.”
He may be in his early twenties but Max has already had 11 cars so far. From Type 3s, a couple of E30 Beemers, and even a Porsche 924, he’s had the lot, but the Beetle was his first car at the tender age of 16. Did he ever expect it to get this out of hand, though? “The car was shiny and solid but neglected when I bought it. It had been repainted in its original silver but nothing else has been done.” According to Max it began life as a ‘Last Edition’ 1200L and it still has a numbered plaque inside that ranks it at number 213 of 300 of the last ever Beetles sold in the UK.
“I couldn’t afford an early car back then, but this was pretty solid, just needing small bits doing that, at 16-years-old, I could fix myself. If I had an early car then I probably wouldn’t have ended up going this far with it.” Apparently the car’s been through a number of different looks along the way and despite his plan to lower it and just do the odd bit here and there, Max never envisaged a full restoration with a colour change and a set of wheels that cost the same as buying the car in the first place!
So what style, if any, influenced him? “I’ve always liked the ‘German-look’, which usually features Porsche parts and engineering on fast road and track Beetles.” Max was obviously heavily influenced by the whole stance movement, too: “The car has always had a bit of Porsche flavour to it I guess. In fact, the BBS RSs are actually spec’d for a 930 Turbo with wider rears and relatively skinny fronts, giving it the perfect stance.” We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves though, so let’s rewind a bit.
The first thing Max did when he got the car was sort out the interior. “When I bought the car it looked like a bear had been living in it, so I fitted replacement OE seat covers, prior to the 964 Tombstones going in.” Having done his thing with the car for a couple of years, it was actually the summer of 2013 that the it came off the road for the mother of all strip downs. “It was pretty tough taking my lovely, dependable Beetle off the road and stripping it down to nothing more than a bare shell, chassis, and a box of bits. It wasn’t the build that was hard part but more being unable to drive the thing,” he says.
Apparently most people thought he was mad taking the car off the road but he knew that behind the tidy façade there were some nasty areas that would soon be exposed, so he decided to get in there first. “The car had a fair bit of rust repair welding done, requiring some small panels and localised repairs,” he explains. In the end the chassis had brand-new pan halves, too, with everything being blasted and either painted or powdercoated during the rebuild. It was truly like a brand-new car when it hit the road again. When it came to paint, Max fancied white – not just some factory shade, though, but RAL 400 white. “None of the VW whites were white enough,” he says, “but I now know why manufacturers don’t paint their cars pure white as I practically need to wear sunglasses now every time I wash it.”
When it comes to chassis mods, Max claims the car is mainly stock, with a few ‘enhancing’ modifications: “The front end is narrowed 2” to allow for the aggressive fitment and runs long travel ball joints, dropped spindles and strengthened shock towers.” Sounds quite serious to us! Out back Max choose to go down the IRS route: “There are a lot of Beetles dropped dirty-nasty low on standard swing-arm suspension but it just doesn’t perform too well. Mine uses semi-trailing arms and CV-jointed driveshafts. It drives as good low as it does at standard ride height, without the crazy camber, too.” Max claims the rear end had to be notched a fair bit but he’s so happy with the way it looks and drives. “I went for air-ride as well, as I wanted it a lot lower but without compromising the way it drove. It was just way too soft static and used to bottom-out all the time.”
Max claims the wheels are one of his favourite parts of the car: “I know RSs are a bit played-out on the water-cooled scene and yet they’re almost unheard of in air-cooled circles.” He had considered doing Autostradta Modenas but is pleased he went with the RSs and being direct fit, they couldn’t be any better. “I really, really didn’t have the money for the wheels at the time but I just had to have them,” he reveals.
“I struggled money-wise for a while but don’t regret them one bit.”
If anything, Max wishes he’d done a bit more to the bodywork, which is still very much stock (other than the graphics) but we reckon it looks perfect as it is. Okay, we’re obviously massive fans of the look but how has the car been received on the air-cooled scene? “It’s been a bit of a mix, with some people not even noticing it at all and then others just totally getting it,” Max tells us. He reckons the air-cooled scene is very set in its way and if it’s not an early-type car, done the right way, on the right wheels, then it just won’t get a look in. “They probably look at mine and wonder why I’m running Mk1 Golf wheels. It’s one of those cars you either get or you don’t, I guess,” he grins.
When it comes to the motor, Max is running a 1641cc lump with an Engle 110 cam, straight- cut gears, all high-rev valve gear, 1.25:1 ratio rockers, a pair of Solex Kadron carbs, and a Vintagespeed stainless exhaust. The engine runs on electronic ignition with a custom breather box setup, MST serpentine pulley kit with all-gold tinware and powdercoated black auxiliaries. “It all runs through a Freeway Flyer gearbox with a longer fourth and final drive. I’ve had the car into triple figures a few times and it just keeps on pulling,” Max smiles.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. “The car’s been super reliable, always starts and runs great. There was this one time, though. We were on the way to our local meet, gunning it down the motorway at a fair pace, when all of a sudden there was a big plume of white smoke out the back,” Max says. He killed the engine and coasted to the hard shoulder. Turns out the main oil line for the remote filter on the exhaust had melted. “As I didn’t have any more oil line with me we had to wait for a recovery vehicle, but that just gave us chance to air it out and take a couple of ‘scene’ photos for social media,” he laughs. We like the fact Max doesn’t take himself or the car too seriously. Max is the first to admit he never set out to get attention. “I’m honestly so chuffed when people do get it. I never expected a magazine like PVW to be interested in my air-cooled car. I’m still as in love with the car now as I was when I drove it daily at 17.”
As for the future, well, Max has already retrimmed the interior since our shoot with Porsche Pasha pattern and half leather seats and doorcards, plus a trimmed boot build along with Alcantara headliner and a new air controller. This year he just intends to enjoy the car for now, but when it does start looking a little tired then it will get torn down and the colour changed, as he explains: “I’ll probably go for some super-deep Nutmeg brown metallic or maybe even classic Porsche Guards red.” It sounds like Max has put some thought into this already. “I certainly never plan to sell the car. I’d like to make it properly fast one day too,” he adds. We’ll just have to watch this space. This is certainly not the last we’ve heard of Max or his Beetle for that matter.
You can’t beat a Bug for mod-cos, you know, like a steering wheel, seats, erm…
“I’ve had the car into triple figures a few times and it just keeps on pulling”
“The water-cooled scene always struck me as being a bit more experimental, so I wanted to apply this to my air-cooled car”
Dub Details #1978
ENGINE: 1641cc four-cylinder with Engle 110 cam, straight cut gears, all high rev valve gear, 1.25:1 ratio rockers, twin #Solex-Kadron
carburettors, Vintagespeed stainless steel exhaust, electronic ignition, custom breather box setup, MST serpentine pulley kit and other dress parts, all gold tinware and powdercoated black parts. Freeway Flyer gearbox with longer fourth and final drive
CHASSIS: Stock VW spine and floorpans, #IRS
converted. Six-point braced rear, 2” narrowed front. #Air-Lift
EXTERIOR: Pure white paint, vinyl stripes, aluminium running boards, body-coloured bumpers, yellow headlight covers, rear window slats
INTERIOR: Porsche 964 leather front seats, stock basket weave rear, charcoal carpets, cream vinyl headliner, Porsche three- spoke wheel, Auto Meter tach, ‘boot’ build with exposed tank and Air Lift 3P manifold
SHOUT: My dad for help on the bodywork of the car and other stuff along the way, girlfriend Emma for emotional support and when I’ve needed a hand! Best mate Ed for tons of support and helping out where possible, plus all my other good mates for being the best company ever to do all the shows with!