How to Build a European Spec Volkswagen Parts Car into a Hot Rod VW Beetle
This junked 1959 Euro Spec VW bug received a new lease on life courtesy of a 3-year-old kid.
Aunt's wrecked Bug leads to rare VW find and Beetle fan for life. Adam Simpson, 25, of Bessemer, Alabama discovered his dream car when he was three years old. The 1959 European Spec VW Beetle that his grandparents purchased for $60 in 1988 was just what Simpson wanted. It didn’t have seats, the paint was peeling but it was the perfect playhouse for his imaginary road trips. Now Simpson remembers those childhood road trips through the windshield of his daily driver. That $60 1959 VW Beetle.
Beetle-mania begins at early age ”When I was about a year old, my grandfather bought my aunt Stacy a VW Beetle as her first car, “ Simpson begins. The young boy was drawn to the distinctive round car and would point to other Beetles he saw on the road. ”I called them ‘Tacy Cars’ since my aunt’s name is Stacy,” Simpson recalled. His aunt wrecked the VW and it was parked in his grandparents' yard. “My Pawpaw took me outside during a snow, when I was about 2-½ years old and he says that I started squirming, wanting to be put down. So he put me down and I ran straight to Stacy’s wrecked VW to play,” said Simpson. “After they saw how much I enjoyed the VW, they let me play in it until it was sold. ”
Adam Simpson in 1991 with his $60 1959 VW.
3-year-old gets first car
Simpson wasn’t happy when his VW playhouse was sold. Grandparents tend to spoil their grandchildren and Simpson’s grandparents were no different. They decided to buy 3-year-old Simpson a non-running Beetle to replace the one he loved to play in. “We went to visit a man that had a few Beetles sitting around and I got to pick the one I wanted,” Simpson said. “My grandmother says I took one look at a faded red VW with peeling paint and wouldn’t look at any of the others. It had mismatched white doors and no seats.” He remembers pointing to it and saying, “That one.” My grandfather paid $60 for it and had it towed home. A couple of five-gallon buckets were used for seats and Simpson was good to go. Over the years he sat in the VW and drove everywhere in the world without ever leaving his grandparents' backyard. Simpson’s interest in Volkswagens never went away. “I was always ‘that kid who loves VWs," said Simpson. ”Even my kindergarten teacher remembers that about me.”
Simpson's VW has a budget-minded rattle can paint job.
European Spec VW in Alabama? An article in ‘Hot VWs’ magazine clued a then 12-year-old Simpson into the fact that his old playhouse was a 1959 European Spec Beetle. European model VWs were equipped with semaphores, flip-up turn indicator lights on the door posts. U.S. cars stopped using these in 1955 but in Europe VWs had them through 1960. Also, in 1958, the rear window on VW Beetles went from an oval to a square shape along with many other big changes. Simpson says his VW is rare because there were only three years for big window VW semaphore cars. He sent the VIN number to VW in Germany and received his Bug‘s birth certificate. “It was built on June 29, 1959, with its original home being Freiburg, Germany,” Simpson said. “How it ended up in Bibb County, Alabama, in 1988 is a mystery.” An old Marines sticker on the front bumper might offer a hint. Many European VWs made their way stateside via servicemen.
Time to work on the $60 VW
Not long after Simpson reached driving age, he began tinkering on a pair of VW buses. He gained valuable hands-on experience working on the buses, which had been sitting for over two decades. By 2008, Simpson had become proficient at wrenching on VWs, so he decided to get serious about resurrecting his old ‘59 VW.
Simpson dug in and discovered his ‘59 Bug had very little rust but had sustained some heavy wreck damage. “It’s had a pretty hard hit in the left front at some point as well as one in the right door,” Simpson said. “I know this bug hasn’t lived a pampered life. I’ve had to junkyard and swap-meet it back together. Basically, if it’s bolted on, I’ve replaced it."
Simpson maintained his sense of humor throughout the VW’s rebirth. “I joke that ‘it’s a ‘58/’59/’60/’61/’62/’63/’64,’ like that Johnny Cash song about building a Cadillac.”
Simpson replaced the brakes, cleaned out the gas tank and and fought gremlins in the modified electrical system. “I stayed with the original 6 volt system. The headlights are plenty bright and it starts up without an issue,” said Simpson.
A large VW parts stash helped Simpson make short work of overhauling his basket-case Beetle. By the fall of 2009, he had the Beetle in driving condition.
Simpson's 36 HP aircooled Volkswagen engine hasn't set any land speed records yet.
36 HP Engine Simpson’s $60 VW had a 1965 model 40hp engine that was seized with a big crack in the case. Simpson replaced the engine with a correct 1959 VW 1200cc 36hp engine. That engine ran well but developed a bit of end play after a few months. Simpson bought a running longblock out of a ‘58 VW from a friend in July, 2010. He transplanted engines and tested the limits of the V-Dub's 36 hp powerplant. “She’ll do an honest 75mph and that’s GPS verified,” said Simpson. “Who needs to go fast to have fun anyways?"
1959 Euro Spec VW interior in plaid.
Paint, interior Krylon brand Jade satin paint now covers Simpson's ‘59 Euro Spec Beetle. “Being pieced together, the VW was about six different colors and looked horrible,” Simpson said. “I don’t have the money to get it painted but with the Krylon, at least it’s all one color. ”
Simpson’s can-do attitude carried over inside the VW as well. The door panels are made from a plaid tablecloth, with tan vinyl and plastic Coke signs as backing material. “Being poor helps you be creative,” Simpson says bluntly. “My headliner is a plaid flannel blanket.”
What is negative camber? When tires are angled inward at the top just like Simpson has on his '59 VW's swing axle rear suspension.
Right stance, wheels Simpson wanted his Beetle lowered or slammed to the ground a bit. He had a friend build a 5-inch narrowed axle beam with adjusters and drop spindles to lower it 2-½ inches. For the rear, Simpson turned the spring plates up one notch to give it some trademark VW swingaxle camber. Simpson chuckles when ‘those not in the know’ ask if his VW’s axles are broken.
The wheels are stock with 145/65/15's in front and 165's out back. Simpson likes VWs on stock wheels. You get the vintage look and it’s cheaper than buying rims.
Future plans Simpson is not finished building the VW that was his childhood playhouse. He wants to replace the interior with factory 1958-’59-only interior and eventually paint it Mignonette Green, its original color. Replacing the front apron clip and installing a ragtop sunroof clip are also on Simpson’s to-do list. A correct “split case” transmission may someday find a home in his VW as well.
Adam Simpson, (center), with his grandparents, Susan Simmons and Gene White.
On the road again “I got a little wet eyed after I drove it for the first time and it hit me what I’d just done,” Simpson admits. “The reaction on my grandfather’s face, when I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride, is something I’ll never forget.”
Simpson’s grandmother loved it and his grandfather was impressed that it was roadworthy but wasn’t too keen on the lowering part. “My grandparents really understand what that car means to me.” Simpson has owned six VWs and a BMW. “I have a list of cars I’d love to have,” Simpson says with a smile, “but my dream car is this Beetle.”