A slammed, two-tone bug with a screaming rotary crammed into the back is the automotive embodiment of a complete scumbag who only drinks single-origin fair-trade coffee and hangs out at underground burger joints ... and we love it
While the humble ‘people’s car’ — Volkswagen — has a cult following like no other around the world, it’s one that seems to invite all forms of blasphemy to be performed on the beloved bug chassis. A single glance at this cream-on-brown example (see Cadbury Top Deck) gives rise to thoughts of its owner being a complete and utter nutcase. Not for the obscure colour choice or the fact that it appears to make permanent contact with the asphalt but for the simple fact that, at the rear, you’ll find a lovingly positioned 12A bridgey singing through a centre-mounted SuperTrapp muffler.
While we can’t confirm whether he has previously been the resident of the local loony bin, Greg Mather, of Midnight Upholstery fame, is most certainly on the loose at the moment, and he’s whipping up combos that are plain old mental. Let’s take a moment to clear things up; this is not just a rejig of the same slammed-out Beetle that Greg is known for scraping around the country in. That original bug served as a learning curve in which the air-cooled bastard was in and out six times in two weeks. Greg promised himself that the next time the motor was pulled, a rotang would be sunk into its place.
“In the end, I had it down to five minutes each way, but had always wanted another rotary after my last, and people seem to put them into everything else — so why not do the same to a bug?” Greg says. “The factory engine makes around 35hp [26kW] on a good day, and I think we are pushing around 140hp [104kW] now. And, hey, who doesn’t like a rotary with gillies, a SuperTrapp, and mirror tints? I sure as hell do.” The rotang was clearly an idea Greg took very seriously — he had put cash down on the table six months prior for a gearbox adapter plate out of Aus to mate the bug’s 1500 manual box to the rotang block. Although this grand plan didn’t eventuate in that car. As it turned out, Dylan from Function Auto Works wanted the bug more than Greg after spotting it at the 2016 Nationals. The car was sent up to Dylan in Whangarei a few days later.
Not content with just sitting back and watching everyone else build rad shit around him, Greg hopped the first ride north and picked up his 12A bridgeport heart. He also managed to liberate a spare ’58 shell from its storage-shed grave in the process, too. It wasn’t too long before a second shell with some better parts fitted made for a pair of bugs in Greg’s shed. But, as life tends to yank the brakes on any build, things slowed down for a while. It wasn’t until January 4, 2017 that things really kicked into gear again. Perhaps it was the result of encouragement from the lads, as well as the fact that the 2017 nats was drawing very near — 22 days before, to be exact. It’s funny what a bit of time pressure can do to a build, isn’t it?
With his boys rallying around him, Greg took things one step further and made the bold claim that not only would the finished piece make it to nats in time, but it would drive into the hall under its own power: “People didn’t believe me, I mean, I had given myself 22 days … but I [had] said I would drive a rotary Beetle into [nats]”. And could you blame anyone for thinking it nearly impossible? On paper, such an idea wouldn’t instil a lot of confidence in even the most seasoned hack-artist. But such thoughts didn’t cross Greg’s mind — or if they did, he damn well kept it quiet — he had a claim to live up to.
“We basically had two piles of nothing and needed to put together a complete car with no time … but to be honest, I never thought I’d get the chance to build it, so it had to be done, now or never,” he says. Things went full throttle when a cutting disc was taken to the ’58 shell to liberate the rusty body from the floor, before binning it without a care in the world. Meanwhile, the second shell, a 1960 incarnation, underwent the reverse treatment with the intention of its body being used. The boys focused on chopping out and replacing all the nasty bits, tidying up both halves as best they could for amatuer panel beaters. They then got busy bolting the gearbox to the floorpan while Greg cut open the body to fit radiator piping to the previously only ever air-cooled chassis.
Many midnights had been clocked up by this point, and, once the piping was sussed, the mishmash combo was sent off to Calum at Phil’s Panel and Paint for a hearty dose of professional panel work to ensure everything was straight enough before a layer of primer could be laid down. Five days later, sitting at the 15-day mark, Greg had a pile of freshly licked gloss-cream and “poo-brown” parts ready for assembly. The team bolted the body to the floorpan and welded up the exhaust, while Marc Kelsey was tasked with wiring up what it needed to run. “Before you knew it, videos of it running were floating around on the net for the first time, a day out from nats,” Greg tells us.
Although it was now running, things were far from complete. A mad dash ensued to get the doors and boot lid fitted, along with the windows set in, bumpers bolted up, and an accelerator cable hacked together out of an old mountain bike-brake cable, because “that’s what worked”. The morning of nats rolled around. With only a few hours to spare, Greg drove the bug off the trailer for the first time and into the halls at ASB Showgrounds. “We made it. We slapped together a rotary Beetle from spare parts in 22 days. That’s what I love about these things,” Greg says, laughing, “you can modify them in so many ways to make them your own and yet still be so different to everything else. They are the people’s car, after all, and, for me, everyone knew what a Beetle was, [so] that’s why I built it ... oh, and I could never afford a Kombi [van], so I had to settle for a Beetle instead.”
Naturally, with a build of this magnitude undertaken at a hyper-accelerated pace, some concessions had to be made in the name of saving time. In this case, it was the interior. An upholsterer by trade, Greg found it a bit of a downer to not have it done in time for nats. However, he wanted to showcase his own handiwork and his business, and it simply couldn’t be completed to his high standard in the time available. To go along with the ‘fu#k you’ attitude of the car with the added benefit of hiding away the unfinished interior for the time being, Greg installed mirror tints all round including the windscreen.
The bug’s interior has since received the love it deserves in the way of custom “poo-brown” vinyl retrimmed factory seats with a brown tartan centre, and the factory steering wheel painted to match the cream found on the bumpers. You’ll also find the matching trim on the roof pillars and doorcards. You have to applaud the effort to complete such a build in just 22 days. It’s safe to say that the result — this rotary-powered mishmash of awesomeness — is the weirdest juxtaposition of refined beauty, loud obnoxiousness, and raw driving — and we love it for that exact reason.
OCCUPATION: Owner/Operator at Midnight Upholstery Ltd
BUILD TIME: Initial stage in 22 days, upholstery a further three days
LENGTH OF OWNERSHIP: Eight months
THANKS: A huge thanks to the 40-plus people who helped: David Jackson; Evan Ward; Geophey Sutherland; Kegan Downey; Rhys Knauf; Royce Mihaere; Mitchell Mcintosh; Nathan Chalecki; Cody Edwards; Marc Kelsey; Calum Underwood at Phil’s Panel and Paint; Alex Reid; Marnix Hoebers; Tarren Biessel; Sean Jones; Tank RHB; Dylan Whitehead, for buying my old Beetle; Paul and Aiden at the V-Dub Shoppe; and the most important one to thank would be Beth Scarrow, for putting up with me not being at home and tolerating my stupidity
1960 Volkswagen Beetle
ENGINE: Mazda 12A, 1146cc, twin-rotor
BLOCK: Full-cut bridgeported plates
INTAKE: Weber 48mm IDA, Spun by Hutty trumpets
EXHAUST: 2.5-inch straight-through, four-inch SuperTrapp muffler
FUEL: Cheapest fuel pump available from Repco
IGNITION: Bosch HEC716 coils, custom leads made to length from Auto Trail, NGK B8EGV and B9EGV spark plugs
COOLING: Mercedes radiator
GEARBOX: Factory four-speed, rotary adaptor
CLUTCH: Factory 1300cc
FLYWHEEL: Machined 1300cc
STRUTS: Monroe Mustang / Camaro air shocks; factory torsion bars
EXTRA: Two-inch narrowed front beam, 2.5-inch drop spindles
WHEELS: 15x4-inch Volkswagen Beetle steelies
TYRES: 135/70R15 Smart car, 205/65R15 Hifly
PAINT: “Poo-brown” and gloss-cream paintwork by Calum and the guys at Phil’s Panel and Paint
ENHANCEMENTS: Mirror-tinted windows including windscreen
SEATS: Factory seats custom trimmed in “poo-brown” vinyl with brown tartan by Midnight Upholstery
STEERING WHEEL: Repainted cream
INSTRUMENTATION: Factory speedo, aftermarket water-temp and air-shock gauges
EXTRA: Retrimmed roof liner, retrimmed dash, retirmmed door cards, screwdriver gear knob
POWER: A lot more than the factory 26kW
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 248 — to get your grubby hands on a print copy, click the cover below: