Talk about a strange bird. From the front, it could almost pass as a Type III sibling, while the rear has definitely some traits in common with Type IIs. The vehicle is called a Volkswagen Fridolin, a.k.a. Type 147, and came out of the Westfalia production line in fairly limited number--6139 to be precise. The majority ended up being used by the German and Swiss post office, as well as various local government services. Finding one today in decent shape proves a challenge, and only a handful of VW fanatics have made a point of restoring them. So imagine our surprise when we discovered John Solana's '71 Frid', not only looking better than new, but also converted into a tasteful hot rod!
We first met John over three years ago, shortly after he sold another crazy project car he had built: a 1959 Fiat 600 fitted with a turbocharged aircooled VW engine. The skillfully constructed vehicle (which you will see at the end of the article), gave us a sound idea about the quality of his craftsmanship. So when we recently learned that he was wrenching on another unusual toy, the Fridolin featured in these pages, we just couldn't wait to see it. He purchased this workhorse through a shop named BBT in Belgium, along with another 1973 model. The latter found a new home with Speedwell USA (check out their new Web Site, www.rust-box.com), while John soon started to disassemble his '71. The Belgian company also supplied various parts in order to accelerate the restoration process, including six hoods, a few sliding doors, in addition to a host of bits and pieces.
Solana then hooked up with one of the rare Fridolin experts in the world, Steve Gilbert, who owns a fantastic yellow model fitted with a 2276cc motor and Porsche Gasburner rims. This British enthusiast still had a few Type 147 parts available from the large stack he had accumulated--good news to John as he was missing a few pieces to his puzzle. The two Vee-Dub fanatics became friends, and Steve provided a pair of stainless steel rear fenders built from scratch for the red box-on-wheels. John adds: "Carl Taylor, one of his buddies, even flew to California with an NOS front apron from Steve as hand luggage. He wrapped it in such a way that it looked like a suitcase!" Ray Schubert of Volks Authority came up with a front fender as well.
A good pal of Solana, John Harb, took care of the bodywork in his L.A.-based shop aptly named The Shop. Both Johns have been working together on a variety of project cars. Rust damage proved quite extensive, and certain inner structural pieces like the rear wells required being handmade. As the Frid' was to receive a couple of Solana's Chimney Sweep company logos, the duo decided to get rid of the vents plus recessed side panel located above the belt line for a smooth look. Other deviations from stock include a removable rear apron, like Westfalia should have done it. The Volkswagen Tornado Red paint, Solana's favorite color, blends nicely with the "fire" theme of the vehicle.
In order to fit the rare '70s Cosmic rims, wrapped with 175/55-15 Continentals and 195/60-15 Pirellis, Ron Lummus was hired to narrow the front beam, incidentally fitted with C.B. Performance drop spindles. As far as brakes are concerned, the Type 147 relies on drilled discs in front and Type III drums in back. Four Koni adjustable shocks guarantee a comfortable ride. The stock 1200cc engine has been replaced with a healthy 2165cc powerplant, as described in the spec sheet on Page 43. John used a few goodies he had stashed away: "I tried to install as many '70s performance accessories as possible from the old-style 48IDAs to the Treuhaft distributor and Race-Trim valve covers."
His target was to have the ex-mail carrier ready for the 2002 Classic Week, at least externally. To tackle the finishing touches in time, he lucked out as Steve Gilbert planed to visit this SoCal extravaganza with two other Brits, Carl Taylor and Ken O'Shea. The trio ended up spending three days straight with the Solana family, completing the vehicle just in time for the event! John would like to thank them, as well as Michael Begley, who also played an important role in the restoration process--Michael and John run Solana's Restoration, a side business specialized in restoring VWs, old Fiats and other cool rides.
The roof rack came from an early station wagon, and John picked it up from a collector in California before refurbishing the unit. Wolfgang International supplied the rear Safari Window kit, while an assortment of NOS finds equip the cockpit: steering wheel, horn button, Speedwell tach and Barndoor dome-lights. Speaking of the interior, we find more interesting accessories in the form of a Type III Ghia package tray (it fits perfectly under the dash), custom-made Beard seats, in addition to a Berg shifter, with an engraved shift handle that reads Havyn. John told us: "That's my daughter's name. The idea behind it is whenever I try to go fast, I have to remember what's important." He had the chance to locate some NOS headliner material from a 1964 Lincoln as well, which came in handy when West Coast Classic (Fullerton, Calif.) dealt with the upholstery! While John is having a blast driving the Fridolin in town, especially with the Rancho-built short gear transmission, he needs to sell it... So if you happen to have $25,000 hiding under your pillow, feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wouldn't you love to cruise in a hot rod mail carrier, with the wind flying in your hair through the wide-open sliding doors?
At a Glance
Engine builder: Mark's Garage (Buena Park, Calif.)
Case: VW Type I
Displacement: 2175cc (78mm Scat counterweighted crank x 94mm Cima pistons/cylinders)
Horsepower: approximately 180hp
Rods: Berg chromoly steel
Cam: Web-Cam (special grind)
Heads: Mofoco 050 ported and polished by Jeff Denham; Gene Berg 1.25 ratio rocker assembly
Valve sizes: 44x37.5
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Ignition: MSD 6AL ignition box, genuine Treuhaft 010-based distributor (dual points)
Carburetion: dual early-style Weber 48IDAs on Race Trim manifolds
Exhaust: custom by Ron Lummus Racing
Oil system: Gene Berg oil pump, full-flow system, Gene Berg deep sump, Race Trim breather box, external oil cooler with fan and thermostat
Other engine modifications: CSP 911-style fan shroud kit
Transmission: 1968 VW Type I swing axle by Rancho Transaxles (Anaheim, Calif.); 3.88 R&P; Super Diff; shortened axles; HD side plate; 4.11 1st, 2.46 2nd, 1.74 3rd, 1.31 4th
Special Thanks: my wife and family; Michael Begley; the British trio of Steve Gilbert, "West Hollywood" Carl Taylor, and Ken "Apostrophe" O'Shea; John Harb; Greg Banfil; and Jaybird.
BEFORE THE FRID'...
John Solana has owned dozens of Volkswagens and vintage Fiats --his other passion--over the years. Just for kicks, check out the mad Fiat 600 he built back in 2000. Does the engine seem familiar? Yep, this is one of our trusty aircooled VW flat fours. Displacing 1915cc, it features a Rajay 40 turbo, a 40mm Dellorto sidedraft carb, carrillo rods, and a 911-style fan shroud from Autocraft. When we photographed the car, it belonged to Bob Wake who worked on the development of the Concept 1 and the New Beetle.
This ex-mail carrier sits...
This ex-mail carrier sits just right, thanks to a narrowed front end, lowered spindles and a stock ride height in the back.
Kinda looks like a Bus from...
Kinda looks like a Bus from the rear, doesn't it? Check out the rear Safari window kit, as well as the rare Australian taillights.
The owner, his daughter, and...
The owner, his daughter, and Michael Begley who helped restore the vehicle...
John is always hunting for...
John is always hunting for hard to find parts. For his Frid, he scored a three-spoke steering wheel and a Speedwell tach, both NOS.
Lenny Copp and the boys at...
Lenny Copp and the boys at West Coast Classics did an outstanding job at refurbishing the interior. Note the Albert Barn-Door dome-light.
These rare Porsche rims called...
These rare Porsche rims called "Cosmic"--they came as an option with some Porsche dealers in England--received a set of owner-made center caps, featuring an Abarth logo.
Speedwell USA designed the...
Speedwell USA designed the groovy side logo of John's business, very much in the spirit of the '70s like the rest of the car.