It's been said before, but the Beetle's universal charm is nothing short of amazing. The car's appeal transcends boundaries across the board, both within the realms of automotive enthusiasm and without. You could be a dyed in the wool muscle-car fanatic, a classic car nut, a Japanese import freak or you could not like cars at all yet somewhere in the pit of your heart there's inevitably a soft spot for the VW Beetle.
Consider Riverside, Calif.-resident Cliff Lasater. Though he doesn't necessarily consider himself a VW enthusiast, for his most recent hot rod project he chose a VW. Though it may not be immediately apparent, this outrageous street rod is based on a 1963 Beetle. Lasater related that before he ever made the initial purchase, he fully intended to build a custom hot rod--he just wasn't sure what he wanted to use as a starting point.
"I'm a street rodder that wanted to build a rod that was different than the typical Model A or Deuce Highboy roadster," he said. "I've already had those. I wanted something really different."
Lasater found his Bug at an auto wrecker where he purchased it for a paltry $300. He said the best thing about it was that there was no rust, but the body had been banged up pretty badly. He towed the "train wreck," as he refers to the Bug's original state, home to his garage where it would sit for the next 12 months. Lasater recruited help from some of his old hot rod buddies--guys he went to school with--and performed most of the work himself at home in the evenings and over weekends.
Lasater began by welding in a new front clip, extending the rear where the exhaust tips exit two inches and fabricating a rolled rear pan. He shaved the rain gutters from the front of the door openings and the windshield posts, as well as the door handles--"We don't need no stinking handles," he jokes. The humps for the windshield wipers were also removed and the holes filled, and the Bug's stock running boards were replaced with rocker panels.
Look carefully and you'll also notice the top has been chopped, chopped completely off. The windshield glass is now just seven inches tall. To compensate for the huge loss of floorpan rigidity effected by the roof's removal, Lasater fabricated a pan brace bent from five feet of 0.120-wall 1x2 rectangular tubing that fits the curve of the pan in the body bolt area. He also attached the radius rods to this brace.
Bodywork on the roadster was roughed out his own words by Lasater himself and finished by good friends Terry Watson and Dave McEniry. All told, Lasater claims hundreds of hours invested in custom fiberglass work. The body turned out so well, in fact, that Lasater bought the molds to all the fiberglass components and now reproduces them under the HIBOY moniker. The full kit can be found for sale online at Lasater's Web site, www.vwstreetrod.com.
The awesome PPG paint job, flames, pinstriping and clearcoat were all applied by another of Lasater's friends, Richard McPeak, a guy he's known since grade school [see February 2004 issue]. "Everyone thought I was crazy when I told them I wanted to paint the car black," he says, "but hundreds of hours of block sanding paid off. By the time the car was in the paint booth, it was absolutely flat."
No doubt the paint is nice, but Lasater's favorite part of the car--and ours as well--is by far his completely custom front axle. "Nothing says 'hot rod' like a dropped tube axle," he said. "[At first] I had serious doubts that it would work at all. Mounting the axle to the pan is easy, but getting it to steer correctly with no bump steer is another story."
Three months of development and experimentation went into that front end. Lasater went through three complete sets of steering arms before he found the correct angle. The axle is a chrome Super Bell four-inch tube job with early Ford spindles. Much of the equipment used the batwings, radius rods, panhard bar, steering arms, steering rod and tie rod were all fabricated by the car's owner. The stock steering box has been retained in its original position, and the original steering damper was relocated on the beam. The beam itself was gutted of torsion bars and used as a supported for the custom fabricated upper shock mounts, and the panhard bar was attached to the lower beam.
Other goodies attached to the car's underpinnings include C.B. Performance chromed disc brakes up front, polished GM discs on Pete & Jake's adapters in the rear, braided stainless steel lines, and chrome-treated Aldan Eagle coilovers in front with chromed stock shocks in the rear. Lasater's billet "Cruzers" wheels were produced by Wheel Vintiques in Fresno, Calif., and measure 14x7 inches in front and 15x8 in the rear. BFGoodrich T/A tires maintain the car's relationship with the pavement.
As with most other aspects of this roadster, the interior is completely custom. Lasater's friend Dan Brown, also of Riverside, is responsible for the upholstery and stitchwork. The bench seat was taken from an '83 Nissan pickup, narrowed six-and-a-half inches and impregnated with new foam, then sheathed in Mercedes Benz bone-colored leather. The door panels were also leather treated, and Mercedes Benz carpet covers the floor area. Simpson four-point harnesses were placed for both the passenger and driver, and the rollbar was bent from 2-1/2-inch polished pipe. Possibly the most labor-intensive piece in the cockpit is the dash, a fiberglass '32 Ford unit that was put in place of the stock VW dash. Lasater testifies it took six weeks to install and alone represents hundreds of hours of work. The new dash holds a polished aluminum panel from Rod Tech in Huntington Beach, Calif., with VDO Cockpit Royale instrumentation. Other than that and the LeCarra steering wheel, the dash is completely clean, with no stereo, no knobs and no switches. Toggle switches for the ignition and headlamps reside out of sight under the dash.
The engine was assembled by Strictly VW in Irwindale, Calif. Based on a new Rimco Super Case, this motor has been built to effect a considerable displacement of 2276cc. It uses a 82mm balanced Demello crank, Rimco rods, Mahle 94B pistons and chromemoly rings. The heads are ported and polished 041 dual ports; the cam is an Engle 120; and aspiration is facilitated by dual Weber 44s sitting on polished manifolds. A Bosch 009 distributor and alternator provide ignition spark, and a Maxi-2 oil pump keeps oil flowing through the system.
When it came to the exhaust, Lasater dreamt up a custom system in which the muffler mounts sideways, above the transaxle, with the "J" tubes running forward rather than to the rear. After a bit of searching, he found a Jaguar resonator-style muffler that was just the right size. Scotty's Muffler in San Bernardino, Calif., then bent a custom 1-3/4-inch exhaust system to Lasater's specs. It exits the muffler and goes straight down in front of the axles, incorporating two 1 3/4x3x18-inch sheet metal cones that are TIG-welded to 90-degree tubing coming out of the muffler.
"When I was a teenager this look was called scavenger pipes," Lasater recalls. "I don't know what it's called today."
Cliff Lasater and his HIBOY Beetle were recently honored with an invitation to the 55th Annual Grand National Roadster Show this past January in Pomona. As of this writing the show has not yet transpired, but we're sure Lasater and his rod will do well in the 300-car field. Aside from that, he says the most rewarding thing about driving the car is the positive attention it gets on the street.
"This car stops traffic everywhere I take it," he says. "I've been pulled over twice, and both times the cops just wanted to look. Old ladies tell me it's cute. Little kids just love it. Guys in muscle cars want to race me." It just proves what we've always said about Bugs transcending traditional boundaries.
The spirited 2276cc engine...
The spirited 2276cc engine relies on such time-tested hardware as a Rimco Super Case and rods, a Demello crank, Mahle pistons, an Engle cam and dual Weber 44s. A Demello flywheel and Kennedy clutch assembly help it interface with an IRS gearbox from KCR Transmissions.
The dash is a fiberglass unit...
The dash is a fiberglass unit Lasater said took no less than six weeks to install. The VDO gauges are the only distraction; there are no visible knobs, levers or switches to be found. There is no stereo, and Lasater has no plans of installing one.
Can you say no fenders? Cliff...
Can you say no fenders? Cliff Lasater can. The hood is factory VW steel with louvers coming out of the woodwork. We're just glad we didn't have to apply those flames.
The wheels are billet "Cruzers"...
The wheels are billet "Cruzers" from Wheel Vintiques. BFGoodrich T/As make up the rubber, and they measure a meaty 275/60R15 in the rear. Lasater's favorite part, though, is his naked, polished tube axle sticking out of the front end. Ours too.