BEETLEJUICE

BACK­YARD-BUILT DRAG BEE­TLE

NZ Performance Car - - Contents - WORDS: MAR­CUS GIB­SON PHO­TOS: MARIA PANOVA

While we tend to blow our own trum­pets here in New Zealand about how crafty we are, a proud na­tion of do-it-your­selfers, brought up on a diet of num­bereight wire and just mak­ing do, the truth is that we are not the only na­tion on this planet that breeds such crafty bug­gers. We share this DIY in­ge­nu­ity with South Africa, so it should come as no sur­prise that the Bee­tle be­fore you was built al­most en­tirely in the small Bay of Plenty garage of South African–ex­pat David Du Toit and his fam­ily. Un­like the case with a lot of DIY work, though, there is very lit­tle on this drag car to in­di­cate that its birth­place was the back­yard. You might even have been fooled into think­ing it was built by pros, as ru­mours of it be­ing im­ported have been float­ing around.

A keen racer back in South Africa, where he ped­alled and built a vast ar­ray of 10-sec­ond streeters, David made a shift down un­der to start a new life with his young fam­ily — a move that put a stop to

his rac­ing while the fam­ily set­tled in and made New Zealand home. Once ac­cus­tomed to the ways of life here, he de­cided that it was time for him to get a taste of the lo­cal drag rac­ing scene. Hav­ing raced ro­taries back in his home­land, David’s first choice was an RX-3 — although the price of these is, well, as­tro­nom­i­cal.

“I started search­ing Trade Me for an RX-3 coupe, but found they were out of my price range. I had owned a Bee­tle back home, and they were in my price range, so I de­cided to build one,” David ex­plains.

What David was about to em­bark on was a race car project well above any­thing he had built be­fore — a build that would span nearly six years. He de­cided to go full tube chas­sis, with a front en­gine–rear drive com­bi­na­tion, but the quotes for a chas­sis had him choking on his morn­ing ce­real. Ac­quir­ing a di­lap­i­dated VW shell, one very de­ter­mined David pur­chased the tools re­quired to bend and notch some tub­ing, and set about learn­ing the art of chas­sis build­ing — which is no mean feat, we might add.

David re­counts his ex­pe­ri­ence: “No one is keen to give away

With the H-pat­tern record in mind, a dog-geared Tre­mec TKO 600 has the job of swap­ping gears and send­ing power to the lad­der­barred Moser nine-inch The only steel pan­els left on the body are the roof and rear quar­ters. Ev­ery other panel has been pro­duced in fi­bre­glass by David dur­ing a painstak­ing three-year process in search of per­fec­tion

their se­crets, so you have to look at what ev­ery­one is do­ing, do a lot of Googling, and just fig­ure it out as you go. I have prob­a­bly used enough tube to build two chas­sis. It took the most time, but was the cheap­est part of the whole build. It took me so long as I was learn­ing the hard way about how to do it right.”

Be­fore David went too far, the shell needed at­ten­tion. With so much rust in ev­ery panel, it was de­cided that mak­ing fi­bre­glass pan­els would be faster and eas­ier, and achieve a bet­ter (lighter) out­come. Over the next year, each panel was whipped into shape and moulds taken — work that in­cluded con­struct­ing a one-piece front clip. The moulds were then set aside.

As David puts it, “Af­ter I made the moulds, they sat for two years, so [that] they could stretch and pull and do their thing. Af­ter that, I spent an­other six months prep­ping, sand­ing, and filler prim­ing them. It was a lot of work, but, once they came out of the mould, the pan­els were pretty tick-tock.”

“Tick-tock” is an un­der­state­ment. David, who is a spray painter, laid down DNA spe­cial-mix Fuch­sia Candy, achiev­ing a fin­ish we rarely see on fi­bre­glass, and one that looks bet­ter than that on 90 per cent of the show cars out there.

Make no mis­take, though; this Bee­tle is no show pony. It was built for a dif­fer­ent pur­pose: to run num­bers — more specif­i­cally, to run the fastest H-pat­tern pass by an im­port in New Zealand, a ti­tle cur­rently held by Brad Jon­son’s RX-7 at 8.59s at 260kph. To do this, David called on Green Brothers Rac­ing for a Tre­mec TKO 600 equipped with dog-en­gage­ment gear set and a Moser nine-inch diff with chro­moly full-spool and 35-spline axles.

A trip fur­ther down the road in Tau­ranga to Dyno Power saw the build of a stout lit­tle 13B ca­pa­ble of big revs, big boost, and plenty of methanol. An 83mm BorgWarner S400 that once called the Ab­botts’ FD home cur­rently has boost sit­ting con­ser­va­tively at 21psi while David shakes the car down, but, with all the sup­port­ing mods in place, 50psi is a real pos­si­bil­ity.

As ev­ery­one knows, drag rac­ing can be a fickle beast, so

sim­ply throw­ing in lots of power be­fore get­ting the car to hook up and run straight is the first hur­dle to over­come. The front Strange En­gi­neer­ing light­weight spin­dles and shocks are joined by a lad­der­bar rear with QA dou­ble ad­justable shocks — a change from the first set, as the first few meet­ings saw the car not want­ing to hook up and bounc­ing dur­ing the launch. How­ever, af­ter chas­sis guru Terry Bow­den looked over the car, some new rear shocks with softer springs found their way onto the lad­der bar. At the time of writ­ing, the rain is play­ing havoc with seat time, but hope­fully, by the time you read this, David will have man­aged to get in some full track passes.

“It’s so cool be­ing fi­nally able to get some seat time af­ter jump­ing in and out of it prob­a­bly 500 times dur­ing the build. It’s been a bit scary, es­pe­cially not know­ing what’s go­ing to hap­pen each time we change some­thing. You just don’t know what to ex­pect,” David tells us.

For the rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced team of fam­ily and friends, it will be a learn­ing curve, but once it does hook up, and run some fullpower, full passes, this bright pink Bee­tle will cause more of a stir than it al­ready has.

Dur­ing the build, an old hospi­tal bed was used as an ad­justable chas­sis lift — some­thing ev­ery garage could make use of

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