Turn­ing the clock back to 1956, a Florida en­thu­si­ast de­cided to see what Porsche might have done in pe­riod to trans­form a VW Bee­tle into a rac­ing car. The re­sult is a won­der­ful melange of Wolfs­burg re­straint with Zuf­fen­hausen ebul­lience

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Karl Lud­vigsen Pho­tos: Mike El­lis, REVS In­sti­tute/col­lier Col­lec­tion

Karl Lud­vigsen tells the story of a VW pow­ered by a four-cam Porsche en­gine

One of the cars that raises eye­brows at the Col­lier Col­lec­tion and REVS In­sti­tute at Naples, Florida is a grey Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle, vin­tage 1956, sit­ting qui­etly among its dis­plays of the worldʼs finest rac­ing ma­chin­ery from Cun­ning­ham to Stutz, Porsche to Fer­rari. In fact it is an unique cre­ation that is dear to the heart of its cre­ator and cu­ra­tor, the Col­lec­tionʼs ma­jor domo Miles Col­lier.

Trac­ing its ori­gins to the 1970s, the Bee­tle is the di­rect re­sult of Col­lierʼs mus­ings about the mo­tor rac­ing that is one of his many pas­sions. ʻWhat would Porsche have done,ʼ he won­dered, ʻif it were asked to build a Volk­swa­gen to race in the Mille Miglia?ʼ Most of us en­joy pos­ing such ques­tions and then work­ing them out on pa­per, or in mind games. Miles Col­lier had the de­ter­mi­na­tion and the means to cre­ate the an­swer in the metal.

On 26th Au­gust 1981 Col­lier min­uted a plan to cre­ate a VW Bee­tle pow­ered by a Porsche RSK en­gine run­ning through a five-speed gear­box. It was to have sus­pen­sion con­verted to coils and dampers at all four corners. Not un­til 1986 did he have time to take ac­tion, but first, he needed a Bee­tle. Think­ing how cool it would be to have a split-win­dow model, Col­lier chose a 1952 donor ve­hi­cle that had seen bet­ter days. Judged by his favoured coach­builder to be too far gone, it was re­placed by a 1956 VW which, in­deed, could have com­peted in the Mille Miglia, which was last run in 1957. The Bee­tle could have had no idea what was about to hap­pen to it.

Porscheʼs first step, Miles Col­lier re­alised, would be to lighten the car. There was no point in haul­ing more heft around the 1000 miles of the Ital­ian race than ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. While keep­ing the orig­i­nal steel plat­form and ba­sic body, he fig­ured ev­ery­thing that was­nʼt stress-bear­ing could be light­ened. In 1986 Col­lier shipped his Bee­tle to the fa­bled Cal­i­for­nia work­shop of Dick Trout­man. His work with Tom Barnes is cel­e­brated in the four-door 911 they built for Texan Porsche dealer Wil­liam Dick and the body of the Chuck Pelly-de­signed Zimmer 910, not to men­tion the first Ford Mustang en­tirely crafted by them in 1962.

Ver­sa­tile met­al­worker though he was, Trout­man faced a chal­lenge in Col­lierʼs com­mis­sion. Front and rear deck lids were to be alu­minium, shaped ex­actly like the orig­i­nals with their rich curves and cen­tral rib­bing. Doors, too, were ex­ter­nally skinned in alu­minium, keep­ing their steel in­ner struc­tures. All four fend­ers (wings) and the run­ning boards were alu­minium, as well. Orig­i­nally the fend­ers were left un­painted un­der­neath but later they were coated for pro­tec­tion from stone chips. As a fi­nal touch the front and rear bumpers were re-cre­ated in alu­minium, pol­ished to a high gloss.

All the light­ened parts and pan­els were trib­utes to the ta­lent of Dick Trout­man, who was able and will­ing to lighten the VW much as Porsche would have done in 1956. Although glass­fi­bre was creep­ing into use in rac­ing cars, it was not yet part of Zuf­fen­hausenʼs vo­cab­u­lary.

With work on its new body pan­els com­pleted, the light­ened Volk­swa­gen re­turned to Naples in the Fe­bru­ary of 1987. There the tech­ni­cians at the Col­lier Mu­seum took the car in hand to equip it ap­pro­pri­ately. Where needed the plat­form frame was strength­ened and its at­tach­ments to the body made more ro­bust to in­crease over­all stiff­ness. Con­tain­ing 24mm tor­sion bars, at the rear a Porsche 911 tor­sion-bar tube with its mounts for


shock ab­sorbers was in­stalled in the struc­ture to al­low the use of the 911ʼs rear hubs and trail­ing arms. A 16mm anti-roll bar works through short lever arms. Re­plac­ing the rub­ber orig­i­nals were harder Del­rin bush­ings sup­plied by Welt­meis­ter Per­for­mance Prod­ucts.

Steer­ing gear was ZF worm and roller from the 356, its track rods po­si­tioned to min­imise bump steer. The tubes car­ry­ing two six-leaf tor­sion bun­dles at the front were mod­i­fied to Porschestyle ride-height ad­just­ment, while the trail­ing arms were Porsche 356B spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Be­low the lower tor­sion-bar tube a 16mm anti-roll bar of 4139 al­loy steel matched the size of the bar at the rear. At all four corners Koni ad­justable shock ab­sorbers were fit­ted, th­ese just com­ing into use in rac­ing in 1956. Their com­pe­ti­tion de­but, in fact, was in the 1955 Tulip Rally – rather ap­pro­pri­ate for Dutch-made dampers.

At both front and rear, the orig­i­nal VW brake back­ing plates were kept with the ad­di­tion of screened cool­ing scoops, mod­i­fied as needed to ac­cept Porsche shoes. Drums were finneda­lu­minum RS60 Spy­der parts, 11ins in di­am­e­ter and 60mm wide at the front and 40mm at the rear. Ac­tu­at­ing them was a Porsche 356 mas­ter cylin­der run­ning through VW brake lines. Although sport­ing Volk­swa­gen hub­caps, the wheels are from Porsche – the only ob­vi­ous ex­ter­nal clues that the car was ʻsome­thing dif­fer­entʼ – and the tyres Miche­lin. Th­ese el­e­ments sup­ported Miles Col­lierʼs re­mark that ʻThe joy of this project is that ev­ery­thing just bolts in.ʼ

His com­ment ap­plied, with reser­va­tions, to the rac­ing Beetleʼs power train. Its en­gine, Porscheʼs Type 547/5A, did not quite fit the Mille Miglia sce­nario. A 1679cc four-cam flat-four, it orig­i­nated from the batch pro­duced in 1963 ex­pressly for use in the Elva-porsche. A fea­ture of this is its hor­i­zon­tal cool­ing fan, first used in a four­cylin­der rac­ing Porsche at Soli­tude in 1961. Out­put at its rac­ing début was 183bhp at 7800rpm.

For tractabil­ity the We­ber 48IDA car­bu­re­tors were fit­ted with smaller 40mm ven­turis. Stain­less-steel equal-length head­ers fed small muf­flers at the sides which fed into the ends of the main si­lencer placed trans­versely at the rear. From it pro­jected two in­no­cent-look­ing Vw-style ex­haust pipes. The Col­lier team es­ti­mated 160- to 165bhp from the flat-four with th­ese re­stric­tions, tuned to come in at lower revs to suit road use. Idle


was set high at 1800rpm to pro­vide suf­fi­cient oil flow to the crankshaftʼs roller bear­ings un­der street-driv­ing con­di­tions.

The need for a dry-sump oil reser­voir was met in el­e­gant style. A cor­ro­sion-re­sist­ing Tern­plate fin­ish pro­tected a cus­tombuilt rec­tan­gu­lar steel tank in the right rear of the in­te­rior be­hind the fold-down rear-seat squab. Its eight-quart con­tents were poured through a filler un­der a neat lid in the bodyʼs rear quar­ter. Aero­quip lines from and to the en­gine and tank ran for­ward to two oil cool­ers be­hind scoops hid­den un­der the front fend­ers. Also with pe­riod-cor­rect Tern­plate pro­tec­tion, a 21.1-gal­lon steel fuel tank re­sem­bled the tank in the rac­ing 356 Car­rera GT.

De­tails of the in­stal­la­tion in­cluded a ther­mo­stat and fil­ter in the oil lines, while fuel de­liv­ery was by twin Bendix elec­tric pumps. A smaller and lighter al­ter­na­tor re­placed the orig­i­nal Bosch dy­namo, with the ig­ni­tion be­ing a ca­pac­i­tor-dis­charge sys­tem courtesy of Texas-based Perma-tune Elec­tron­ics, a long-es­tab­lished spe­cial­ist in sys­tems for Porsches. Neatly dis­guised at the base of the dash­board were dig­i­tal in­di­ca­tors for oil pres­sure and oil tem­per­a­ture.

The in­no­cent-look­ing gan­gly Bee­tle shift lever was con­nected to a five-speed Porsche transaxle equipped with a 4.43:1 fi­nal drive and ZF lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial. Cal­i­for­ni­aʼs Sway-a-way Rac­ing Tech­nol­ogy made be­spoke half-shafts with splines that mar­ried dif­fer­ing uni­ver­sal joints. While the out­board joints were of early 901 Porsche de­sign, the in­ner joints were a later de­sign to suit the ZF dif­fer­en­tial.

Had Porsche ac­tu­ally pre­pared a Bee­tle for the Mille Miglia it would not have taken the trou­ble that the Col­lier

team did to cre­ate an in­te­rior that so mag­nif­i­cently con­cealed all the go­ings-on un­der­neath. As orig­i­nally built the front seats were pure Volk­swa­gen, but later re­place­ments were 356 Car­rera GT buck­ets trimmed in au­then­tic red VW vinyl. Car­pet­ing through­out was to 1956 Volk­swa­gen stan­dards. The orig­i­nal VW speedome­ter looks un­changed but its 80mph now in­di­cates 8000rpm for the Porsche four. Th­ese were fi­nal touches on a car that weighed only 1782lbs, just 239lbs more than an un­mod­i­fied Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle.

The change of seats was a re­sult of in­creas­ing con­fi­dence by Col­lier drivers in the han­dling ca­pa­bil­i­ties of this be­at­i­fied Bee­tle. They were there ʻto help driver and pas­sen­ger stay put,ʼ said Col­lier col­lec­tion chief Scott Ge­orge. ʻThe han­dling is good with some body roll but for nar­row Miche­lin tyres itʼs tractable and fun to drive. Ac­cel­er­a­tion would be sim­i­lar to, and pos­si­bly slightly bet­ter than, the Car­rera GT. Some of the most fun is the great sound it makes and the ex­pres­sions on faces of those who see it on the road.ʼ

ʻS­tart the en­gine and ev­ery­one in the vicin­ity knows this is no or­di­nary Bee­tle,ʼ said Clas­sic Porsche con­trib­u­tor Delwyn Mal­lett. ʻA lusty roar from the ex­haust re­ver­ber­ates off nearby build­ings. The ex­haust sys­tem does very lit­tle to sup­press the fab­u­lous sound of the four-cam and the car surges for­ward as the en­gine note takes on a glo­ri­ous, grin-in­duc­ing metal­lic snarl. From 2000rpm to 8000rpm this Bee­tle pulls like a, well, like a Porsche Car­rera! ʻThe GT brakes are real stop­pers,ʼ Mal­lett con­tin­ued. ʻWith most of their weight out back the early Porsches and Bee­tles were renowned for their light steer­ing and this car, per­haps be­cause of its al­loy pan­els, seems even lighter than nor­mal on the front end.

ʻItʼs quite ap­par­ent that this VW GT has lev­els of grip and han­dling that would as­tound own­ers of or­di­nary Bee­tles. Itʼs at least on a par with a 356.ʼ

At rest and in ac­tion this re­mark­able hy­brid ra­di­ates its sym­pa­thetic blend of Porsche tech­nolo­gies. If not ex­actly what Porsche would have built for the Mille Miglia, it is cer­tainly what Porsche would have built with its tongue in its cheek.

Well be­yond the senses of hu­mour of Wolfs­burg or Zuf­fen­hausen, it be­speaks the spe­cial pas­sion that Amer­i­cans feel for the prod­ucts of those two dy­nas­ties. CP


Above: Amaz­ingly well con­cealed be­neath the VW Beetleʼs rear lid is its Porsche Type 547/5A four­cam en­gine of 1.7-litre ca­pac­ity, pro­duc­ing bet­ter than 160bhp in road trim

Above: At first glance this is a 1956 VW Bee­tle like any other. The only give­away of a quite dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter is its set of rather more ag­gres­sive wheels and tyres

Be­low left and right: Although the Bee­tle-porsche was orig­i­nally built with stan­dard VW seats, a change to 356 Car­rera GT buck­ets was made to hold oc­cu­pants in place. Oil tem­per­a­ture and pres­sure dig­i­tal read­outs are mounted be­low the speaker grille. With the 80mph speedome­ter con­verted to an 8000rpm tach, the in­te­rior ʼs in­no­cence was con­vinc­ing

Be­low: A look un­der the back re­veals how the Porsche 911 tor­sion hous­ing and rear sus­pen­sion have been grafted into the Bee­tle

Above left and right: Stop­ping is as good as go­ing with 11-inch drums from the RS60 Spy­der. Dampers are ad­justable Ko­nis. Note oil cooler lo­cated be­hind front wing, and 16mm anti-roll bar

Above: A Volk­swa­gen chas­sis plate ap­pears un­der the front lid, to­gether with a 21.1-gal­lon fuel tank sim­i­lar to that fit­ted to the rac­ing Porsche 356 Car­rera GT

Be­low left and right: In the Bee­tle-porscheʼs in­te­rior an un­avoid­able de­par­ture from stan­dard was the need to in­stall a tank for the en­gineʼs dry-sump lu­bri­ca­tion sys­tem be­hind the rear seats. The tank is filled via this ex­ter­nal flap on the rear pil­lar

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