Paul Cowland

Paul Cowland


Project Car Builds

Project TV Beetle Part 1

21 Jan , 2016  

Back To The Future.

Plucked from barn-find obscurity and ‘restored’ for my Discovery Channel ‘Turbo Pickers’ TV show, this pretty little ’72 Bug has now ended up at home with me… and here’s why!

In a motor trade and media career that has now spanned 20-odd years, I have had a few unexpected phone calls in my time, but the one that came completely out of the blue from a Discovery TV producer asking whether I would like to be in a new Global show about finding, fixing and flipping old cars has to be one of the most random so far. “Absolutely!” I replied… “But only as long as one of the cars on the first series can be a Beetle!” After all.. this is where it all started for me, as this dashing shot shows!


VWs in general – and air-cooleds in particular – have been a staple part of my automotive diet since I was a kid. From the first issue Volkswold magazine, and via the pages of Custom Car and Street Machine long before that, I knew I always had to have one, and since the age of 16, there’s always been at least one on the drive. My first bug was a solid, but tatty ’72 1300, which using the aforementioned Volksworld as my style and tech bible, I slowly modded it over a year or so. Well, as much as a cash-strapped 17-year old student can!

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Although my current squeeze is a rather nice ’57 – currently away for a lengthy resto – that first Beetle has always given me a soft spot for the Seventies style bugs. Perhaps understandably, growing up with Dubs in the late Eighties has also given me a predilection for a certain era of Cal-Look, too. Yep, while I love a nicely sorted DKP-style car as much as the next man, a well-executed, pastel-shaded one-piece windowed B289 ride can still stop me in my tracks and evoke fond memories of cruising to all those early ‘Nu-Wave’ shows and generally loving the scene and it’s early progenitors.



Still to my mind, Colin Burnham’s amazing book ‘Air Cooled Volkswagens’, as well as his own amazing Guards Red looker left an indelible impression on me about how a car should look. If you haven’t read this book yet, you really do need to get on Ebay and buy a copy! It’s an invaluable window on the fashion and design cues of a time.


Fast forward to the present day and during filming for the TV show, we came across the likeable legend that is Julian Robinson (of Parts Emporium fame) whilst trawling the highways and by-ways of the UK. Keen to find something that we could add a little value to, Julian directed us to a car that he had in stock that had clearly had some work done to it – but also clearly needed quite a lot more. As the doors of the garage were opened and the covers taken off, what was revealed was a bizarre mix of styles.



The trimless sides and bonnet of a ‘Looker, with German Look Boxster wheels and mirrors and a slightly bizarre smoothed Cal dash treatment, but with a resto wheel and garish blue seat covers! The wings were shot, the paint was toast and there were a few maladies here and there, but on the flip side, it was like a 2-year old car underneath, it had beam adjusters in, front disc brakes and a healthy lack of rust in most of the usual places. It may have been designed by a styling committee, but there was no doubt that this was a solid little Bug that needed to come home.


Each episode of Turbo Pickers would have two cars in it, and for this episode, the Beetle would be the ‘B’ car, playing supporting cast to a rather nice TWR Jaguar XJS. This meant that our budget for the car would be scant – and like most TV makeovers, the build would be governed by time and production constraints. Basically, the car’s appearance would need to be camera-friendly, but no-one would be checking the details too closely. With only a handful of days allocated to the build, we would need to go fast and simple on the mods, to keep a lid on costs.


With a lack of trim and bonnet handle, to my mind a ‘Back 2 89’ looker would be the way to go. Four repro wings were quickly bolted on, along with some cheap repro running boards. I sold the Porsche wheels to bring a few quid back in and invested the cash in new Cal rubbers, a set of cheap door cards, some tombstone rear lights, a nice £80 eBay set of mint, freshly powder-coated GT rims, some inexpensive Toyo rubber and some new rear drums and shoes to replace the 5×130 items that had come with the Porsche wheels. Our tame body team did a great job of applying a few coats of the new Porsche Mexico Blue over a swiftly-prepped body in a very short space of time, but with the clock ticking and the director tapping his foot, this was only ever going to be a ‘tidy’ rather than a resto, and details like door check bars not arresting the doors properly, or the complete lack of engine service would never be able to get done on camera.


Still, fitted up and scrubbed over, the old girl looked good on screen! She ran well enough, and having fulfilled her filming obligations she was retired to the production company’s compound to languish for a month or five. Knowing she was a fine example underneath, I gallantly stepped in and offered to buy her. After all, a car this solid deserves to be finished properly!



Now in my possession and quickly cleaned for this intro shoot, it’s easy to spot where the work needs to be. The interior isn’t properly fitted and needs a full re-think. Several paint areas could do with a second go and then there’s the engine to dress up, the wheels and rubber rake to improve, the suspension to sort and true B289 details like one-piece windows to think about fitting. I know that this style won’t appeal to everyone, but after all, I am building it for me, and with the ’57 heading down the more ‘tasteful’ route, I feel it’s safe to have a bit of fun with the ’72 and create a car that my 17-year old self would have definitely approved of! So, think of this, ‘Burnham’ style, with a period Cobra interior, some black Empi 8s and The Prodigy’s ‘Wind It Up’ playing full tilt from the hidden CD player in the dash. Yeah, the ‘80s are returning people! And this is my ticket to get back to the future!

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Until Next Time…




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