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The Bug (back) Story


So, where do I start with this one. I certainly don’t need another car and I have more than enough projects on the go – albeit nearing completion, I promise!

I can’t remember how many years ago I spotted a dusty VW flat four engine languishing in a distant corner of AAA in Rashidya. Four, maybe five, certainly long before I headed to the US – probably about time I had my Karmann Ghia, so interest was piqued.

Naturally it wasn’t just any VW engine, the random rusty, dusty pipes and snail shouted that. A harmless enquiry revealed it was a 300 bhp, turbo-charged EFI engine – purpose built of course, but never used. The owner, a true VW enthusiast had many projects on the go, from Porsche to VW, but as with many in Dubai, his attendance was transitory and he hadn’t be in touch for a number of years, so the engine sat there literally gathering dust/sand.

I did try to get in touch back then, but he wasn’t replying to emails or calls, I even reached out to a mutual contact who had handled the original shipping but to no avail. Apparently, there was a beetle shell and a convertible project tucked away in another corner sharing the same fate, but I had no interest in those…

Roll the clock forward 3 or so years and the sad news the owner had passed away. He was a stalwart of the UAE Classic car and VW community and is greatly missed. He had a good send off at Cafe Rider and then as with all things time marched on.

With the passage of time my Karmann Ghia had of course gone, but it had been replaced by the Porsche 356. In an idle moment, an idle thought, wouldn’t it be a hoot to dust down that old VW engine and drop it in the 356 🙂

I had a few conversations with AAA and with the owner’s family, of course it wouldn’t go into the 356 which was undergoing a full restoration, but maybe another Ghia was in the offing.

Probate, etc. is tough enough in the UK, but then add the complications of the UAE and it’s a major PIA and time consuming. All parties knew I wanted to buy the engine and gearbox and a tacit agreement was made, once the paperwork was done and it could be legally sold we’d sort it all out.

This was of course only a small part of a very complicated estate, as I said compounded by the UAE factor. Almost a year later we were ready to do make things happen… well on the engine at least. Transferring ownership of this was of course much easier than a registered car. The family agreed, gave an NOL to AAA and all could be sorted.

As luck would have it it turns-out the half restored Beetle cabriolet was also easy to transfer. It was still in the prior owner’s name as when he had sold it on, the paperwork was never completed. Being an honourable man he didn’t simply reclaim the car and promised to transfer the ownership docs with the family’s approval – which we had. We had to take the half-built car on a flat-back to the RTA to verify the Chassis, but that was simple and the transfer done.

So, I find myself the owner of a dusty rusty engine, dusty rusty gearbox and a half finished 1966 Beetle. Sounds like the usual mess I rush myself into – but that’s not nearly the full story and doesn’t explain my excitement.

What a project!

Let’s look at this beetle – half finished, no engine and transmission, no wheels, tucked away on a dolly in the corner of a workshop since 2015. But this doesn’t paint the picture – it is truly stunning work and an absolute nut and bolt restoration. The last outing was to be displayed in this state at the high-end Emirates Classic Car Festival, and it shone.

The level of work that went into this, I have never seen before. The love, the care and the attention to detail is apparent in the 7,300 photos I received of the restoration to date… yes 7,300 and it is only half finished!

I’ve seen pictures and what came over from the US in 2008, purchased in good faith and following an independent assessment was an ostensibly good looking 1996 VW Beetle Convertible in a nice Ivory with black interior.

It turned out to be a rusty nightmare, luckily this prior owner, the honourable man who did the transfer, had the resources, skills and desire to put things right. That became a 5 year and 7,300 photo labour of love bringing it to the point where he sold it to another enthusiast and it was displayed at the Emirates Classic Car Show, before being tucked away in a corner for another 3 years.

I say it is half finished, after all it is an engine-less, tranny-less and wheel-less shell, but did I mention it came with some boxes of spares… many boxes… of restored spares… two Ford F150 Raptor trips full of boxes.

Wheels, chrome-work, dials, windows, bumpers, etc. etc. all meticulously restored waiting for reassembly. The seats alone – re-framed, re-leathered, original horse-hair bases sourced and used. Stunning, just stunning.

In fact, the only apparent parts missing and not restored are the hood canvas, padding and headliner and the engine and tranny…

So, what are the engine and tranny I do have –

A bit of research and a handy YouTube video reveal that we have on our hands a Chico built CPR, 2165cc turbo charged EFI engine with a build spec as long as you like. To be honest I couldn’t find a build sheet, but one of the Dubai VW cognicenti dug one out from old emails with the previous owner. It doesn’t quite tally in terms of cc and the EFI, but everything else looks to the good. Sadly, having sat unused so long and being moved about a bit, (it was built in 2010!) it is missing things like the ECU, loom, fuel pump etc. All replaceable of course and given the age, probably with better more modern solutions.

He also found some tranny specs – a Rancho Pro-Drag box no less, 3.88 rack/pinion ratio and a .82 fourth. High-end stuff – this combo was only ever destined for the drag strip – despite the A/C pump on the engine!

Full specs to follow once I’ve check and worked them out.


So, what am I going to do with it all?

Despite the little red devil sat on my shoulder and whispering in my ear, I don’t think I’m going to use the turbo. The Beetle will be a road car after all so sense has to reign. Compression at 8:1 may be an issue so we’ll look at that, but otherwise I think I’ll stick with the current spec and run it as an EFI engine and see how it performs.

For the rest of the car, this has been a nut and bolt original restoration to date – but without the original engine (it was apparently beyond repair many years ago) and without the original tranny (restored but misplaced for now), it will never be numbers correct, for what that is worth! The colour is also non-original, a 1995 Porsche silver, their first metallic. Given this and my use of the big engine and built tranny, I don’t mind moving away from standard. My Porsche 356, bar a few engine internals was brought back to original – colour, interior, ‘S’ engine. I want something different for the Beetle.

Not far though – I want it to look standard externally, but with some mod cons and driving aids. I have a set of front and rear disk brakes, a full AC kit is on its way too.

It is going to be a great project. I look forward to providing regular updates…

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