If you’re just joining us, you should get to know Miss Mabel. This fine lady is a 1959 VW Beetle the shop has built as our entry in the Ultimate VW Build-Off in Vegas October 1-4, 2015.
Not that she’ll get much road time for the next year. That’s because she’ll spend that time as a trailer queen making the rounds of all the shows the shop goes to. But, still a good idea to make sure she’s good to go if needed.
How’d it go?
(First, I think we’re all glad it’s 00Dub doing the driving!) She made it out of the gravel driveway at the Volkswagen restoration shop with no real problems. Well, except that she lost her Gremlin bell. That’s a pretty strong indicator that we’ve built a pan scraper here. That’s good for the shows, but she’ll need to come up a bit to be driven after she’s done showing off.
PP hopped in to film the next part of her road test (NO SHOES, of course!). Engine’s sounding good, sunroof is lovely, and the interior’s comfy. We passed over a small asphalt strip – just a patch, really, to repair a crack in the road. And on approach, that sucker loomed like an enormous speed bump! Perspective changes quite a bit when you’re that low to the ground. So good so far, though.
Until we took the final curve and the shift just seemed off. Like maybe the brand new VW transmission was stuck in the wrong gear?
Oh… or maybe it was the fact that the weld attaching the shifter in place failed and the shifter came off in Dub’s hand. Yeah, that might be the issue.
This, volks, is why we road test. As eager as we all are to get every completed project out there and sent home with our clients, it’s really not ready until it’s ready. We can’t overstate the importance of testing before we send a Porsche or VW restoration project home. That’s why we typically put about 500 miles on every build we do. We’ll test it under different weather conditions, on different roads, at variable speeds and every sort of normal driving condition you might encounter.
We’ve got a few days before she gets into the hauler to take her cross-country trip – so we’ve got it covered.
Whether you’re down the road or across the country, we can help. It’s not super expensive to ship project cars across the United States, and about half (maybe more!) of our clients are long-distance. When you look at spending this kind of money on a Porsche or VW restoration project (yeahhhhh, it’s a pretty penny), the cost of shipping your ride to a shop that can do it right is negligible.
Click or call 256-828-2123 to start the conversation about YOUR project.
Miss Mabel, the custom VW bug Airkooled Kustoms is building for the Ultimate VW Build-Off has a whole new slew of admirers in the Huntsville area. And thanks to live news feeds, even across the Atlantic. David Wood of WHNT Channel 19 in Huntsville came out to the shop in Hazel Green. Here, he got the scoop on a local business hand-picked to compete on the national stage against the best of the best in the VW restoration field.
David usually covers the sort of story you’d expect to see on the local news: school board issues, drug busts, charity events, and even high-profile trials. But this was clearly a different sort of assignment. Not exactly breaking news, but instead the opportunity to use his remarkable talent for storytelling. We were delighted by how he captured what Airkooled Kustoms is all about.
The Art of Dubs Meets the Art of Storytelling
As VW restorers, we know what we see when we look around at the shop. We get an eyeful of projects in various states of completion. Also, we see our fellow krew members living out the “blood, sweat, and vintage steel” motto as they pour their own personal variety of OCD into the Dubs to do them right. But it’s always interesting to see someone else’s take on the shop. Especially when that person sees and reports on newsworthy stuff every single day. Imagine watching a journalist’s eyes light up over the stunning beauty of Mabel’s paint job. Then see the moment of clear recognition that what we are creating is kinetic art in the form of brand new old cars. That was pretty kool. What a kick it was getting to see what he did with all the footage he captured (a couple of hours worth) within such a quick turnaround time. It got even better seeing how he was able to tell the story of what the shop is doing with Miss Mabel. All in all, it was a great opportunity to see a storyteller’s art in action.
There are so many angles of the Miss Mabel story that make her cool:
Here’s a 56-year old vehicle getting a full restoration from the ground, up.
Every nut, bolt, panel, and piece gets stripped back to reveal and correct its age- and use-induced flaws. This rebuild will leave Mabel stronger, faster, and more beautiful than anyone back in 1959 would have dreamed possible. Even more than turning back the hands of time, the shop is creating something altogether different in this custom Beetle.
Anyone can slap some after-market chrome doodads onto a car and call it custom. This shop’s forté is in customizing with subtlety.
As you look at an Airkooled Kustoms build, you’ll no doubt miss a lot. Eyeballs typically skim right over incredibly intricate work and badass details because your eye isn’t stopped by them. That’s subtle. Once you truly see what you’re seeing, your jaw will drop. It might drop twice, in fact, both in recognizing what’s been done and in the fact that you didn’t initially see it.
Miss Mabel is named after the late Mabel Powers, a long-time resident of Athens, AL.
She was the wife of the late Dr. Alvin Powers who founded the Athens hospital. Known for her unique mix of class and sass, Mabel’s personality comes through beautifully in her namesake.
VW Restorers Where You’d Never Expect Them
How is it that a local shop in rural Hazel Green, Alabama makes its way into the national spotlight? Especially through a competition of this magnitude? How is it that a whole krew of VW specialists is able to make a living doing what they love? Spending their days restoring generations-old cars practically deemed disposable when they were first built? What kind of clients pour tens of thousands of dollars into these pieces of kinetic art? Especially knowing full-well that the process will take an average of 8 – 18 months?
Watching the sense of awe on David Wood’s face as he roamed the boneyard, spoke with the krew, and examined the vehicles on the shop floor, we knew he’d do a great job in telling the Airkooled Kustoms story. Since it aired, we’ve had several guests arrive at the shop asking to see more of what we’re doing – and many comments and compliments from the shop’s fans from all over the world.
What can it be? What can it beeeeeee?
See what Rodney and Gee-off just received in the shop. Hint: It goes vroom vroom and makes one very special Beetle go, go, go!
Bonus hint: It makes VW restorers grin like lunatics.
This tribute build is just about a wrap – now that it’s got a working, running, glorious engine. Next, it’s installation time, and then it’ll be time to test, tune, and break that baby in for a couple hundred miles… and THEN it will go home to Kaden’s family, who’ll have a beautiful, badass reminder of a very special boy who loved Volkswagens almost as much as he loved his people.
Airkooled Kustoms custom VW restoration shop is known for “doing it right.” There’s nowhere that’s more visible than in our paint. No 50/50 jobs here – you know, looks good at 50 yards if you’re driving 50 mph past it. In fact, the closer you come, the more closely you look, the better the finish looks.
This is Miss Mabel, the 1959 VW Beetle Ragtop the shop is preparing for the Ultimate VW Build-Off. It’s in Las Vegas, October 1-4, 2015. Even though Mabel started out with a relatively sound body, she looked every bit of her nearly sixty years. Her once dull, gray, creased, dinged, patina body has been straightened, repaired, and perfected. Painted and polished to within an inch of her life, she now sports a paint job so slick and juicy that it’s hard not to drool on her.
Making Paint Shiny -er
In this little clip, Spook shows her bling black finish in the shade and the sunlight. That’s to demonstrate why people will be spending an inordinate amount of time looking at her. She looks sinister and shiny in the shade – brilliantly black and blingy in the sunlight – all the same finish, of course.
That’s the hallmark of Airkooled Kustoms custom VW restoration projects. There’s more to see than what your eye picks up right away. Ninja-like, right? With some builds out there, the hope is that you’ll like the car and keep walking before you see what’s wrong with it. It’s the opposite with AKK builds. The longer you look, the more you love it, the more detail you see.
Mabel’s finish is so fine that fans are mistaking it for a mirror in many of her build pictures.
If you’d like to see more, check out the build progress here: https://airkooledkustoms.com/projects/whats-on-the-floor/1959-vw-beetle-ragtop/
And if you’re planning to join us at the Ultimate VW Build-Off (http://www.ultimatevwbuildoff.com), be sure to bring your sunglasses. We’d hate for Miss Mabel’s shine to make you squint!
Inspired? Searching for “VW restoration shops near me” now that you’ve caught the bug? Airkooled Kustoms hails from Hazel Green, Alabama. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to live in the southeast to become a client. In fact, most of our clients live “yonder” (a southern term we’ve come to understand as “not here”). Some of them have project cars they’ve been hauling around for decades. Others have nothing more than a dream and a willing checkbook. We can arrange for transport for you to get your vehicle from hither and yon (we’re not 100% on that one, but think it probably means “wherever you are”) to the shop.
Just give us a call at 256-828-2123 or click to contact us online. The sooner we start talking about your project, the sooner you’ll drive it.
Sure, you can pack your Dub with go-fast goodies. But while we get the question about how fast can a VW Bug go a LOT, it’s a whole different matter when you’re looking at classics versus modern cars.
It’s all connected. Every modification you make impacts everything else in your build. A faster engine means you need a stronger transmission. Then you’re going to need to upgrade your suspension and brakes… Well, you get the idea.
One of the faster Beetles we’ve built in the last couple of years is Mojoe. Have you checked it out?
If speed’s your thing – and you’ve got Dub Fever – you’ll want to check out this guide to speedy VWs:
Change your life with a fast VW by CAR Magazine
► We take a look at three great fast used Volkswagens ► VW’s finest hot hatches, estates and coupes ► Andrew Chapple, owner of VolksWizard, acts as our guide
> Is this a good idea? ‘Oh yeah. The Mk5 Golf GTI Edition 30 was the first Anniversary model to use an engine that wasn’t shared with the standard GTI – a detuned 232bhp version of the strengthened 266bhp lump used in the Golf R and Audi S3. Coupled with the standard Mk5 Golf GTI chassis this produced a genuinely rapid and agile hot hatch with all the refinement and quality expected of the VW brand.’
> How much? ‘A decade ago the Edition 30, limited to 1500 in the UK, weighed in at £22,795. Today a meticulously maintained low-mileage model will nudge £18,000. That’s depreciation with a ‘d’ tiny enough to make a Leon Cupra driver cry.’
>What’s going to break? ‘The TFSI engine has a good reputation for reliability but coil packs can fail and the cam follower that drives the high-pressure DFI fuel pump can wear and needs periodic replacement. Oil consumption is not unusual but shouldn’t be confused with the dipsomaniac chain-driven 2.0 TFSI Audi engine used in the A4/A5. All Mk5s are prone to front-wing rust, DSG automatic models can suffer mechatronic module and clutch pack failures, and always check the air-conditioning.’
> Crippling running costs? ‘Edition 30 owners may be immune from depreciation, but money will need to be spent on cambelt changes which are due every five years or 60,000 miles – budget £400 when the recommended water pump change is included. Servicing is barely any different from more mundane Golfs although tyre life is understandably shorter.’
> Is this a good idea? ‘Sure – with 261bhp and no awd system to haul, it’s quick, with an adept ride and scalpel-sharp handling.’
> How much? ‘Early well-maintained models come in at £14k – small money for big performance – through to £25k for two-year-old low-mileage minters.’
> What’s going to break? ‘The drivetrain is much the same as the Edition 30 (left) so the same cautions apply. Check the drop-on-open windows work correctly, the ACC adaptive suspension is fault-free and the optional 19in alloys aren’t cracked.’
> Crippling running costs? ‘Tyres and fuel will eat into your savings, but this is an R for GTI servicing costs.’
So, how fast can a VW Bug go? Speed is not usually the primary reason Dub lovers start restoration projects. The originals weren’t all that fast – and especially not compared with today’s cars. If you’re considering a restoration, you’re going to have some important decisions to make – and some of them will be impacted by whether you’ve got a need for speed, or if you’re happier going low and slow.
Either way, there’s a lot that can be done to a brand new, very old Dub that’s restored at Airkooled Kustoms. It’s all about your priorities. We never say “can’t” – but your wallet might!
Do Classic Cars Need Seat Belts? Yes, unless you’re currently being attacked by a zombie.
In fact, if you’re asking, “Do classic cars need seat belts?” then you could be actually asking of two questions. One, do states require seatbelts even if the car was manufactured without them? Or, two, are they needed.
No, and yes. No, the state won’t make you install them in a restoration if your car rolled off the factory line without seatbelts. Yes, you need them – unless you plan on driving during the Zombie Apocalypse and want to make sure you can bail quickly… but you could even do quick-release belts then.
If your idea of fun is barreling down non-road roads, we’ve got two pieces of advice for you.
You definitely need seat belts.
You might consider a VW Baja Bug.
Usually our shop is known for high-end kustom restorations… like Miss Mabel, or Bumblebee, or Paz Ghia.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t roll around in the dirt like the best of them, too. Plus, an off-road VW Baja Bug would be blissfully free from the fear of a visit from the Dent Fairy.
In fact, a Baja Bug would be fun to build. If you’ve got one in mind and the build plan is kool enough, we’d do it. Rough and tumble, a strong suspension, and everything you’d need to go off road… and make it back – we can do that.
So, yeah, the whole Do Classic Cars Need Seat Belts question is a YES for safety.
Here’s a great little piece about VW Baja Bugs from The Garage at Jalopnik. Buckle up and enjoy.
Here’s why I love cars: They’re gender-neutral, colorblind, politically centered metal and fiberglass boxes of excitement, individuality, and freedom. One car that absolutely embodies everything I’ve mentioned is called the VW Baja Bug. Here are a few reasons why you need to drop everything and buy one.
I’ll start this love letter off with a full, total and long disclosure: I have not driven this car, but I got damn close. Let me explain. I heard D-list internet celebrity and Jalopnik veteran Raphael Orlove needed help with his small but eclectic collection of cars, namely his Volkswagen Baja Bug, and I volunteered to take some time out of my busy schedule of binge-watching Netflix and commenting on political Facebook posts to help him. I’m such a hero.
When I got there, the Bug’s battery was dead and The Raph (That’s what I call him, now that we’re best friends) said that the car was on a tow truck the night before, because she wasn’t running right. After sacrificing the battery in my S-Class, we got the Bug running, and before I could ask to drive it, some random guy beats me to the punch.
Yes, a man off the street asked to drive a complete stranger’s car, with jumper cables still attached, in the pouring rain, with a bad alternator, arguably running on three and a half of its 4 scooter-sized cylinders, and leaving his increasingly worried-looking dog Pepper in the questionable care of said stranger – which is probably as good a time as any to transition into my first point:
5. You Will Get An Insane Amount Of Attention
A VW Baja Bug isn’t a car as it is a lifestyle choice. Why would someone, of relatively sound mind and body, choose a car with an exposed engine, no mufflers or emissions equipment of any kind, and a body half-comprised of cracked fiberglass and rusted-through thinning steel, when they could get a Toyota Corolla for the same price? It’s the kind of question that perplexes people and they can’t help but stare and engage with the owner because of it. I was with the Raph-meister (That’s what I call him, now that we’re best friends) for a few hours on a weekend, and it seemed like every 5 or 10 minutes, someone would stop and do a double take when they saw the bug, and unlike Doug DeMuro’s dudebro-magnet Ferrari, everyone wanted a piece of the Bug.
Young couples looked at the car with an approving gaze, chuckling as they walked past, likely breaking the ice on their awkward first date. Elderly women came by and talked about how their husbands used to have one “just like this” decades ago, when net neutrality was a concept that applied only to tennis. Taxi drivers held up traffic to see if the car would start (Spoiler alert: It didn’t), and a heroic freelance automotive “consultant” came by and offered help, if’n we were so inclined as to pay him. (Spoiler alert: We didn’t). It’s was by far the shittiest and most unkempt car on the street, but I honestly don’t think a Lamborghini Veneno could’ve gotten more attention that this little slice of honest simplicity. And speaking of simplicity…
4. You Can Fix It With A Hammer
If you’ve been paying attention to James May’s Cars Of The People, you’ll have learned that the VW Beetle was designed to be extremely utilitarian, and that if damaged, its simple mechanical wizardry could be set straight on the side of a remote German town, in the 1930s. The Baja Bug takes this to a new level, by removing the things you don’t need, like a bonnet. The car barely has doors (which, by the way, close with a satisfying German thunk), and the rats nest of wiring is so simple and crude that any idiot with a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie would be able to completely overhaul the electrical system.
There are no radiators to speak of, no coolant to leak onto the ground, one tiny carburetor sitting below a slightly less tiny meshed air cleaner, and cylinders that you could individually rebuild. The entire drivetrain comes out with just 4 bolts, and you could perform nearly every bit of the car’s maintenance in a parking lot or side street. The only vehicles that are arguably simpler have pedals.
3. The Worse It Looks, The Better It Is
Immediately after returning to the lap of luxury that I call my Mercedes, I took to eBay to see what Baja Bugs I could find, and I came upon an issue: They were all too nice. I didn’t want a pristine example of a throwaway car, because that would negate the entire point. Raph-a-doodle-do (That’s what I call him, now that we’re best friends) straight up rolled his car into a ditch, putting some nasty welts into his primered bodywork, cracking some fiberglass. One of his headlights made a break for it during a rally stage, and was mended with some wood screws that were fastened into the brittle fiberglass overfenders, with the chrome surrounds left to rust slowly. The front wheels were blue, and the rear wheels were a shade of yellow reserved for dentists’ waiting rooms and IRS office bathrooms, made almost indistinguishable by the amount of dirt on them.
The interior had the build quality and feel of an out-of commission amusement park ride that was turned on one last time. The well-worn seats were from an unidentified 80’s car of some sort, and the dashboard was adorned with the gifts of owners past. The accelerator pedal was missing, leaving behind simply the lever and caster, so your foot could literally roll off the accelerator pedal if you weren’t careful. The vinyl and cardboard door cards were caved in, and the yet-fruitless search for flight MH370 had nothing on the search for one of the car’s 4 gears, through the world’s sloppiest shifter.
But all of that makes the car. It’s underpowered and loud, but it’s supposed to be. Every non-structural rust hole is a admirable battle scar. Every temporary fix-turned-permanent added character and personality. This wasn’t a car, but its own entity. It wore its age with pride, dents and all – a tall order, and not something any car could pull off. This car is a tribute to a simpler era, wearing completely different clothes than it did when it left the showroom, but having way more cool stories to tell.
2. It’s The Best SUV
The regular VW Beetle can be quite low. Not so with the Baja Bug. As I went to disconnect the battery from my car and bring it down the street to give some much-needed life support to the Bug, I found Rapharino (That’s what I call him, now that we’re best friends) just hanging out underneath the car, with his feet in the New York City street, obviously and/or obliviously unconcerned with the cars whizzing past. This car had crazy ground clearance. It also had meaty tires and had its engine in the back, which allows you to do this on a dirt track quite easily:
Even thought its engine produced a paltry 50-something horsepower on a good day (not too many of those), the chassis had a ton of pedigree and it was set up to kick some serious ass and have an even seriouser amount of fun. If you fold the backseat and clear out the frunk, you have ample room for storage, and it can seat 5 ’30s-era Germans with ease, or 2 modern-day Americans in relative discomfort. Even if you can’t fit something inside, strap it to the roof, or drag it behind you, it’s so damn frugal that you could make extra trips without having it put a dent in your wallet, and you’d be smiling the entire way. It’s the all-terrain vehicle that you never knew you needed, costing a little bit less than most new 4-wheelers, which brings me to my final point:
1. It’s Seriously Cheap
If you’re looking for thrill of ownership, no car beats this for the dollar, as you can buy these modified, personalized playthings for next to nothing. For around the same price as a used Corolla, you’ll have instant friends and onlookers wherever you go. It’ll sound like a pissed off WRX, and you could slide it around in the dirt. Dents make the car look better, and you could fix it with duct tape and silly string. They made millions of Beetles, and you could convert one into a backyard-destroying Baja Bug by yourself. This car will most likely outlive you, leaving only your legacy behind.