By on August 20, 2013

Welcome‘s Jo Borras to our HIGHLY EXCLUSIVE AND UPSCALE circle of TTAC contributors. Jo’s brought us a piece on a “recycled” VW Beetle. Check it out and give his site a click, too! — JB

We’ve often said that the greenest car is the one that’s already built, and we’ve featured several repurposed cars, bikes, and even campers here on Gas 2 that loudly proclaim “You don’t need a new car!” and, hopefully, inspire you to put more love and more elbow grease into your existing car and – if you do it right – end up with something that’s worth more than the sum of its parts.

Which brings me to this car. The original “Godzilla”. The OG, as it were. Newman’s own Ford racing V8-powered Volkswagen Bug, and it may be the first car to be nicknamed “Godzilla” by the automotive press way back in the 1960s, and it was busy earning its monstrous reputation (some 48 years before Nissan’s R35 came along) at places like Ontario Speedway, where some cat named “Paul Newman” was using it to abuse John Z. Delorean’s hotshoes at a Camaro “open house” trackday.

Yes, that Paul Newman.

Even without its famous owner history, this car deserves every ounce of respect you can give it. Consider that, underneath the unassuming and nearly stock-looking VW Type I shell is a Jerry Eisert-designed IndyCar-style chassis that had 351 cubic inches of Ford Racing V8 engine built by the masters at Holman Moody stuffed between its members. That Ford V8 was mated to a ZF transaxle á la Ford GT40. Up front, a custom-fabricated, double-wishbone front suspension and a rack-and-pinion steering setup replaced the VW’s torsion bars. A set of Koni coilovers pushed the tires to the ground, while, out back, a set of Corvair-sourced trailing arms worked in concert with an Eisert-designed a-arm.

In short, Paul Newman’s “Godzilla” V8 Volkswagen was (and I say this without hyperbole) the sikkest sleeper car of 1970. Even knowing that, though, you get a better sense of what this car really was (is?) when you look underneath. Luckily, one of the car’s fans, Roy Gardner, posted a number of “pre-restoration” photos of the car, and shared a little of the car’s story …

I attended Chaffey College in Alta Loma, California in the early seventies because I’d read in Hot Rod Magazine it was one of the finest automotive schools in the country. They had an accredited racing program with weekday lecture and all-Saturday lab, taught by Kent Fisk. They designed, built, and operated Formula V cars, an El Camino drag car, a scratch-built Bonneville streamliner, a Rambler Scrambler Baja 500 car (ex James Garner, could be a whole ‘nother website), race car transporter with a 455 Olds engine, and more. While I was earning my A.S. Degree in Automotive Technology, I saw the Beetle in the school’s storage yard. I was intrigued and asked about it. The story I was told was Paul Newman wanted to blow off the Corvettes and Porsches on Mullholland Avenue in Los Angeles with the unlikeliest of cars and commissioned Jerry Eisert, an Indy car constructor, to build it for him.

He drove it a lot, then donated it to Chaffey (college).

… I’ve picked out a few of the more telling photos of Paul Newmans’ V8 Superbug, and highlighted some of the features to pay attention to, below.

Paul Newman V8 Beetle

Here’s Roy posing with the car as it looked in its “college days”. It was painted in the more flash white/red, two-tone paint scheme from the original red.


Paul Newman V8 Beetle

Here you can see the Ford GT40/ZF transaxle. Most people I’ve shown this to seem to think this is a DeTomaso Pantera setup, but it’s worth mentioning that Paul Newman’s bug pre-dates the Pantera by at least a year.


Paul Newman V8 Beetle

This is a good shot of the custom front suspension and subframe, and also a decent shot of the car’s relatively advanced “flat floor”, which wouldn’t be picked up in another roadcar until the Ferrari F355 some 30-odd years later. You can also make out the hard cooling lines connecting the front-mounted radiators to the mid-mounted V8.


Paul Newman V8 Beetle

Roy also got to drive the car occasionally, if this photo is to be believed. How he avoided the temptation to start frantically gunning the throttle and setting the ass end of the car on smoky, rubbery fire while one of his buddies filmed him hooning a legit piece of automotive history is totally beyond me, but he was good enough to also post these old scans of HotRod articles that featured the car, so I guess we can forgive him.


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27 Comments on “Recycled Hawtness: Paul Newman’s Mid-engine Indy V8-powered VW Beetle...”

  • avatar

    Sweet ! .

    I well remember ” The Mulholland Midnight Racers ” and the well heeled folks who ran there , I’d sit in ” The Bleachers ” and watch the fun .


  • avatar

    Question: Is there anybody left with the combination of money, connections, and moxie required to do a modern version — say, with a Prius or a Smart as the shell?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s been done.

      EDIT: Ok that was a fake posting, but I have seen a V8-powered Honda Civic before. Anything is possible.

      Personally, I am more interested in seeing small-displacement engines stuffed into muscle cars, just to see the purists explode with rage.

      2.0 liter EcoBoost meet ’67 Mustang? YES PLZ.

      • 0 avatar

        +1 on the “…more interested in seeing small-displacement engines stuffed into muscle cars, just to see the purists explode with rage.”

        You have a sick sense of humor. I love it!

      • 0 avatar

        Someone is heading in the right direction, lol. I wonder how wide the 3.7V6 is? How about a classic Mustang with the V6 from the modern one? The 5.0 is cool but dang I think you’d twist the chassis on a 1st generation Mustang with that kind of power.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m a bit tired of the “LS into old Corvette” engine swaps. If I could afford it, I’d supercharge a Blue Flame Six and put it in a ZR1.

    • 0 avatar

      Easy, but a 911 and paint it like a ladybug. Done.

    • 0 avatar

      Jay Leno does some stuff – Like a 66 toro with corvette underpinnings.

      • 0 avatar

        D’oh! I forgot about Leno! He’s no Newman, but he could certainly get it done.

        What I think a lot of the replies above missed is that this wasn’t just an engine swap, or even a drive train swap. According to the article, it’s a complete “Jerry Eisert-designed IndyCar-style chassis” underneath. That’s a whole different level of customization.

        • 0 avatar

          I would say Newman and Leno are cut from the same cloth. This was not Newman’s first special. I remember another Beetle convertible of his with an early Porsche 356 motor neatly installed in back, and such a neat installation that it appeared in factory VW brochures along with their new models.

          As for Leno, he was a Boston Rolls Royce dealer tech while he was learning standup, so both of these guys were/are the real deal.

          • 0 avatar

            Funny, I was just reading about Paul Newman’s war service. He enlisted in the Navy at 17 hoping to become a carrier pilot, but flunked the physical – he was colorblind. He wouldn’t have minded any color that car was painted.

            BTW – he got his wings, as a radioman/bombardier/tailgunner on a TBF Avenger, the same type George Bush Sr. flew. Newman just missed being killed in WWII. At the invasion of Okinawa, his 6-plane squadron was to be the replacement squadron on the carrier Bunker Hill, but Newman’s pilot was sick, and the other planes flew ahead.

            Three days later, the Bunker Hill was rammed by two kamikazis 30 seconds apart, and the ensuing fires killed 540 sailors, including the entire crews of the five planes of Newman’s squadron. If Newman’s pilot hadn’t been sick, this car would never have been built.

  • avatar

    Paul Newman, Steve McQueen — they really don’t make them like that anymore. Please feel free to disagree; I’m just having trouble thinking of a contemporary comparison.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen a few Bugs done with rear engine Oldsmobile UPP (Unitized Power Package) with a 455 stolen from a Toronado, but not a front engine V8 powered Bug. Of course the problem with the UPP is your back seat gets filled with engine. :)

  • avatar

    I would go further and say this is one of the best sleepers in history. I’m guessing the sound is decidedly non-sleeper, but that is one unassuming Beetle. Wheels, tailpipes, stance. It’s all there.

  • avatar

    I saw this car once. I think it was at the Long Beach Grand Prix a couple years ago. It looks amazing. 1969 was pretty late in the game to build a mid engined car with a racing V8 and drum brakes.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    “Here you can see the Ford GT40/ZF transaxle.”

    Gt40s used many different gearboxes, Hewland, ZF and bespoke Ford ones.

    Whilst this Beetle may pre-date the Pantera, don’t forget basically the same hardware including the five speed ZF Gearbox was used in the earlier Mangusta.

  • avatar

    I think flat floors were used by Citroen starting in the 50s with the DS.

  • avatar

    This brings to mind the Renault L5 Turbo from the 80s. Imagine a mid-engined LeCar with 185hp and 165lbs torque. Now imagine it was produced and sold to the public. Imagine no more:

  • avatar

    Not nearly as interesting as the Fittapaldi 3200 raced in Brazil by the man himself. The engine was a flat 8 boxer built of two inline 1600’s jammed in a Beetle.

  • avatar

    That flat floor looks like a slightly modified standard beetle floorpan…

  • avatar

    The radiator gives to the look of der furher.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    The Blue Flame 6. I prefer a good I-6 to a SBC any time. The 235 Chevy 6 had more HP than the last Ford flat head 8. It had bearings not babbitted bushings in the lower end.

    I got sick of the SBC being the crate motor for anything that needed a new engine.

    It was I six flat heads in the Hudsons that started NASCAR.

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