Chad Collins will be the first to tell you that any history between himself and modifying cars isn’t exactly extensive. One look at the man’s 1957 ragtop Beetle, though, and none of that matters. Collins is quick to point out that much of the oval window Bug that he calls his had already been completed before he’d lay claim to it. But none of that really matters either. Collins’ VW is his now, not yours, it’s perfect, and you want it.
He drives it, too. At least once a week. “I wanted a VW that was a real head-turner,” he says about what led him to this particular Bug. “Something I could enjoy with my wife and our two boys.” And by enjoy it he means schlepping over to the beach with his family where, over hamburgers, the four watch the automotive bourgeoisies with their lavish Italian metal marvel at the post-war economy car’s Diamond-Green luster.
By 16, Collins had begun tearing apart his mother’s 1967 Bug, embarking on a top-to-bottom restoration. “My mom kept her original VW in the backyard of our house until I was old enough to drive,” he says. “When the time was right, we tore it down and started breathing [life] back into [it] with paintwork, interior, wheels, an engine, and a bumping stereo.”
That ’67 was really just a foreshadowing of the much larger-scale build Collins would assume nearly three decades later, though. Mom’s old car was stolen just a few years after it was finished, but it would take Collins another two-and-a-half decades before he’d consider a likeminded project. The surrogate Beetle was a barn-find, according to stories handed down by the Bug’s preceding owner. “He took it in and gave it the care it needed and deserved, paying close attention to every nut and bolt,” Collins says of the car’s last caretaker. This isn’t the collector-car fairly tale that you think it is, though. Shortly after money changed hands engine failure struck. “I had a bad taste in my mouth because of that,” Collins says. “But then I [realized] that things happen, and this car still looks incredible, inside and out.”
The solution was an entirely new powerplant. “I wanted an engine I could fire up and drive long distances if I had to,” he says, “and still have a little get-up-and-go if I need it.” For that Collins called upon Orange, California’s Fat Performance for one of its turnkey engine packages to mate to the car’s five-speed Berg gearbox. The pre-tuned assembly that lays down 154 hp is made up of dual Weber 44mm IDF carburetors, Mahle pistons, and 2,110cc of displacement by means of an 82mm forged crankshaft that squishes and pushes the air-and-fuel byproduct past a MagnaFlow muffler. It was exactly what Collins needed, not just practically, but also to restore his zeal for the project gone wrong. “I can drop a new engine into it, dress it up, and make it how I want it,” he says of the silver lining that’s often found when assessing piles of bent valves and dented-up pistons.
Throughout, the car’s original persona was disturbed little but in all the right ways. Porsche 356A aluminum-drum brakes retain its German heritage but make stopping easier. Era-specific Diamond-Green paint was also applied—no doubt better than Volkswagen could’ve ever done some half a century ago. Tweed and vinyl coexist across the interior. And chrome-plated BRM-style wheels along with the custom-narrowed front beam they need to fit all lend themselves to the Bug’s almost safeguarded ancestry. According to Collins, the plan was simple: To keep everything basic and clean.
Collins admits that most of the work had already been completed by the previous owner. But that doesn’t mean he’s finished making it his own. An airbag suspension is in the VW’s future, as is a bumping stereo. Just like with mom’s.
Words by Aaron Bonk