The crowd was roaring, the bias ply tires fighting for grip, gravel flying, Jean Philippe thrashing his Beetle sideways around the public gardens of Muret, near Toulouse.
Ok, so the spectators were random passers by, making derogatory comments, but this wouldn't prevent the 24bhp, 1100cc flat four from trying to lose the rear end of this timeless classic. So, why would anybody in their right mind do this? Does the car have racing pedigree, far from it!
Jean Philippe bought his '51 Volkswagen back in '89 from the original owner, an elderly gentleman, Monsieur Tixier. It was the only car he'd ever purchased. However in 1951 there wasn't even a Volkswagen dealership in Toulouse so Monsieur Tixier went ahead and ordered a brand new type 1 through an independent garage. His drive back from the garage was one of the longest journeys he ever accomplished in this car, which partially explains the unbelievably low mileage, 29 000km! Yes you read correctly, 29 000km, 18 000 miles! With such little use, the car has never required any major repairs. In fact the biggest repair was to the brakes which have been rebuilt twice because of lack of use!
He took great care of the car, it has never spent a night outside, never been driven in the rain and he never drove it alone. He could not bear to drive the car without company and unfortunately in 1974 when his wife passed away he put the car in the garage, not to see the light until 1989 when Jean Philippe bought the car. Just 300 kilometres were driven before putting it back in the garage for the next 23 years. Fast forward to early 2014, Jean Philippe rebuilds the brakes, fits a new 6V battery and the little 1100 splutters back to life. Today, 300kms later, the car is still running perfectly and Jean Philippe describes it as a real experience, in a different world from his various other classics.
Here you have a 100% original split-rear-window Beetle, quite possibly one of the best preserved Beetles of this era in the world, it is literally a museum piece. The car has never been welded, never crashed, never been taken apart except from the brake overhaul. You may be thinking the car can't be that perfect, for instance has it been resprayed? No! Every single inch of the chestnut brown paint is original. With no visible patina or rust and knowing it has never been polished it really is mind blowing.
While out with Jean Philippe, the speedo right round at the 90kph mark, I had the opportunity to discover all the specifics of the early beetles, including the surprisingly thick glass and the very low gearing of the window winders, 10 turns from top to bottom. All the original accessories are in their correct places such as the wooden fuel gauge (a stick) and the original cardboard hiding the electrics under the front bonnet. As expected, when you open up the deck-lid the 1100cc engine is perfectly stock, even down to the 8mm copper fuel lines to the carburettor.
The car is immaculate, so how come it's owner is now throwing it round and round in circles grinning like a kid?
Jean Philippe is seriously into his fun cars and bikes, be that a Honda DAX, Porsche Turbo or his 2.3L Bounty Hunter VW buggy. Staying serious behind the wheel appears to be a slight problem!
Most readers will have kicked the back end out with their VW, whether it was intentional or not. It feels great and Jean Philippe didn't hesitate to try drifting around the full circle of Muret's public gardens (which are strictly off limits to all vehicles). The bias ply tires tried their best to grip, however with low fuel, no spare wheel and therefore little weight over the front axle the front was tending to lose grip before the rear. What a truly memorable experience, to study this time capsule, museum-worthy vehicle that gets put through it's paces when it's owner chooses to take it out for a spin.
Article written for Airmighty Magazine issue 19