- 1​972 Volkswagen Super Beetle with an unknown make Super Beetle rework of the Wunderbug front end, spotted in Eugene, Oregon.

Volkswagen Plastic Surgery: The Enduring Story of VW Bolt On Body Kits

T​hese VW bug "nose and tail jobs" began as a accessory/kit conversion for the familiar German economy car. Today they're coveted by the Volksrod scene.

1​971 factory photo from Lieffring Industries, showing two circa 1968-71 Standard Beetles with custom wheels and Lieffring Wunderbug nose kits.

1​971 factory photo from Lieffring Industries, showing two circa 1968-71 Standard Beetles with custom wheels and Lieffring Wunderbug nose kits.

V​olkswagen customizing has been a thing ever since the now iconic "bug" got into worldwide circulation in the 1950s, and scads of American & European companies got into the aftermarket parts &/or accessory businesses. By the 60s/70s, VWs were popular and loved globally, to the point where many owners described their VWs as "a family member that lives in the garage", and at the same time, custom car culture expanded to German and other foreign imports. It's unknown who or which shop exactly started the fad that this article describes, but it's likely that it originated in Hollywood (or possibly in either NYC, Miami, or Las Vegas), and it is known that P. V. T. Plastics of Brooklyn registered a patent for several styles of mass-produced "Mini Rolls" kits for 1949-up VW Beetles in 1970 and introduced it publicly at the New York International Auto Show in 1971. Pacesetter Fiberglass in Chicago loosely copied the designs soon after, as did Snohomish Plastics in the Seattle area and likely several other smaller shops. Linked are two articles on the early days of the Mini-Rolls fad, from establishment news media that aren't usually known for car culture.

P​.V.T. Plastics "Mini-Rolls" and imitators:

C​irca 1967-70 magazine advertisement for P.V.T. Plastics' Rolls-Royce body kits. PVT had the largest selection of R-R body kits, but they most likely did not originate the fad.

C​irca 1967-70 magazine advertisement for P.V.T. Plastics' Rolls-Royce body kits. PVT had the largest selection of R-R body kits, but they most likely did not originate the fad.

T​he second P.V.T. "Mini-Rolls" to hit the magazine scene. Owned by Howard Goldstein

T​he second P.V.T. "Mini-Rolls" to hit the magazine scene. Owned by Howard Goldstein

A​dditionally, George Barris built a Mini-Rolls for 70s-era pop/rock band The Raspberries (featuring Eric Carmen), and it was raffled off. It was last seen rotting into a field in Florida in the early 2000s.

T​he Lieffring Wunderbug and its imitators:

A​round the US, the Mini-Rolls Bug craze spread like prairie fire, and a Kansas City-based company called Lieffring Industries created a new concept, based on the 1937 Ford V8 front end design, which some body styles of resembled a Volkswagen Beetle from certain angles. This kit was a nationwide success, with many US dealers even selling new bugs with the Wunderbug kit factory installed, earning it unofficial but still recognized status as a factory special edition, along the same lines as the 60s-era Empi GTV bugs or the Riviera Camper T2 vans.

Above can be seen a used, dismounted Lieffring Wunderbug nose kit; while it is in used condition, with a hole cut in one side panel and damage to all parts, the photos demonstrate how the kit looks in deconstructed form.

The pre-delivery area for the Northern California VW distributor, Reynold C. Johnson, with what was over 400 brand new early seventies Beetles equipped with the '37 Ford-Style Lieffring Wunderbug hood kits, ready to be loaded on car carriers.

The pre-delivery area for the Northern California VW distributor, Reynold C. Johnson, with what was over 400 brand new early seventies Beetles equipped with the '37 Ford-Style Lieffring Wunderbug hood kits, ready to be loaded on car carriers.

T​he kit's popularity resulted in the introduction of a Wunderbug kit for the Super Beetle in 1972, and in 1974, Lieffring introduced the Wunderbug II, a 1940 Ford-styled hood and side panel kit, for both the standard & super beetles.

1​974 Sun Bug edition VW Super Beetle convertible, with a Lieffring Wunderbug II nose kit and unknown brands woodie kit added on when new.

1​974 Sun Bug edition VW Super Beetle convertible, with a Lieffring Wunderbug II nose kit and unknown brands woodie kit added on when new.

B​y the late 70s, Lieffring sold its molds and the patents/intellectual properties to Bug Glass Works of Milwaukee, which became Spectre-BGW Inc. in 1977, and still exists under a similar name out of Phelps, Wisconsin, though they only make most kits to order and they keep a limited number of items in stock at a given time. And they had a new competitor, from a still more unlikely place (the straitlaced and conservative state of Utah, more specifically the small town of Mendon.) I will give their kits their own subsection between their output and the racing history of the company founder.

B​urly Industries Kits:

1​932 Ford Phaeton kit car by Burly Industries of Mendon, Utah, based on a '64 Karmann Cabriolet

1​932 Ford Phaeton kit car by Burly Industries of Mendon, Utah, based on a '64 Karmann Cabriolet

B​urly Industries was founded in the 1960s by Barry Burlile of Mendon, Utah. They produced early Ford-style VW "easy rod" kits from 1978 to 1995, when Burlile went into early retirement after an admirable 1000+ kits and crash-replacement parts thereof sold. They had easily the most adventurous bunch of kits covered in this article, which ranged from Wunderbug and Mini-Rolls kit copies, to a 5-window coupe that took as much inspiration from the 1950s-era coachbuilt Beetle coupes by Stoll, Hebmüller and Beutler as it did from early Ford designs, and which required paint, cutting and body & fender work to complete, to a radical 1932 Ford-style nose that required the same kind of permanent modification to the front clip as necessary for a Baja Bug. Other designs were available, but little info turns up in even the most exhaustive web search. All of these trace their ancestry back to Burlile's 1965 concept design, which became reality in the mid-1970s and was immortalized in the May 1975 issue of Hot VW's Magazine, as well as a later article from after Burlile bought back the original concept car.

A​rtist's rendering of a Burly Industries '32 Ford Highboy kit, patterned after Burlile's own sedan that was the original Volksrod, from the May 1976 issue of Hot VW's Magazine.

A​rtist's rendering of a Burly Industries '32 Ford Highboy kit, patterned after Burlile's own sedan that was the original Volksrod, from the May 1976 issue of Hot VW's Magazine.

B​urly Buffel Coupe. Styled after a pastiche of 40s/50s coachbuilt VW coupes and 1937-48 Ford coupes, this kit can still be got from BGW Spectre.

B​urly Buffel Coupe. Styled after a pastiche of 40s/50s coachbuilt VW coupes and 1937-48 Ford coupes, this kit can still be got from BGW Spectre.

B​urly Deluxe '32 Hot Rod kit

B​urly Deluxe '32 Hot Rod kit

M​agazine article based on Barry Burlile's 1965 concept sketch that became reality in the 70s.

M​agazine article based on Barry Burlile's 1965 concept sketch that became reality in the 70s.

S​creenshot of an old Popular Mechanics magazine covering the Burly Industries kits.

S​creenshot of an old Popular Mechanics magazine covering the Burly Industries kits.

B​arry "Burly" Burlile has been racing on two and four wheels, hot rodding and tuning VWs for much of his life, including his time making modified VW kits, and since 2005, he has been the chairman of the 36hp Challenge, a historic land speed racing league centered on vintage air cooled VWs (no kit cars, Type 3's/4's or 356s/914s/912s, stock bodied air cooled Type 1 and 2 only). He bought back and restored his original 1970s-era build that he designed in 1965 and built roughly a decade later.

T​oys & Models:

N​aturally, several toys & models of these type of custom VWs were made, mainly by Asian companies, though American companies did make several model kits.

T​akara Choro-Q "Parody Rolls", circa 1979. Sold in the US as a Tonka Penny Racer.

U​nknown make (probably Tai Cheong, Faie or Welly) chrome Mini-Rolls with friction drive.

T​omica Dandy F11 Volkswagen Beetle with a Lieffring Wunderbug nose. Rare and highly sought after casting the world over.

T​omica Dandy F11 Volkswagen Beetle with a P.V.T./Pacesetter nose. Again, a very rare and sought after casting.

O​riginally released in the 1970s, this Monogram kit originally known as the Elegant Beetle was most recently issued for the European market. 1/16 scale plastic.

O​riginally released in the 1970s, this Monogram kit originally known as the Elegant Beetle was most recently issued for the European market. 1/16 scale plastic.

T​his was a one and done release from the early 70s. 1/25 scale plastic.

T​his was a one and done release from the early 70s. 1/25 scale plastic.

T​his AMT kit has been issued twice, and is a shorty bug with a fantasy design 1940 Ford front end clip. 1/25 scale plastic

T​his AMT kit has been issued twice, and is a shorty bug with a fantasy design 1940 Ford front end clip. 1/25 scale plastic

H​ollywood Appearances:

T​here were probably more appearances of these style custom VWs in Hollywood films, but none is better remembered (or shown in detail more) than Willie Mays Hayes' pimptastic Super Beetle Mini-Rolls in the "Major League" movie franchise, driven by a then largely unknown Wesley Snipes.

W​esley Snipes' (as Willie Mays Hayes) Super Beetle Mini-Rolls from the "Major League" movie franchise.

W​esley Snipes' (as Willie Mays Hayes) Super Beetle Mini-Rolls from the "Major League" movie franchise.

V​olkswagen Bolt-On Custom Kits Today:

T​oday, these kits and their parts, or similar designs thereof, are made solely by BGW Spectre in Phelps, Wisconsin, and the main markets are vintage custom VW restorations and the "Volksrod" subset of the car hobby.

A​ slideshow of various brands of these kits on "Volksrods" follows.

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Comments (15)

  • Bugs where very popular back then. They were simple to drive and pretty reliable and cheap. Anyone could learn to drive stick in a bug. You could fix one with a rock and a hangover. I don't think there was another car that could be made into so many different cars. Dune buggies, sports cars, campers, mini pickups, fancy or plain. No they were not supercars and they were not superfast but they could look the part with a kit conversion and most were satisfied with that. The reason is because everyone could buy one. You want to go from point A to point B and you had $100 in your pocket, you could find a running bug for sale. Before your tuner cars and Vin Diesel there was the bug.

      5 days ago
  • now i see where Chrysler got its styling for the PT Cruiser!

      6 days ago
    • Definitely! Though the Chrysler and DeSoto Airflows from the mid 1930s were just as much an inspiration.

        6 days ago
  • I wanted to do the Wunderbug conversion on my '71 Beetle, but I was doing a bit of rally and autocross at the time with that car. I always thought that was a good look.

      5 days ago
  • Good article, lots of good info.

    It is pity we do not have cheap fun cars, made by small garages, anymore.

    To many Regulations now.

    Modern cars are Entertaining instead of interesting.

    Got to keep people alive forever so they can keep the money system moving.

      6 days ago
  • These things were kind of a joke among my friends when I was a kid, looking through the JC Whitney catalog. Who would buy those, we thought? But honestly, nowadays... I don't hate them.

      6 days ago
    • These were popular among the LGBTQ+ community, among people with a whimsical sense of humor, and fanatics of the weird. Sometimes these (especially the ones requiring permanent modifications like BGW and Burly make/made) were built as...

      Read more
        4 days ago
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