Volkswagen Plastic Surgery: The Enduring Story of VW Bolt On Body Kits
These 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.
1971 factory photo from Lieffring Industries, showing two circa 1968-71 Standard Beetles with custom wheels and Lieffring Wunderbug nose kits.
Volkswagen 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:
Circa 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.
The second P.V.T. "Mini-Rolls" to hit the magazine scene. Owned by Howard Goldstein
At a Chicago traffic light last week, a motorist glanced at the car alongside and gasped to a friend: "Hey, the rear end of that Rolls is a Volkswagen!" Well, almost. What the Chicagoan saw...
Additionally, 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.
The Lieffring Wunderbug and its imitators:
Around 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 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.
1974 Sun Bug edition VW Super Beetle convertible, with a Lieffring Wunderbug II nose kit and unknown brands woodie kit added on when new.
By 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.
Burly Industries Kits:
1932 Ford Phaeton kit car by Burly Industries of Mendon, Utah, based on a '64 Karmann Cabriolet
Burly 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.
Artist'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.
Burly 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.
Burly Deluxe '32 Hot Rod kit
Magazine article based on Barry Burlile's 1965 concept sketch that became reality in the 70s.
Screenshot of an old Popular Mechanics magazine covering the Burly Industries kits.
Barry "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.
Toys & Models:
Naturally, several toys & models of these type of custom VWs were made, mainly by Asian companies, though American companies did make several model kits.
Takara Choro-Q "Parody Rolls", circa 1979. Sold in the US as a Tonka Penny Racer.
Unknown make (probably Tai Cheong, Faie or Welly) chrome Mini-Rolls with friction drive.
Tomica Dandy F11 Volkswagen Beetle with a Lieffring Wunderbug nose. Rare and highly sought after casting the world over.
Tomica Dandy F11 Volkswagen Beetle with a P.V.T./Pacesetter nose. Again, a very rare and sought after casting.
Originally 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.
This was a one and done release from the early 70s. 1/25 scale plastic.
This AMT kit has been issued twice, and is a shorty bug with a fantasy design 1940 Ford front end clip. 1/25 scale plastic
There 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.
Wesley Snipes' (as Willie Mays Hayes) Super Beetle Mini-Rolls from the "Major League" movie franchise.
Volkswagen Bolt-On Custom Kits Today:
Today, 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.