The Volkswagen Beetle is an icon that needs no introduction, having seen continuous production from 1938 until the final model rolled off the production line at Puebla, Mexico, in 2019.
One of the lesser known Beetle variants, though, was constructed in New Zealand by Jowett Motors Ltd, the same company that built the oddball Jowett Jupiter and Javelin models and saw NZ as the ideal export market for its British cars in the early Fifties.
Jowett Motors was owned by the Turner brothers, Arthur, Noel and Harry (who were distant relatives of the Jowett brothers in Yorkshire), and was based on Otahuhu on the country’s North Island, from where it imported assembled Jowett cars as well as Complete Knock-Down (CKD) kits that were then reassembled in the factory, just outside Auckland.
Following demand for more basic cars, though, the Jowett company did a deal with VW to construct VW Beetles from kit form, which despite attracting a 45% mark-up by not originating from a Commonwealth country, were still much cheaper than the upmarket Jowett cars. A special facility was constructed to build them in the former bus depot in Otahuhu, where the most basic Beetles you could buy – with a one-piece oval window and six-volt electrics – were put together for domestic sale.
The NZ Beetle was a big success and by 1958 had become the most successful non-British car sold on the islands and something of a legend in New Zealand’s car culture. Today, an original NZ Beetle 1200 is a collectable thing, loved and cherished by Vee-Dubbers and Kiwis alike. This one was imported to the UK in 2015 and was bought as a restoration project by its current owner, who has carried out a show-winning restoration being careful to include only modifications which are reversible should the next owner want the car put back to standard.
The Beetle was supplied to its first owner in Christchurch in 1957 and remained in New Zealand until five years ago, with a partial restoration carried out in the early 1990s. It comes with a stack of documentation including a New Zealand registration document and previous Vehicle Inspection Certificates (NZ MoTs) along with bills from a Christchurch VW Specialist and a lovely handwritten letter from a previous keeper wishing the new owner as much enjoyment from the car as she experienced.
The current owner has certainly had his fun and has been careful to have it with the utmost attention to detail – unsurprisingly as he is an automotive industry manufacturing engineer himself. A serial Vee-Dubber with a number of high quality restorations behind him, he has previously completed ground-up rebuilds of both Beetles and Karmann Ghias and is selling this car so that he can get on with his next project – a concours build standard Beetle saloon. He’s a man who knows his stuff and whose enthusiasm for this car, along with the other projects he has completed, will reassure you that the job has been done with both passion and perfection front of mind.
The NZ Beetle was built as a show car and while he has incorporated a number of period mods to the car, many of which are common alterations on the Vee-Dub scene, he was very careful to integrate them in a way that wouldn’t ever stop the car being put back to standard.
“If someone wanted it as a stock car I could put it back to that in less than a weekend,” he told us. As a light custom, though, it’s extremely cool as it is.
An up-to-date V5 and MoT come with the car along with a pile of paperwork from its life in New Zealand, while additional documentation includes receipts for many of the parts fitted to it by its current owner.
These include the LimeBug air-ride kit, which mounts to the original subframes and requires no body or chassis modifications, so can simply be unbolted if not wanted, and bills for the interior refurbishment from Custom Classic & Retro Auto Trimmers, along with receipts from VW Specialists Air-cooled Engineering for a complete engine rebuild.
The cabin of this car is one of its most appealing features. The seats, carpets and roof lining were re-trimmed where needed by a well-known custom trimmer and the quality of the workmanship is second-to-none. Its red leatherette and original VW box-weave carpet and cloth are unmarked.
Most of the parts have been replaced with period correct items including full mohair headliner professionally fitted by Vaughan Green at Custom Classic & Retro Auto Trimmers. VW stamped RHD floor mats in black complete the look.
It also has some very rare and desirable accessories including a red tip semaphore indicator stalk, a VDO eight-day clock with rare beige face to match the car and a flat-four Porsche 356 banjo steering wheel with an original Bremen horn push.
The car has had a full body-off professional bare metal respray with the chassis fully stripped and painted, while every part of the chassis which could be replaced with new has been.
The paint itself is finished in two-pack Sahara Beige with a protective lacquer overlay and was done by a Ford main dealership via a contact of the owner. The finish is exceptional both on top and inside, as the shine and cleanliness within the body sections demonstrates.
The bumpers are heavy polished stainless steel reproductions, along with Flat 4 stainless bumper iron covers and bumper over rider extensions. All window rubbers and window trims have been replaced with German quality reproductions.
Finally, the wheels. These are Japanese reproduction Fuchs 4.5-inch chrome wheels at the front and 6-inch Fuchs repros at the rear, all with hand-painted Porsche centre caps to replicate a common retro look seen on California Beetles in the Sixties and Seventies.
The cleanliness, finish and perfectionism shown to all of these parts is something to behold. It really is a stunning car, with an almost flawless finish.
The best is yet to come, though, as out the back the Beetle has an object of beauty masquerading as an air-cooled 1,200cc engine. The fully rebuilt unit has a bottom end built by Aircooled Engineering with all new bearings and new barrels and pistons.
It also has a Wolfsburg West Okrasa kit – a real gem of a conversion common in the California bug-scene heyday – with the carbs being sent to Okrasa’s HQ in the USA – a world leader in Okrasa engine builds.
The carbs have been fully rebuilt, re-jetted and fitted with Okrasa’s own speed venturi. It has a rebuilt six-volt dynamo and fuel pump, along with a Flat Four Abarth exhaust. It has a rebuilt 019 distributor from Glen Ring in the USA, which is also the best of the best. All of the tin wear and chrome has been shot blasted, powder coated and painted to give it a show-winning appearance, with trophies to back this up.
The suspension, meanwhile, consists of a deluxe LimeBug air ride kit, with a six-inch air lift beam at the front including a steering dampener. It has also had shock relocators on the trailing arms so the shocks remain perfectly straight. Brand new tie rods, tie rod ends and steering box complete the reassembly.
At the rear it’s a bolt-on LimeBug deluxe kit using air bags with 2-inch dropped and 1-inch extended spring plates. The whole kit gives travel from the car sitting on the ground to a 9-inch lift so can be set at any ride height, though midway between slammed and full-height gives the best ride and handling compromise.
The air management system uses a paddle switch with gauges and all four corners can be operated independently. The gauges and switches are hidden behind the glovebox lid, again with no body modifications. The tank and compressor are hidden in a custom made box which sits behind the rear seats. This is covered in German square weave carpet to match the interior.
The beauty of this car is that it’s a show-winning restoration in superb order, whether you want a light custom that is in itself completely retro and very much evocative of the golden era of the air-cooled VW scene, or with a little work could be a show winner for a very different reason, as all of the mods are bolt-on parts and can be removed very easily. If you want a mint standard oval window Beetle, then it can be one of those just as easily.
It’s a lovely car with an incredible story behind it, and one of the most collectable Oval Window Beetle variants to boot.
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