Recycled Hawtness: Paul Newman's Mid-engine Indy V8-powered VW Beetle

 

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We’ve often said that the greenest car is the one that’s already built, and we’ve featured several repurposed cars, bikes, and even campers here on Gas 2 that loudly proclaim “You don’t need a new car!” and, hopefully, inspire you to put more love and more elbow grease into your existing car and – if you do it right – end up with something that’s worth more than the sum of its parts.

Which brings me to this car. The original “Godzilla”. The OG, as it were. Newman’s own Ford racing V8-powered Volkswagen Bug, and it may be the first car to be nicknamed “Godzilla” by the automotive press way back in the 1960s, and it was busy earning its monstrous reputation (some 48 years before Nissan’s R35 came along) at places like Ontario Speedway, where some cat named “Paul Newman” was using it to abuse John Z. Delorean’s hotshoes at a Camaro “open house” trackday.

Yes, that Paul Newman.

Even without its famous owner history, this car deserves every ounce of respect you can give it. Consider that, underneath the unassuming and nearly stock-looking VW Type I shell is a Jerry Eisert-designed IndyCar-style chassis that had 351 cubic inches of Ford Racing V8 engine built by the masters at Holman Moody stuffed between its members. That Ford V8 was mated to a ZF transaxle á la Ford GT40. Up front, a custom-fabricated, double-wishbone front suspension and a rack-and-pinion steering setup replaced the VW’s torsion bars. A set of Koni coilovers pushed the tires to the ground, while, out back, a set of Corvair-sourced trailing arms worked in concert with an Eisert-designed a-arm.

In short, Paul Newman’s “Godzilla” V8 Volkswagen was (and I say this without hyperbole) the sikkest sleeper car of 1970. Even knowing that, though, you get a better sense of what this car really was (is?) when you look underneath. Luckily, one of the car’s fans, Roy Gardner, posted a number of “pre-restoration” photos of the car, and shared a little of the car’s story …

I attended Chaffey College in Alta Loma, California in the early seventies because I’d read in Hot Rod Magazine it was one of the finest automotive schools in the country. They had an accredited racing program with weekday lecture and all-Saturday lab, taught by Kent Fisk. They designed, built, and operated Formula V cars, an El Camino drag car, a scratch-built Bonneville streamliner, a Rambler Scrambler Baja 500 car (ex James Garner, could be a whole ‘nother website), race car transporter with a 455 Olds engine, and more. While I was earning my A.S. Degree in Automotive Technology, I saw the Beetle in the school’s storage yard. I was intrigued and asked about it. The story I was told was Paul Newman wanted to blow off the Corvettes and Porsches on Mullholland Avenue in Los Angeles with the unlikeliest of cars and commissioned Jerry Eisert, an Indy car constructor, to build it for him.

He drove it a lot, then donated it to Chaffey (college).

… I’ve picked out a few of the more telling photos of Paul Newmans’ V8 Superbug, and highlighted some of the features to pay attention to, below.

Paul Newman V8 Beetle

Here’s Roy posing with the car as it looked in its “college days”. It was painted in the more flash white/red, two-tone paint scheme from the original red.

 

Paul Newman V8 Beetle

Here you can see the Ford GT40/ZF transaxle. Most people I’ve shown this to seem to think this is a DeTomaso Pantera setup, but it’s worth mentioning that Paul Newman’s bug pre-dates the Pantera by at least a year.

 

Paul Newman V8 Beetle

This is a good shot of the custom front suspension and subframe, and also a decent shot of the car’s relatively advanced “flat floor”, which wouldn’t be picked up in another roadcar until the Ferrari F355 some 30-odd years later. You can also make out the hard cooling lines connecting the front-mounted radiators to the mid-mounted V8.

 

Paul Newman V8 Beetle

Roy also got to drive the car occasionally, if this photo is to be believed. How he avoided the temptation to start frantically gunning the throttle and setting the ass end of the car on smoky, rubbery fire while one of his buddies filmed him hooning a legit piece of automotive history is totally beyond me, but he was good enough to also post these old scans of HotRod articles that featured the car, so I guess we can forgive him.

 

At some point in the last 10 years, someone had the good sense to restore Paul’s old bug to its original color, and give it that “showroom” fresh feeling. This is the car as it appeared at the SEMA show a few years ago, looking even more sleeper-y and awesome than it did back in the 70s …

… so, when you see a guy in the next lane in an old-school VW bug cabriolet that just doesn’t sound right, don’t agree to race for pinks. You might just be idling next to an IndyCar wolf in sheep’s big’s clothing.

 

Sources | Photos: Roy Gardner, via Clunkbucket.





About the Author

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.
  • Adrian

    Nissan’s Godzilla was the R32 Skyline GTR which came out in 1989, not the current Nissan GTR (which isn’t a Skyline). So from 60’s to ’89 you’re looking at 25-30 years prior, not 48. Oddly, that article that describes the bug as Godzilla mentions the Pantera, which made its public debut in 1970, so the press could only have been nicknaming the bug as Godzilla post-1970, which drops the years to between 15 and 20 prior to Nissan’s godzilla.

    Thought you’d like to know!

    • Jo Borras

      I never heard of the R32 being described as Godzilla, but that’s great info.! As for the Pantera, the car shown in 1970 was a roller that was pushed everywhere. The 1971 cars were the first “complete” models.

  • EdselFord

    After reading this “Copy and Paste”, I think I’ll have a salad using Newmans Own salad dressing……Yum Yum.

    • OMG you have to try the chocolate Newman-Os.

      • Clara Jane Bryant

        I don’t allow Edsel to eat cookies, he is on a diet and he is allergic to chocolate.

        • You know, I can see your IP and email – changing your name just makes you look like more of a psycho than you already did.