MAY 2024: A 1956 VW BEETLE USED TO BE HERBIE THE LOVE BUG…NOW IT’S HERBIE THE ROAD MONSTER

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It is no secret that first-generation VW Beetles emitted a warm and fuzzy vibe the minute they left the factory.

In fact, the only time they did not make people happy was during a spirited Punch Buggy match, a game in which participants either delivered or received sharp body blows, depending upon who spotted a VW Beetle first on the road.

However, the game of Punch Buggy was never able to topple the terminally cute looks of the Beetle in the hearts and minds of its large fan base.

Jim Sutherland

MyStarCollectorCar encountered a 1956 VW Beetle resto mod that may change a few minds about the iconic German car. Brian Forster is the proud owner and creator of the beast mode ’56 Beetle, a car that left its factory roots in the rear-view mirror when Brian changed its attitude in a big way.

The first thing we noticed was a 350 Chevy small block in the Beetle’s newly designated engine compartment. The new engine compartment was the former trunk for a factory Beetle and located in front of the passenger compartment.

Volkswagen Beetles had rear-mounted engines that occupied a space normally considered to be the trunk area in most domestic cars, give or take a Corvair or two. The Beetles’ small, air-cooled engines fit comfortably into the small rear deck of the cars but were not a good fit for a Chevy small block engine, so Brian decided to transplant his 350 into the front section of his Beetle.

He used an early 1980s Olds Cutlass donor car as a solid base for the project when he fitted the Cutlass’s front and rear subframe components into the ’56 VW Beetle. Brian’s decision to use a GM donor was a wise choice, given the fact he intended to use a GM powertrain (350 engine/700 R-4 transmission) in the Beetle.

Brian’s major resto mods required a different seating position in the car because the driver now sits in the rear quarters of the VW to control the Beetle. The seats were donated by a Chevy van and offer a comfortable driving experience in the Beetle, according to Brian.

Brian added thicker floor to the Beetle’s floor and rear deck underpinnings to strengthen its ability to handle a large increase in horsepower.

The Beetle’s body was shaped into a sportier, more aerodynamic design with fiberglass flares and running boards. Brian arched the wheel openings so he could mount larger tires on his Beetle. He also added vents to the car’s hood so he could cool the radiator for the Chevy small block engine transplant.

Sharp-eyed MyStarCollectorCar readers will notice the Massey Ferguson heater box in the Beetle’s new engine compartment, but Brian tries to avoid driving the car in bad weather because the car has too much power to handle in poor conditions. He also added custom vents for the transplanted 350 engine’s radiator, along with electric fans to keep it cool on the road.

The net result is a monster in Bug’s clothing that can hit warp drive “if you have the nerve to do it” in Brian’s words, although he used a different anatomical term for nerve.

The marriage of a 1956 Beetle with a Chevy small block is not an easy ceremony. Brian told MyStarCollectorCar his project “was a process” and took several years to hit the finish line. Brian added the project was “a lot of trial and error” and “I had the body off about 50 times” during the process.

The transformation of a mild-mannered 1956 VW Beetle into a bloodthirsty beast may be complicated, but the result is one of the coolest and most unlikely custom builds we have seen over the past 15 years.

Congratulations on a job well done, Brian.               

Jim Sutherland

BY: Jim Sutherland

Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section. 

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