Finding the Right Donor:
Over an 8 month period, I looked at a dozens of Tow’ds, and considered hundreds of other dune buggies and sand rails. The Tow’d I bought one is actually the very first one I noticed. I had conversations with the seller September 2012, but his firm price was 20% more that I thought it was worth. At the end of October, I watched his ad (which had been run a few times) scroll off the end of the classifieds section and expire.
By the time April 2013 rolled around I was ready to buy; I had seen enough tow’ds and dune buggies to know exactly what features I preferred, and I had been over the project in my head so many times I was burning to get it off my mind. I was about to put an offer in on a tow’d that had most of what I wanted, but that first blue tow’d kept popping into my head. I emailed the seller, hoping his ad expired because he gave up, and maybe was more flexible in his price…
He replied that he still had it, but even though the market had clearly demonstrated he was asking too much, he was still firm on price. Being fixated on a particular model, or even worse a specific example, is a quick way to pay too much, but there I was. I made several offers, but finally caved in and gave him his asking price; he had found the one rare buyer who found full value in most of the upgrades he added. I don’t think I’d get my money back if I turned around and sold it, but it is convenient because it has everything I wanted, so I don’t have to go through the hassle or expense of upgrading it, on top of doing the conversion. Here are the features I valued:
. . . . . California Special Construction Title
– Used to be that people would cut the VIN tag off a bug, rivet it to the dune buggy, and register it as that bug. Word is they are cracking down on that these days, so one needs a “Special Construction” title to register them. Since this is already registered in CA, and registered as special construction, that hassle is cleared for me. My time is in short supply, so avoiding that hassle is worth more to me than most folks. This is the _only_ SPCN tow’d I found, and probably the biggest logical reason for selecting this car. Here is a nice writeup on how SPCNS works for Electric Vehicles – since we don’t need to worry about smog, it is easier for us:
SPCNS Electric Vehicle Registration in California
. . . . . IRS Rear End
- The type-1 VW (bug) came with two types of rear transaxles, that are colloquially known as “Swing axle”, and “I.R.S” (Independent Rear Suspension). This is a bit of a misnomer, since both types are actually independent. The earlier swing axle pivots about the transaxle, moving the wheel between positive and negative camber, but the IRS has two u-joints that keep the wheel square to the road.
The swing axle is 40lbs lighter and cheaper to harden for high HP engines, but the +/-camber transitions can make it unstable in corners. I have much love for the swing axle because I learned to drive on a ’66 bug. As my teenage driving got wilder and wilder, I learned to leverage this instability to kick the back end out around every curve and corner, doing what is known today as Drifting. I also mastered the bootstrap turn – at full speed, throw the wheel and tap the parking brake to break the back end loose, then pop the clutch to slide around until pointing/accelerating the other way. I kept these misbehaviors up until I rolled the bug in a Church Parking lot and my mother grounded me for life.
I still remember climbing out the door of the bug (it was on its side), and seeing the teams, coaches, and parents from multiple little league games on the fields next to the church, pressed up against the chain-link fence and watching me…
Anyhow, this build is so light I’ll run out of traction before I can add the crazy HP I would need a swing-axle to support. Even though it went against my design objective of light weight, I was willing to trade the IRS’s extra 40lbs of weight for its superior traction and handling.
. . . . . Ball Joint front end
- The earlier Link-Pin front end is more durable and preferred for off-road, but ball joints give better road feel. If I was building it up from scratch I’d put a $2k Red 9 double-wishbone suspension up there instead; I still might do that in the long run, but on such a light build the stock VW suspension should do fine.
. . . . . Front Disk Brakes
- Although a small buggy doesn’t need much brake, I prefer the lighter weight and fade resistance of Disk. This buggy has a Kharman-Ghia front end, which comes with disk brakes.
. . . . . Aesthetics
- This buggy was the pride and joy of a 75 year old man who built and maintained it for 18 years, not to mention did a lot of nice little upgrades. The front fenders are Unique, custom fit to the shape of the wheel, whereas the stock Tow’d fenders are giant ungainly unaerodynamic wind scoops. He added a third set of Taillights to the top of the roll bar, with wires concealed inside. He added a bimini top and plexi rear window contain the passenger compartment. Thin-tube bumpers/ plate mounts, side deflector windows, custom seat padding and dash are nice extra’s, plus a sound system I might remove to save weight.
The paint is glossy and I like the shade of sky blue. The custom black rims with silver hubcaps he welded suit my aesthetic; however, I might end up trading them out for lighter rims/tires if the weight savings is significant.