Period Patina Power

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Rescued from a Texas scrapyard, this bus exudes period charm, with its aged paint and original signwriting giving no hint of its Porsche engine and muscle bus upgrades

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: RIKKI JAMES

 

I came across this bus for sale on the samba.com in 2011, and though I had no intention of buying it, when the price dropped I could not resist! It was in a pretty poor state and looked like it had some serious rust issues all around the roof gutter, but that just added to its appeal.

The bus arrived in the UK in June and my initial concerns regarding the rust issues were short-lived as 90 percent of it was only surface. It also drove reasonably well considering it wasn’t that long ago it had been dragged out from a San Antonio auto scrapyard, pretty much dead!

Finished in yellow, with new white/ivory switches and steering wheel, the cab area looks stunning.

Finished in yellow, with new white/ivory switches and steering wheel, the cab area looks stunning.


I have to admit, my initial plans were to ‘move the bus on’, however I made that fatal mistake of ‘dabbling’ with it, ending up slipping into a full-on sympathetic restoration. I started by hand mopping the paintwork; this was well worth the effort as it looked great after a week of intense elbow grease. Next I decided to play with some alternative wheels. I junked the original red painted steelies and tried out a set of original 16-inch barndoor rims, a set of 15-inch steelies finished in white with large VW logo’d conical grey hubcaps, then a friend put me onto an ad for a crazy set of wide five slot mag alloys and I was instantly smitten! They were made by a company called Brahim Racing in southern Mexico way back in the day, and I could see they had lots of potential and were different from anything I’d ever seen before!

When fitted they still didn’t quite look right, so I had them fully polished. When I got them back and saw them for the first time, they made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I was totally blown away and thought they looked awesome. It was also nice to know that they are the only set in the UK, or Europe for that matter!

The bus had already been lowered slightly by means of cutting and turning the front beam and adjusting the spring plates on the rear, but to be honest it didn’t drive too well. So I got the patina king, Paul Wisk Resto’s, to do his magic. He replaced the front beam with a Creative Engineering Weed-eater unit, plus he installed a pair of front disk brakes and some dropped spindles, and also repaired a few small holes for the MoT.

When I got the bus back I made a start on the body work… obviously I didn’t want to go full tilt on the restoration as the whole vibe of the bus was about its patina and signwriting. Instead my aim was to repair—not replace—the various body parts as minimally as possible so as not to lose any of the bus’ character.

Interestingly the kombi seemed to have more surface rust on the inside than the outside. Again, I got rid of most of this by hand, which took about a month of evenings and weekends. Then I painted the majority of the interior metalwork with a two-pack rust neutralizing primer. I managed to find a Canterbury Pitt interior, but adapting and fitting a RHD interior to a LHD bus turned out to be a lot more work than I had anticipated! The hardest part had to be reducing the width of the cooker cabinet by five inches (I hasten to add the cooker and aluminum lining were already missing).

Languishing in a Texas scrapyard and scheduled for the crusher!

Languishing in a Texas scrapyard and scheduled for the crusher!

The original paintwork has been painstakingly hand polished with some minor touch up areas blended in.

The original paintwork has been painstakingly hand polished with some minor touch up areas blended in.


By the time I finished ‘modifying’ and installing the Canterbury Pit interior, it looked like it had always been there. The original cushions were in good order so I had Fabrik trimmers in Devizes recover them with some fantastic Devon-looking material. They also re-trimmed the front bench seat, which needed doing as it had been recovered at some point in the past in some nasty smooth brownish vinyl. Oh, and the yellow Formica table was a real lucky find at Stanford Hall!

I thought the bus deserved something special due to it being so unique, sort of along the lines of period power so I installed a really nice little super 90 Porsche 356 engine.

I decided to re-paint the cab area as a lot of the paint had literally gone. Initially I started painting it in Dove Blue like most Kombis originally leaving the VW factory, but part way through had a brainwave—why not continue the yellow theme from the outside of the bus on the inside? As soon as I started applying the yellow paint I knew I had made the right decision, as the dash and cab area came alive. By now the winter had really set in, so I started restoring parts that I could take in doors, like door tops, six pop-out windows, front and rear safari windows, and dash components. All the felts and rubbers were replaced, plus the six long spoon window catches. The black steering wheel, indicator, dash switches, handbrake knob and gear stick knob were all replaced with the white/Ivory versions, really adding to the fresh feeling of the bus.

I had restored the slash bumpers ready for refitting, then I heard about a set of ribbed bumpers for sale. OK, I know the bus didn’t leave the factory with ribbed bumpers, but it is a 1958 model and was actually built in the changeover month for ribbed bumpers.

Though not original to the bus, the ribbed bumpers look like they have always.

Though not original to the bus, the ribbed bumpers look like they have always.


Once they were detailed and fitted to the bus they looked like they had been on it since day one. Also on my travels I managed to pick up a nice little period Blaupunkt radio which featured a six-din socket in the back, allowing an iPod to be plugged into it. Unfortunately, all the push buttons and knobs were black, so I decided to detail the radio to tie in with the dash. I also got hold of some old letterset and went to work modifying the push button, just for a bit of fun.

It was at about this point that I decided to see if I could find out some history about the bus…

The engine that the bus came with was an 1835cc unit, but what I really wanted was something different—I thought the bus deserved something special due to it being so unique, sort of along the lines of period power. This was achieved by installing a really nice little super 90 Porsche 356 engine. With the combination of the disk brakes, type 3 straight axle gear box and the 356 engine, the bus drove like a dream. But I still wasn’t quite satisfied as I was running a turbo muffler exhaust system which wasn’t ticking my boxes. Surfing the net I came across a second-hand period 4 tip Abath system that was affordable. The only problem was it was in a small town in Switzerland! By chance a friend was travelling to Switzerland so collected it for me and, once installed, the engine ran smother and sounded absolutely delightful. Well worth the effort. It was at about this point that I decided to see if I could find out some history about the bus…

Low and behold, I came across a website containing old local newspapers from San Antonio, Texas, one of which dating from 1961 had a scanned newspaper which contained an advert for Bob Saunders’ TV repair business! Later I also found out that when Bob retired from the business, his two sons used to use the bus to get to high school. Apparently they didn’t like using it, as back in those days it wasn’t particularly cool to turn up in a ten-yearold split… how times change!

A Canterbury Pitt interior has been modified to fit. Note the yellow table found at Stanford Hall.

A Canterbury Pitt interior has been modified to fit. Note the yellow table found at Stanford Hall.

The Brahim Racing wide five slot alloys came from Mexico, and were then polished, with a Weedeater beam and dropped spindles creating that street rod stance.

The Brahim Racing wide five slot alloys came from Mexico, and were then polished, with a Weedeater beam and dropped spindles creating that street rod stance.

The safaris and six pop-outs were factory-fitted from new.

The safaris and six pop-outs were factory-fitted from new.

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TOP LEFT: The second-hand 4 tip Abath exhaust system was sourced from Switzerland. TOP RIGHT: The Blaupunkt radio’s original buttons and knobs were black and have been detailed to tie in with the white wheel, etc. Note the lettering on the buttons! BOTTOM LEFT: Super 90 Porsche 356 engine gives the bus some muscle! BOTTOM RIGHT: Rare Petri dragon horn push looks perfect on the new white steering wheel.


Special thanks Volkswagen Camper & Commercial

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