Gear: Is it Possible To Bring A Prototype Back From The Dead?

Is it Possible To Bring A Prototype Back From The Dead?

By Benjamin Shahrabani
August 17, 2015

The book: The First Beetle: Resurrecting a 1938 Prototype

Author: Axel Struwe, Clauspeter Becker

Pages: 144

Purchase: Click here

Restoring a car is a serious undertaking any way you put it. Depending on the complexity, it requires time, money—usually lots of it—as well as blood, sweat, and tears. Whether you decide to perform some or all of the work yourself, or drop it off with a restorer and write a check, the process can take anywhere from several months to several years. However, once the job is complete, and the final product is ready, there is undoubtedly relief, satisfaction, and joy to come.

But in between the beginning, and the end, there is that middle part of the process which should be documented. What’s under that new paint job, and upholstery, and how did it come to be that way?

Serious enthusiasts and collectors want to see what work was performed, and what was replaced, especially if the car in question is especially significant, much like the subject of The First Beetle: Resurrecting a 1938 Prototype. Motoring journalist Clauspeter Becker, and VW enthusiast and photojournalist Axel Struwe help illuminate what the father and son restoration team of Traugott and Christian Grundmann had to go through to bring Beetle No. 3806, one of the three known surviving cars from the forty-four original VW 38 prototypes, back to life.

The genesis for this book was to create a high-quality photo documentation of one of the first Beetles, a worthy subject, and by that account, it does not disappoint. The photography is first rate, and combined with the plethora of period archival material, reveal some details of these very early cars that have been undocumented to this point. The bulk of the book is dedicated to illustrating the work that was done on No. 3806, and why it was needed to be done: Bodywork, Paintwork, Upholstery, and Mechanics are areas that are covered.

Most restoration books only provide a rough outline of the fine details, and this book is no different. You won’t find a step-by-step of how-to restore a Beetle, but perhaps that’s for the best. This is an overview, but in the best way possible: other more involved books can often be dry and technical unless you have a more than casual interest in restoring the particular car featured within. The book just glides along, without getting too bogged down by too much detail.

The remainder of the book comprises of chapters on the people that made the resurrection of the car possible, a history on the creation and launch of the car, and marketing, again replete with wonderful contemporary, and period photographic material.

It could be that something was left out in translation, but one slight distraction is that the overall writing is not up to the same high level as the photography in The First Beetle, and an important quandary is left mostly unanswered. Most vintage cars will have been repaired or restored at some point in their history, and No. 3806 was no different.

When the Grundmann’s discovered it, it had been left exposed to the elements, having lost its “split window”, as well as suffering innumerable indignities over the years to keep it going. Only a portion of the car was original, or even usable.

This is an interesting concern. Depending on your viewpoint, a restoration removes some of the authenticity of a car, but that topic is one that goes mostly unanswered in this book. Another area that this reader would have loved to have read more about is about the hunt for the car itself. The chase for one of these cars could have been a chapter in itself. Still, these shortcomings don’t mean that the book is not a high quality piece of automotive literature, and if you’re a Beetle enthusiast (and many, many are) you’ll enjoy having this on your shelf.

Purchase: The First Beetle: Resurrecting a 1938 Prototype.

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Wolfgang Gullich
Wolfgang Gullich
8 years ago

I read the blog these guys kept as they found the car, researched it and eventually restored it…absolutely amazing talent and incredible hard work. When they found the car, all they knew is that it was an ‘unusual’ Beetle

Bill Kaslow
Bill Kaslow
8 years ago

From ’38-’48 there wasn’t any changes to the body & floor pan, the only real change was a 5mm cylinder bore increase from 70mm to 75mm increasing the engine size from 985cc to 1131 in 1940 which helps in finding parts but unfortunately any split window era parts are hard to find.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
8 years ago

With enough time , money and effort …[ major emphasis on the money part ] .. anything is possible when it comes to classic cars . If you’re willing to foot the bill there’s more than enough craftsmen out there able to get the job done regardless of the complexities , difficulties and obstacles .

The book ? No doubt being a DK publication its probably a winner . Problem is DK has become all but impossible to get here in the US of late without paying a severe up charge for the privilege .

Thats a hint btw if anyone from DK’s looking in . You got the goods we want but we need a US distributer to keep the costs reasonable

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