Air-Cooled Cocktail: A VW Beetle With A Few Porsche Party Pieces
Joey Bautista is a vintage car enthusiast in San Francisco. Joey’s car collection has rotated from being made up of vintage Mercedes cars, to vintage English cars, to vintage Alfa Romeos, and most recently to vintage Porsches—until a few years ago, when he added this azure 1957 Volkswagen Beetle to the mix. These days Joey is finding himself gravitating more and more toward the Beetle because of its friendly demeanor.
Q: Tell us about your car and how you came to find it.
A: I’m really into vintage Porsche 356s and early 911s, but I’ve always wanted to hot rod an old car. I’ve always loved the shape of the classic VW and the specific shape of the oval back window. I saw this car advertised for sale, and I decided to buy it. It used to be a show car, it had the oval window, a ragtop, and was a beautiful azure blue, which is a period-correct color for a Volkswagen Beetle from 1951 to 1953. One of the reasons I bought it was because of the color. Also, the interior of the car is a custom hand stitch by Dave Lumetta—it’s definitely not something you can buy in a kit.
Q: Where was the car located?
A: It’s a California car, but it had been residing in Colorado, so I bought it the way I always buy cars these days: through a lot of photos and a lot of questions. That’s the way I do it, and—knock on wood—I haven’t had any problems so far.
Q. What modifications did you make to the Beetle after you bought it?
A: Since I’m a Porsche 356 aficionado, my vision was to put everything Porsche into the Beetle: a Porsche 356 motor, Porsche 356 brakes, and other accessories. I only wanted the body to be Volkswagen. I’m very into period-correct stuff, and the Porsche 356 motor in the Beetle is a 356 A motor from 1956, so it’s from the same era. I could have more easily gotten a Porsche motor that was built in 1964, but I wanted an early one, because the carbs, the oil filler cap, and the distributor are all different.
During the ’60s, you could only do a few things to a Beetle to hod rod it: (1) get a Judson Supercharger, (2) get an Okrasa motor, or (3) put a 356 motor in it. I went with number three. Unfortunately, I’m ham fisted, so I commissioned a company called FiberSteel in Los Angeles to do the conversion for me.
It’s very tight trying to put a 356 motor into a VW Beetle. For the muffler, Russ from FiberSteel cut both sides an inch and a half to be able to fit it in. Then he rolled the metal in such a neat way, so that you can remove the valve cover to adjust the valve without having to drop the motor as you typically have to do with a Beetle.
The brakes on the car are drum brakes. It probably would have been easier and taken less time to go with disc brakes, but I had to have everything be of the era, so drum brakes it was.
Q: How did you become interested in cars?
A: It happened a long, long time ago, back when I lived in Manila in the Philippines. I’ve always been a car nut, but in the Philippines, I didn’t really know the car scene. In Manila, there were just a lot of Toyotas and stuff, so when I came to America when I was 28, a whole new world was opened to me. There were all the European brands, and everything else. We never really had those in the Philippines, so I tried to learn about all of them.
Q: What was the first vintage car you purchased?
A: A 1958 Mercedes 220S. I started out being interested in vintage Mercedes cars, then I went through vintage English cars, then vintage Alfa Romeos, and then vintage Porsches.
Q: What caused you to switch from marque to marque?
A: Good question. For me, the best way to know a car is to own it, but after owning a few of one marque, I’m up for a new challenge and want something more. I was interested in classics, but then I wanted to get into cars with race history. For me, the Alfas and Porsches had that rich racing history.
Q: What kinds of Porsches do you have now?
A: Aside from this Bug, I have a 1963 356 Carrera GT replica, a 1970 911 ST replica, a 1966 early 911 under restoration, and a pair of 1993 RS America. I’m happy with my collection. My wife keeps telling me to thin the herd, because I have no place to put them anymore. Maybe I’ll thin it by one or two, but to sell one to be able to afford and have room for a different one.
Q: How many cars do you think you’ve owned altogether?
A: Um, a lot. I would say more than 60.
Q: Will you ever settle down with just one car?
A: I think I know that I’ll stick to the vintage Porsches. Maybe I’ll get into the speedsters or roadsters, but right now that’s quite a lot of money. So, eventually…hopefully…one day.
Q: What do you love about the Beetle?
A: My collection is ever evolving. I have other cars, but I always gravitate toward this one—for some reason it just grabs me. It’s such a friendly car, and I always get thumbs up or waves from people when I drive it. People like to identify with the Bug. If I drive some of my other cars, I don’t get that same positive attention.
Q: Describe your favorite drive in the Beetle:
A: There is this place that we go, which is a nice drive from Skyline on Woodside. It’s nice and twisty. We culminate at a famous restaurant called Alice’s, where a bunch of bikers and classic cars converge on weekends. This Beetle really excels on nice, hilly, and twisty roads. It’s still a VW, after all, so it doesn’t have much by way of aerodynamics, but it’s really, really fun to drive.
It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast, than to drive a fast car slow. I heard that somewhere, and it’s true. I really, really enjoy driving this car at 80 mph. you get the friendly people. people love the beetle what can i say
Q: If you could choose one passenger to ride along with you in your Beetle, who would it be and why?
A: Of course my wife!
Q: Does your wife share your interest in vintage cars?
A: She does. She doesn’t know a lot of the details, but she understands and supports my addiction.
Photography by Stephen Heraldo