Can You Dig It? – Digging Up Old Volkswagens in Belgium

Words by Ned Faux & Photos by Kenneth Anno

If you’ve visited the Volksworld show or any of the larger shows or swap meets across Europe the chances are you will have come across Filip Garsbeke’s auto-jumble stall. He is the guy with the good stuff. You know, the guy with all those rare parts kept in boxes under glass. If you need something for your air-cooled VW, Filip has it. In fact he most probably has a few of them. 

I’ve met Filip on numerous occasions over the years from either shopping at his stall or trading in proximity and we had actually made plans for me to visit him to check out his parts and private collection of cars on my way back from Ninove this year. Unfortunately Ninove didn’t happen due to the world falling to pieces and we had to cancel the visit. Weeks later as we approached the end of the UK’s lockdown period I received a phone call from Filip telling me an interesting tale and, in short, asking if I’d like to come over to Belgium help dig two Beetles out of the ground. Now to the average person on the street that proposal isn’t the most exciting prospect, it might even sound insane but I’d answered that I was definitely coming before he’d even finished his sentence.

Let me fill you in on what Filip told me – Every year in his home town of Lichtervelde they have a communal New Years eve celebration which he and his wife and Cyriel, attend. During this party Filip ended up taking to man who told the story of him and his friends burying two Volkswagen Beetles in a pit in around 1968. This pit was located only a few miles form Fillips home, so being such an enthusiast he couldn’t help himself but to go down with the old man and a metal detector and investigate. Since the 60’s the location has had a road built next to it, a house and a train track but Filip was shown photographs from the 1950’s of the man and his friend jumping motorbikes out of the same hole that the cars got burned in. Being as the location was so close to a railway he couldn’t just get digging but with the mans testimony and releasing there was some metal under the ground there, it was enough to apply for all the necessary permits to treat this excavation as an archeological dig and get full permission to find out what was underground. 

Hearing all this, I got excited about what we might find and also told Vic, who was up for the adventure, it would be the first time we’d gone anywhere since the beginning of the UK’s lockdown so we were eager to get out. As luck had it the only other two Brits that were invited were Seb and Penny from the German Junkies, they are friends of ours so under Boris Johnson’s rules we were allowed to form a 4 person bubble and travel to Belgium safely with them. We throughly enjoyed traveling with those guys, not only do we share the same hobby, we also share a similar circle of friends and even sense of humour so the hours in the car passed quickly.

After a quick pit stop – kind of – on route to see my friend Kenneth at Hangarz HQ, we arrived at Filip’s were greeted by himself, Nancy and his young son Cyriel. They were fantastic hosts, fed us, made us feel at home and were kind enough to have a look around his extensive private collection of vehicles and even go shopping for some parts. Now I’m not going to go in to what Filip owns or where it’s located as I know he likes his privacy but all I’m going to say is that it’s breathtaking and thats coming from someone who’s seen a lot of cars…

We spent the evening talking about what we might find in the morning and how funny it would be if there turned out to her nothing there. Filip also dropped the bombshell that he had been told one of the cars that was under the ground had old fashion style cable brakes so it meant it was either a Standard model Beetle or more than likely an early Split Beetle. Of course we were discussing the chances of it being a KDF wagen or Hebmuller but all we could do was wait until morning.

In the morning, we woke early and followed Filip down to the dig site. It was a range but we couldn’t care less and we were greeted by some of his close friends and VW enthusiasts. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the 50 tonne execavator and immediately felt a little inferior when getting the spade I’d bought along out of the boot. We went over to Filip and he showed us exactly where the cars were thought to be. I jokingly marked the spot with two sticks making an “X”. Then they fired up the monster of a machine and it took it’s first scoop and nothing, then again and again getting a good few feet below the ground when it hit something…

This was so exciting! I couldn’t wait to see what it was and whether it was a whole car or not. It turned out to be half a rear torsion housing and shock mount from an early VW. Although it smashed the dreams of finding a complete car, it was great to know there was truth in the story and we were really standing on top of at least one buried Beetle.

The next few scoops were just brilliant! The bucket went in and someone would yell stop! They saw something and everyone would scramble in to the hole and dig, sometimes with their bare hands to gently expose more and more VW parts. Then we heard a clunk. It was the Beetles chassis which was surprisingly still in one piece, it was quite a spectacle watching it raise from the ground by a chain. Not only were we finding Bug parts, there where all sorts of other vintage bottles and cans that had been dumped at the time. Under normal circumstances we would have been stoked to find this stuff but it was just getting tossed back in.

On further investigation and much discussion, we decided that what we had found was a pre ’55 Oval Beetle fitted with later taillights which was a common upgrade of the time. Unfortunately it’s probably the worst condition Oval in history but still fantastic to find. The next piece to get everyone digging with our hands was a ‘coffee can’ air filter from a Splitscreen Beetle. This was it! We were going to dig out the split! A few more digs and we found one of its taillights! Again everyone was buzzing but the more we dug the more apparent that the rest of the Split Bug was buried underneath the road and we couldn’t go any further without risking damage so the dig had to stop there.

Everything that came out of the ground was put in to Fillips van and trailer as we watched the machine effortlessly fill in the giant crater. We then went back to his workshop where they laid everything out on the ground. Looking at the pile of worthless salvage and seeing how pleased Filip was with his day, it occurred to me that this wasn’t about money or kudos, he had spent all this time and cost for no other reason than he is a real enthusiast and wanted to enjoy this adventure with his friends.

Thats what it’s all about!

That evening we all sat down, tired and had a pizza, I had really enjoyed the day and found his family great company. It didn’t really matter that we didn’t find a KDF Wagon, we had made new friends and done something that nobody ever does. 

If someone ever phones you and asks if you fancy driving in to Europe to help dig a hole, don’t be too quick to run the other way.