Custom Culture Vulture – Pre-Cal ’56 Oval Beetle

Words by Toby Walker & Photos by Dan Pullen

We have all heard of the term Cal-Look, and I would hazard a guess most of the longer standing readers have owned at least one California Look inspired Car.

After all, it’s said that this movement created the whole “International Beetle Cult” which started the massive worldwide VW boom. But there was a period before the 1970’s Cal-Look craze when VW fans started to customise, modify and tune there beloved VW’s. The imaginatively titled period is known as “Pre-Cal” – basically the VW Hot Rod movement, which was largely prompted in the 1960’s by a group of like-minded VW fans in California who formed a club, DKP (Der Kleiner Panzers), in the early days of the “Pre Cal look” cars. Off the shelf parts were not really available back then so modifications were mostly homebrew custom touches, extractor exhausts, plexiglass rear quarters, mag wheels, a spoked steering wheel and a few gauges (if funds would allow), a little engine tuning including the favoured 010 distributor and velocity stacks etc.

Later in the 1960s, performance became the main focus. For most this was still done on a budget, but the bar would be continually getting raised. Every one in the club was constantly chasing for more speed, so weight played a big factor and losing as many unnecessary parts as possible was the order of the day; needless to say styling changed as the cars got faster. To accommodate better handling, front torsion leaves were removed to give a nose-down stance that would mimic the race cars of the time, creating the “Cal-Look” ( although the term would not be first coined until Jere Alhadeff’s article in HOT VW’s in 1975). These boys went on to create some of the most iconic VW’s to date and on top of that some of the most prominent tuning and styling companies to boot. I am by no means an aficionado of the topic but there are some pretty good books out there if you wanted to learn more about this iconic period in VW history, and I have to say this car has inspired me to go grab them to read!

Chet has been a true petrol head from a very young age and it shows, because when it comes to cool VW’s he really knows his onions. This build is testament to the fact he knows his VW history, and it’s a good job he does because Chet works as Sales advisor at Just Kampers.

In his own words, he really never stood a chance as his dad was building super cool Hot Rods before Chet was born. His dad was part of the Southern Roadsters for many years during Chet’s childhood, so it goes without saying he attended a lot of car shows with his family from around the age of three. Back then, indoor shows were the big scene (I too remember visiting huge halls, mainly aircraft hangars with my dad, all crammed full of tasteful Hot Rods dedicated to speed or amazing customised cars around a similar period in time time. I particularly remember the first time I saw a vehicle with yellow glass! That blew my mind!). Chet’s dad had owned many Hot Rods from Jago Model T kits to Mustangs and he also played a large part in the original build of Moulin Rouge, an awesome 1935 Hillman Minx Hot Rod. I’m sure a lot of our readers will remember this car featured in Custom Car Magazine back in April 1977 – a thing of beauty.

 But, the VW-powered trike was pretty much his crowning glory. This was an awesome custom bodied trike, raked with girder forks, stacked lights and slot mags on the rear with amazing metal flake paint job, which seemed to change every year. Obviously super light on the front-end, this thing used to pull massive wheelies too, proper cool!

With that upbringing, you might be thinking that Chet’s first car would be something pretty special, and you’d be right – not VW based- but how many of you had a 1951 Ford Pop with modified running gear and no front fenders as a first car? Since then it’s been a 25-year plus VW ride, and to start it off Chet built a 1972 Sumatra Green Beetle running a 1641 and styled with a hint of old school racer (we have it on very good authority this car was super cool with all the right parts and styling).

Anyway, we are here to talk about Chet’s latest creations. He was on the lookout for a bit of a project, and was really looking for a stock ’68 LHD Beetle. But when a RHD ’56 Oval comes up for grabs on your doorstep it’s hard to refuse. So, in February 2020 Chet owned an Oval and 15 months later this super-cool Pre-Cal styled Hot Rod Oval came rolling out of Chet’s workshop.

Obviously Chet knew the route this build was going to take. Having been a longstanding member of the Vultures Car Club since the early 1990s, it was obviously going to be custom. Having a love for the Cal and Pre-Cal look-era, he’d always had a vision in his mind of the car he wanted to build. With Ron Fleming’s Black DKP car as one of the main inspirations, he wanted something that crossed over from street to strip – hence the lack of interior and running boards. This styling hits you smack in the face as it’s a refreshing break from the norm of slammed on rims. Sitting high, proud and aggressive as hell, you would be forgiven for thinking the front-end has been raised to achieve this look, but this is one of the nods to the Pre-Cal boys. The car is actually stock height on the front. Its just a clever tyre choice used to mimic the Gasser-style race cars of the 1960s.

As style plays a huge part in this build, we will start with the way this car looks from the outside. Chet fitted an Empi disc kit up front with Type 3 rear drums. Bolted to that are the stunning period-perfect 6” Crestline wheels shod in BF Goodrich Silvertown 6.00-15 up front and Firestone wide oval F70-15’s on the rear – what a combo!

Another nod to the Pre-Cal era is that super cool homebrew glass pack muffler in white as a nod to Ron Fleming’s earlier car. Another thing that makes this car stand out is the lack of bumpers, running boards and all that unnecessary stuff. This minimalist approach just makes the car stand out from the crowd while achieving that Pre-Cal style perfectly. The stripped back look continues inside, as the rear seats, carpets and door cards are removed for that lightweight race/speed shop feel with the floor painted in raptor. The rear seat area coded in Reed Green is a great touch. The front seats are stock recovered units with Standard steering wheel with a zodiac petri horn push, stock shifter with a quick shift plate, a stack oil pressure gauge hides in the glove box and a Sun Pro Super Tach 2 Mini under the dash. When he bought the car both pan halves had been removed so he welded in a pair of WW pan halves. Chet also took care of some localised repairs and repainted where needed and fitted a new loom from Jon at VW looms.

When it comes to the motor, Chet is running a hot street 2007 cc unit, but he tells us that will be getting some tuning in the future. The engine was bought from Paul Lippett, but originally built by John Walkett and consists of a pair of ported 044 heads, 120 cam, I-beam rods, dynamically balanced bottom-end, lightened flywheel, Equalizer pulley, deep sump and external oil filter, chromoly push-rods, twin Delorto 40 DRLAs, MSD 6AL Ignition, Kennedy stage 1 clutch and an AS code GT swing axle gearbox.

We think Chet has really nailed the look he set out to achieve – and it shows. This car took our choice award on its debut outing at Classics at the Club House recently.

Chet would like to thank – Just Kampers for letting him take over the workshop during the build, Pete at Cogbox for general knowledge and a few parts for the gearbox to make sure it was good to go, and Robin Sankey of Slough Swapmeet fame for everything he has done to help along the way.

Custom Culture Vulture - Pre Cal '56 Oval Beetle Full Gallery