Words by Toby Walker & Photos by Dan Du Cross

When I was a kid all these stupid scenarios used to get bounded about like, “Oh what would you do if you walked round the corner and there was an amazing skate park there, pool coping and all the good stuff?”  And “ if you won a thousand pounds what would be the first thing you’d buy?” ( remember I said kid, and a £1000 is a lot of dough to a kid, well it was in the 80’s )

But the go to stupid scenario for us boys was “if you could have any car what would it be?”

I have a soft spot for early beetles, the simple lines, small pretty tail lights, no quarter lights, you know the score. But I can honestly say the first time I clapped eyes on PJ Gibbons’s 1951 Split window beetle on Instagram back in 2013/14? My inner Lou and Andy kicked in ( I want that one ). Yeah if I could own any VW Beetle this would be it. This beautiful L11 Pastel Green Original paint survivor. 

 Approximately a year after first seeing PJ’s car my inner L & A was in overdrive as a set of genuine Gasburners appear on the scene wearing Firestone Wide Ovals, the stuff wheel pervs dreams are made of. I could see the direction this build was heading and I liked it!

PJ and I have been friends for a good while now, and it was our mutual love of Aircooled motors that set the ball rolling, we actually met while collecting a 30 horse motor for a stunning Oval rag top that another friend had purchased from PJ, thats when we found out we had more in common Skating , Art etc.

 PJ is a stand up dude and has awesome taste in VW’s, I had the pleasure of using the above mentioned Oval for a few months, so I also know he knows how to build a car! Some of you may remember some of his previous cars and the ones he still owns, but we are going to fill you in on the list so you get the picture this Beetle was not so much luck, chance or any of that, this car is down to the fact PJ has a good eye for a classic car!

PJ’s other cars are a stunning slammed 1963 RHD Beetle in Beryl Green, a 1965 Westfalia SO42 with an amazing back story, a 1965 Porsche 912 and previous cars include a 1957 Panel Van, 1959 Single Cab, 1958 Panel Van, 1977 Mk1 Golf L, MK1 Caddy, 1956/7 Oval Ragtop and 1965 Karmann Ghia. Impressive eh? 

Knowing PJ was an aircooled nut, we asked him, what got you into VW’s in the first place?

 “I have always loved cars, this probably stemmed from my parents, they loved cars too, particularly my Mum.

 Dad sort of worked in the automotive industry. His business when I was a child involved selling cars nationally through print advertisement and his company used to sponsor touring car racing, so I was frequently at race and promotional events. Growing up on skateboards and punk rock music. I would always see these rad tours in vans and buses. Granted in the 90’s they were never VW’s but its the VW Type 2 that really epitomises that lifestyle. The idea of getting in a bus and going where ever you want to go. I guess this is really what got me into VW’s in the first place. I bought my first air-cooled VW when I was 20, and I actually still own it.”

The story goes this car was originally owned by a gentleman who then passed it down to his son after some time presumably once age took it’s toll. 

PJ was told the father was a doctor or surgeon and judging by the cool hand stitched door card repair and the hospital sticker on the dash we have no reason to think other wise. 

 PJ bought the car off Lars Häsä who had been aware of this car for quite some time, but just hadn’t been able to seal a deal. Lars was searching for a Pastel Green early Beetle for himself, and after plenty of persistence and patience the ’51 found a new home with Lars, but shortly after the purchase, sods law and like buses another Pastel Green came along, but this time a better example, meaning this car would soon be up for sale. 

This is where the wonderful world wide web comes into play proving Facebook is not all kitten videos and over qualified keyboard mechanics with all the wrong advice, this time it came up trumps, as one day while PJ was at home editing footage on a Facebook break he spotted a post from Ivan McCutcheon about a Beetle his friend had for sale in Sweden.

 PJ had been on the hunt for some time now so very quickly sent a message to Lars.  As PJ was the first to enquire by about 30 seconds he was given first refusal, so he took the plunge, payed for the car on a few photos and brief words. PJ said he was so grateful to Ivan for posting that day. Now as it happens this car has graced the pages of this magazine before as our very own Neditor and Rapid Rodent Chez Williams actually drove to Sweden to collect the car!

Now we just step back to the shittier side of the internet for a brief moment, as no sooner had PJ bought the car, it seems the internet was alive with mild hysteria about who had purchased this car, I say the shit side of the internet because, as people were not sure who had bought it and not happy it may have fallen into the hands of a younger enthusiast, and that the said car would surely be slammed or the new owner would ruin such a beautiful survivor.

 Well heres a few words for “the internet” when some one buys a car, the direction it goes in is totally up to the owner (lucky for us the direction was Radsville) but if you want a car to look a certain way you should buy it… suck it up.

 Now I will just throw in I’m as guilty as the next man of been a bit upset when a beautiful original paint car gets stripped and repainted to look like new, so I guess what I’m trying to say is my gripe is with the internet as it allows people to view their immediate feelings. So next time your about to post, “I bet they will do this” or “what has he done” or any other envy inspired drivel consider this 1. Nobody else on the internet cares about your opinion and 2. Nobody else on the internet cares about your opinion. Obviously this is just my opinion on the internet in general, I did not see the posts relating to PJ buying the car, it’s just a subject that gets on my tits. Rant over. You OK Hun, and all that jazz lets get back to the story at hand.

Because of all this hype, PJ tells us he was a little afraid of what to do with the car.

Naturally with such an early vehicle he wanted everything he did to be reversible, this was his priority, but equally he wanted to make the car his own. 

“Stylistically I took a route that I believe is quite difficult to pigeon-hole, it has elements of Cal Look, Custom, Old Speed, Show car and Survivor all in one” we think he nailed the look when referring to “outlaw.”

Underneath the superb survivor paint and interior this car has been subject to a meticulous build, including a truly stunning old speed engine build, and this is exactly what PJ was aiming for, aggressive yet purposeful and not diverting from the VW’s original form too much.

Considering the age the car was a good solid base with the only a small sign of a previous accident being an Oval era wing fitted, but as PJ says “It’s been there for ages and its just part of the cars history now, so it stayed”’ 

All of the wings needed some form of repair work, this was taken care of by the metal masters Deluxe Metalwork, while Steve Parsons had painted then blended the repairs.

Gav and Kell at Trailer Queen Restos took care of sorting the floorpan and painting the running gear, PJ says the finished product speaks volumes for their skills as they met his specific requirements of not too shiny, not too flat and hit the balance perfect. The paint on the underside of this car is a work of art. 

The rest of the build and repairs were taken care of by Ian and the team at E’s Autos.

PJ mentioned what an excellent job Ian did at making the repairs look like they had either never been done at all, or so that they blended in with the cars older repairs perfectly. 

This car has been built to such a degree that its so easy to look at it and not notice the sheer amount of work and passion that has been sunk into it. 

To aid the nose down look, and fit those mouth watering OG Gas Burners under the front, PJ called on good friend and fellow T.L.C member Michael Birch of Aire Valley Speed Shop who built a 4” narrowed beam with a telescopic shock conversion and dropped spindles, while the rear end remains largely stock. PJ wanted the ’51 to look aggressive yet purposeful. He knew he wanted to use original wheels and after purchasing 3 different sets, on offering up the untouched original Porsche Mahle magnesium Gas Burners, they just worked so perfectly.

I have to agree these wheels look right at home on this build, the green/grey tint of magnesium complements the faded Pastel Green paint so well.

 Originally Firestone Wide Ovals were fitted to the rear and F560’s on the front, but PJ felt these distracted from the cars overall look a little and instead recently opted for the Michelin set up of 145SR15 XZX up front and 205/70VR15 XWX edging towards subtly.

He wanted this car to retain its stock looks while having an old speed engine that would push it along safely, and when looking at the interior almost every part is as it was when it left the VW Factory with little additions for safety like the Onassis lap belts, he also has a NOS copper Hurst Shifter that his fiancé June bought him but he’s still unsure if he will fit it, so for now the stock unit sits in place. 

The rear lights have been upgraded to an LED system as he intends to use the car and doesn’t want to risk the chance of it been rear ended due to poor visibility. 

But the pièce de résistance on this car has to be the old speed engine, for that we head over to Ian Kent of E’s Autos to fill us in on the spec, take it away Ian.

It’s a stroked, big bore, custom built engine that’s based on a combination of early Porsche 356 and VW 30HP parts. The bottom end is largely Porsche based and the top end is mostly modified VW. It’s now 69.5mm stroke with 80mm bore making a 1397cc hybrid. The rare parts are unmodified and could be returned to original use. Inside it’s forged, balanced, and performance everything. On the outside the modified solid tinware was blasted and thin powder coated to retain (and preserve) all the manufacturing detail and history. “No filler, no tarted up paint job, and hiding nothing.

 Overall, the aim was to recreate the look of what might have been done at a pro speed shop back in the 50’s. The “Baby Dell” carbs are a later part concession for much improved performance compared to original or reproduction Solex and Zenith carbs.

This makes for a pretty peppy engine for the ’51, so whats not to like?

67 year old interior that stood the test of time give or take a few animal nests, a chassis you can eat your dinner off, a quick and responsive period style engine, all covered with a body shell wearing incredible original paint and sitting pretty over a tasty set of original wheels that are a bit different from the norm.

PJ was over the moon with his build and can’t thank every one involved enough, PJ also wanted to thank June, his fiancé who has been so patient throughout this build. Even when she’s trying to sort 2 screaming kids while he was asking her about which seat belts to buy, she still kept her cool.

Technical Specifications:

  • Engine case: 1953 Porsche Pre-A, type 506 (1300cc) case
  • Crank: Forged chromoly C/W 69.5mm stroker crank with 8 dowel flywheel location
  • Flywheel: Forged lightened 200mm 6V conversion flywheel and HD chromoly gland nut
  • Con Rods: Forged H beam rods with ARP bolts
  • Bore: Custom 80mm flat top pistons and barrels
  • Camshaft: Stage 1 Fast Road grind with straight cut gears
  • Cylinder Heads: Modified Stage 1 twin port heads with custom aluminium rocker covers
  • Valve train: Ratio rockers on bolt up shafts, 2 piece lifters, and chromoly pushrods
  • Fuel System: Custom twin port manifolds and carb linkage, Dellorto FRD34 “Baby Dell” carbs
  • Breather: Porsche 356 Pre A “coffee can” oil filler with custom Hengst “H” filter crank breather
  • Cooling: “Big nut” generator pulley fixing and early Porsche 356 cooling fan
  • Pulleys: Custom 356 style crank pulley with modified “thin lip” generator pulley
  • Ignition: Bosch 010 distributor, Bosch 6V coil, cotton braided HT leads, and NGK plugs
  • Charging: Refurbished Bosch “thin slot” 6V dynamo with Bosch 6V regulator
  • Clutch: Kennedy stage 1 200mm clutch with Daikin disc
  • Exhaust: modified Abarth style stainless exhaust with quick change tailpipes
  • Heating: Stainless big bore heat exchangers with OE VW “shoe box” tinware
  • Oil System: Modified for full flow oil filtration, updated oil pump, and PTFE lined hoses
  • Other features: Refurbished 30HP fuel pump with Solex “Tulip” fuel filter.
  • Hidden fuel pressure regulator and custom CuproNickel fuel lines.
  • Okrasa style air filters with K&N filter elements
  • Capacity: 1397cc
PJ's 1951 Split Window Beetle Gallery