Midnight Runner – 1961 VW Type2 Double Splitscreen Single Cab

Words by Joe Halliday & Photos by Si Medlicott – Originally Published Hayburner Issue 38.

I’m sure we are all guilty of the odd late-night browsing session on websites like The Samba, Marketplace or eBay. When I get looking, I know deep down it’s probably a risky business, especially where my wallet is concerned, but one too tempting to not indulge in! It was one such midnight mass to all things Volkswagen that landed life long VW enthusiast and head honcho at Rusty Lee’s Rock And Roll Beds, ‘Rusty’ Lee Pickering with the awesome 1961 single cab you see on these pages. You’ve heard of “early bird catches the worm” well this is more a case of “night owl catches the single cab!”

If you haven’t heard of Rusty Lee, or indeed his business, then I suggest you go over to www.vwrustylee.com and give it a gander or check out the range of rock’n’roll beds here on the Hayburner shop.

Lee and his team of 8 guys specialise in being the best of the best when it comes to metal action ‘Rock and Roll’ beds for camper vans. Lee’s enthusiasm for quality and providing a good product at an affordable price is the ethos at Rusty Lee’s, and the reason why his beds are the favourite of the VW scene. From early buses all the way through to T6 and Caddys.

Anyone that has met Lee will know just how hard working he is, and due to his commitment to the running of such an expanding business, he very rarely gets much time to himself to think, let alone find the time to work on his own vehicles or spend much time scouring the internet. Hence the late night indulgence with the little downtime he gets looking at buses for sale on The Samba.

Far from a novice when it comes to all things aircooled VW, Lee has been around them since he was 15 years old. Having owned countless examples over the years, Lee initially caught the bug along with school friends by drooling over the amazing cars featured in the likes of Volksworld magazine and attending shows local to him in Herefordshire such as Vanfest and BVF (British Volkswagen Festival) both at the Malvern showground. His current fleet consists of this ’61 Single Cab, a 1967 Kombi, a ’66 13 Window, a ’69 Early Bay Westfalia, a 1968 Porsche 912 and a 1990 Porsche 911. What a collection!

Despite already having quite a fleet of classic German metal, Lee had a deep down hankering for a good Single Cab should one pop up and take his fancy. He had owned one previously, but it had been repainted and restored in the past. Hoping that under the layers of new paint hid the original, Lee set about the arduous task of removing the thick modern paint. After hours of rubbing he found it wasn’t quite the truck he was hoping for. So the search was on. 

Lee happened upon this Single Cab on The Samba and instantly had a good feeling that this could be the one he was waiting for. There he was, clicking through endless buses and trucks, nothing really hitting the spot when suddenly this one came on as a fresh listing at around midnight. Lee just so happened to be on the right page at the right time. Not wanting to waste a minute, Lee is a fan of a no nonsense sale, and prefers just to ring sellers and talk to them to gauge A) what the vehicle is like, but also B) if he likes the seller!

If he gets the right vibe, he’s all over it. But he is the first to admit he has walked away from a few potential good buys when he smells a rat or a bunch of bullsh*t from a crafty seller! I would say this makes Lee a pretty good judge of character and one that certainly has paid off with the purchase of this sweet little truck!

The truck itself is pretty rare being an original double treasure chest model. The extra door being on the drivers side, as most Single Cab trucks only feature the one hatch on the curb side. Another feature of this truck that makes it stand out from the rest, is the colour. Although a fairly common colour in early buses, Sealing Wax Red is rarely seen on pickups. It was the colour that interested Lee along with the gorgeous patina and character of the original paintwork, wearing its scars and blemishes with pride.

Upon delivery, Lee sent the truck to good friend Paul (or better known as ‘Irv’) at IRV’s Restos. Paul is responsible for all the metal work on the truck and he has done an amazing job. Not only with the metal work, fabrication and restoration but also with the expert paint blending that he seamlessly has carried out where the new metal has been put in. You really can’t spot where the fresh work has been done, which is testament to the skill Irv has in restoring classic VWs to such a faultless standard. The extent of the metalwork needed to make the truck solid again was limited to the usual lower body and chassis work common on early buses, sills, arches, bottoms of the doglegs, some work to the front panel. But of course, a lot of time and effort had to be put in to the restoration of the treasure chest floor. A repair which involved cutting and modifying a normal cargo floor panel to replace the more complex metal work in the compartments. You really wouldn’t be able to tell. The build itself took little over 6 months. Something that Lee is forever thankful for is upon completion of the bodywork, and knowing just how busy Lee is with work, Irv kindly offered to not only finish the body to such a great standard, but also to fit the truck up entirely. Now that’s what friend are for!

Much of the pickup has been left stock, with the exception of the obvious ride height and chassis work to get the truck rolling nicely. Albeit much closer to the ground.

The front suspension consists of a 4” narrowed Dogback Beam, 4.5” drop spindles and very small notches to allow for the steering arms to travel without fouling the chassis. The truck also benefits from a steering box raise. Irv did the work, but refrained from shortening the column which actually has resulted in a really nice driving position. At the rear, Irv fitted up some adjustable spring plates and carried out all the necessary work to convert to a straight axle. Finally the pair opted for a set of Type 2 Detective Bilstein shocks all round for a nice smooth ride. Lee lets his mates drive his vehicles whenever the opportunity arises, and many have commented on just how comfortable and refined the ride is. The stopping is taken care of by a Fellows Speed Shop Wide 5 and Porsche PCD Disc brake and Wildwood calliper conversion which Lee really rates highly, adding that the kit adds no additional track, but makes the braking such a pleasure. And finally to set off the new lowered stance, Lee contacted JGE and asked if he had any stock of his 5” Torker wheels in anthracite grey. Lee took the last set available at the time and despite Irv’s banter and jibes about his choice, the pair were blown away by how they looked when bolted up and shod in the 165/50r15 front and massive 215/65/15 rear tyres tucked nicely in the rear arches. They just look right, and really suit the SWR paint and overall look of the Pickup.

The engine is what came in it from the States – Just a good old trusty 1600 twin port. Mostly stock, running electronic ignition and gone through by Irv to ensure reliability. Mated to the engine is a Karmann Ghia Straight Axle Gearbox, one which Lee had acquired many moons ago, and was removed from an old ‘80s show car built back in the day by Harry Harpics. Lee contacted Colourworx a few years ago asking if they had any engines and ended up with this gearbox along with the 1776cc motor that was still fitted in the show car when Lee urgently exclaimed he needed it. When he was told it was still in the car, Lee said “well best get the spanners out. I’m on my way!” Needless to say it was just about dropping it on the floor when he arrived and the engine found its way into another project of Lee’s. But, the transmission was the ideal candidate for this build.

Interior wise Lee enlisted another good friend, Sam Trigg, to trim the Cab. They decided on a plain grey vinyl for the bench complimented by a set of Mad Matz door cards. The floor mats are ABS plastic items which Lee says are a really nice product. 

To finish off the build, Lee wanted a canvas for the bed and pictured a black one. Irv managed to swing him with the originality of a white/ivory one and went for a new canvas and hoops supplied by NLA. The canvas really brightens the look and also makes the load bed far more usable keeping it dry. The actual load bed is surprisingly good Lee adds – Not perfect, but a good sign that the truck has had a fairly easy life over the years. 

Lee would like to thank all involved in helping with the build. Especially Irv of course, Sam Trigg for the trimming, and Ian Burns at Aircooled Auto Elec for the re-wiring. Lee has no plans on moving the truck on. He regularly gets offers but he enjoys it too much to swap it out just yet. Best just not go online before bedtime, who knows what he might end up buying next!

1961 VW Type2 Single Cab Full Gallery