Words by Alan Scott & Photos by Julietta Arden-Taylor – Originally Published in Hayburner Issue 38

Years ago, most people didn’t consider the history behind a vehicle when buying a new project. Cars were bought and sold without any regard given to where they came from, who first bought them or where they had been throughout their life. These days, people have realised that the history of a vehicle can be interesting. Certainly more and more people are trying to find out any information they can these days. When Jamie Franklin bought this Zwitter he found that the previous owner, Matt McNulty, had already done a comprehensive search and unearthed an interesting story.

This Beetle was built on the 12th of January 1953, and left the factory two days later heading for Casablanca Morocco care of Craig Stanton & Co. It is believed that someone who worked for Craig Stanton & Co., which was then based in Morocco, bought the Beetle privately and cared for it from day one. Craig Stanton & Co. ended up being an important part of Volkswagen’s history in America, as they helped to set up VW of America (VWOA) and became the first ever US dealership (and eventually one of the largest). 

In 1949, Arthur Stanton bought the first Volkswagen sold in the United States from a Dutch importer trying to interest U.S. dealers in the car. About that same time, Stanton was awarded a franchise to sell Beetles in North Africa. Successful there, he recommended that Volkswagen set up an organised distribution system and the auto maker did. Giving Stanton the right to distribute the cars east of the Mississippi. Stanton founded his distributorship, World-Wide Volkswagen Corp., in February 1954. The history back then was not all stored on computers and so is very patchy to say the least, so this information is believed to be correct. The article on World Wide Volkswagens indicates they were at Garden City Long Island N.Y and then moved to Orangeburg, NY. It actually shows how big that Worldwide VW had become by then in terms of space required but also in sales numbers. They had become the US’ main distributor of VW’s.

By the time Arthur Stanton passed away in 1987 he was the chairman of World-Wide Volkswagen. An article in the New York Times stated he had been a partner in World-Wide Volkswagen for 35 years with his brother, Frank, and Victor Elmaleh. The company is the distributor of Volkswagen and Audi vehicles in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In 1986, the West German Government awarded Mr. Stanton the German Officer’s Cross for his contributions in furthering trade between West Germany and the United States. Volkswagen of America President Noel Phillips also said “Mr. Stanton saw the Beetle as a car of the future in 1949 and helped establish what is now a legend in the United States”.

When Arthur Stanton and Victor Elmaleh began distributing Volkswagens in the United States in 1954, they had to persuade American dealers to stock a product from Germany, which had been their country’s enemy only nine years earlier. He enlisted bicycle shops and used-car lots to sell the cars to make up for the reluctance of established dealers. Another problem was the Volkswagen’s squat, bug like look. “It was a pretty ugly little car” Mr. Elmaleh said in 2011. The solution was to trumpet its distinctiveness. “Think small” was the slogan the ad agency came up with. The partners, who also handled Porsches, Audis and other brands, sold some two million cars before selling the business in the mid-1980s.

Craig Stanton and Victor Elmaleh are also linked to the Cragstan Japanese tin plate toys that are very collectable. Cragstan is a familiar name to collectors of Japanese tinplate toys. The company imported inexpensive toys to the US and always had their name and logo emblazoned on every box. Within a year, the company name was changed to Craig-Stanton-Elmaleh Inc. The next year, 1956, the company became Cragstan Industries, Inc. and remained in business until 1988.

Going back to this specific car, the beetle arrived in Morocco but its early life is unknown. It was discovered in a barn in Paris, France. Although, not mentioned on the birth certificate, it was painted L36 Azure Blue by Volkswagen and has remained that colour all its life without being repainted, as confirmed by the then owner Matt. Its last French road taxation disc was dated 1973 and it probably sat in the barn since then. Matt sold the beetle to Jamie (the current owner) on February 20th 2020 and at that point nobody knew that a global pandemic was about to take hold. For Jamie, this would present an ideal opportunity to work on his new project at home. Jamie owns and runs his own body shop – JF Bodyworks. So finding the time to work on his own vehicles can often be difficult. With lockdown in full swing, Jamie got stuck into the work needed in his own garage and was able to perfect all the details as he had time on his side for once.

Luckily for Jamie, he didn’t have too much metalwork to do. He replaced the rear valance, bumper brackets and both rear wings as they were in really bad condition. Then they had to be painted and patina added so they matched the rest of the car. This must go against all of your natural instincts when the nature of your normal work is to make something look as good as you can! The floor pan/chassis was in great condition and didn’t need any work. The suspension was then replaced as it had cut spring plates and a home-made beam which weren’t up to Jamie’s standards. In place of the old suspension set up, it is now running a 4” narrowed beam with 3” dropped spring plates & dropped spindles along running Limebug ultra lows shocks. The king and link pins were also replaced which completed the front end. The front brakes have been upgraded to an EMPI disk brake system, whilst the rear is running stock drums. The brakes have been plumbed in with new copper brake lines and braided flexible hoses where necessary. Chrome Flat 4 deep 6” wide Fuch with Nexen 205/65/15’s are fitted to the rear and chrome SSP 4.5” wide Fuch with Nexen 155/60/16 are fitted to the front along with genuine chrome Porsche Center caps fitted to finish them off. Jamie says this is his favourite tyre combo for a Beetle as they look great and drive really well.

When it came to the engine, Jamie wanted to keep things simple. So the original 30hp lump was rebuilt and a speedwell supercharger was also installed along with 1.4:1 ratio rockers as Speedwell say they improve the performance with the supercharger. To aid the lubrication of the supercharger, an NOS Ampco Engine Oiler and Marvel Mystery Oil were fitted. To help remove the exhaust gases in a stylish way, a 4-tip stainless-steel Abarth system now sits under the rear valance. The gearbox is the original one, although Jamie ended up rebuilding it on his drive. When he first drove it, he found it had no 3rd or 4th gear. When it was pulled it apart there was virtually no oil in it which made the gear pack seize together.

The interior is pretty much as it left the factory with original herringbone seat covers and door panels. The rear seat base had a bad acid burn, but a really nice replacement back rest had been found. Dave’s Bespoke Shed was able to recover the seat base by using the material from the original back rest. The carpet is the original, albeit slightly thread bare in places. The rest of the interior is stock.

The electrical system was updated where necessary for added safety. Genuine early zwitter correct headlights and ribbed semaphores were fitted. The heart tail lights were modified to accept a stop bulb in the main light housing then flashing indicators were added to the heart lights. Originally the heart lenses were the only brake lights, these can often be very hard to see in modern traffic.

Once the car was finished Jamie had quite a wait before he was able to take it to its first show. This ended up being the RSVP club BBQ where it took home the ‘Raddest Ride’ award. Jamie was chuffed to bits with that saying “that makes all the hard work worth it”.

1953 Zwitter - Full Gallery