Ross Clarke from Queensland, Australia is a long time Volkswagen enthusiast, and among his collection is a ’75 Karmann Cabriolet, T25 combi and Type 3 Fastback – all of which he’s nurtured and loved, calling upon VW Heritage to supply all the hard to find parts to keep them alive. However, having owned a ‘60s ‘ragtop’ Bug as a student, he was determined to find another to complete his hoard of Dubs. It was a quest that would take him years to fulfil and involve buying a car sight unseen from an entirely different continent. Ross tells the story of his leap of faith, and precisely what was involved…
The search for an original ragtop began after I finished restoring a 1966 Type 3 Fastback, a labour of love which took over two years to complete. Having owned a ‘60s ragtop in the early Seventies during my university years, I wanted another some 40 years later!
Not a lot of ragtops were imported into Australia in the early days so the obvious option was to look at the US market to find an original. Having made some good, reliable contacts when purchasing Type 3 parts in the States I was guided to a well known vintage VW restorer in Los Angeles. After contacting my ‘agent’ I started the search for a suitable car. I was looking for an original oval ragtop but soon realised these were very much sought after by the local VW collectors. This obviously made their price and availability high and hard to find. There were many oval fake ragtops which look the part, however their ‘birth certificate” (Volkswagen’s record of verification) were non existent. I made this my priority in the search as I wanted proof of it being totally original.
After using my agent to inspect a couple of good looking candidates I soon began to appreciate cars looked better on an internet photo than what my agent was reporting. After looking for three months and a number of inspections later I decided I needed to be patient and the right ragtop at the right price would eventually present itself!
A car did appear. Not an oval but maybe just as good, and certainly a lot cheaper. It was a 1958 ragtop, the first year with the larger rear window. Having previously owned a 1956 and a 1958 I realised the cars were alike in most ways, so it seemed a good substitute. This car had a birth certificate and had been restored to a very high standard by its current owner who put originality first. Using NOS parts and using a replacement ‘58 gearbox and motor, at least this car could be brought back to life! A later 40hp engine and synchromesh gearbox which came with the car on its purchase was abandoned and the long three year process of restoration started. The body had been taken off the pan, the front end rebuilt, the ‘58 gearbox and motor rebuilt to standard and the original 1958 colour was the choice to get the car back to the its original factory condition. The interior was refitted with NOS materials, door mechanics, new rubbers. In fact, no stone had been left unturned!
After the restoration was completed the car was stored away with a car cover and only brought out for a fortnightly run which meant that a total of 3,000 miles had been covered in the 13 years since its rebirth.
Having restored two VWs previously I could imagine the work involved in this beauty. I had made up my mind that this was the car I wanted. My agent gave his approval, noting that the price reflected that the car did not have the original engine and gearbox and that the door trim was stitched and not the moulded ‘58 type! The interview started i.e. the owner only wanted a VW lover who would look after his work and ‘friend’ and having three VWs in great condition, he soon realised I was that person.
The Beetle was delivered to the port of Oakland near San Francisco (the car lived only 30 miles away). Having been inspected and photographed by the shipping agents I paid my fees and started the long, six-week wait. By this time I built up a very nice association with the owner and he agreed to let me pack the car with VW goodies (for my other cars) which I had found during our purchase negotiations.
After the car left the US and travelled over the Pacific Ocean the reams of official papers started to present itself by the Australian Government. Of course our Government wanted their share of the duties the import process demanded. I was uncertain of just how much the car would cost me to get into Australia – however, with the purchase made and the car on its way down under I could hardly stop now. In the end, the car’s purchase price represented just half of the final figure! Not to mention the countless hours of form completion, phone calls and advice I was lucky to get along the way.
The big day arrived when the car was waiting for me at our local shipping port. It felt very strange buying a car I had not seen in the flesh and not even driven. Had I been taken for a ride, or was my gut feeling that this car was lovingly restored entirely well founded? Putting my trust in someone I had never met and inspected by a person I was introduced to over the internet was certainly a leap of faith by all accounts.
Walking into the warehouse, I saw the car sat in a corner and I was about to find out whether its cover was hiding a delightful surprise or a deep regret. It was like Christmas Day and the Beetle was a present for me, a 60 year old VW nut, to open.
A big breath and off came the cover. I saw a car that was better than I had expected! All my doubts disappeared, the car stood before me in all its glory. I had succeeded in getting this beauty by being patient and knowing good, trustworthy VW people I had never met in person.
I have now owned the car eight months and am still very much amazed at its originality. It’s been restored to better than new, and driving it feels like going back in time. What a buzz!
Could I be lucky again? Maybe, maybe not. However I keep looking for that 356 I have always promised myself or an early split single cab bus. My wife cannot really understand my passion but realises I have had it since I was an 18 year old working in a VW workshop as a junior runaround during my university years. My wife says it’s her or my VWs. Gee I am going to miss her!