1959 Volkswagon Bus

1959 Volkswagon Bus


Owner: Lon Atkinson


"Flower Power"!

That's right, a V8 powered VW Micro-Bus. So if you get your doors blown off by this vintage 23-window Deluxe, you are not halucinating. If you want to experience some real "Fahrfegnugen", climb behind the wheel, stomp on the gas, and scare the hell out of your inner flower-child!

In case you were wondering, we did not convert this classic VW bus into a V8 powered monster (so all you VW purists out there can hold your fire). The conversion was accomplished back in the 1980's by an off-road racer by the name of Frank Howard. In addition to the 283 Chevy V8, he replaced the VW trans-axle with a 1963 "Tempest Torque" TransAxle from a '63 Pontiac LeMans (in the YouTube video we refer to it as a Volare front-end, which is wrong). In 1963 both the Tempest and the LeMans Sport Coupe had a rear mounted "trans-axle" connected to the engine via a flexible driveshaft enclosed in a "torque tube". This set-up gave the cars a 50/50 weight distribution and made the cars very quick and easy handling. However, technical problems and complaints about transmission noise led to the rear transaxle being abandoned. The following model year dropped the trans-axle in favor of a more conventional engine/trans/rearend combination.

In this case the axle portion of the Tempest Torque is mated directly to a standard GM Turbo 350 transmission which is connected directly to the V8 motor. The Tempest Axle stubs plug right into the stock VW reduction gearbox/brake unit (this gearbox assembly was only designed to handle the 60hp of the original VW motor, but has held up pretty well). The suspension for this "rearend" is a combination of coilover shocks and Volare-type torsion bars--a set up patterned after an off-road race truck suspension. The front end is all stock VW.

After a few years the bus was sold to "Iron Man" Ivan Stewart, a well known off road racer. He and his son did the cosmetic portion of the 80's rebuild, and in the summer of '86 it appeared in Hot VW magazine.In 1988 it was purchased by its current owner, Lon Atkinson, for about $2000. He continued to upgrade and tweak it. He drove it and played with it for ten years, till the engine died. At the time the need to pay for college for his three kids relegated the Bus to his garage for the next five or so years, and another three in the middle of a flower garden in his back yard (kind of fitting for the favorite mode of '60s "Flower Power" transportation).

In November of 2006 it was drug out of Lons yard and towed up to here Hot Rod and Custom Stuff where we were given the task of making it road worthy again. His actual instructions were something like, "make it run and make it stop." So we did.Once we completed that task, Lon got new tires put on, reinstalled the interior and top, hit the body with a little rubbing compound and brought it back for these photos. By the way, the photo at the top of the page was taken back in 1990, before the van was grounded.Considering that it has spent the last several years as a lawn ornament, the bus does not look too bad.

The first order of business was to yank out the old V8, transmission, and "rearend". As engine removals go, this one was a piece of cake because everything was so easy to get at. The "cage" around the motor had to be cut away, but that was no problem.Both the Tempest Torque axle and the Turbo 350 were sent out to be rebuilt before being mated to the new powerplant. All the U-joints were repaired or replaced, and the remainder of the suspension components overhauled.

On the old set-up the oil coolers from the old stock VW motor were put to work keeping the old 283 cool. We going to remove them and let an Atech Motorsports Aluminum radiator and dual electric fan combo (also from Atech) do all that work.Even though we had replaced all the stock brakes, the bus just was not stopping as quick as we wanted so it was decided to replace the stock brakes with a disc conversion kit from Custom Speed Parts in Germany.