Homegrown: V-8 Speed Beetle packs 300 Detroit horses
Welcome to Homegrown—a new limited series about homebuilt cars and the ingenuity, diligence, and craftsmanship of their visionary creators. Know of a killer Homegrown car that fits the bill? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line HOMEGROWN: in all caps. Enjoy, fellow tinkerers! -Eric Weiner
After completing a couple of projects, including a Lamborghini Countach built from a kit, Bryan Ferguson sought a machine capable of astonishing his circle of car enthusiasts. Upon discovering that a Chevy small-block was cheaper than hotting up the flat-four in his ‘72 VW Beetle, his course of action was set: in January 2019, Ferguson began constructing a V-8 “peoples’ car” in his garage.
Growing up Ferguson dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. Knowing that such hopes seldom pan out, his wise father encouraged him to prepare Plan B. So, Ferguson followed high school with mechanics classes at a vocational school, acquiring skills he’s used ever since.
“Dad was right,” this 60-year-old craftsman confirms. “Once I became a professional mechanic, I never looked back!” Ferguson spent his career working as an automotive technician for the local Post Office. As a service to his community, he is also the current Chairperson of the Board of Police Commissioners for the city of Detroit.
Beetle hot rods are nothing new, but Ferguson’s home-built Bug is especially creative. The standard approach to marrying a V-8 to a Beetle is to erect the concoction atop a Chevy S-10 pickup frame. Knowing he could do better, Ferguson designed his own chassis from scratch. “My perimeter frame made out of 2×2- and 2×4-inch welded steel tubing keeps my engine from poking like an iceberg out of the hood,” he explains. “Casual observers don’t realize what they’re up against at until they discover my V-8 emblem or hear the rock and rumble out the back.”
Ferguson bought a wrecked ’69 Camaro to obtain the 350-cubic-inch V-8 and Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 automatic he needed. That car’s front subframe and control arm suspension integrated neatly with his tubular support structure. A GM 10-bolt rear axle with a 3.73:1 drive ratio was narrowed seven inches and secured with three trailing links and a Panhard rod. The GM recirculating-ball steering gear guiding the front wheels is power-assisted and connected to a tilt-and-telescope Camaro column and Grant flat-bottomed steering wheel. The disc/drum brake system incorporates a Toyota master cylinder and vacuum booster.
Centerline aluminum wheels carry Continental Pro Contact radials in front (size 155/60R-15) and Firestone Firehawk Indy gumballs in back (size 295/50R-15). Ferguson constructed a 3-inch exhaust system out of stainless steel.
For the bodywork, Ferguson bought his Beetle years ago in running condition. If the standard VW resembles an undersized running back, his 4-inch windshield chop with stock height rear roof pillars yield the look of a hunkered offensive lineman. The wide fenders and adjoining sills are fiberglass moldings. Modern-era BMW kidney grilles, along with a lower opening, feed air to the radiator and transmission fluid cooler. The sparkling headlamps are LED units designed for use in Jeeps while the teardrop taillamps are trailer components.
Ferguson sprayed the black urethane exterior finish at 4:00 a.m., when it was cold, to keep the insects in his garage paint booth at bay.
This master scrounger equipped his cockpit with buckets from a VW GTI, an aftermarket dash panel, and a homemade center console. Ferguson stitched the fresh upholstery, including a few red threads, to accent the black interior theme. The custom windshield and side glass are about the only components Ferguson didn’t construct personally in his garage. Start to finish, he needed just under a year to get his V-8 Beetle running. At the 2020 Detroit Autorama, Ferguson earned a first place trophy in the radical customs class.
The result is something that would definitely lift Dr. Porsche’s eyebrow a notch or two: 300 horsepower combined with an 1850-pound curb weight. “Wheelspin is never a concern,” Ferguson notes. “When I nail the throttle, the sticky rear tires are so nicely loaded they leap my car smartly into the next block.”
Behind many a sports car sorcerer you’ll find a patient spouse. Ferguson’s wife imposed only one rule. No work after 10 p.m. or on Sundays. Now that it’s done, she forbids the sale of this particular project: “Considering everything he built in our garage over the years, this VW V-8 impresses me the most.”
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