This Front-Engined, Hemi-Powered 1976 Volkswagen Beetle Is Absolutely Stunning
Goodbye, rear-mounted four-cylinder engine. Hello, front-mounted Hemi V-8.
Justin "Gus" Johnson of Lucky Gunner Garage in Conway, New Hampshire wanted to chop an old car, but he also really wanted to challenge himself in doing so. That is why he picked a Volkswagen Beetle for his "chopping" project. As Johnson wrote on the Lucky Gunner Garage website, Beetles "are one of the most difficult vehicles to chop. " The project was supposed to be a "cheap and quick budget build," but soon morphed into something more: A wild rat rod that looks pulled from the pages of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's sketchpad.
Yes, this 1976 Beetle forgoes its original rear-mounted, air-cooled four-cylinder engine for a burly front-mounted 5.7-liter "Hemi" V-8 from a 2012 Dodge Charger.
"The engine's pretty stock," the car's current owner, Brandin Greenwell of Hillsboro, Missouri, told us. Thanks to a custom intake, headers, and exhaust, the burly bent-eight makes approximately 400 hp—about 30 horses more than stock—and pushes its power to the rear wheels by way of a five-speed automatic transmission. That's plenty of power for a car that weighs less than 2,500 pounds.
Greenwell, who runs Frank Leta Auto Outlet in Bridgeton, Missouri, bought the Beetle off of Johnson after watching the project come together via Johnson's social media feed. "I kept trying to buy it off him," Greenwell said, "and finally it got to the point where he [was willing to sell it]. "
Despite its low-slung looks, the Bug is said to ride comfortably, with Greenwell noting that he regularly "drive[s] it to work." Nevertheless, he copped to losing a few engine covers on his drives. "I finally bolted this one down," he shared.
Save for a fresh coat of Audi Nardo Grey paint ("I felt like the [original] satin black [paint] almost left it unfinished looking"), Greenwell's largely avoided making any alterations to Johnson's vision. That means the car retains its hand-built frame with four-wheel-independent suspension, adjustable coil-overs at each corner, wide 18-inch wheels and tires, a set of 14-inch rotors behind each wheel, and an interior replete with bead-rolled 20-gauge steel throughout.
While Greenwell gets a kick out of driving and showing off his mean-looking Volkswagen to friends and strangers alike, his biggest joy comes from the delight the front-engined Bug brings to his one-and-a-half-year-old son, Emmett, who "loves going for rides and playing in dad's cars. "
Although Greenwell's no stranger to buying and selling custom cars (he regaled us with tales of prior vehicles he's owned, such as a supercharged Chevrolet Chevelle and an LS3-powered 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air), he has no plans of getting rid of his current toy anytime soon. "I'll probably keep it for a while," he admitted. That means if you want a Hemi-powered Beetle of your own, you'll have to go about building one yourself—or start bothering Gus Johnson to build one for you.