Chopped and dropped, this air-suspended Beetle was a long time coming, but well worth waiting for…
Words & photography: Steve “autoholic” Edwards
Model: Emma Mowbray of Quick Draw Tattoo, Bury
Like many people reading this, Mark Thomson looked forward every month, after May 1979, to the latest issue of Street Machine, hoping that one day he’d get something as cool. Mark’s Dad, Albert, was a barber, and trained his son before dispatching him to a department store called Kendall’s to do an apprenticeship in their hairdressing department. That meant there was a plethora of magazines and periodicals that Mark could get his hands on with ease, but one stood out from the crowd as just… cooler. It was this very publication that inspired him to venture into the world of customising, and his Dad’s car was to be the recipient of the workings of a young lad’s fevered imagination.
The car in question was a Morris Marina coupe that had been finished in BL’s Blaze Orange paint, quite desirable today, and was the first car Albert had ever brought brand new. While he and Mark’s Mum, Doreen, were on holiday, Mark decided to add some cool looking flame decals he’d seen advertised in some magazine or other to the front wings. He also thought the shiny chrome grille and wing mirrors, which were options back in the day, could use a touch of matt black so he sprayed them up. Needless to say that, on their return, Mark’s parents were not too impressed by their son’s efforts and things on the car returned to normal in short order, which is more than can be said for Mark as, from that day on, he’d embarked on a path from which there was no turning back.
Mark has always had a fondness for Beetles and has owned a few along the way. He’d always kept them stock, but he’d always had one particular idea that had percolated in the back of his mind for quite some time. The cars he bought just never felt right for it, but one day, whilst chatting with a customer, he found the perfect candidate. Mark is still cutting hair and has his own shop in Haslingden, Lancashire, called, appropriately enough, Thomson & Co (thomsonbarbers.co.uk). The car for sale was a 1972 1303 Super Beetle that had been painted in a lovely purple, which Mark thought would make a cool car for his wife, Jane. He wasn’t put off that the vehicle had been stood for seven years, and so a deal was done.
It was about that time that a specialist in VW fabrication came to prominence on the scene – Denis Cunliffe, of Slambassador. The Slambassador crew, who are based in Skelmersdale and can be found on Facebook, have been building some rather unusual VWs for a few years now. One of their first builds was a stunning bare metal chopped Beetle that featured open wheels and was sans glass, including the windscreen. They also built the first ever air-cooled VW T4 Transporter, which saw them add a normally water-cooled T4 body to a lengthened Beetle chassis – this featured in issue #7, back in January ’18. This van divided opinion on all sides, with air-cooled purists saying it was a waste of an engine and the T4 fans decreeing the body should have been put to better use.
Whichever camp you stand in, there is no denying that the job was a triumph of engineering prowess and showcases the company’s work to great effect. Recently Denis has resurrected a Bay window that had been fire damaged; it’s now back on the road but the exterior looks just like it did after the flames had been extinguished, with a little lacquer thrown on to stop the rust getting worse. After seeing Denis’ work, Mark knew he was the guy to execute the plan he had for a mobile billboard, and now he had the perfect car to do it with. He dispatched the Beetle he’d earmarked for Jane to be transformed into something quite different.
Fortunately, the engine, even though it had been standing for nearly a decade, started right up, but was treated to a gentle rebuild just to make sure. There was a fair amount of fabrication to do and the Slambassador crew did what they do best: ensuring that the Bug was lowered as close to the road as possible. That purple paint was removed, some Moon discs chucked on, and Mark then had the car signwritten for his shop, some Herbie-esque stripes added and lacquered over the bare metal. He ran this for a while – you can see photos on Mark’s Instagram account, “themodbarber”, along with some other cool shots of his other interests, bikes, scooters and, of course, haircuts.
After receiving an offer he just couldn’t refuse, the car was sold on, but still at the back of his mind was that original idea he’d had as a kid just nagging away at him. He returned to Slambassador to discuss his requirements, which this time included the roof chop that he’d envisioned all those years ago. Denis located a suitable vehicle close to his HQ, and it was duly purchased and taken into the workshop. The car’s engine was replaced with a 1,600cc unit that was rebuilt by Andy Pearce of Castle Air Cooled Services, as Mark wanted to make sure he had reliability to get where he needed to be, as well as arriving there in style.
While the chop was taking place, a full interior had been found, which included door cards and seats, but they were in dire need of recovering. Luckily, Mark knew someone he hoped could help and approached Andy Riley, an upholsterer and furniture designer at Den Living. Andy doesn’t do cars but agreed to help Mark out as he’d done a couple of sofas for him in the past and really liked the idea that Mark had for the Hot Rod red interior. As luck would have it, Andy just happened to have an amount of suitable material that had been destined for a Fifties-style diner, but the order had been cancelled. The Beetle seats were re-foamed for comfort and covered in the gorgeous new material, stitched in a design reminiscent of the one the Bug left the factory with.
Mark had wanted the roofchop to look as factory as possible, and, of course, Denis didn’t disappoint. Mark then had the glass, including the windscreen, cut down so that they fitted perfectly, but the safety hallmarks were retained. Some Satin Black paint was laid on the car, and it was then used as a test bed for Slambassador’s own air ride system. This was wired up, along with a custom loom for the entire car, by Iain Burns of Aircooled Auto Elec. Full details of the suspension setup are not currently available, but there is a cool air tank on the parcel shelf – if you fancy the setup on your Beetle, give Slambassador a shout, tell them Street Machine sent you, and they’ll hook you up.
When the car is de-aired – which is apparently what the cool kids say these days – it looks as tough as nails and has impressed so much that it has already taken a couple of trophies on its first outings. A Top 25 at Fitted UK 2017, one of the largest indoor car shows in the UK where places are limited and have to be applied for, and Best Custom in Show at The Volkswagen Northwest Club’s Tatton Park 2017 show, which is one of the largest one-day VW shows in the country. With no plans to sell this one, Mark is planning on keeping and using this gorgeous Beetle, that was nearly 40 years in the making, for a long time to come. It just shows you should never give up on your dreams as they might just pay off in the end. All you need is a little patience.
1972 Volkswagen Beetle
- Satin Black
- Standard 1600cc engine
- Centerline Auto Drags 15″ wheels
- 155/60R15 front, 185/65R15 rear tyres
- Slambassador air suspension, www.slambassador.com