How to Build a V8 Beetle
In my endeavour to come up with a sleeper streetcar with a stroker motor, I have decided to build a v8 front-engined Beetle. The VW Beetle has always been a potent 10- and 11-second car at the Santa Pod raceway numerous drag strip racing meets throughout the world. Some have even managed to crack the nine-second quarter mile. When you compare that to the times associated with the super cars on the showroom floor today, your jaw drops. How can a Beetle beat a Porsche or a Corvette down to a quarter mile? The answer is simple.
The Beetle must have a dirty, blown v8 or turbo, air-cooled VW engine. How to wedge one of those into a Beetle? This is how it's done.
This article will show you existing builds going on at present and places where you can find more information. As I commence my own build, I will try to update this article with as much information as possible to help you along. Please feel free to leave your comments at the end.
A V8 Beetle
The Tools You May Need
Here are the kind of tools that one may expect to use during the build. Some you can easily hire from a tool hire company.
- 130 amp mig welder
- Welding mask
- Welding gloves
- Welding hammer and brush
- Spanner set
- Ratchet set and extensions
- Power bar
- Torque wrench
- Fiberglass matting, resin, and hardener
- Body filler and sandpaper
- Decent hand cleaner
- Allen key set - ratchet type
- Screwdriver Set
- Spline key set - ratchet type
- Various types of sheet metal (round bar and square bar) for chassis and bodywork
- Continuity tester for electronics
- Measuring tape, set square, vernia gauge
- Spare bolts and nuts - M10 and M12
- Cutting discs and sanding discs for grinder
- Small angle grinder
- Power tools definitely help, as well as air tools if you can
- Bench mounted vice
- Bench mounted grinder and brush
- Trolley Jack - one ton
- Engine Jack/Lift - three ton
- Jack Stands- 4 to 6 - (bricks also work)
- Spray gun and compressor
- Mechanics bed for under-body work
- Piston holder clamp - changing oil rings
- Oil tray
- Plus anything that you may need to build a home workshop, such as work benches
The Plan for Building a V8 Beetle
You will need to have a basic plan in your mind, or better still on paper, to help give you some direction to build your V8 beetle. This is some of the information I have managed to compile so far.
- I have decided that I want to build a front-engined Beetle instead of the rear-engined Beetle modification, as I want the appearance to remain standard with the shell so that it can be street-legal and be used as a cruiser rather than a drag strip car. For road-worthy purposes, I thought this would be a better way to go, though it is probably going to be much more work. The beautiful red Beetle with the front engine pictured above is what I am aiming for.
The Donor Car for a Shell
- The shell will be a Beetle, we know this much. As it turns out though, the Super Beetle with the curved windscreen actually came standard with ball joint assembly on the front suspension, which may save me time and money down the line. It appears that the wheelbase is also slightly longer, which might also gave us those extra few inches for the big V8 we intend to sandwich into the engine bay.
- I have decided to source a 1973 and upwards Super Beetle to use for the shell, even though we are going to trim away much of the interior sheet metal. The king and link-pin suspension of the older Beetles is not a problem, if you already have one, as we are going to source a suitable chassis anyway which has mounting for numerous suspension components.
An Online Beetle Parts Resource
- Beetle And Bug Parts and Accessories Store - New and Old Beetle Parts and Accessories
With over 20,000 VW Beetle parts and accessories, you are bound to find something here you need for the build, including brightwork to finish off your Beetle
Ok, now some of us are not that mechanically inclined or don't have access to the correct jigs and tools in order to build our own chassis. So we have two options here:
Option 1: Use the drawing above to come up with a suitable chassis platform that we can alter and modify with components and tabs to as we go along. The benefits are being able to custom fabricate according to the components and engine/drivetrain you have chosen. The disadvantages are doing all the research and measuring to create the correct configuration and measurements for the existing shell and also your chosen components.
Option 2: Buy a used chassis for a van/truck or car that comes standard with a v8 engine/drivetrain and suspension components. We must not worry to much about it fitting correctly to the shell of our donor beetle as we are going to have to modify the chassis length anyway. Remember, the Beetle was not built to have a v8 engine.
There are also a set of chassis plans available from Rorty designs, but I have decided to build a front-engined v8 and not a rear-engined v8. You can build what ever you like.That's why they call it custom.
The rear engine bay for the Beetle is where I have decided to put the fuel tank and the radiator with fan and fan housing.
Choosing the Engine and Drivetrain
My choice was pretty simple because I found that the manufacturer with multiple v8 designs and adequate availability of spares was the trusty old Ford v8. Now, of course there are v6 and straight six alternatives, but I want a v8. You may find that close to you are BMW, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Jeep, and even a few other makes of vehicle that can be used due to their popularity. The Ford chassis was the most logical for me, due to the number of trucks and SUV's in the boneyards and scrap yards where I live. I made quite a few phone calls, but eventually found a guy who had the chassis, suspension, and wheels for a reasonable price.
The engine and gearbox were a little more complex, as I wanted to make sure that there weren't any cracks in the head or block, so decided to source an engine and gearbox from a used engine and spares company. It came with an engine mounting, which can easily be modified if not for the same chassis.
I found this drawing showing a Chevy S10 chassis, the layout of the components, and most importantly a strengthener in the form of a 10 point roll cage. For cosmetic reasons, I won't be using a 10 point roll cage. I decided to build support into the shell so that it can be removed in one piece if necessary.
Complete V8 Beetles
Please feel free to comment and leave your thoughts
I know that VW purists will be upset, but I still believe that the Cal Look culture has kept the vintage Beetle alive and well for over 50 years. I would love to hear if anyone is planning any other project builds form home, even if it's a 29 Ford or 41 Willys Coupe, or even a track T kit car.
Mike B on June 19, 2020:
Enjoyed your site I am building one right now Chop Top suicide doors custom-built frame air ride with an L 83 motor and a 9 inch narrowed Ford rear end thank you for the insight
Mike on November 21, 2019:
The chassis ideas will help me fo the original idea of a front engine dune buggy. A question I have is is there room underneath in the frame to turbo charge a v6?
Lachlan on December 24, 2017:
Hi, just wondering if anyone had thought of using an A model ford chassis for the beetle conversion, and if so, how would you go about it?
al on October 21, 2017:
try an opel,they are good cars and you see them at junkyards alot.
Mike Luhm on September 30, 2017:
Chandler, thinking the same thing. The wheelbase is close. Tire to tire width is a little wider than a ghia body, Stock wheels anyways. since the Foxbody is subframes, I thing the idea is there, but thinking something like a ranger frame might be better. Especially since there is a large ranger conversion following out there.
Chandler on August 02, 2017:
has anybody ever used a foxbody mustang subframe on a bug before? shortened and whatnot...
rick on July 01, 2017:
where do I start. I have a 66 baja and I think it would be great to take out the engine and put a v8 in the front. what would be the total price on everything putting a v8 in my baja. Any suggestions would help and where I can go and any websites.
thanks rick from Michigan firstname.lastname@example.org
Rich Blain on February 06, 2017:
I am starting my 1998 beetle v8 project. I have a sb 350 and 350 turbo trans on an altered drag chassis. My IFS will need to be moved forward along with my engine.I will probably install a flat floor after bracing the body and then remove the stock floor via plasma cutter. This will allow me to lower the body over the frame.I'll try to keep posting.
Marc Balzac on January 28, 2017:
this is how THE MASTER -- JOHN SIPES (first comment) did it: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3qCgp-hR1v9a0hrc... ‘66 FUNNY BUG article in ROD AND CUSTOM
Raul on January 28, 2017:
Hello, I'm interested in getting more info on the best chassis to use for a vw v8 front engine swap?
Michael on January 19, 2017:
My kids and I have been working on a 1971 VW super beetle and we are making it in to a front engine v8. I was trying to figure out how much you have to cut out on a s10 frame to make it work under the bug. Any help will be greatful. thanks Michael@ email@example.com.
Marc Balzac on August 25, 2016:
thanks John Sipes – The Grandfather of the VW-V8 -- saw your post from 6 years ago...as a teenager, your ‘66 FUNNY BUG article in ROD AND CUSTOM inspired me to build my own on a shoestring budget...your simple and practical design utilizing the existing front and rear suspension simplified the build...with a ’53 Split Window from a local dealer -- for $50 less engine, and a ’55 Chevy drive train I was on my way...couldn’t afford to have the rear end shortened...took me a year and I got it up and running, and then sold it to a neighbor who was drafted shortly afterwards -- his father junked the car while he served...fifty years later I wish I still had that stock split window – loved that car...
George Ocegueda on July 25, 2016:
I have a 1966 VW type 3 Squareback that I would love to convert to a V6 or V8. I'm stuck on what chasis is best to use for this project. Any help appreciated. Text me 818-536-9268 or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael B. on April 22, 2016:
I have a gm 350 rear mounted on a VW trike. It has a scoop built under the motor to direct air flow to a rear-mounted radiator. I'm having problems with overheating. I was able to track down the original builder who lives in Georgia ol boy told me that it has always run a little hot. Originally it had a 283 I just had the new 350 put in could use some thoughts and ideas on what size radiator and electric fan would adequately cool this monster. I already realize I'll probably have to modify the cage in the back to accommodate any larger requirements. My email is email@example.com
V8 Square on April 02, 2016:
catmanric: Depending on where you are located. I may have just the thing for you.
catmanric on November 09, 2015:
looking at building a 68 v8 beetle any help would be appreciated...
sacramnto on September 28, 2015:
J_swanberg122@yahoo.com for the smog info on a pre 75 Volkswagen v8 conversion
William Swanberg on September 28, 2015:
if you have a pre 75 Volkswagen with a pre 75 engine will you have to smog it?
uthman gana on September 03, 2015:
i want to build a front bug with v6 engine, i need imformation on how to go about it
Rob on January 04, 2015:
It has always been a dream of mind to build a rear V8 setup. I have the book from way back that shows the Kelmark design. I never had the $$$ to build anything and I first started with my love for a 29 Ford sedan. Just never happened and with all the baby boomers the price nowadays is very high. I would like to purchase a rear V8 engine bug that is complete. I'm concerned that this also maybe out of my league. Do you know if the rear V8 can run without over heating? If I did go with a front engine can the bug retain a stock look? I'm 66 now and I think the VW bug is my only option. Do you know of any sites that highlight rear engine swaps? I would like to thank you for posting your ideas and story.
Charles on December 29, 2014:
We built a mid-engine bug in the 80s, no back seat, removable doghouse for show time. Needed the doghouse for driving, NOISE. Good luck.
Smitty on August 21, 2014:
You want a good way to put a V8 in your bug then try using a 55-56-57 Chevy chassis. The width is perfect and all you need to do is shorten the wheelbase. It is like it was made for it. Trust me I have one and it worked out perfect.
Rocky on November 09, 2013:
I am in the beginning stages of building a V8 VW engine in the front. What I have is 327/300 hp 400 auto w/3000 stall, 95 Mustang 4 link posi rear, and 78 Mustang 2 front suspension. Building the frame out of 2x4 tube steel. I have a 72 VW Super. firstname.lastname@example.org
Dale Nelson (author) from South Africa on September 01, 2012:
Hi Ray, It is indeed the best two tone color scheme I managed to find an it was a pleasure showing your bug to inspire more conversions in such an awesome platform like a vw bug.
Thanks for reading
Ray Hale on August 22, 2012:
Glad you like my project to fashion your project by... My bug is the Black/Red bug at the beginning of the thread.
Dustin Malone on March 23, 2012:
Im wanting to build a v8 bug but i dont have a clue in the world how to build one.So if anybody whould like to help or send pics to me im out in Georgia so just hit me up 678-409-7330 just text some pics on the frames and give me an idea thanks A lot.
aaron houghton on December 25, 2011:
AWESOME!!!!! I always wondered if anyone did anything this crazy! wanted to send the idea in to Monster garage just to see what it could do!Here i find a fleet of em!keep pushing the boundaries!
Dale Nelson (author) from South Africa on November 29, 2011:
Sounds like quite an awesome suspension package Jeffrey. Bet the weight distribution is going to give some great handling especially with a purpose made chassis. Great choice.
Jeffrey on November 28, 2011:
Building mine from Chris Alstons Chassis Works parts with Strange front struts and a four link. They have all the parts including the cage to build a fast V8 Bug.
kevin Gilliam on October 31, 2011:
Very cool site.I have always loved the VW bug and have built several different one off VW's. My personal Bug is powered by a 2005 Viper SRT-v10.
james on October 14, 2011:
i have a 68' baja beetle that im converting into a front engine v8 ive got a 68 gmc 327 im putting in it awesome build tho
Frank Scholtz on September 20, 2011:
Hi i like to start build VW beatle with 302 ford v8.If you can give me more information chassis firewall and floor and fueltank in old engine compartment at back Kind regards Frank
Jeffrey on September 06, 2011:
I will be building a chassis from Chris Alston, they already make a full cage for a bug and they can mix and match parts to come up with a sub six second chassis kit for 2,295 dollars in chromoly steel. My version will have a twin turbo small block chevy power glide and ford nine inch rear end.
Tony Cuzzetto on July 14, 2011:
i love the bug ,and have always want'd to v8 a beetle have built 3 other bugs done up for ofroad but always full bug body on them.this may very well be my next project .nice to see others are doing this so cool thank nyou all
todd on May 07, 2011:
hello has any one got a real frame ? ill be making one soon or call me at 1 608 306-2467 looking 4 a full tube chassis 8.5 class i now have a vw that runs a 9.20 at 148mph and looking to make it a turbo car that will run the 7 so if u can help let me know ty todd
manuel on March 14, 2011:
Nice site !!!
manuel on March 14, 2011:
Nice site !!!
Dale Nelson (author) from South Africa on June 21, 2010:
Hi There Mr Sipes.
Truly honored to have youy stop by and read. It seems that the Subaru engined rear mounted bug is taking off now. It seems better to keep the nose down with a front mounted v6 or v8 though.Amazing that it was first done nearly 50 years ago.
John Sipes on June 17, 2010:
I built the first V8 VW in 1963, it was featured in Hot Rod, Rod and Custom, and other mags like the Hot Rod pictorial in 1966 as the Volksvette. First front engined V8 VW. Won over fifty shows ans was sent to Europe for the Paris show in 1968 and was on display at VW and Porsche plants. I have no idea where it is now, anyone know?