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VW Jolly Beach Bug

  • Built in 1961 by Sonauto
  • Prototype
  • Beach Car



It was in 1961 that Sonauto, at the time the French import firm for Porsche and VW, transformed the sedan into a Beach Bug. The car was next offered to Mr Gras, 1st Porsche distributor on the French Riviera in 1963. The car quickly gained the role of promoting the image of the dealership and spent several years moving around customers and spare parts.
When in 2005, Seb got his hands on the car, he hardly knew what or where he was getting into. After heavy searching, he found out the beetle was a prototype, some kind of test, a prequel for VW to a potential production, in order to compete with the Fiat Jolly concept.
He decided then to give back its pride to the long forgotten beauty of which only a few trim parts seemed salvable since the car was deeply rotten.
The restoration really began with the lucky meeting of Leo, a retired Spanish basket maker who took on the challenge of making the seats, giving his word on a very nice and exotic result. He had to use all his knowledge to be able to work from old pics as only the seat frame had been saved since the previous owner replaced the basket seats with a red interior from another car.
The off the pan bodywork started while the seats were in Spain. The car looked ok at first, with not too many rust points. Thus, Seb decided to sandblast it. Ouch! Bad news. Came out. It took many hours of metal work, shaping, reshaping, welding, etc, to replace, fill, repair, adjust and readjust the body parts. The car was not only injured from the rust but also from a multiplicity of accidents. The car needed floor pans, the complete heat channels, fenders, hoods, aprons, all rear piece behind and below the rear seats, door post work (even if and because there ain’t no doors), rear and front body alignment as they were twisted from accident crashes… It would have been easier to start of another bug and cut through it.
Once the puzzle was completed, it was time to look for the missing/stolen/replaced through the years bits. For example, the original 55 tail lights were replaced in 62 by the newer style, considered at the time as far more modern and beautiful…
Every detail got its place back on the car, such as the convertible oval rear lid, with its vertical vents and its typical dual water catchers. A smoothed in grill is added to the top of the rear luggage compartment to replace an ugly square hole and its ugly and misadjusted aluminium grill.
The electrical harness is entirely redone to allow the 12V conversion. A new flashing unit is made to include warning lights.
The brakes are updated to fit today’s security standards. Drums from a 1200 are fitted on the rear axle, wider than the originals. A self built front disc kit that allows a small enlargement compared to other kits takes place on the adjustable and 6 cm narrowed front beam which keeps its original suspension posts.
Even lowered, the car can go almost everywhere, up and down the curbs, and is very fun to drive. It is only the absence of doors and seat belts and the flatness of the basket seats that actually prevent the driver from hard driving and cornering. The car’s lightness gives accelerations and handling close to those of a 356 or a Dune Buggy. The original moulded stand and split case were replaced by a later 8×35 and Mexican single ported 1600 dressed as an early 356 block. They are now resting quietly and safely on a shelf.
The choice of 4 ½ and 5 ½ UK BRMs was obvious as these wheels were an option from the 60ies. The front 135 narrow tires and rear 185 give the car a slight rake and an old school racy look, accentuated by the red line walls.
The Beryl Green is dated from 1961, when the car was modified. Sprayed inside and outside, it fits perfectly with the lighter colour of the cotton canvas top, the original white parts and the natural fibres used for the upholstery. The original aluminium door trims are re-polished and the chromes are re-chromed. They highlight with elegance this projects in the pure early 60ies style. The chassis is painted black and covered with anti-gravel paint underneath.
Too bad Sonauto and VW never agreed on mass producing such a car. We would have loved to see more of these “crab baskets” on our roads, beaches and shows.

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