Extreme Dream: Roof Chopped, Bare Metal 1965 Volkswagen Beetle
Words: Karle Sangster Photography: Luke Ray.
The Volkswagen Beetle has been around since the late thirties, and since then they’ve been modified, customized, chopped up and souped up in almost every way imaginable by enthusiasts from all corners of the globe. But every now and then a Beetle comes along that is so unique and outstanding that makes you do a double take, scratch your head and go in for a closer inspection. It takes a person with amazing craftsmanship and vision, not to mention care and patience (and more than a few scraped knuckles), to turn out a stand-out, one-of-a-kind Bug that lies between the borders of automobile and art like the one you see gracing these next few pages. Sadly the original builder, Allen Birotti passed away a year before this shoot, and although we have plenty of build pictures and lists of modifications, it was not possible to get any further insight into the construction of the car. This car could have easily disappeared forever, but after a bit of journalistic digging and a three thousand kilometre drive by Luke to get the shoot, we found Greg Danis AKA Grumpy in South Australia in possession of the car. So finally, Fuel Magazine sheds some light on Pagan Dreaming for the first time….
Allan had an idea of what type of Beetle he would build, and within only six months the rust bucket ’65 he started with has come a long way to become what I consider to be one of Australia’s best undiscovered custom Volkswagen.
On the exterior he meticulously grafted an oval window from a '50s Beetle and replaced the deck lid with a matching W-lid. He shaved all the trim, tail lights and indicators, leaving only the door handles, the only exterior hint that the car was originally built from a later model. Porsche headlight grills cover where the headlights are supposed to go, but the headlight buckets have been cut off all together to create more clearance on this menacingly low car.
But the most obvious exterior modification would have to be the extreme roof chop done to the car, with four inches taken out from the back and a whopping six inches chopped at the front. In most chopped beetles the builder usually deletes the vent windows in the front doors and opts for a one-piece window setup, but interestingly the vent windows were also chopped and fitted to the doors on this car. The whole body is left in bare metal and finished with Ankor Wax, giving the car that raw, bare bones appeal that no expensive paint job could replicate.
In comparison the interior is painted black, but the same raw aesthetic continues inside the car as well. The door cards, headliner, floor mats and rear seats have been removed, revealing more of the car that is usually covered by vinyl. The front seats are replaced by more a more comfy pair and to round off the interior modifications is a nice sports steering wheel.
The car is powered by a 1776 that only travelled two hundred kilometers before the car changed hands. Built with a brand new dual oil relief crankcase, the engine runs a scat counterweight crankshaft, Mahle pistons and Empi cylinder heads with high rev valve springs installed. It mixes fuel through a single DCN14 Italian Webber and ignition comes from a 009 dizzy with electronic points. A Messa style oil cooler and fan, lightened flywheel and a very loud Empi header rounds off a sporty engine that would suit daily driving as well as a bit of grunt under your feet when you’re in the mood.
Now to further accentuate the chopped roofline, Allan lowered the car extremely, almost to the point of undriveable. The front set up runs a six inch adjustable narrowed beam and drop spindles with a set of very rare Maico disc brakes that were eventually taken out before the car was sold to Grumpy (he’s got a set tucked away anyways!). The entire rear suspension including the rear torsion set-up, engine and transmission cradle has been cut and shut to raise the rear into the body a further four inches, allowing the car to acquire its current stance.
As you have read, there are a lot of difficult modifications made on this car that would require intense planning and work to get it to the stage that is now, and even more credit is due to Allen for building this car in only six months! His mum and step-father said that he would lock himself in the shed for fourteen hours a day, seven days a week for that whole six months, and it’s that kind of commitment that goes to show what a dedicated and talented builder Allan was.
The car was auctioned off only weeks before Allan passed away and that was when the car changed hands to its current owner Grumpy. A Volkswagen veteran of over thirty years, Grumpy added Pagan Dreaming to an already impressive collection consisting of a ’55 Oval-window that he saved from the wrecking yard back in 1980, a ’66 splitty panel van, a couple buggies, ’61 Mk10 Jaguar, XC Falcon, a bunch of '70s Galaxies and a heap of assorted Volkswagens from the '60s and '70s.
“I suppose the reason I bought the car is”, Grumpy explains, “as a young fella, I was into my VW’s big time. Low budget though, so I was always salvaging, scrounging, searching, making, creating - bit's and pieces for my cars. Some things worked, some didn't, but point is I was having a crack. Sometimes I saved a lot of money buy doing it myself. Sometimes I blew a shit load on things that didn't work. It was all a very valuable learning curve in the appreciation of just what is required to build a car from scratch, to make a silk purse from a sow's ear so to speak. Temperament, inspiration and persistence are major factors of any build; I think most blokes would agree with that.”
“I had a number of project's on the go back then and my head was full of crazy idea's that I didn't have the time or money to pursue. I had always wanted to build a chopped oval, and have spent a lot of time over the years contemplating the Lines and the technique as there are many, many schools of thought on chopping roofs (especially on Beetles). So, when I saw this car that Allan had built, I was completely blown away. It was pretty much exactly what I had pictured in my head for all these years and as I said, I realised and appreciated just how much time, effort and thought has gone into this car. I suppose you could say I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. The lines are just so clean and right.”
He plans to eventually get the car semi-roadworthy so it can be taken to shows with IRS and disc brakes mentioned as future modifications, but at its current state it is so wild and low it’s undrivable without damaging something. And why did Grumpy name the car Pagan Dreaming? Well historically Germany was heavily intertwined in Paganism thousands of years ago, and as Grumpy said, “this thing is that far over the edge, it's in an unattainable, unbelievable place”.
It is unfortunate that Allan is not here to see the wonderful car he built finally featured in a magazine for the world to appreciate, but I think we would all agree that the world lost another fine builder the day Allan passed. And as for Pagan Dreaming, I think he’s (or she?) is in safe and capable hands with Grumpy and I’m sure he’ll do Allan’s vision justice.
This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 06.