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THE GARAGE OF DR MOREAU
Story by Lois Grace


When I was a teenager there was a strange movie made of an HG Wells novel called "The Island of Dr. Moreau". This was in 1977, and starred Burt Lancaster in the leading role. The Wells novella, first published in 1896, had already been made into a movie in 1933 with Charles Laughton starring as the lead. There was clearly a lot of interest in the subject of the movie, as it was again remade (and badly) in movie form in 1996, with Marlon Brando. DR Moreau was a creepy scientist/doctor type, who owned his own island in the middle of a tropical nowhere. He got his jollies importing wild animals and transforming them into human/animal morphs. In other words, it was a biological nightmare that got predictably out of hand by movie's end. But the process was fascinating to watch. And, with the same weird "train wreck" interest, I've always looked at poor "genetically modified" automobiles the same way. While some of them are nicely-done and worthy of a second look (if not outright admiration), most of these blended beasts are extreme examples of chain-saw bodywork at its finest. Add a questionable engine combination, say, a Chrysler Hemi, and the result is something very worthy of The Garage of DR Moreau. This garage could be what I might imagine the good doctor might have built behind his luxurious hut on that forbidden island, to house the mutant results of his wild automotive experiments.

I have never, in my long and varied experience with the Volkswagen, seen another car so badly chopped up, mangled, and otherwise molested as the VW Bug. Of course, I wasn't around at the time to be truly involved with the craze of cutting up all those worthless Kaiser Henry J's sitting around, turning them into drag cars. When was the last time you saw one of those in its original state? Or, for that matter, as a dragster? Anyway, as I was saying, modifying happens to Buses and Ghias too - in fact, I know of a certain hapless Karmann Ghia that was melded to a Single cab to make .......EL GHIABLO. It's actually pretty cool. It takes a wonderful sort of twisted mind to create something like that. Without a doubt, the most destroyed VW model is the Beetle. Why? The answer to that one is simple: because VW Bugs were cheap and plentiful while this craze was going on. Nowadays, some Beetles can command a premium price so I doubt we'll ever see the modifying heyday the hobby saw in the 60's and 70's. And, I might add, that is a good thing. But there are examples still out there, and I wince every time I see one.

One of our own Golden Gate Chapter (VVWCA) members even went so far as to - GULP - chop a 1952 Split Window into a dune buggy......complete with huge modified engine. Now, this car was showy and had a beautiful lacquer paint job, but it was also displayed with a large sign reading "PLEASE DON'T EVER DO THIS TO A SPLIT WINDOW". Even Bob knew how wrong he'd been.

Of course, private citizens were not the only ones who did this to the poor VW. There were plenty of legitimate companies that bought VWs from the factory and then modified them into their own versions of fun. In fact, the well-known camper conversion company Westfalia might be considered such a company except they (and other camper businesses like them) actually produced and built vehicles that people wanted: campers! There were lots of different versions of VW-based campers, but they all had one thing in common and that was the fact that people bought them. There is one small exception to this phenomenon though, and that would be the small, Beetle-based, chassis mounted camper. You know the one, it looked like a regular truck camper with wheels and a Beetle face. I don't know what these were called or who built them but they were a DR Moreau dream come true. I don't think they sold well, because they seemed to disappear as fast as they arrived. Why would anyone buy a camper Bug, when they could buy a camper BUS? Someone must have been indulging a love of the SawZAll when they built this thing.

And, while we're on the subject, let's not forget the poor Rolls Royce Beetle. For some reason, someone decided it'd be fun to dress up the cheapest car on the market to look like one of the most expensive. For a tidy sum you could buy a fiberglass Rolls Royce front and rear end, and replace your hood and decklid. Presto! Instant class for your People's Car! Except that most Beetle owners thought their Bugs already had class, and the Rolls Royce kit merely made their cars look silly. The weird thing is that if you can find one of these add-on kits today, it'll cost you a fortune as they are now collectible for some reason. I'd love to know what the people who buy these kits plan to do with them. And, wouldn't it be auto abuse?

It would be impossible here to list all the variations the Beetle has gone through at the hands of either skilled or totally inept modifiers. This list is as long as the numbers of folks who think "I could do that in a weekend"! But there are a few worth mentioning, not the least of which is Bug or Bus shortening or lengthening. This fad probably started when some poor schmuck got broadsided in her Single Cab and the entire middle of her truck was totally ruined (not that I would know a thing about that). The "solution" would be to merely cut the entire middle out of the truck and then weld the two ends back together to make a "shorty truck". And, it was done to quite a few buses and trucks alike. But not mine. It was also a commonly-done thing to weld extra Bus sections into a Bus, to make it longer. Presto! An instant stretch-limo Deluxe or Kombi! Or, perhaps (as I saw once years ago) making a Beetle narrower by cutting it lengthwise down the middle and removing a foot or so. Weld the sides back together and you have a one-passenger anorexic Bug. YUCK. How awful can all this get? Don't ask.

And that's just the body modifications! It can and does get much worse when you add a radically different engine. I've been told you can put nearly any engine into a VW Bug, if you have enough saw blades, hammers, and bolts to do it. If the vehicle is a Single or Double cab, nearly anything goes! All that bed space in back won't be wasted with a big-block Chevy sitting in there! And, sometimes the really twisted types will even try this in Beetles. The car ends up with no back seat of course, because of the huge, fire-belching machinery sitting right behind the driver but who cares! It's not like you could actually talk to anyone while you were driving so you might as well be alone!

If you can't really love the odd critter, then at least pity them. They didn't ask to be transformed. They deserve our respect as Ones-Of-A-Kind. DR Moreau would not have given them any less.

VolksWoman

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