Putting A V8 In A Beetle’s Back Seat
Hot Rodding Roots

Volkswagen has traditionally been one of the most loved brands.

Car enthusiasts love modifying them, hippies love living in them, and little kids love spotting the older and sometimes cartoonish looking cars. Because of their following, there are a great number of interesting takes on the Beetle in particular, but this proves it hard to stand out in this particular niche of car culture. It is arguably even more difficult to stand out at SEMA, where literally every car attending is either someone’s masterpiece or an all-out attention grab.

Rob Freeman’s Berlin Buick managed to distinguish itself among the best of the best at the show. He explains that the VW is the American version of the Buick in Germany; in other words, the Buick is to Germany as the VW is to the US, hence the name of this Bug at hand.

However the Berlin Buick is probably not what most people think of when VW’s are mentioned.

This little car is unique.


For starters, the space at CleanTools Inc., where Rob Freeman’s car sat was certainly one of the most atypical. They boasted an indoor picnic area carpeted with live grass, dotted with plaid table cloths, BBQs and baskets, all centered around the stunning ‘Ginger Beer’ and ‘Tonic Brown’ painted Beetle.


I never thought I’d need to worry about shadows from a tree at SEMA, but here we are. The space was intimate and welcoming, and it didn’t take long for us to find Rob being chatted up by one (or more accurately, many) of the Beetle’s fans.


Rob explained that he was into modding cars before he even had one. He grew up in the Hot Wheels era, where he and his buddies would scheme their future car plans with their scale models.

His Dad was always into big blocks, nitrous, and side pipes, which clearly influenced the build at hand. Rob personally always had a leaning towards Bugs although he wasn’t too fond of their (lack of) speed. So, he set out to do something about it.


The team at Brown’s Metal Mods, who chopped the car’s top, ended up taking on the precarious task of mid-engine V8-swapping the car, using an all-aluminum 1961 Buick 215 for the task.


The car’s name is starting to make more sense, isn’t it?


Rob didn’t want to stretch the car to make the swap fit, which made the team’s job even more of a challenge. However, their endeavors in making the small – by American standards anyway – V8 look right at home in the Bug were successful to say the least.


Of course, you can’t put V8 power in any car without the wheels and rubber to match.

The Devil’s In The Details

From a distance, the car is the perfect amount of eye catching. At first glance, you might only notice the lower stance of the car, its polished chrome detailing, or the 4.5-inch roof chop. It’s rewarding to give a once over as you walk past, but even more so when you stop to take in the details.

With a closer look, you’ll find that the Buick theme continues beyond the V8. Bejewelled with 1957 Buick side trim, 1953 Buick Roadmaster portholes (which the exhaust sticks out of) and a 1949 Buick dashboard, Rob wasn’t messing around by naming this thing the Berlin Buick.


Despite being such a conglomeration of different odds and ends from Buick and Volkswagen, the interior, put together by Rich Perez Interiors, is so very fitting. It flows well, especially with the obvious, blaring reminder of what’s in the back seat.


It’s pure insanity, distilled in a way that somehow makes it manageable. Sort of. Maybe.


Either way, it’s builds like this that manage to be out of the box and tasteful at the same time that deserve to be at events as renowned as SEMA.

I can’t wait to see what off-the-wall build Rob creates next after seeing his vision turned into reality with the Berlin Buick.

Sara Ryan
Instagram: pockowokosara

Photography by Trevor Yale Ryan
Instagram: tyrphoto



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I'd say "tasteful" is a highly debatable choice of word in this case. I appreciate companies showing off their fab skills, but if they can't do it while keeping the car functional, is it really skill? You know these cars with the engines exposed in the cab aren't built to be driven realistically. It works as art, sure, but it's no longer a car.

Katlego Emmanuel Nkosi

i thought alot about what you are asking , i think you have a point but then again

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,


I'll leave this here for now.


By "driven realistically," I meant "for more than a quick jaunt, before the driver can't take it anymore." A fire is a pretty way to provide heat, and I can run my hand quickly through a flame without getting hurt, but it doesn't mean I'd want to hold it there.


It will always be a car. Now, it's just a show car. They exist too you know...?


And I respect most show cars for at least pretending to be a complete idea.


Good to see the Ryans double-dipping'!


That cant be legal without a firewall? Belt snaps: There goes your head. Waterhose gets loose: Deep fried driver. Exhaust leak: Suicide. Intake next to your ears: Deaf. Radiators in the car: Driving naked. Engine solid mounted: No teeth left after long trips. as she'll rattle everything apart.

All in all: This is SEMA ready, nothing else.


Not to mention - driver in front stops short, you have an aluminum block 215 V8 in your passenger compartment.

I've seen the car in person, and it is absolutely stunning. But it's a showcar only now, it's not something you'd want to take on a highway.
Still, as a showstopper, well, it stops shows.

PS - awesome to see Sara writing and TYR shooting, nice combination.


What an odd concept - modify a car to the point where it is no longer driven or able to be driven.

Really nice car that makes no sense.


Hearing protection mandatory!

Clean build.


Wow. Lots of negative comments. Everything has a purpose, and I could see this car doing more than just show duties, but its certainly not a daily driver, nor was it intended too.


Freakin awesome!


Oh look, someone built something how they wanted... Clearly he is an idiot because he didnt build it how I would have. Can I get an Amen?


I studied this car at good guys last year. High level of craftsmanship. My gripe is that, if you build a car, it has to function as a car. There is a total if 2 square feet of radiator... In the floor.


Not buying into the driving experience watching the video.......it's a custom car so respect is due if only for the work with the tape measure !


You spoke to the builder and didn't ask what type of transaxle arrangement he was using to make it work?



Forgot to include it somehow!

He used a custom built 4 speed Mendeola transaxle :)


I get the whole idea that it's a genius bit of engineering and the details help to set this apart in the world of modding, however a car's natural state and purpose is to be driven. It perturbs me deeply that a car will only ever be a trailer queen and won't ever be used as a means of transport.

My attitude stems from the first time I saw Alan Smart's VW Oval back in the early 90's, when I too had a Beetle and was very much part of the scene, and it was a work of art with chromed floor pans and detailed brake assemblies etc...until he had to fire it up and move it off its trailer. At which point 'sounding like a bag of nails' was an understatement.

My dislike for buying and building cars to be put into Museums or shows also extends to older classic cars like 250GTO's and priceless E-Types etc. It's meant to be driven so go drive it.

My heart lifts every time I watch the Goodwood Revival because this does actually happen. Multi-Million pound cars swapping paint and in 4-wheel drifts on corners. How much fun is that to watch!

Yeah, this Beetle is nice, but...it's not for me, sorry.


Dont mind if I may ask what gearbox is he running?


It's a four-speed Mendeola transaxle, custom-built setup.


Sick build!!


I don't care if it's a "show car" if it isn't driveable it's pointless, and this thing is in no way safely driveable. There are plenty of ways to show off your fabrication skills with a car that can actually be used.