Patina is a bit of a controversial choice among the automotive community. Defined literally, patina is a sheen produced by age or wear. Defined a little bit more loosely, it’s a look both created and earned with time.
The merit of a patina build is often dismissed simply because many regard it as the easy way out. An effort to simply side step the cost, time and dedication involved in a full-scale restoration.
I don’t mean to downplay or undervalue restorations – I like a great deal of them – but some of the best I’ve ever seen very rarely see the light of day. Is existence, simply as a reference point for perfection, a better state for a vehicle to be in?
That’s a bit of a rhetorical question, I suppose, but I don’t think any of us will argue that cars are better enjoyed when they are driven. Whether it’s a race car or a cruiser, vehicles deserve to be in motion.
To the best of his abilities, John Ludwick Jr. likes to put all of his vehicles back into motion. Some builds may take longer than others, but they all eventually hit the street again.
John always places preservation over restoration. As such, cars that start with a high level of polish maintain it, while the ones that start with dented and corroded metal continue to tell their stories.A BMW What?
You’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of a BMW 700 before; they were produced for a somewhat short period from 1959 to 1965. Reports vary, but around 180,000 were made, but far, far fewer exist in any form today.
Were they the ultimate driving machine? Perhaps not, but the humble 700 had quite an impact on the longevity of the BMW roundel all the same.
Post-war era BMW wasn’t in good financial standing. Their flagship vehicles at the time were the 507 roadster and 503 coupe. Great looking cars to be fair, but a swing and a miss from a sales perspective. Compared to forever rival Mercedes-Benz’ 300SL, the 50X model vehicles simply cost too much.
In the late-’50s, Wolfgang Denzel – who helmed Denzel, Austria’s BMW distributor – approached BMW with a plan to save the company from worsening financial crisis. The idea was to create and market a suitable replacement for the quirky, but well-loved Isetta.
The ethos was a small, efficient car priced within reach of a larger audience.
Denzel tasked Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti to pen the shape of the 700. Three models were created: a sedan, a sportier coupe, and a convertible, each powered by a dual-cylinder air-cooled motor that borrowed much of its foundation from BMW’s then current line of motorcycle engines.
The BMW 700 debuted at the 1959 Frankfurt Auto Show to a considerably favorable reception. It sat rather perfectly between the small Isetta and BMW’s new water-cooled sedan at the time, the
The atypical rear-engined BMW was a hit, with 25,000 orders placed immediately following its debut. But despite playing a considerable part in making BMW the household name it is today, the 700 has more or less vanished from the streets.
So much so, that to this day I have never seen a single one in person.Digging For Treasure
The same was true for John Ludwick Jr.; the 1960 700 he now owns is the first he’d ever seen. Prior to his stewardship, the car belonged to a fairly well known, eccentric, New Hampshire local. On this individual’s property sits hundreds of cars, most European, and even more emphatically not for sale.
Not overly welcoming to strangers, Mr. Eccentric measures all of his interactions with others on their authenticity. Should you be genuinely interested in the vehicles he presides over, he just might let you into his good graces.
On his initial visits to the property John was careful not to overstep his welcome; he simply enjoyed what he was privy to see and the stories the elderly gentleman (whom is a talented retired mechanic) had to share.
It was only when a mutual friend ventured into the collection a little deeper was the 700 discovered. John’s genuine shock and awe that the car was there in New Hampshire was enough for the owner to humor his intentions for the vehicle. Had John not promised to bring the car back operable, and not resell it or part it out, he might not own it today.
Returning cars from the brink of destruction is something John Ludwick Jr. and his father John Ludwick Sr. are rather good at.
But as physically small as it is, the 700 would test their ability from the very start. Simply getting the car home to their hobby shop proved to be an undertaking in itself.
It had been sitting for such a long time that the earth had ideas of reclaiming it entirely. And on top of the ecosystem that existed around and inside the car, it was surrounded by a half dozen other inoperable vehicles in the same state of disrepair. Extraction had to be done extremely carefully.
Ludwick Sr. owned a towing company for years and his skills were called upon to guide the removal process. Armed with plywood, bottle jacks, dollies, gas-powered air compressors, weed trimers and ratchet straps, a careful reverse game of Tetris ensued until the 700 was in a position to be removed.Coloring Outside The Lines
In total, the extraction took a day and a half, and the result of their efforts was a car that was far beyond any sort of standard restoration. Most of the 700’s floor remained where it once sat; rust had taken its toll on the unibody structure and any rigidity the car once had was gone.
But John was pretty certain this would be the case, and had both conceptualized and committed to the idea of putting the BMW on a Volkswagen Beetle pan long before his name was on the title.
Like all good plans, this was one that was simple on paper, but much more involved in execution. 700 coupes are very, very small vehicles.
Placing the wheels where they ought to be under the fender arches required shortening the ’68 Volkswagen Beetle pan by 13-inches in total.
But the 700 isn’t just diminutive in length; it’s quite small in every direction, including its width.
Even with a beam narrowed 2-inches, stock Beetle wheels wouldn’t fit under the standard 700 arches. Despite its patina status, fender flares of any sort would have been blasphemous, so the wheels were modified to fit the car rather than vice versa.
The steel Beetle wheels first had their centers cut out on a brake lathe. The Ludwicks then designed and fabricated a ‘face press’ that allowed them to push the centers forward in the barrel until the desired look was achieved.
The final specs are 15×4-inch up front and 15×5.5-inch in the rear; offset measures out about +66 all around. A wheel balancer was used as a truing stand before the wheels were final-welded, and the run-out was so minimal they can be run without wheel weights.
Mating the chassis and wheels to the body was not as simple as four body mounts and a bit of rubber for bushings. The structure of the 700 long gone, a square tube frame was built around the inner perimeter.
Non-existent rocker panels were reformed on a metal brake. The same brake was used to create filler panels from the Beetle pan to the BMW shell and the firewall.
When it came to driver ergonomics, the 700’s footprint once again proved a challenge. In order to create legroom for the driver and passenger, the seats were pushed back nearly to the rear of the car.
The steering column was extended 20-inches, and bomber-style seats were added.
Similar to his Corvair, John took a rather simplistic, function-first approach to the interior. Starting with the important bits, the car was entirely rewired by Ludwick Sr. to ensure hassle-free driving for all of the road trips to come.
Miraculously, the original door panels were still intact enough to be kept, after a bit of clean up of course.
Between the seats, in a custom-made console, sits an Air Lift Performance 3P controller. The car is never driven too high off the ground, but the ability to lift it over obstacles and for service has certainly made it more usable.
Putting the car on air required a fair bit of fabrication front and rear, but given everything that was already done, items like rear cross-members, sectioned tie-rods and shock mounts, bag mounts and air management almost seem like footnotes.
The 700 was always a light car, so in that regard nothing extreme was required under the engine cover.
As a result, a 1,500cc single-port VW engine sits where the BMW motor once lay, with a nicely tucked exhaust snaking out from under the bumper.
Nods to John’s appreciation for classic BMWs exist through the vehicle by way of custom laser-engraved classic BMW logos. Their usage is subtle and helps things like the Volkswagen Type 2 steering wheel look right at home in front of the BMW speedometer.900 Hours & Running
The 700 came together in around 900 hours invested over the course of three months. Neither John or his father build cars for a living, so a lot of hustle and grit was put into this car’s creation. Much like his Corvair, John credits his dad for being an unfailing source of inspiration.
Despite being very much an enthusiast of ’60s Americana, Ludwick Sr. has been nothing but supportive of his son’s ideas. But what father could really turn down the opportunity to create vehicles as unique as this?
As a father myself, I’m sure John Sr. loves every time John Jr. gives him a call and asks, ‘Hey Dad, what are you up to tomorrow?’.
John has since driven the car a rather considerable amount. It was completed for the 2019 Alpine VAG Fair, has cruised the strip in Ocean City and of course all around New Hampshire.
The 700’s most important trip, however, was back down the road it was once traveled by trailer. John made good on his promise while creating something incredibly unique at the same time. The previous owner isn’t know to smile much, but on that day he most certainly did.
Photos by Keiron Berndt