Custom Beetles aren’t for everyone – people tend to either love them or, if not quite hate them, certainly steer well clear of them.
Matt Turner fell squarely into the former camp when he first experienced a friend’s lowered Bug as a teenager in his native Torbay.
“It was the first custom Beetle I had been in – beforehand, I’d looked at them as this funny little German car from the Herbie films,” he says.
“I remember being in the passenger seat, really low to the ground with a little grab handle on the dash, whizzing around the Bay with the stereo on. It was like being in a go-kart. I was hooked.”
While his first car was, “shamefully” (his word) an Austin Metro, he quickly moved on and bought his first VW at the age of 18, a 1973 Beetle 1303S.
”I joined a local club and went cruising around the south west,” he says, speaking from his home in Surrey, where he moved 16 years ago with his wife Laura. “It was a nice car, it went really well, but I had an accident and wrote that off.”
The couple met in Devon, where Laura was at college, and of course a Beetle played a part in their early romance, the pair meeting through a mutual friend.
“I took her and her friend out for a drive, just cruising in the Bay,” he remembers. “I had a 1959 Beetle at the time.
“She’s not into cars at all though, even less so now she realises how much time and money I spend on them!”
Not only does Matt, now 37, own and work on five of his own VWs, but he also works full time for air-cooled VW and Porsche specialist Beetlelink.
After leaving school, Matt started an electrical apprenticeship before moving into restaurant management in the tourist-focused English Riviera.
On moving to Surrey, he worked in landscaping for 10 years before being made redundant about seven years ago.
“I’d always done mechanical work on VWs and I’d used Beetlelink occasionally for work,” he says, landing a job with the garage which has been “really busy” since an enforced lockdown closure.
Turned dad from the dark side
“I’ve always been into cars, and from a young age I helped clean my dad’s cars. He was always into Fords, but I’ve turned him from the dark side and he’s now a VW man.”
On moving to Surrey, and getting married, Matt switched from air-cooled to a Golf GTD 130PD.
“I sold the Beetle for a grown up car, and regretted it,” he says. “But at that point I was going down to Devon and seeing friends and family once a month – now it’s twice a year if I’m lucky.”
It wasn’t too long before Matt added a Type 25 camper to the Golf though, “a craving for surfing” the motivation, followed by a 1972 hot rod-style black Beetle.
The Golf was sold “while it was still worth quite a bit”, and two Porsches, a 924 and a 944, came and went along the way, while the T25 was replaced four years ago by the 1966 split screen you see in these pictures.
It’s an ongoing, rolling restoration project, Matt working his way around it while also using it for family camping holidays, towing an Eriba Puck caravan for extra space.
“It’s very small for a family of four, though it does make it even slower,” he says, with daughter Lily, 13, and son Alfie, 10, joining their parents on trips to the south west.
“We go away a few times a year for family breaks and bank holidays, and I’ve been over to the Isle of Wight for a mate’s wedding.
Rock and roll bed
“I use it quite often for nights out as well. I’ve gone round a mate’s to have a few drinks and slept in it – the rock and roll bed is more comfortable than a spare bed or a sofa.
“I’ve stuck a Christmas tree on the top, used it to take stuff down the tip, all that sort of stuff.”
Matt made sure all the mechanicals were sound before starting on the bodywork, sorting out the brakes, steering and reconditioning the gearbox.
“I’ve done one side of the bodywork – I’m doing it in dribs and drabs,” he says.
The ‘62 Beetle, meanwhile, may look a little tatty, but it was bought five years ago from a work colleague as a finished project.
“It’s been completely restored, but has got a lot of original paint patina on it,” says Matt. “Some new paint has been blended in so it doesn’t look like it’s been painted. Underneath, the floorpan and chassis have been freshly painted.”
The car belonged to a Beetlelink customer who never got round to having it restored, leaving it languishing in the garage’s yard for about 10 years.
“My colleague bought it off the customer and decided to do it up as a Christmas project,” says Matt. “We were chatting throughout the whole project. I would stay back in the evenings, and had an interest in it straight away.
“The guy who did it just likes doing the project – he doesn’t like driving the cars or anything. He hasn’t even driven it once!”
As the rebuild progressed, Matt started thinking about how he could buy the car on completion.
“I fancied an early Beetle again – it reminded me of my ‘59, so I sold the 944 to fund it, and paid £8,000 for it once it was finished,” he says. “It was kind of about right for the market value, but it’s almost like I’ve paid really cheap for someone to restore a car for me. To have that work done the labour would have been £20-£30,000, and I got to see the whole process.”
In the years since, the 1200cc Beetle has been used sparingly, taken to the occasional show and for runs out in good weather.
“It’s my baby really – I’m not going to get rid of that one,” he says. “It’s a matching numbers engine and it’s gone down a bit on compression, so for my peace of mind I want to check all the tolerances. If anything damages the case I lose that heritage. I’ll do that in the winter.”
A Golf and hidden rot
As well as a couple of Polo breadvans, one of which Lily has her eye on for when she’s old enough to drive (“I’ve got four years to do it up for her”), Matt’s final car – much changed since our photos were taken – is a 1985 Golf GTi.
Powered by the famous 20-valve, 1.8 turbo engine taken a mark IV Golf (and other VW Group cars), the mark II Golf was bought two years ago as a runner.
“Until recently, I didn’t realise how bad the underneath was – it was completely rotten,” says Matt.
“So I’m completely restoring it – it’s a bare shell now. I’ll probably keep it then – I would not want to get rid of it if I’m doing all the work. It’s a big old job, it’s worn me down!”
Matt admits he doesn’t enjoy the whole process of buying or selling cars, the haggling over prices and the feeling that he doesn’t really want to let his cars go.
“I’m a bit of a hoarder, and to be honest I’m more likely to buy something else than sell something,” he adds.
They’re all keepers
“I think they’re all keepers at the moment, but I’ll potentially get rid of the Puck at some point if we go on less family holidays.
“I have thought about getting something like a T5, more fuel efficient, but I don’t want to get rid of the splitscreen. The trouble is, I want it all!”
Working on air-cooled Porsches at work, it would be only natural for his head to be turned by Stuttgart’s finest.
But while he has “loads of ideas of selling stuff and buying a Porsche”, he’s understandably put off by the “ludicrous price of parts”.
Barring a windfall then, Matt will stay loyal to the Volkswagens that have played such a major part in his life since his teenage years.