Kerry Jackson’s love of air-cooled VWs didn’t start until 2015 but, boy, has he made up for lost time…
The 61-year-old, who blames his wife Alison for kick-starting his latent passion, has quickly gone from a single 1972 Beetle to no fewer than six Dubs – and a fledgling business operating from a fully equipped workshop.
“It’s a hobby gone mad,” he laughs, sitting in his workshop, a converted Romney hut on the old war-time army depot at Boughton, near Newark.
A mid-restoration 1972 Westfalia Bay camper lurks near us, a half-built ‘71 Beetle he calls ‘The Beast’ rests in a partitioned area, while outside in the sunshine bask that first ‘72 Beetle, another from 1963, a 1955 oval window Bug and a 1971 Westfalia camper from California.
A handful of others have come and gone in the past five years, including a Karmann Beetle cabriolet and a green Super Beetle.
How did it start?
So how did it all start, and why?
Step forward Alison, whose parents owned a blue Beetle when she was a child.
“After we got married, she said ‘ooh, I’ve always wanted a Beetle’,” says Kerry. “So we looked on eBay and there’s this nice ‘72, two owners from new, just over the top in Chesterfield.
“We set off at 4pm on a snowy afternoon and I was phoning the bank saying ‘can you extend the limit on the cashpoint, just in case?’
“We took one look at it and thought ‘yeah, it’s a stunner’, so we raided all the cashpoints for £2,800.
“I giggled all the way back down the M6. So that started the rot. And it’s Alison’s fault, big time.”
As well as working on his and Alison’s own cars, Kerry has started taking on work for other people under the name Clumber Classics & Customs, while also finding time to drive a 44-tonne lorry for a local haulier.
He’s never shied away from hard work. After leaving school at 17 with a certificate of further education in engineering, he combined work as an auto electrician with helping his father run his ice cream van.
“I could make £20 of an evening on the van, and my regular wage was £14 a week,” he remembers. “I was making more than the full time mechanics. I don’t like to sit around doing nothing – I hate it.”
Always into his cars, there wasn’t a VW in sight as he bought and worked on a Mark I Cortina, followed by an Anglia Estate, an original Austin Seven Mini, and a Cortina Savage (designed and produced by former Ford saloon car racer Jeff Uren) among others.
Kerry went on to work for a subsidiary of GKN, decommissioning high voltage contaminated electrical equipment all over the world, taking in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Portugal as well as locations in the UK, before an industrial accident shattered his ankle and prompted a rethink.
He completed a degree in Computer Studies Information Systems, but then spent two years recuperating from “three heart attacks in one day” in 1999.
By then he’d met Alison, drove taxis for a while and utilised his HGV licence, gained while working for GKN, to work as a self-employed general haulage driver.
Then came the VWs, which have just about taken over his life.
First, the blue Beetle, named Annie after one of the couple’s Siamese cats, quickly followed by a ‘72 Westfalia camper called BJ, again named after a cat, this one a black moggie.
A tin top originally from Canada, Kerry drove the bus home with a blowing exhaust he planned to fix before getting a fresh MoT.
“It turned out it was the valve seats, and the heads were cracked, so I took the engine out, cleaned the engine bay and blew it with an airline, but all the paint started to come off,” he says.
“Somebody had polished the primer to perfection and then put the top coat on, so it didn’t stick.”
The remaining top coat, “a horrible blue”, was removed, and Kerry decided to strip the entire camper down and rebuild. It has yet to turn a wheel since that first drive home in early 2016.
When complete, it will be VW Mango Green with a Seagull Grey roof, which will incorporate a new pop-top. Power will come from a 1914cc engine with twin Webers and “all the goodies on the engine”.
In the early days, Kerry would work on the camper on his drive at home in Edwinstowe, near Mansfield, in a canvas garage.
“Then we got phone calls off the council because we were making noise on our drive,” he says. “In the end a unit came up, and we had that for 18 months or so. One day the landlord said ‘you can’t park any cars outside at night any more’, so we came over here.”
The old Romney hut was a bare shell, and Kerry has “spent a fortune” on equipment and putting in electricity, water, and heating.
“I had a little tool box, then I got a big tool box, and then the toolbox just grew,” he says. “Now there’s about 14ft of toolbox.
“We’ve got everything from a Selco rivet to a MIG welder to a four post vehicle lift, and I’ve just bought a big spit roast (rollover jig) that will rotate a bus.”
Over the years, Kerry kept on gathering VWs, most of which he fell in love with and plans to keep for a long time.
One that didn’t pass muster was the 1972 Karmann cabriolet, red with white interior and white roof.
“I didn’t love that,” he says. “It’s the only one that’s broken down on us, and it was very Miami Vice, which is not my thing. You wanted a white suit to drive it!”
There’s Ruby, the 1963 Bug with a 1600cc Mexican engine, and Bertie, the 1955 oval window, which needed a lot of work to bring up to scratch.
“It was covered in underseal, had standard bumpers on it, and the wheels were a bit grot,” says Kerry, who tidied up the underside, and fitted new bumpers and wheels.
Originally from the Netherlands, the car is fitted with an Eberspacher petrol-powered heater, unused for many years and located very close to the fuel tank.
“We dare not use the heater, I don’t think we’d have a car left if we cranked that up,” he says. “All that heat right next to the fuel?”
But the vehicle that gets used the most – and attracts the most attention – is the California bus, one of the last of the wide 5s and converted by Westfalia in November 1970.
It was imported to the UK by Paul Hovell, a “very knowledgeable and very helpful” guy.
“He had it on his front and a friend of mine said ‘is he selling that’? I said ‘absolutely not…not to you!’” laughs Kerry.
“So I went up to Paul and said ‘that one, what are you doing with it?’ He said ‘oh I’ve just MoTd it’, and I said ‘I’ll have it then’.
“I phoned Alison up and said ‘I’ve just bought a bus’, and I arrived on the drive with smoke pluming out the back. Bear in mind this bus had been stood in the desert for 25 years under a carport. It had done about 20 miles in 25 years under its own power.
“She was in a bit of a state. We had to steam clean the inside, all the curtains and the door cards, you could just put your finger through and drag your finger down. Totally rotten.”
Alison sums up her thoughts at the time: “It was like a shed with smoke coming out.”
“However, like me, she has learned to love it,” adds Kerry.
Rather than take the bodywork back to bare metal and respray it, Kerry decided to leave it alone, preserving its unique patina.
“It was absolutely filthy – I jet washed it, lightly wet and dried the rough bits, jet wash again and again, for months, and then put Beeswax on it,” he says, reapplying the wax every now and then.
Inside was, necessarily, a different story, the camper completely stripped out and refurbished, with electric seats from a BMW M3 up front, new furnishings and a surfboard table.
But that’s not all, Kerry installing a sound system capable of pumping out 7,500 watts.
“I like my little tunes,” he smiles. “The kids come running when you turn it up at the show, but the louvre windows do rattle a bit.”
The work took about 18 months, after which the camper – still with its original 1600cc engine – was used for commuting, days out and attending shows, until Covid-19 shut them all down.
On entering the Beaulieu VW show in 2019, Kerry and Alison asked where they should park.
“They said ‘you don’t’,” says Kerry. “I said ‘pardon?’ They wouldn’t let us park with everybody else – they wanted us right in front of the main tent. They just loved the bus.”
Nottinghamshire to the south coast and back in a 1600cc bus, plus a trailer used to bring home BJ’s new pop-top, was some feat – and Kerry subsequently decided to upgrade to a 1914cc engine.
“I got it built from some people at Enfield, but it wasn’t right and I had to send it to Kingfisher Kustoms,” he says.
“They stripped it to find out the casings were shot, the crank was shot, and the heads were shot. I’d already spent £3,000 on the engine! So we sorted all that out – it’s got high performance heads on it now, huge valves, and a brand new pair of Weber 40s on it.
“It’s only done 250 miles on this engine, and it’ll go on the rolling road after 500. It’s got a really nice flow of power through it, and drives beautifully for what it is.”
Last, but not least, is ‘The Beast’, a ‘72 Beetle “bought on a whim out of a field”, where it had laid for about 12 years.
Kerry paid £400, which he says was “probably a bit too much”, given it was pink and white, with an incomplete floorpan, and no interior or engine.
“It was something to get my teeth into,” he says now. “Every bit of metal within the bottom foot of that car has been replaced, with the exception of the bit that sits underneath the seat.”
The shell is away for repainting in Jupiter Grey and, eventually, a standard 1600cc engine will provide the power.
None of this comes cheap, and Kerry is determined to recoup some of the outlay by making a success of the business.
“I enjoy it so much”
“I enjoy it so much I want it to go somewhere eventually,” he says. “When we had to move here, it was ‘that’s it, we’re doing it as a business as well’.”
At the moment, Kerry fits it around his haulage work, but is keen to take on more customer work and, as ever, is prepared to put the hours in.
“I would quite easily hang the truck keys up and play in here,” he says. “I recently worked for 36 hours out of 48 to make sure this chap could go on holiday in his T4, an old AA van.”
It was a Wednesday, and the van had failed its MoT because of rampant rot; he was due to leave for holiday on Friday afternoon.
“I came home from work at 2.30pm, met him here at 3pm, looked at it and went ‘oh my God’,” he says. “I took loads of photos, ripped it all apart, and told him I’d do my very best.”
After replacing inner and outer sills, plus new door steps on both sides and repairs to the sliding door sills, the bus was ready to roll at 3.10pm on Friday. One holiday saved, and a warm glow of job satisfaction for Kerry.
“I just love doing it,” says Kerry. “It’s looking like I’m into VWs for life now. I haven’t got any choice really!”