Introduction: Steampunk VW Bug (Vaporpunk Fusca)

This project began just over two years ago when my wife decided she wanted to buy an old Volkswagen Beetle to get around the dirt roads of the Lake Region of Rio de Janeiro, where or beach house is located. I started documenting this process in a forum topic "Steampunk Volkswagen anyone?" and now two years later, I'm finally ready to reveal to the Instructables community the results of the largest project I have documented to date:

Behold the Steampunk VW Bug, or in Portuguese, "Vaporpunk Fusca"!


I am not a mechanic! And it's quite possible that many of the things I did to this car might not be up to code anywhere in the world! The reason we bought this particular car is that for the most part it was mechanically and electrically sound, so there is very little in this 'ible regarding the mechanics of a 1975 Volkswagen Beetle. Most of what was done to this car is cosmetic, and had no impact on the actual functioning of the engine or electrical system.

And a note to classic car enthusiasts: Some may cringe at the makeover I gave this car, and to those I point out; This car was a workhorse, bought from a bricklayer and nearly run into the ground for more than a quarter of a century. To continue the analogy, there were two paths this workhorse could have gone down - one led to the glue factory, and the other the stud farm. We have given this car a new lease on life, in a quiet little beach town, where it will spend it's retirement shuttling a small family to the beach in style a few months out of the year, and spend the balance of it's time being pampered and protected from the elements. Was it possible to restore this car to it's 1975 original condition? Maybe, with unlimited time and an unlimited budget, neither of which I had. So I did my best to make this car functional, attractive and unique.

And some steampunk purists may object that this doesn't really qualify as "steampunk" since it doesn't run on steam, etc. etc. Well I did my best within reason to add wood and bronze or brass where there once was chrome and plastic. And in the DIY and unique/one-of-a-kind/counter-consumerist traditions of the genre, I think it certainly has strong steampunk elements and influence. But yeh, it's also heavily influenced by 70's California surf culture. So maybe it's the birth of a new genre: "Surf-punk"?:-)

A note about terms:

The Volkswagen Beetle was originally introduced in Nazi Germany in the 1930's and literally translates to the "People's Car." When it was introduced in Brazil in 1953, this term was difficult to pronounce for Brazilians, so somehow it became know as the "Fusca." ("Folks car"/"Fus-ca," maybe?) While the last German manufactured model rolled off the assembly line in 1978, in Brazil the Fusca was still produced well into the 1990's and new parts are still being manufactured today. As a result, the Fusca is still a very popular car in Brazil, and many can still be seen chugging down the highways.

And in Portuguese, the translation for "steampunk" is "vaporpunk." Thus was born the "Vaporpunk Fusca."

For a great resource for all things Fusca related, check out the awesome blog: "Planeta Fusca."

Step 1: Before

As I mentioned in the intro, this car was purchased from a bricklayer, and we paid the equivalent of about US$1,000 for it. It's a 1975 Type 1, 1600cc Super Beetle, manufactured in Brazil.

Here are some "before" pictures of our Fusca. We actually found the car for sale online on a website called Bom Negocio, while still in NY, and my father-in-law was kind enough to go and kick the tires for us;-)

Step 2: Out With the Old and in With the New

The first step along the path to a complete makeover for this almost 40-year-old beast was to strip out much of the old, filthy and worn out materials, including; seat covers, cracked rubber insulators, door panels and a host of other filthy and/or rusty stuff, and then many trips to the local auto parts stores (including Zoom Autopeças, which is less than a mile from our house) for replacement parts. Sometimes this was complicated, as I often didn't know the Portuguese terms, and sometimes didn't even know what the parts were called in English. So bringing along a free catalog I got from the fine folks at Jbugs in California and pointing at the item almost always got the right part.

A note about parts:

For any VW Beetle owners out there looking to restore an old car, as you know, these parts can be extremely expensive in the U.S. It might be more cost effective to find yourself a cheap ticket to Brazil, and buy your parts here, and ship them back in your luggage (within reason of course - I wouldn't try bringing a replacement engine or hood in your carry-on;-). You might end up spending less than you would in the States, and you'll get a Brazilian vacation to boot;-)

Step 3: Seats

The seats in this car, both front and back were filthy, but structurally sound. So I removed them all, cleaned them (actually hosed them down), sanded the rust off the metal frames, and covered them with new seat covers. In the front I used a pair of Hawaiian print covers I bought cheap at an auto parts store on Queens Boulevard, and on the backseat I added a Brazilian sarong for local flavor. I also painted the plastic parts on the sides, using a technique I've documented in my Instructable "Painting metal to look like wood." The end result is some pretty comfortable and good looking seats that would make any surf-bum proud;-)

Step 4: Carpeting

I checked online for carpeting kits, but decided they were too expensive, and decided to go with the DIY method. I found a really helpful online guide to carpeting an old VW Beetle here. I also found a really helpful carpeting floorplan somewhere else online.

I bought a few roles of charcoal colored carpeting at a local big-box store for about US$20, and a roll of craft paper and shoved them in my luggage for the trip to Brazil.

From here, all the credit for the hard work goes to my wife: First she laid out the craft paper, and cut it and taped it through out the car floor. Using the paper pieces as a stencil guide she laid them out on the carpet and cut to size. Then she glued all the carpeting in place with heavy-duty carpeting glue.

And lastly, we returned the fire extinguisher, which is mandatory in all Brazilian motor vehicles.

Step 5: Steering Wheel

I also bought a cheap wheel cover from a big-box store in NYC, but when I got it to Brazil, realized the wheel was smaller than the cover. So I cut the cover, and glued it in sections onto the wheel, holding the cover in place with clamps. The final touch was a bit of bronze paint on the rubber cover that goes over the center of the wheel.

Eventually I may replace the steering wheel, but for now it looks, works and feels just fine.

Step 6: Dashboard

The dashboard underwent a major transformation, and it may be the most "steampunk-esque" element of this project. I removed the old plastic knobs (none of which were original) and replaced them with hand inscribed wooden knobs (for which I used a pencil to draw the symbols, and a soldering iron to burn in the patterns). I removed the door to the glove compartment, and the face plates around the gears, and gave them a paint job to make them look like wood (using a technique I documented in my Instructable "Painting metal to look like wood".)

I removed the radio (and the speakers) as it didn't work, and I didn't like the idea of leaving a car stereo in an unattended car for most of the year. I also figured that with all the bouncing around on dirt roads, the speakers likely would not last, and could end up damaging the new door panels.

So for tunes I use my Steampunk iPod and a portable rechargeable speaker which works just fine for cranking out my surf guitar music. So I covered the hole in the dash where the radio was with a stained wooden board, and added a brass knob I salvaged from an old dresser I found on the street.

And of course the dashboard just wasn't complete without a dancing Hula Girl, courtesy of Amazon.

And once this car gets out on the dirt roads, boy does she dance!;-)

Step 7: Paintjob

This was a huge job, for which I used a very small paintbrush, and a lot of patience. Before painting, I got a lot help from my father-in-law who patched countless rust spots with the Brazilian equivalent of Bondo. Then we sanded, and patched some more. When all the dents and rust spots were sanded and covered, I gave the car a once over with a regular old semi-gloss house paint. I know this is far from the professional way to paint a car, but it got the job done;-)

Once the car had a full coat of yellow, then I went back and did the caramel brown highlights on the wheel wells and doors and around the engine compartment.

Step 8: Faux Wood Doors

Now the really fun part - There are a few different ways to get the retro vintage wood panel look on your car. Back in the 70's there was an actual kit you could buy with plastic faux-wood panels that wood snap onto your doors. But these are extremely rare these days. (And I'd be surprised if any exist in Brazil!) There are also a few websites and user groups dedicated to VW Woodies, including a Yahoo discussion group that features some fine examples of master carpentry skills being applied to vintage cars.

I decided to go with a very cheap, easy and actually quite effective method - contact paper! This is the same technique I used on my Steampunk iPod case, and it worked quite well, so I decided to try it on a much large scale...

I bought a few roles of oak-pattern contact paper and a few roles of bamboo-pattern contact paper at my local 99 cent store in NYC, and brought them to Brazil with me. I applied the oak paper to the doors, and cut the bamboo paper in strips to create the cross hatch effect. On the seams on the top and bottom where I was afraid the paper might peel, I sealed it with black duct tape, and gave the duct tape a coat of brown paint and then a coat of varnish.

The finishing touch, and what has made this hold up well for two years now, was a coat of polyurethane. On close inspection, you can tell these aren't real wooden doors, but for a fraction of the cost, it created the exact desired effect. And if it starts to peel, contact paper is cheap;-)

Step 9: Door Panels

The door panels where relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. I just ripped out the old ones, and then screwed the new ones in with some brass screws. One surprise in this process was finding the secret kill switch - one of many - hidden inside the drivers door handle. This switch interrupts the starter, and needs to be switched in order to start the car. So if you're looking to steal my car, don't forget the kill switches, all three of them;-)

Step 10: Fender

The fender was one of many chrome parts that got a coat of bronze spray paint, to go with the steampunk theme.

Step 11: Glove Compartment

The standard replacement glove compartments that are available for this car are really tiny and made of a heavy stock cardboard, and not really large enough to hold much more than a pair of gentlemen's white dress gloves. As I wanted to be able to store a tool kit and a few other things in there, I came up with an alternative - I used a hard plastic file box (which I found on the streets of NYC ;-) and a made a few cuts with a Dremel to make it fit.

The opening of the box was a perfect fit, but one thing I learned the hard way was that the box interfered with the windshield wiper inside the trunk. As a result, I ended up burning out the wiper motor, which had to be replaced. Only then did I realize I needed to cut a slot in the upper left corner of the box, to accommodate the wiper.

After painting the door to the compartment, (Painting metal to look like wood), I replaced the old plastic knob with a brass one, to match the other brass elements on the dash.

I'm very happy with the my upgraded and spacious glove compartment, where I can now fit a small tool box and few pairs of boxing gloves;-)

Step 12: Bronzed Hubcaps

The hubcaps also came from a NYC big-box store - cheap plastic ones - and they made the 5,000 mile trip to Brazil, where they got the bronze treatment from a can of spray paint. Once painted, I stuck on plastic VW logos from the local auto parts store. (I would have loved to have seen the expression on the face of the TSA agent who scanned my bags on this trip;-)

They can be seen above tanning poolside...

Step 13: Lights

All the light housings were replaced, as the plastic lenses where completely shot - either cracked or completely frosted. This is a good case of how inexpensive VW parts can be in Brazil. Purchasing new tail lights, turn lights and headlight assemblies, bulbs and seals would have been quite expensive in the States, but I was able to get all these replacement parts for a fraction of the cost in Rio.

And of course everything that came from the store chrome-colored met the bronze paint before it got on the car.

Step 14: Wiring

The wiring in this car can best be described as a spaghetti mess! I did my best to try and understand this system, which required reading a lot of technical documents - in Portuguese! But again I have to give credit to my father-in-law for making sure the electrical system worked properly. "Obrigado Moacyr!"

Above are a few public domain schematics I found online that may prove helpful to anyone refurbishing and old VW bug electrical system in Brazil;-)

Once the wiring was all in place, I covered it with the bottom panel from an old armoire drawer, just to hide the mess (as can be seen in the last picture above).

Step 15: Ornaments

And now for the finishing touches - What Steampunk beach car would be complete without a brass mermaid hood ornament? A healthy dose of Gorilla Glue held this lovely lady on for a while, but eventually I'll have to drill a whole through her belly, and bolt her to the hood handle.

And of course the front and back "VW" ornaments got the bronze treatment, and the final touch was some Victorian-style adhesive lettering to let the world know what I'm driving - A one-of-a-kind, Vaporpunk Fusca! (This is the one thing that didn't hold up to the test of time. I'll have to go back and paint the name on the side of the car).

Step 16: Finished

Here are a few shots of the finished (or nearly finished) Vaporpunk Fusca, chillin' at the beach - Praia Linda or "Beautiful Beach" in Rio.

In a dozen years of visiting Brazil, I've seen hundreds, if not thousands of Fuscas on the roads. They even have a current and long-running magazine devoted to the subject. But I have yet to come across one that has faux wooden doors, or a brass mermaid hood-ornament;-)

I know I left a lot of details out of this Instructable, so if you have any specific questions, feel free to post a query below. And if you like this opus-'ible, please feel free to vote for me in one of the contests!

Wheels Contest

First Prize in the
Wheels Contest

Paint It! Sponsored by Olympic Paint

First Prize in the
Paint It! Sponsored by Olympic Paint

Vintage Contest

Runner Up in the
Vintage Contest