The air-cooled community is one like no other; the fans are plenty and as hardcore as they come. Every car community has a standard for what is acceptable, and the boundaries are very well defined, but once you go outside of those lines, well, anything can happen. You will either become the person who took the game to a whole new level, or the one who ruined an utterly awesome car, and no one will want to talk to you. It’s a fine line, and not many are willing to walk that line.
Paul Nguyen’s love for vintage Volkswagens started at an early age, as his dad worked at a shop in downtown Riverside and exposed him to the German automaker from the start. A place called Mike’s Econo was a VW Pick-A-Part spot that worked on motors and sold VWs out front. It was a small place with a massive yard filled with all sorts of salvaged Euro cars.
“Growing up, I was always surrounded by old cars. My dad kind of hoarded them, but I didn’t mind because he promised me a VW Bug when I was able to drive. That was important to me because his first car was a VW Squareback coming to America,” Paul says.
Back in the ’90s, everyone found cars through weekly Recycler and PennySaver ads, and the hardcore flippers even knew the routes of their paper couriers.
“It was always a race to find the freshest car listings and get to the sellers before everyone else did. I eventually ended up finding an oval ’54 Bug and spent hours on end, restoring it while I drove his ’58 around,” says Paul as he reminisced.
“It was an instant hit around town and at the local shows. No one at school believed it was mine, let alone believed me when I told them I had been working on it for the past two years. And on the last day of my Junior year, I drove it to school, and everyone flipped out!”
He stated that it was super unique with its plush, lowrider-style interior while looking OG stock as well. The car was loud, fast, and badass, which hooked him for life.
As you know, when you are looking for a car, it becomes a full-time job, and you have to be willing to drop everything you are doing to get to a potential purchase as fast as you can. Paul had his daily ritual of going through Craigslist ads—and other car listing sites—multiple times a day. Late one night about nine years ago, he came across an ad titled “VW Bus for sale, Runs.” What caught his eye was that it was formatted more like an old school ad with no photos or any information about the VW other than the fact that it ran.
“You never know with these types of ads. But you have to pursue every listing to make sure it’s not someone who is just lazy or someone old who is just used to doing a face-to-face transaction,” Paul says.
To his surprise, a young guy answered the phone and was ranting about how the Bus had all sorts of issues and keeps breaking down on him, and all he wanted to do was just get rid of it.
Paul asked the seller, “Does it have any windows?”
He replied, “Yeah, it has a ton of windows, and it even has a ragtop.”
Before he could hang up, he was already running out of the house, but the story doesn’t end there. The seller proceeded to ask Paul, “How did you know my Bus was for sale? I never listed it.”
The story goes, his best friend couldn’t stand listening to him complain about the Bus anymore, so he went out of his way to list the Bus for him. That is why the listing was so bare as his friend didn’t know any details about the Bus. However, Paul wasn’t out of the weeds yet as the seller wasn’t sure about parting with the Bus. He eventually invited Paul over but another hurdle presented itself when the owner’s dad came out telling Paul that the Bus was not for sale. In reality, they just wanted the car to go to the right home, and after a long conversation and some whiskey, they finally decided that they were going to let it go. Paul still could not believe he was standing in front of a 1960 VW 23 Window Bus! Closing the deal was an absolute dream come true for Paul, and he still thinks about how lucky he got with the purchase.
After the high wore down a bit, Paul went over the Bus more carefully and knew he had done well. The paint and interior of the Bus were in solid shape. He ended up not touching it but handled things like rubbers and maintenance off the bat. After a week of pressure washing and cleaning, Paul removed the various city and state destination stickers found on the Bus.
It wasn’t long after driving it that Paul knew the Bus needed more power. His first real mod was to upgrade the motor, and he headed to Jim Johnston—a Porsche 914 racer and engine builder. At the time, Johnston was going through some health issues, but Paul was able to get an engine before the builder was no longer able to complete them. Paul had plenty of motors built by Jim in the past. In this case, he went with a beefed-up 2.1-liter T4 with all rare internal Porsche parts. The Bus ran well for a year until Nguyen took it to a tuning shop that did a terrible job tuning it, and then he just decided to go-big-or-go-home.
Paul met Victor at TheLab Air Cooled Speed Shop in Rancho Cucamonga, who specializes in vintage air-cooled motors. It was during a brief consultation with Victor, after doing some maintenance work, that Paul decided he wanted to upgrade the engine to a 2276cc motor, add twin turbochargers, and give it the power it needed to tickle his fancy. When Victor was finished with it, the engine made over 285 horsepower to the wheels at 6,500 rpm and 275 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm on pump gas—a considerable upgrade in performance.
Initially, Paul had decided on an airbag suspension setup, but once he added more power, he changed to a traditional suspension system. The previous air suspension would bottom out when the Bus was under full load, and it was not ideal for handling that type of power. He then complemented the look of the Bus by throwing on the iconic Porsche Fuch wheels to give it a classy but high-end look, and it paid off. The Bus is a classic stunner for sure.
Car projects are never without headaches and delays, which in turn create problems for the build process.
“In hindsight, I should have kept my Bus in my garage and left the engine with the builder as it sat idle for some time,” explains Paul.
But in the end, the performance was much better than he had ever expected. Sitting in the rear bench of the Bus tripped me out because the sounds that were coming from the back window was that of a turbocharged sports car. The blow-off valve’s swooshing sounds were magic to my ears; every gear shift was absolutely intoxicating!
The other mesmerizing feature of the rare 23 Window Bus is the massive opening cut out in the roof, which allowed me to see the glorious cloudscapes as the sun was setting. As we headed to our photoshoot with the roof open, the sun was starting to lower closer to the horizon, and the temperature was dropping very quickly. Once we arrived, it was cold, and I could barely feel my fingers and face as I latched the ragtop closed and got ready to shoot the Bus.
“My Bus is where I want it to be. Sure, there is always something to work on, but you have to let these things be what they are, and the various types of patina are just a part of the charm for this Bus. Eventually, I will save up enough money to fully restomod this VW, but until then, I am just enjoying it. There’s nothing like having this Bus at the beach during sunset, or at the drive-in watching a movie,” says Paul.
In the end, we got some gorgeous photographs of this vintage machine and captured it in the best light available. We wanted to pay homage to this Bus by putting it in a serene and delicate setting. I’m so glad we were able to do that. Thank you, Paul, for sharing your time and your story. May you continue to enjoy your gem as often and frequently as possible!
Paul Nguyen's Twin-Turbocharged 23 Window 1960 VW Bus
|Exterior:||Original early-pressed bumpers front and rear, all original deluxe trim, all original Sekurit glass including corners and skylights, Sealing Wax Red and Chestnut Brown exterior color, deluxe bumper trim, ragtop roof, front and rear safari windows, custom LED headlamps, all original hardware handles, and window frames|
|Interior:||Radio block-off plate, original radio in storage, original restored and ready to install with zero miles speedometer, Autometer gauges for systems monitoring rpm, boost, oil pressure, temperature, AEM Electronics O2 sensor gauge, backdated original visors, original interior styling, Long spoon side pop-out window latches, Golde handle, Bluetooth receiver, amps, speakers, woofer, original jail bars all around, Mohair headliner|
|Engine:||Twin-turbocharged fuel-injected 2276cc engine with aftermarket aluminum OEM Brazilian VW Case, DPR Machine 82mm stroke 8-pin crankshaft with custom-welded T4 VW center main journal and Chevy rod journals, forged 5.4-inch H-beam connecting rods, JE Pistons (94mm diameter, 7.5:1-compression) with HD AA cylinders, STD Silverline main bearing set, JE Piston chrome top rings, dynamically balanced rotating assembly, TheLab TurboSecretSauce camshaft with HD flat tappet cam follower, TheLab hand-ported aftermarket VW style aluminum cast head, 42 mm intake x 37.5 mm exhaust valves with HD CB650 dual high-rev valvesprings, chromoly retainers and keepers, forged 1.4:1 rocker arms, Manton 3/8-inch .58-wall chromoly pushrods, custom water-to-air intercooler built in-house with Bosch water pump, cooler and custom water tank, German VW vented valve covers with TheLab custom breather box, Porsche 911-style cooling fan, and fiberglass shroud system with GM 60 amp alternator, TheLab custom intake plenum system with single 50mm throttle body, SDS EM4 dash mount programmable EFI / Hall Effect crank trigger ignition system, custom-designed T2 modified twin turbochargers, dual Turbosmart wastegates and Vee Port blow-off valve, twin-turbo Medusa header designed and built by TheLab|
|Drivetrain:||Gene Berg 5-speed transaxle conversion kit, VW solid chromoly swing axle, Kennedy Stage 3 (2600-pound) pressure plate with HD Kennedy 6-puck solid hub disk, lightened 12-pound 8-dowel welded mated flywheel, Gene Berg 5-speed lockout shifter|
|Wheels & Tires:||Original Porsche Fuch Wheels (15 x 4.5-inch front, Deep 6-inch rear), Atrak-K Economist Tire (Front 165/50-15), Toursport 611 Radial Tire (Rear 195/60-15)|
|Brakes:||Simple 4-inch narrowed VW Bus front beam with custom welded Porsche 944 spindles and rotors, Wilwood 4-piston red caliper conversion, adjustable drop plates from Vintage VDubs with Porsche 944 rear emergency brake, vented rotors with Wilwood 4 Piston conversion calipers by WagensWest|