During his tenure at the California Design Center as Volkswagen's chief designer in America, we worked with Derek Jenkins on a number of occasions; both on the SEMA concept cars he created for VW, as well as his personal Mk5 GTI (et 6/07).
Through these interactions we discovered he was a genuine gearhead, but the extent of his obsession wasn't fully apparent until he let us peek inside his home garage: Sat on jackstands was the grey-painted tub of an air-cooled Buggy that had been his personal project since 2005. On the spot, we made him promise to give us first dibs on his Dub.
In the meantime, a career change took Derek to Mazda, where he became Director of Design for Mazda Americas. So when his schedule didn't having him flying to Japan or Europe, we loaded the Buggy into a trailer and headed for the surface of the moon to capture these great photos.
As a child, Derek's father was into Baja Bugs, inculcating him with Southern California's air-cooled culture. This inspiration led to concepts such as the '01 Microbus and '04 Concept T that came out of VW's studio. He also hankered after his own old-school project that wouldn't be subject to the meddling of committees or the dictates of new vehicle legislation. "I looked at Karmann Ghias, Type 1 Bus, VW Thing... but Buggies were in my blood," the 40 year-old vehicle designer confessed.
With his Baja roots, the original intention was to build a full-scale version of a remote-control Buggy - big wheels, raised stance and exaggerated proportions. But as discussions progressed with friend Bob Wake, it moved more towards a street concept - inspired by modern motorcycles and cars like the Ariel Atom, Lotus Elise, etc.
Key to the Buggy's construction was Dave Barrett at Manx Chassis. He's the "go to" guy for tubular Buggy chassis and helped Derek realize his dreams.
Approaching the project as he would a professional brief, the designer started by sketching some ideas and outlining the framework. "You have to define the boundaries early to avoid costs skyrocketing as ideas develop," Derek explained.
The sketches outlined a typical stance with larger diameter wheels at the rear but they experimented with the rake of the front screen in comparison to the position of the roll-bar, the positions of the trellis frame pieces, the wheelbase, etc. "It was like working with a clay model," Derek explained. "We could move things around to achieve the proportions I wanted."
In order to mock-up the chassis, they needed the wheels for the correct stance. So before work started, a set of six-spoke SSR Type-C wheels were purchased. The decision was based on weight, price and range of sizes. The forged 16x7'' fronts are about 13 lb, and while 18'' rears were initially considered, a pair of 17x8.5'' rears were finally chosen.
Tires similarly presented a challenge since he wanted the same tread pattern in both tall and low-profile sizes. He eventually settled on BFG's Scorcher T/A rubber, which was available at the time with red tread sections. These are no longer available but he wisely bought three sets as insurance. The red tread would also help define one of the project's accent colors.
A second accent arrived when Derek visited a Ducati dealer. He'd been looking for inspiration and the gold fuel cap became a centerpiece of the design. It also led to cadmium plating on brake and engine components to incorporate its tones.
The fiberglass body is based on the 1970's Manx tub and is virtually unmolested. Some changes were made to the depth of the fender lips, which can be trimmed to your preference. The Ducati fuel cap then dictated the location of the fuel tank, which Dave Barrett mocked up under the hood.
The biggest decision was the color scheme. The original concept called for Ducati red bodywork with a black or gold trellis frame and carbon details, like a motorbike. "I was afraid the red paint might look too happy," Jenkins laughed. "A Buggy is already non-threatening but I wanted something more sinister, so we looked at different grey paints."
The final nod went to Lamborghini's Grigio Telesto. It's a sophisticated hue that worked with the red, gold and carbon accents sprayed by Eddie Palmer in Camarillo, CA.
The center stripes is based on the same grey, but was mixed with silver, blue and a heavier metallic so the tone was close but was different enough to stand out.
The red tire stripes in turn gave birth to red Karmann Ghia brake calipers and a crinklecoated engine cover that was inspired by Ferrari intake manifolds.
Carbon fiber was next on the list, adding a modern twist to the traditional Buggy. Backed by marine-ply for support, it was used for the side panels and floor. Carbon also makes an appearance with the motorcycle mirrors, Yoshimura rear muffler from a Yamaha R1 and gauge pods mounted to the custom dash.
During the mock-up stage, Barrett had created a bar below the screen where Jenkins intended to mount his gauges. All are carbon-faced Auto Meter units for revs, speed, fuel level and oil pressure as well as temp. The carbon pods make the exposed gauges a focal point, standing out from the homemade dash that Derek first sculpted in foam, molded it in fiberglass and finally sprayed it with a layer of soft-touch rubber used by OEs.
Not wanting seats that would protrude and conflict with the angle of the screen and roll-bar, he used low-back fiberglass shells from a Porsche 550 Spyder replica. These were trimmed in grey leather he found with the correct blue tones. The stitching pattern was also his own design.
The interior was finished with rubber mats on the carbon floor and side panels. "Because the tub is irregular, I had to make cardboard templates of each area. I then scanned these into a computer and positioned the holes I wanted cut out. The files were transferred to a water-jet and the rubber mounted on steel to keep it rigid. It was a long job but the results were worthwhile," Derek told us.
"If I had to do this all over again, I'd probably make it really high-tech. But originally I wanted to combine that old-school SoCal air-cooled theme with modern techniques, so keeping it air-cooled was always one of my priorities," he explained. "But being air-cooled, the 70 year-old technology is temperamental and you can't stop it leaking oil..."
Despite this, Derek didn't skimp on the motor. It's a 1776cc Scat engine with dual Weber carbs. Along with the red engine cover, the spotlight is visually on the Yoshimura carbon muffler mounted on tubular Bernie Bergmann headers that were modified for this application. It looks as good as it sounds (see the video at eurotuner.com or youtube.com/eurotuner).
The motor is mated to a stock Type 1 transmission with an uprated Empi clutch.
The suspension retains its torsion bar set up, with Bilstein dampers at each corner. The rear shock was custom-built and is only 7'' tall because the Buggy sits so low.
During the mock-up stage, Derek decided to stretch the wheelbase 2'', so Dave Barrett had lengthened the rear trailing arms to accommodate this.
The brakes are essentially stock Karmann Ghia parts with custom-drilled rotors. "The lack of weight means they feel like a big brake kit," Derek reported.
Once Dave finished his mock-up, sprint car chassis specialist Dennis Hart ran the fluid lines, flush-mounted the screen, welded the mounting tabs and finished the mechanical detailing before Derek took the Buggy home for final construction.
"I originally wanted to take a traditional approach," Derek repeated, "but if there's a next time, I'll go even more high-tech. I'd build the body from scratch in carbon, molding the seats into the tub and recessing the rubber trim so it's flush. I'd use modern suspension on a subframe and probably add a Subaru boxer motor. Normally aspirated, it would get 200hp, but with a turbo I could easily get 300hp, and I'm already thinking it's not fast enough with the Scat motor..."
It was fascinating to be speaking to a professional car designer about his personal project and see how he approached it with years of experience behind him. It's certainly more disciplined and extensively researched; something we could all learn from in order to avoid those expensive mistakes, constant specification changes and makeovers as a project progresses.
Is this the best Buggy we've seen seen in recent times? Absolutely. And it provides an interesting template to help us create themes for our own projects. Class dismissed!
1970 Meyers Manx Buggy
Owner: Derek Jenkins
Location: Malibu, CA
Occupation: Design Director, Mazda
Engine: 1776cc air-cooled Scat motor with dual 42 IDF Weber carbs, Empi valve covers, modified Bergmann exhaust headers/collector with Yoshimura R1 muffler, urethane engine and trans mounts
Drivetrain: four-speed Type 1 transmission with Empi clutch, 930 CV joints
Brakes: Karmann Ghia front and rear brake conversion with drilled rotors, stainless lines
Suspension: custom Manx Chassis tube frame and roll-bar powdercoated black, custom Bilstein Racing shocks, VW torsion bar ball-joint front-end, VW torsion bar independent rear, Empi front sway bar, lengthened rear trailing arms
Wheels & Tires: 16x7'' front, 17x8.5'' rear SSR Type-C forged wheels with 205/40 R16 front, 245/55 R17 rear BFGoodrich Scorcher T/A Redline tires
Exterior: glassfiber Manx body painted Lamborghini Grigio Telesto with custom-mix silver metallic stripes, MR carbon fiber mirrors, PIAA head- and foglights with separate ballast units, Range Rover side markers, LED trailer rear lights on custom brackets, Ducati fuel cap, carbon fiber side panels
Interior: replica 550 Spyder seats trimmed in grey leather/alcantara, Momo harneses, Momo steering wheel and shift knob, BTI shifter, carbon-faced Auto Meter gauges for tacho, speedo, fuel, oil temp and pressure in carbon pods on custom dash, CNC pedal assembly, carbon fiber floor, rubber trim, Sparco extinguisher
Audio/Visual: Alpine amp with iPod connection and Pioneer 6x9'' speakers under dash
Thanks: Bob Wake, David Barrett (manxchassis.com), Dennis Hart, Eddie Palmer, Connie
As Director of Design for Mazda Americas, Derek oversees all design development, including exterior and interior design, color and material, accessories and overall strategy. He spearheads both global and local production programs as well as concept vehicles and special models.
Derek joined Mazda from his role as chief designer for VWoA and prior to that he spent eight years with Audi, serving first as lead exterior designer, followed by assistant chief designer for Audi Design.
Jenkins is credited with numerous production vehicles and concepts, including the Audi A2, A8 and Scirocco concept. Other accomplishments include the VW Microbus concept, Ragster concept, Concept T, GX3 and VW's SEMA concepts from 2005-08. Jenkins also played an integral role in the design of the Kobe Bryant Signature Adidas basketball shoe.
Continuing his passion for the aftermarket, Derek designed special versions of the Mazdaspeed3 and Mazda3 for SEMA '09. Both were finished in white pearl paint with grey graphics that were both a progression of his work at VW and inspired by the Mazda 787B that won Le Mans in '91.
For the launch of the 2010 Mazda 2, Jenkins developed three tuning concepts to highlight the flexibility of the supermini. Each had a different theme, from racer to snow and surf concepts. We'll continue to watch his progress at Mazda with interest and expect to see many European influences in future showroom product.