You're looking at a '65 VW 1500 Notchback that's been restored with a modern twist. Debuted in Garage Projects (et 11/10), Aaron Simon has spent five long years transforming this air-cooled Volkswagen with newer water-cooled parts while retaining its old-school flair.
Soon after the project's completion, we crossed paths the morning before H2O International to take some photos and uncover his story.
Aaron isn't your run of the mill VW enthusiast. He's not part of any car club and doesn't frequent online forums. Having just turned 50, his journey to success was filled with decades of passion for the VW brand. "I started with air-cooled stuff back in high school. I bought my first Beetle when I was14 and built a Dune Buggy school project in my sophomore year. I've always had some kind of project going and have been around VW stuff all my life," he began.
Aaron grew up in MI but moved to TX. He finally relocated to WV where he resides today. He changed jobs from laboring in an oilfield to becoming a certified VW/Audi technician. After five years as a tech, he was recruited by Audi of America to become a district service manager. Eventually, VW of America picked him up and established him as the sales manager for the Mid-Atlantic region. To date he's worked ten years on the service side and ten years on the sales side of Volkswagen of America.
With more than 30 years living and breathing VWs, Aaron had no fear jumping into the project. His previous endeavor was a '54 Ford Prefect with VW GTI running gear. The restored street rod was finished in four years but wasn't a show car either. Aaron told us he drove more than 25k miles in the car, even crossing the US in it. He also had several years building and racing four-wheelers added to his resume. So when the plans arose for a VW Notchback with a VR6 engine, he had the tools, experience and passion to do it.
"I inherited a '94 Passat GLX wagon first," he explained. "I knew it had a great engine and tranny but didn't have a car to put it in. I was thinking of either a Golf or GTI, but then stumbled across a co-worker's Notchback. I'd always wanted one and it was a great opportunity to make a bastard car. I'd also wanted a six-cylinder, so all the pieces sort of came together at the same time."
The plan was to build a mid-engined, two-seater fun-car that could do long trips as well as track days. The Notchback was picked up as a shell with most of the factory air-cooled parts crammed into the trunk. Unfortunately, there was about 40 years of rust on the shell, so Aaron had his work cut out.
Frame & Chassis
The first stage involved disassembling both cars. For the Notchback, Aaron only needed the shell. On the Passat, it was stripped until only the engine, firewall and dashboard were left. "It was just a matter of getting both cars next to each other, measuring them and seeing what would work," he noted.
The next step was building a jig so he could move pieces around the garage. This meant laying out the chassis components and new wheelbase. He started building a frame for the mid-mounted VR6, followed by the suspension pieces. Two front subframes were used, one for steering and front suspension, the other to hold the engine/transmission and rear suspension.
Then, 2x3" rails tied the front and rear subframes together. The firewall and front floor section from the Passat kept the front mounting points in place. With the frame squared away, the Notchback was delivered to Rolling Chassis in New York where an eight-point rollcage would strengthened the creation.
After the cage was built, an entire year was spent welding the chassis, fixing the rust and welding the body to the chassis.
With the framework finished, Aaron shifted focus to the suspension and brakes. The goal was to use as many OE parts as possible, such as Passat front and Mk4 GTI 337 rear brake calipers. A Corrado master cylinder and brake booster were also added to the list. While the suspension included Audi TT control arm bushings and Passat sway bars.
Since the suspension layout was fully independent, Aaron sourced two pairs of Weitec front coilovers. For the weight and size of the car, the most appropriate spring rates happened to be from a Mk2 Golf.
Air To Water
The original owner of the Passat had kept meticulous maintenance records, showing the 2.8-liter VR6 12v engine and five-speed tranny were in great shape. All Aaron had to do was fit new seals, chain guides, hoses and fasteners as a precaution.
As far as installation was concerned, the engine slid into the subframe as planned. The assembly was then raised in from the bottom of the car and secured using six bolts. The cooling system plumbing was then made from scratch using 1" electrical conduit because it bends easily and doesn't rust.
For the exhaust, an 18" shorty-pipe does the job along with a Dynomax muffler. The original Passat fuel tank wouldn't fit, so a 12-gallon Jaz fuel cell was mounted under the hood with an inline pump and aluminum lines from front to back.
The final piece to the puzzle was ensuring the engine would be insulated from the cabin. So a carpeted aluminum panel was Velcroed in place to keep the noise and heat down.
With the engine running and the rust removed, Aaron continued by reshaping the fenders to accommodate a larger wheel and tire combination. He did this by grafting Mk2 Golf fenders into place, widening the car about 3" each side. The rear was a little more complex, requiring parts from the Golf, Notchback and Squareback to achieve the correct shape. The car was then sprayed satin black to give it a more menacing appearance.
For wheels, Aaron started with the original 15" Passat parts but they wouldn't clear the rear brakes. So he had to go bigger.
He ended up finding an inexpensive set of 17x7" Exor wheels designed for the New Beetle. "I couldn't imagine the more traditional wheels on the car. The ones I ended up with were a VW factory accessory wheel, so I knew the quality was good," he told us: the silver finish and modern design complimenting the overall theme.
Aaron wrapped-up the project by rebuilding the Passat dash to fit the cockpit. Everything from the instrument cluster, harness, fuse box, steering column and wheel were re-used. The only thing that wasn't salvaged was the climate control and radio, but Aaron plans to add them in the future. A pair of unbranded sports seats with five-point harnesses finished the interior.
With 3000 miles on the car, Aaron reports no issues. In fact, he hopes to attend track days this summer and might redo the fuel pump setup to fix occasional starvation issues. He also plans to change the seats for more comfortable ones on longer trips. "The car is bare bones," Aaron concluded. "My original intent was to make it more of a track car, but it drives so nice that it's evolved towards a daily driver. I can just jump in it and go. Everything is reliable and it starts up every time. I wouldn't hesitate to do a 500-mile trip." How many 1965 transplant projects can you say that about?
et Tech Spec
1965 VW 1500
Owner: Aaron Simon
Location: Clarksburg, WV
Occupation: VWoA sales manager
Engine: 2.8-liter VR6 12v with AEM intake, 2.5" shorty exhaust, 2.5" Dynomax Turbo muffler, deleted cat, Jaz fuel cell
Drivetrain: five-speed manual transmission with Wentworth Motorsports shifter assembly
Suspension: two pairs of front Weitec XS coilover struts with 170/70 rear and 200/40 front spring rates, front and rear Audi TT control arm bushings, Passat sway bars, '94 Passat firewall and front floor, 2x3" rectangular frame rails tying front and rear subframes, eight-point 1.625" mild-steel Rolling Chassis rollcage
Brakes: 11" Brembo drilled and slotted rotors all round with Passat front calipers and Mk4 GTI 337 rear calipers, Mintex Red pads, Corrado master cylinder and booster, braided steel lines, inline brake adjuster, ABS deleted
Wheels & Tires: 17x7" VW Exor wheels with 205/40 R17 Hankook Ventus V12 tires
Exterior: custom 3" steel widebody using VW Mk2 Golf, Notchback and Squareback fenders, deleted bumpers, modified grille, shaved front license plate mount, filled rear apron and cowl vents, Freched rear license plate, trailer hitch, painted in Summit Racing satin black
Interior: remolded Passat dash including instrument cluster and steering column, TMI headliner and door panels, sports seats, five-point harnesses, custom engine cover
Thanks: my wife Pat, Dean at Rapid Parts, Brandon, Pete, Al