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 |   |  1989 VW Fox Wagon - Armed & Dangerous
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1989 VW Fox Wagon - Armed & Dangerous

Armed with a working cannon, the mini-tank in the back of BMX-pro John Ludwick’s VW Fox wagon brings a new meaning to road rage!

Alex Rogan
Nov 28, 2011
Photographer: Josh Brown
Eurp 1111 01+1989 vw fox wagon+cover Photo 2/11   |   1989 VW Fox Wagon - Armed & Dangerous

You can say a lot of things about the Euro scene: it’s repetitive, too competitive, expanding, improving, diverse. One thing’s for sure, though, we can all take things a bit too seriously.

Eurp 1111 01+1989 vw fox wagon+cover Photo 2/11   |   1989 VW Fox Wagon - Armed & Dangerous

We’ve all been there, on a forum where we see a comment that raises our ire and we feel impelled to respond. But why do that? Why be a hater?

Take a look at this Fox Wagon, for example. It’s guaranteed to split opinions about whether it’s cool and whether builder/owner John Ludwick should be applauded. But the best thing about John is that he and his buddies are having too much fun to care what you think!

A BMX pro from Center Harbor, NH, John didn’t select the most likely magazine candidate when he chose the Fox. Nor did he go the usual route to modify it.

He didn’t use off-the-shelf parts (not that many are available), and there’s no power swap. It’s pure DIY enthusiasm and a little hard work on a very modest budget. “I’ve got about $2500 into the car altogether,” John said. “Everything’s been built not bought.”

Influenced by his father, John Ludwick Sr, who used to ice-race in Mk1 Rabbits for years, Junior chose the Fox because of an affinity for wagons over his preference for muscle cars. Not to mention, his first car was a Fox Wagon – it was supposed to become an ice racer and he always wanted another. “The first one was a bone-stock rust-bucket. I found this one online belonging to a 95 year-old man who’d bought it brand-new – I’ve got the original window sticker and everything. It’s been babied it’s entire life. I got my hands on it and kinda wrecked it!” he laughed.

All joking aside, the car was pristine, but the original silver paint was faded badly. The solution was a quick re-spray in a flat tan, with a black roof and accents.

John wasn’t going to leave the stock ride height for long, but with no suspension systems commercially available, he had to get creative. “The spindle and strut combo is different to most other VWs, so we had to go a different route,” he explained. “We took a set of coilovers and modified them for the Fox, after which we had to modify more parts to get the suspension to work. But with some cutting and welding, we were finally able to get it to sit right.”

Eurp 1111 02+1989 vw fox wagon+tank Photo 3/11   |   1989 VW Fox Wagon - Armed & Dangerous

At the rear, John built 3" steel drop plates to match the front and maintain some suspension travel for ride comfort. As you can see, the result is one of the lowest static drops we’ve ever seen on a Fox, with the lowest points of the chassis only 1" off the pavement. Believe it or not, this is also John’s daily driver! “It’s my only vehicle. I drive it to work everyday,” he said.

The New Hampshire police haven’t found much they like about the car, and John has the tickets to prove it. “They’re not scared to slap you with a ticket!” he said. “Live free or die! You can do a lot of things, but you can’t lower you car below 16 inches…”

The slammed stance isn’t purely suspension: the tiny 13x6" wheels with 175/50 tires play their part as well. If the wheels look different, it’s because they’re two-tone steelies from a ’70s Chevy Vega. “My father ran them on his Mk1 when he was racing. On the ice, you ran tires chains and he always had problems with the chains hitting the strut bodies. So he ran Vega wheels with more offset. I grew up seeing this and wanted the same on my build.”

The wheels lend a unique look, and sit nicely in the arches, which were “self clearanced” on the tires. It’s a decidedly ratty look, but certainly adds to the overall theme.

“When we first built the suspension, we took it for a shakedown run at 3am and didn’t even make it out of the driveway because the exhaust got ripped off!” John said.

With the Fox needing a new exhaust system, it gave John the opportunity to incorporate a few stylistic touches he’s admired from the Japanese Bosozoku movement. They have stinger pipes in the rear and big oil coolers up front, so that’s what the Fox now has.

Eurp 1111 06+1989 vw fox wagon+interior Photo 7/11   |   “The interior is the only nice part of the car,” according to the owner

The oil cooler was functional for a time but, thanks to repeated grounding and impacts, has been disconnected to avoid a breakdown or engine failure. “The oil cooler is a little overboard,” he admitted, “but I like it.”

Fortunately, the stock CIS-injected 1.8L 8v doesn’t need much additional cooling.

The interior is also stock, with the addition of a cool two-spoke steering wheel from an early Mk1, and the shift knob from a ’79 Dasher. The rear VW badge is from an early German-market Passat. “The interior is the only nice part of the car, so I figured I might as well try to keep in nice,” John chuckled. “No cracks in the dash – everything is factory.”

Finally we have the Tank, complete with working cannon. Yes, it’s a bit crazy, but like everything else, it’s what he’s about – having fun and not taking things too seriously.

“The inspiration came from people at shows ripping around on 50cc dirt bikes,” he explained. “The wagon was flat-tan and kinda had a military feel, so I threw the idea out to my dad. The tank was pretty much my father’s work; he was really gung-ho about it.”

It’s based on a kart chassis that was chopped and lowered about 3", while the bodywork is obviously home-built.

The 5hp Tecumseh engine is capable of propelling the min-tank up to about 30mph, more than enough to be sketchy with the cambered front wheels. “We cambered the front as a joke to gave it stance,” John laughed.

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The gun barrel is adjustable and can be loaded on the move. It can reportedly launch just about anything that will fit inside. Despite what we assumed, John hasn’t gotten too crazy with it yet: “It’s PVC and makes a 90˚ bend to the gas chamber when it comes into the cockpit. With the gun fired by gas in a portable torch bottle, we don’t want plastic shards in our abdomens so we’ve exercised some self control with the gun,” he grinned.

Naturally, the tank can be transported in the Wagon, making it an all-in-one show/attack transport vehicle.

As you may have noticed John’s not too shabby on a BMX bike. Undoubtedly, his time on the road as a pro rider for companies like Deco may explain his ability to find fun in any situation. Although he stopped touring, lunch was filled with tales of crossing the country with wild squirrels and stories that had us howling with laughter.

An example of what happened was when we inquired about the ‘Dirt Nap’ and ‘Hammerdune’ stickers on the vehicles. “It’s not a club or a crew, it just is. We were talking about the movie Dune, and how epic it would be to get caught in a sand trap: take a dirt nap and go to Dune. Hammerdune,” John laughed, manically. “Put the Hammerdune, drop the hammerdune, beware the hammerdune. It’s a noun, it’s a verb; to the moon, Hammerdune!”

You’d be forgiven for thinking there were some mind-altering substances being imbibed at this point, but John doesn’t even drink. It’s just pure adrenaline, enthusiasm and having fun in any situation.

And that’s how it was throughout the day. John and his crew were happy to try anything, as our photos and online video will show. Ultimately, we were there to document his Fox Wagon, of which John is very proud: “It wasn’t built to be a racecar or a show car,” he said. “I like low cars, wagons and driving them, so it’s a daily’ed wagon that’s low. It’s everything at once!”

et Tech Spec

1989 VW FOX Wagon
Owner: John Ludwick
Location: Center Harbor, NH
Occupation: lawn care, musician, BMX rider
Engine: 1.8L four-cylinder 8v with custom exhaust, externally-mounted Mazda RX7 oil cooler
Drivetrain: stock
Brakes: stock
Suspension: custom coilovers, 3" drop plates in rear
Wheels & Tires: 13x6" Chevrolet Vega wheels with 175/50 R13 Sumitomo HTR-200
Exterior: sprayed matte tan, black roof, pulled fenders
Interior: early Mk1 Golf Wolfsburg steering wheel, shifter extended 4", B1 Passat/Dasher shift knob
Tank: modified kart chassis, lowered 3.5", 5hp Tecumseh engine, custom bodywork, working gas-powered PVC cannon, top speed 30mph
Thanks: God, father John Sr, Randy Rockwood, Eric Archibald, Tom McIntosh, Dirtnap, Chad Degroot and Deco BMX, Kurt, Logan and Jarrid at Granite Skatepark, Hammerdune

By Alex Rogan
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