Herbies are easily identified by the red and blue stripes and racing number 53. Photograph by Ocs Alvarez
Drive Cars and Bikes

Intriguing ways to customize a Beetle (like have it painted by Bencab, or make it a limousine)

Be it a daily driver, Sunday special, or a side project, the original air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle has served as a canvas for expressing its owner's personality. With a cornucopia of parts, looks, and executions to choose from and create, the possibilities are, quite literally, limitless
Iñigo S. Roces | Jan 01 2019


Based on the Disney movies about a lovable bug with a mind of its own, Ron Limson's Beetle proudly bears the signature paint scheme of the anthropomorphic bug. Herbie Beetles are characterized by their pearl white paint and bear off-center red and blue stripes along the hood, roof, and trunk.

(L-R) T-bars replace the overrider bumpers for this “racing” Herbie look; Skinny stock bias ply tires made for quick acceleration and high fuel economy; Eyelids for the headlights, though not required, are a common addition to the Herbie look.

The front, rear, and sides have a white circle with the number 53. Though the original Herbie is a '63 model, any Beetle with the signature paint scheme can be called a Herbie. A frequently added accessory are the "eyelids," installed on the headlights to give it a more human face.

Requiring little more than a stock Beetle and the right paint job, a Herbie is one of the easiest custom routes.

Limson's Herbie is a daily driver, powered by the humble 1200 cc engine. The bumpers have been replaced with T-bars and hubcaps were removed to resemble the more sporting, 'Racing Herbie look.

"It's always fun to drive it," Limson says. "When I pass by, kids always yell 'Herbie!' and sometimes even 'Mr. Bean!"


Period correct

Rhonnie Fernandez's Beetle is a period correct 1953 example. The Volkswagen Club VW Classics Best of Show Winner has been restored to factory stock, and features a number of period correct accessories. Among the distinct characteristics of the '53 Beetle is its square rear window, a departure from the smaller oval windows of its predecessors. It still bears the slanted headlight and small, multifunction taillight of earlier models. Side mirrors are mounted on the door hinges.

Early model vinyl sunroof Beetles called “ragtops.”

The vehicle itself rolls on skinny 165 mm wide tires, shod on steel wheels with chrome hubcaps. Inside, the cabin is Spartan. A large speedometer dominates the center, with fuel and oil gauge on the side. Headrests on seats have not become a safety requirement yet, and so the seats were only built to support the back. All around the car are logos of Wolfsburg, the original German factory where early Beetles were built.

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A toolkit mounted over the spare tire. 

Ivory knobs, wheel, and interior upholstery made available on top of-the-line models. 

The external fuel gauge. 

The ignition slot doubling as a hood lock and release. 

Ragtop sunroofs. 

Recessed headlamp receptacles maintained the round shape of the front fender. 

“Overrider” bumpers for added protection and aerodynamics. 

The Castle badge indicating the vehicle was manufactured in the Wolfsburg factory. 

Manufacturer plates like this D, representing Deutcheland, the vehicle’s manufacture. 

The Beetle also features a number of period correct aftermarket accessories that give a glimpse of the motoring trends of the time. Under the dash is a wicker tray that stretches the length. Easily one of the entire Beetle's most popular accessories is the bud vase, mounted beside the dial.


BenCab Beetle

Popularized by the hippie—themed Volkswagens of the 6os, cars have become a favored canvas of artists, with brands like BMW regularly commissioning world renowned artists to customize their vehicles. As such, the Beetle has come full circle, this time being the canvas to National Artist for Visual Arts, Benedicto "BenCab" Cabrera.

BenCab's Sabel sa Beetle is a functioning 1974 Volkswagen Beetle 1303 "Super Beetle" handpainted by the artist. The vehicle belongs to fellow artist, acclaimed glass sculptor Ramon Orlina. The vehicle features a red and white paint scheme with images of Sabel, a recurring theme in BenCab's works and his muse through the ages. The glass sculpture inside is by Orlina. The new metal dashboard is by Daniel dela Cruz.

Images of Japanese feudal culture adorn this BenCab creation.

The Beetle itself is among the last ones to be produced in Germany. It is named Super Beetle owing to some particularly unique traits. For one, it bears a rounded windshield and flattop dashboard as opposed to earlier flat windshield Beetles. The façade is rounder and wider, even tapering inward at the bottom. Behind is a large, circular taillight. Underneath, the Super Beetle is held aloft by modern MacPherson strut front suspension, a radical departure from the torsion bar of the original. Over in the back is a larger 1300 cc engine, featuring fuel injection. Orlina is a confessed automobile aficionado, counting a vintage '32 Austin 7, Fiat 124, a very rare Volvo 850 coupe, and several VW Beetles in his collection. He first acquired the Beetle for PHP 50,000, but has since spent some PHP 400,000 restoring it. This Beetle is not his only modified one. He owns two VW Beetles converted into limousines.

Orlina says he was inspired to create an art car after he was invited by BMW Philippines to paint on a scale model 6-series together with a number of other Filipino artists. When Ben Cab asked Orlina to create a sculpture for him, he did so, in the Beetle, and called up Cabrera to alert him it was finished.

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A line of Sabels. 

Daniel dela Cruz created the hand and metal dashboard, depicting the Beetle as a righthand drive car, as it would be in Japan. 

Ramon Orlina’s glass sculpture peeps from the rear window. 

BenCab’s sketches allude to powerful matriarchs and the elegance of Japanese calligraphy. 

Sabel hunches over the rear fender, housing tires shod on Empi Starsrpint wheels. 

BenCab’s signature over the engine cover. 

Windows and fenders add to the clever framing of the Beetle’s artwork. 

Orlina replaced bumpers with T-bars, mounting signal lights from a VW Type 3 on the lower fender. 

BenCab grants one last glance of Sabel on the engine cover as the car pulls away. CREDIT

"I'll deliver it and will send you the canvas," Orlina had said.

"What canvas?" Cabrera asked.

Cabrera was then surprised as the Beetle was driven to him in Baguio under its own power, upon which Cabrera painted his Sabel motif, signed it and dated it. The launch of the Swatch + Swatch Center in Makati, Ben asked to borrow the Beetle for display onsite.


Beetle limousine

In the extreme end of the customization spectrum are grand modifications such as turning the Beetle into a Limousine. The Beetle shown here is one of two examples made by Ramon Orlina. To create this, Orlina took a '73 1302 Beetle and separated the shell from the chassis. The chassis was then stretched while the body received two additional doors and was strengthened. To cope with the extra weight, the engine was bored up to 1800cc and fitted with dual Empi 40 PICT carburetors, a high volume oil pump as well as an external oil cooling system.

Among Orlina’s other Beetle project cars is one stretched to become a limousine. Photo courtesy of Ramon Orlina

The car now has a length of 17 feet, with a customized rear door vent wing window with a glass design by the artist himself.

Inside, the vehicle features vis-a-vis seating, a dual air conditioning system and an entertainment system composed of a Blaupunkt stereo and 10 inch DVD video system. Like all limos, this two has a power operated window partition between the driver and passengers.

All these make it a stylish ride.


This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 18 2014.

Photographs by Ocs Alvarez