Tell us a little about the history of the Buggy House.
As far as I can put together, there have been 4 main owners of the shop. The first owner only had the shop for three years. He ran it by himself. In 1970, he stepped into the back for a moment and three SPG roller cranks were stolen. Five minutes later he sold the shop to Jerry Young. If you ever talk to any old school bay area VW people, they’ll know about the Buggy House, and they’ll know Jerry. Jerry Young and his brother in law Rich Davis ran the Buggy house until the early 2000s. During that time they made a name for the business and did very well. Remember this was before the internet. They had distributors like H&H and IMC who carried every factory part ever made. Everything was cheap and everyone was building cars.
These were truly the glory days of the air-cooled industry. Then sometime in the early 2000s (not sure the actual year) another group of VW enthusiasts bought the shop form Jerry. From the time it was purchased to the time it was sold, they didn’t do the business any favors. I never dealt directly with the Buggy House during that time but no one I talk to about this period in the shops history has much good to say. The business was in debt to its vendors, wasn’t profitable, had little inventory, and for a while was turned into a cabinet showroom as the owner was a carpenter and could make more money making cabinets than he could selling VW parts.
It got to the point in late 2008 where he was going to shut the doors and call it quits. That’s when James came along and bought the business. Kevin and I came into the picture shortly after. The first year we were open we didn’t make a lot of money, but even during depths of the recession we thrived. Now however, we’re doing more business than the Buggy House has done since the late 1990s. We are all very proud of what we’ve been able to bring the business back to. It’s now not only a profitable business but a business that has the reputation of taking care of its customers, whatever their needs may be. Oh and if you’re an old school bay area VW person you also probably knew Mike Collins. Mike Collins was the premier transaxle and engine builder in the bay area for years. James Collins, who now owns the Buggy House is Mike’s son.
How do you feel the Buggy House is different from other shops in the Bay Area?
There aren’t many shops left in the Bay Area. After we bought the Buggy House, three other air-cooled shops closed within a year. Donsco in Belmont, Bugformance of Sunnyvalve, and Bugformance of Stockton. Others followed. We were very fortunate to have made it. That was really the worst of the recession. Lots of small businesses closed during that time. However, of the shops that do remain I would say the biggest difference between us and them is we take care of our customers. If you’re going to come to me and spend a lot of money on your car, and you’re cool and not a weirdo or really annoying, you’ll get treated like family. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate our best customers and how much they appreciate us.
The other cool thing about our shop is we’ve got a parts store, machine shop, and service shop all under one roof. If a customer wants to have us machine their case and heads, for example, we do it all in house and they can buy all the parts to finish the engine off through the parts store. If they have the machine work done, buy all the parts, and don’t feel comfortable building the engine themselves, they can bring the parts back and we’ll build it in the engine room. If that same customer didn’t have the time to dress and install the rebuilt engine themselves, they can bring the whole car down and we’ll do it all. A place that’s set up to do all that for air-cooled Volkswagen is one of a kind in the Bay Area.
Who are the faces behind the counter everyday?
Sean Plunkett, Kevin Majors, James Collins.
I’m Sean, I’m the likeable one. I’m responsible for maintaining the showroom, helping customers, making orders, making returns, receiving orders, taking inventory, answering technical phone calls, making service appointments, selling parts, writing estimates and anything else having to do with running the shop.
Kevin is one of our Buggy House mechanics. He has over 10 years of experience with air-cooled Volkswagens. He can have an engine out of a car and completely apart, ready to be cleaned and inspected, in less than an hour. He’s unbelievably fast with some of this stuff and his knowledge and attention to detail is extraordinary. The shop is very lucky to have him.
James is the head mechanic. One of our good customers Jeff Kiel made a funny observation in one of our Yelp reviews,
“He may seem a little gruff at first, but once you get to know him you can tell that he takes pride in his work.”
That’s putting it hilariously politely! James can be grumpy and is very moody. He’ll hate that I’m putting that here but it’s true. James is an amazing VW mechanic though. He’s unbelievable. The amount of practical knowledge he possesses when it comes to these cars is unfathomable. He’s learned from some of the best and has been doing this for 30 years. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to Volkswagens! Not only that, he gave Kev and I an incredible opportunity to make something of the Buggy House which we are both indebted to him for. He’s a great man and a good friend. Anyone who truly knows him will tell you the same.
Oh and Jerry, the previous owner of the Buggy House, does all our machine work. He’s retired but is at the shop five days a week. He’s tremendously knowledgeable when it comes to air-cooled engines, stock or modified. We’ll be keeping him around as long as we can.
What are you current projects?
As far as long-term projects go, we just finished a 1967 convertible for a customer. The car came out so sweet. It took James three years to finish. Check out the photos.
James just finished the BAJA 1000 off-road race in Mexico. James is the engine builder for the team. They had a blast and they even finished the race!
Do you offer all services for vintage Volkswagens?
We don’t do paint. We don’t normally do any interior work. We don’t do convertible tops, door glass or any of the rubber related to the doors. Everything else we’ll do and I have some excellent local shops that I connect our customers with who specialize in everything we don’t do.
If you need machine work, complete engines, transaxle swaps, front end rebuilds, floor pan replacements, electrical troubleshooting, brakes, and anything else associated with the mechanical part of your VW we can do it.
Keep in mind we don’t work ANY late model cars; no water cooled cars at all. We don’t work on late Busses either. We proudly specialize in early Type-1 based air-cooled cars. 36 horsepower to 1600cc Dual Port. That means Busses up to 1971, Bugs up to 1977, Super Beetles up to 1979, Ghias up to 1974, Type-III to 1974, Thing 1973 and 1974, Sand Rails, Dune Buggies, VW Trikes, Bajas, and anything else with an Early VW engine. This is all we do. This is all the business has done for the last 45 years. We know these cars and we know them well.
Who are your preferred parts providers?
I have a lot of vendors right now. My favored vendors are the ones that give me the best deals on the best quality parts. I’m always trying to undercut the competition and prove to people that we can sell lots of this stuff cheaper than you can get it online. Hard parts are especially overpriced online. We’re always trying to make people good deals. If I can take good care of someone that’s ready to spend money, I’ll have them as a customer for life. That’s what I want as a business owner; repeat business. If I can help someone out to the point where they’ll come to me for whatever they need, they’ll always get the best prices for the best quality.
Do you sell NOS and quality used parts?
We do. I don’t have a whole lot of NOS parts but what I do have we’re really proud of. I just got a shipment of 01001 Bosch points which went out of production last year. These are meant to be used in the now very popular 010 and 019 cast iron distributors. I also just got a shipment of OEM made in Germany “Hella” brand dome lights for Type-1. These haven’t been in production in a LONG time. Get them while you can!!
As far as used stuff goes, I have lots of used parts in stock. Not all of them are in excellent condition and not all of them are cheap but a lot of the time, especially with Volkswagens, the used stuff is better than what you can get brand new and it’s worth paying for!
Why vintage Volkswagen’s in the first place?
The Buggy House has been a great opportunity for all of us. We’ve got lots of family working at the shop now and we’re all very passionate about these cars.
Anything else you’d like to say?
More than anything I’d like to encourage people to come check out our shop who live in the Bay Area. I think most people are under the impression that it’s cheaper to buy stuff online, that any shop can work on these cars, or the worst one, when people go online for engine building advice. Come down and see us. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how reasonably priced all the parts are. Plus, you’ll be able to actually look at and compare parts on my counter and make your own judgments about what you want to buy for your car.
The sad truth is, not anybody can work on these cars anymore. Most people find that out the hard way. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who bring their cars in because they’re not running right after a tune up from some Mickey Mouse mechanic. Most of the time we find out that his tune-up didn’t include a valve adjustment and he, “set the timing by ear.” Don’t take chances. Don’t waste money. Have qualified air-cooled experts with years of experience and only qualified experts with years of experience touch your air-cooled VW. You’ll be surprised at our prices in the service department as well.
I had a customer come in a little while ago who was planning on building his own engine. He didn’t have a lot of money and he had already bought an “engine kit” online that someone in an forum told him to buy. Apparently this guy was an “engine builder” and always used these kits. It was a bunch of junk: Chinese rods which where 12 grams out of spec., cheapo lifters, non steel-backed bearings, a cast counter-weighted crankshaft, the list goes on. So he brought his case in to have us check it out. Turns out it had so much separation between the case halves at the #2 main journal you could actually see daylight from the top of the case with it all torqued together. So he wasted lots of money on junk he didn’t even need. On top of that, he had no money left to finish his project.
The moral of the story here is, most of what you’re reading in online forums about these engines is wrong. There are a lot of people online now who think that because they’ve hung around on The Samba long enough they’re experts. Most of them have probably never even built an engine. You shouldn’t be basing decisions about your engine on the opinion of some lonely online ass who just wants attention.
The only way you’re going to learn how to build an engine is to do it yourself and we can help you every step of the way. Just come in and talk to us for five minutes and you’ll learn more than what you would after an hour online. I’m not going to sell you junk. All the parts I sell out of the store are the same components we’re using on our warrantied engines. It’s all good quality stuff and it all works. I’m going to give you my own opinions about your build based on your budget, I’m going to give you lots of options, and help you plan the build whether you want to build a stock engine or something with more horsepower.
Bottom line is, we care about our customers and we don’t want to see them make misguided decisions or ignorant mistakes. Come see us first!!