Chris, tell me a little about yourself, your background and how you got into restoring Volkswagen Beetles?
I grew up in NY my whole life in the Hudson Valley just above NYC. Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated with art, animation, cartooning, and cinema. So since grade school I wanted to be in Cinema. When I got to studying art in college, I wanted to be the artist with a Bug. In my school I would have been the only guy with one, what a way to stand out I thought. I knew nothing about cars, nadda! I was lucky I knew how to put gas in. Plus it was going to be my first time I bought a car on my own.
I searched the local classifieds for a VW beetle, and sure enough I found a cool 71 Super Beetle Convertible, red with white interior in the summer of 99. Not knowing what to lookout for before buying a bug, I bought a car that had all rotted heater channels and cancer brewing under the paint. This was good though, same ole adage, you live and learn.
I used this car for all my film shoots, carrying my film gear to and from my shooting locations, getting saturated when driving in the rain, and freezing my butt off in the winter, it was a pleasure! This car was used in a few cameos as well while I called “action.”
2003 rolled around and I found a 68 beetle sedan sitting in a condo complex parking lot with four flat tires and rust beyond belief. Well $350.00 later, a few shots of ether, and two cans of fix a flat, and I drove that baby home to show my pop.
This was truly my first bug I wanted to restore with my father, to finally make a classic car together and bond a ‘lil. He thought I was nuts and screamed at me, “what are ya gonna do with that friggin thing?” He didn’t even want the neighbors to see the poor eye sore, so we pushed it into the backyard.
Well I read a lot of mags on the resto subject and watched a ton of “how to videos” to restore the bug. My artistic skills were coming to life! After about a year, lil Herman was movin and groovin! We drove for hours to shows, film shoots, you name it. Even the gals loved Herman.
Then shortly after I had written and directed a feature action film called “The Agent.” This film was all done on my own with my own cash, all raised by substitute teaching and some other odd end jobs, the way of the starving artist. Well my agent in LA found a distributor for it overseas. Sure enough I signed to have my film distributed internationally.
Only problem was, I then had to pay my lawyer who helped get the deal done for me, something that I did not consider, I was an artist, no business sense. I was sick to my stomach how much I had to pay. The only thing I could do was sell one of my bugs. I couldn’t sell the super since it was rotted, I did not want to sell a car like that to someone, I did not want them to find out what I find out later on, I just couldn’t do it. It would not cover the costs anyway. So Herman had to go. When you restore a work of art for the first time you become incredibly attached to it.
So with my design skills and filming background, I created a killer ad that no other buyer has ever seen before on eBay. 75+ professionally shot pics and full screen video with music titles and FX. Within a couple days “Herman” was gone, cash in hand.
None of this snapped into my silly head that I actually made money on the sale. I was still thinking my “movies” pay my lawyer, etc.
With the extra money I had, I restored the super convertible, and within two months I sold that buggy. This was the first and last bug that I actually lost money on since I bought the car on eye candy and then had to restore it. That car was the live and learn bug. SO now I had some cash!
Then what…. I bought another buggy right in my town, 72 sedan named “Franklin.” A car that I loved, it was MINT. Whoever did the restoration did an amazing job. But apparently the last owner had a screaming wife “sell the car!”
He did, to me! He just had rusty hubs and bumpers. So…fresh gas, new chrome, white walls… oh yes just perfect! Franklin was great! He gave me the true vision on how a restoration was done. Whoever did the work before the last owner did an amazing job, it opened my eyes.
My late twenties are here, I’m coming to my senses that filmmaking, while fun and gratifying, was not paying the bills. I was getting older, I better start making some mulla shmulla or my parents will forget that I existed! I just did not want to work for someone, I felt I was smart and I had the entrepreneurial spirit in me.
So I honed up on internet marketing, web design, staring a biz from home, eBay, etc. I developed a unique skill selling on eBay. I used my artistic background and producing skills to bring my bugs to life and showcase them like no other has done on eBay.
So the test finally came, all my learning, and several online courses later, Franklin went up on eBay. Within two days the auction had 6000 hits, and a man knocked on my door with an offer I could not refuse. The auction came down early and the rest is history.
From a one car garage we sold over 30 VWs, all on eBay. My skill to restore these cars and promote my babies just kept getting better. Now we have a 2000sq ft shop and are taking orders to Build-A-Bug for the peeps with a 2 year wait list. I am getting more recognition now for my buggies than I ever did for my own indie films on a global scale.
Success can work in strange ways. I have long days with this business, I answer 2 hours of email in the morning and two hours at night. Whether it is a fan of my work, someone asking a “help” question, or someone who just wants to buy a bug from our shop. This work, does not feel like work! I love what it has become.
How do you feel your background has helped benefit the business?
I think with my artistic eye, attention to detail, and my passion behind restoring the bugs has helped. I do not have the dealer attitude nor does my father. This is a father & son run business and we want to keep it that way. I think I come across as a very down to earth individual. I am someone you can call and ask a question without worry. We will have a meaningful conversation, I’ll even take you out to lunch!
What is your favorite year VW to restore and why?
I have a sweet spot when it comes to these bugs, my favorite timeframe is late 54 to early 55. I love the ribbed doors, batwing wheel, oval window, semaphores, thick solid metal, and the US only “egg” tail lights in this 6 month timeframe.
How many restorations are you currently working on?
Who works with you at Classic VW Bugs?
Just my father. We do get our usual stop ins pretty much on a daily basis, people love the shop. A great guy named Larry Calore that I met last year when we opened stops by almost daily to help out from time to time. He loves to come by, “it’s therapy” he says. Larry used to work for VW in the 60′s and 70′s and remembers these cars all too well, his youth returns when he steps into our shop. He has some great tips and techniques, he always helps with a free hand.
Tell me a little about the Build-A-Bug program.
Build-A-BuG started in early 2009. After a couple years of selling bugs on eBay, people were frequently calling to have me restore a bug just for them. I was a little hesitant at first, but it all made sense in the end. At this point, it is now 100% of our business. People call us and what a bug restored to their preference. We find it for them, strip it, remove the body from chassis (if needed) paint it, and put it all back together as a zero mile brand new bug.
Walk me through your restoration process from start to finish.
We start by finding the bug for the customer, many have a certain year they want done whether it was their first car or the year they were born etc. I search the internet on a daily basis for these cars, so I know where to look. Once we find the car, it is shipped to our shop.
Then the strip down process starts by gutting the bug down to a bare shell. We then categorize all the parts and make the list of what we need to buy and or send out to be chromed or machined.
The body is looked over for any rust or cancer rot. If anything structural is in need of help, we take the body off the chassis. New panels and sheet metal are ordered and welded in.
Once she is structurally sound, she goes off to our paint and body guy.
Then a large order goes out for the parts to that particular car. This is great timing since the car will normally be gone at the painters shop for at least 1-3 months. Some parts such as interiors will need to be hand sewn, so they take a good month to come in.
At this point also we will do a complete engine and tranny rebuild. All new parts are ordered and rebuilt into that classic air-cooled motor. Cases are steamed out, machined if needed, tins are sandblasted or painted and or powdercoated. They look better than they did when new.
Once the rest of the parts come in from running boards to interior, all is assembled. This is great, so when the car comes back, we just put the puzzle together.
Are the days of selling through eBay over, now that Build-A-Bug has taken off?
As of right now yes. We have not had to sell on eBay due to the fact that the Build-A-Bug program has taken off so well. If Build-A-Bug slows down (which I do not see) we can always go back to eBay.
Are you able to get your hands on NOS parts when restoring?
Yes thanks to the internet, eBay, theSamba and Craigslist.
What advice would you give someone wanting to restore one of these cars?
Hahaha, first watch my 130+ “how to video” tips off of my website and YouTube (free) to get an idea of what you are getting into. You need lots of patience, read up on mags and grab a few of the Bug Me Video dvd series along with the jbugs videos out there before jumping in. Go to the forums on theSamba with any other questions you may have. Go to a few VW shows that come around either in your area or in some other state that holds a yearly show. Ask the owners questions and get some ideas on style, designs, color combos etc.