Recently, I was emailing with a guy on eBay about a ’67 oil bath air cleaner core. I soon learned that it was none other than Randy Carlson. If you’ve ever searched for a Vintage VW, his name is no doubt familiar. Randy is the owner and founder of Oldbug.com and has been a very active member of the So-Cal automotive scene since the 1980s.
He was kind enough to share his story with 1967beetle.com.
Born in 1966 in Whittier California, VW Nut Randy Carlson had the benefit of being seated in the heart of So Cal Car Culture. With a father deep into car collecting, he grew up at the swap meets and car shows in the area and as long as he can remember, there was always something interesting in the garage. The parade of vehicles in the home garage ranged from huge American classics such as Packards and Pierce Arrows to foreign steel to the likes of Austin Healeys and even a Gullwing Mercedes. With exposure to such amazing vehicles as a child, why and how did he end up with VW’s as his passion?
In the early 80s as Randy entered High School, he joined up with the Auto Shop and there several other students were working on VWs. One of his best friends was first in his group of buddies to get his drivers license and his mode of transport was a 1968 Auto Stick Beetle dubbed the “Killer Marshmallow”… so the passenger seat often held Randy on mischief filled trips around Orange County. The seed was planted and in 1983 Randy purchased his first VW, a 1965 sedan that had been rolled in an accident for the princely sum of $50. This first project was never quite completed, but it got quite close, and after selling it to a neighbor friend (a young Matt Hotch, of Hot Match Custom Cycles fame) it eventually became quite the clean machine.
The rolled 65 was the cork that popped from the barrel and a long stream of other VWs gushed through the Yorba Linda driveway of the Carlson home. After several beaters and quick flip projects, the first VW to really get the full tilt efforts was a 1962 Double Cab that eventually made it into the magazines in the late 80s and hauled home the first of many awards. Driven daily to work at DiPS (a So Cal Based Foreign Car Parts Shop) and to school at Fullerton College, and then shown on the weekends with a full display and mirrors underneath to show off the detailed undercarriage. Life was simple back then and the VW scene was vibrant and day glow colored! Randy spent time as a member of the VW Club, Pacific Coast Volks and even spent some time as President in the early 90s.
The cars kept coming and other feature vehicles emerged from the garage. In 1991, the 63 Beetle that Randy built as a Taxi Cab made the cover of VW Trends Magazine and delighted the crowds at the events for many seasons.
The car was fully accessorized to an extreme degree with period luggage and maps in the glove box, tourist camera in the back seat and the list goes on and on. The car was so well done it landed Randy a job in Hollywood working with props and set dressing for the film industry. In 1995 as a part of his duties, he did some work for Disney on the “Love Bug” film that was shown on Television in the US as a movie of the week. He provided some artwork for the film that was the front face of a split screen Van that was shown in an art gallery scene and was allowed on set several times to shoot photos for an article in Hot VWs Magazine.
The movie industry was interesting, but after a few years Randy realized that it was not for him and the entrepreneurial spirit raised it’s head and he left Hollywood and started his own business in trading antiques and collectibles. A side business was started in Hawaiian themed clothing and decor items and life was sweet in the tiny bungalow he shared with his lovely wife Vanessa. In 1998, things changed again with the introduction of the New Beetle in the US. The hardcore air cooled VW man was caught hook line and sinker by the soft curves of the new model and due to an amazing stoke of luck, Randy and Vanessa took delivery of the very first one sold in Southern California. The customization started immediately and the car was used by several California based manufacturers for testing and fitting of custom parts and this ended up spawning a whole new business in selling tuning goodies for the New Beetle and eventually other vehicles as well. The car was featured in magazines world wide and was seen at the So Cal shows prolifically, and quite often seen with Randy’s restored ’53 Zwitter Standard Beetle being towed behind!
With the New Beetle being such a wild hit in the US, there were many opportunities that came up to do things with the car. Randy founded the NBC (New Beetle Club) in the US which is still active today and he took part in a cross country promotional road trip called the New Beetle Adventure that brought him together with fellow Vintage VW buddies Eric Meyer, and Blue Nelson for a truly epic trip through the States that was documented by TV stations and Newspapers along the way. Randy vividly recalls one experience on the trip, pulling into a VW dealership in New Mexico with the caravan to be greeted by screaming crowds and flashing cameras “Its the Beetles!!” they yelled… providing a flash moment into the life of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
In 1999, Randy was searching about for domain names on the internet to promote the parts business and registered “newbugs.com”, then just for curiosity searched “oldbugs.com” and “oldbug.com” and both were available. Quickly grabbed, Randy posted a single photo of his Split Window Beetle on the page and left it alone for a while. Some time later Randy decided to try build a page for an Oval Window he wanted to sell and posted it on Oldbug.com just for kicks. The car sold within a week with no other advertisement and the seed was again planted and Randy started advertising cars for his friends and himself. Now 12 years later, Oldbug.com is known world wide and has an amazing array of vintage VWs on display and for sale.
With the internet presence of Oldbug.com, Randy has found himself with some pretty interesting offers and opportunities. A day after posting photos of a Herbie replica that he built, a phone call came in from Disney. They were just getting started with a full feature Herbie film and they needed cars. Randy’s Herbie was the first one bought and upon delivery he asked… “how many more of these do you need?”. That ended up with Randy finding and providing over half of the 32 Beetles used for the film and playing a role as an advisor for the “Car Crew” on VW related things. With a full access pass, Randy enjoyed visiting the set when time allowed and one day even brought along VW Trends editor Ryan Price. No press was allowed on set, but Randy and Ryan walked about un-noticed and while standing amongst a crowd of actors, accidentally found themselves a part of the scene as “action” was yelled and everybody around them started moving. If you look quickly at one point in the film, you can see Randy walk by the camera! At the end of filming Randy negotiated to buy the lot of remaining parts from Disney and quickly built a replica of the Nascar Herbie from the film, with the actual film used parts and had it completed in time for the movie’s release. The car was even displayed on the red carpet at the Hollywood Premier and the glove box door signed by the cast… a highlight of his career.
One day a cryptic email came through that came from the fingers of Chopper builder Jesse James. Jesse was in the VW scene back in the day and he wanted to get back into it with a Bus. A deal was done, followed by a few more, and one day Jesse called and said he wanted to find a VW to use for his TV show Monster Garage. Randy boldly said “I’ll find you one if you put me on the show!” and the dream became reality. Jesse said OK and Randy set out to find a suitable base car and assemble the team of builders the ended up including Clyde Berg, Ron Lummus, Jack Sachette , Jay Ransbottom. The crew of five took the most rancid rusty split window Beetle and turned it into a full out drag beetle in a period of five days. The build was a success and the team won tools and all had a chance to see themselves on the telly. Another highlight indeed.
Other stories include providing cars for Volkswagen for a press event at the Playboy Mansion (and yes… he saw the “bunnies”), building two custom VWs for actor Tim Allen, as well as building and handing several others for the Hollywood set over the years. For the past five years Randy has been running his business from his small family ranch in the mountains… far far away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Milking goats one morning and walking the lawn of the Playboy Mansion in the afternoon… a juxtaposition that Randy enjoys greatly. The workshop is always filled with interesting projects and the air is filled with the laughter of Randy’s three kids playing in the yard and the farm animals hanging about… it’s quite the life… and playing with VWs has made it happen.