Mid-Engine V8 Beetle

newman_bug_leadWhat began life as a stock 1963 Volkswagen Beetle convertible is now nearly everything but. We walked past the Bug a few times at the SEMA show before finally stopping to peer inside and see a stonking Ford V8 mounted amidships! The legend goes that Paul Newman had Jerry Eisert take some time out from constructing INDY race cars and engineer this mid-engine monster Bug to toy around with the Hollywood Porsche and Corvette sets on Mulholland drive. Newman donated the car to some college kids after having fun on the streets. Retired Chaffey College Racecar Technology Professor Sam Contino told us the story of how this restored mid-engine V8 economy sleeper has returned.

The Volkswagen looks stock at first glance, but underneath the unassuming shell and Ford V8 is a full race suspension. Jerry Eisert was no stranger to constructing monocoque race cars. Eisert built ’70s racing technology into this street legal ’60s Bug for Newman. The 351 Ford is mated to a ZF transaxle by way of a Ford GT40-DeTomaso Pantera setup. Double a-arm front suspension is held onto the pavement by Koni coilovers. Out back a set of Corvair trailing arms are improved with Eisert a-arm racing engineering. A box frame built into the Volkswagen tub holds the engine and car together. Auto racing is how the Bug ended up at Chaffey College.

Back in the ’70s Professor Sam Contino landed his students a day gig out at Ontario Speedway. A guy named John Delorean was holding an open house for some cars called Camaros, so Sam figured it would be a good day to bring the class out to the race track. He volunteered the crew on clean and detail patrol for the day to get in on the action. The students rolled out from Chaffey College with a race-prepped Trans-Am Camaro they had constructed in tow. The Camaro had been track tested by Bob Bondurant, who was at Ontario that day along with Paul Newman, who had driven the V8 Bug out to brush up on driving skills in the cockpit of a Bondurant School Formula Ford.

While Bondurant knew about the Chaffey Camaro, Paul Newman had never seen it. When he did get a glimpse of the Camaro, Newman asked the crew if he could take it for a few laps around Ontario. Newman returned impressed by the Trans-Am Camaro. The Chaffey students were meanwhile in awe of Newman’s V8-powered Volkswagen. A quick conversation between Bondurant and Newman hatched the idea that Newman donate the Bug to the College. Professor Sam Contino graciously accepted.

“I took it home that day!” said Sam.

The Volkswagen was the first of a series of rides that Newman donated to the Chaffey College Racing Technology program over the years. The program was conceived by Contino, who went to the Chaffey board with a crazy idea to design a curriculum around race car construction and technology. The board liked the idea and Sam Contino took up the teaching cause. The program also featured regular appearances by guest speakers like Dan Gurney to rally the students. Contino is now retired, but the Bug has been restored by Contino and son to help keep the story rolling.

More: Another gallery of photos and an excellent article on the history of the Paul Newman mid-engine Volkswagen.


  1. EvoStevo says

    Great story! Really adds to both the legends of Paul Newman and Mulholland Drive. Makes me wish I was alive in those days.

  2. efcivicman says

    Awesome story. I wish my college did something like this. The only think I’ve ever know to be donated to a college I was at was a prototype Vauxhall Astra.

  3. says

    Best reading in a long time !!! Born to late…These beetles were made in Osnabruck Germany ! The people’s car. This mid engine beetle would have kicked any parades ass! Hitler would have wanted one.

  4. says

    My name is Sam Contino:

    I am the proud owner of the Paul Newman Indy Car VW. I am showing this car across the country at special events as a tribute to my friend Paul Newman. His help made my college (Chaffey College) a top notch automotive and race car technology program. I could go on with much more about me and Paul and the great things we shared in both of our racing careers, but the most important thing was our common interest in young men and their education.

    This car was kept in storage for over thirty five years and my profound hope was to restore it and surprise Paul, as it was one of his most memorable endeavors, but I am sad to say that he passed away before the completion of the restoration. My best hope is that it will continue to bring good to an industry that he and I both loved and supported.

    Look forward to your comments……………………….retired Automotive Technology Professor Sam Contino

  5. says

    Sam Contino was one of my instructors at Chaffey College and I got to play with the Newman Bug a bunch. The intensive, top-notch automotive and racing program led to me being a mechanic at a Ford dealership, then a mechanic and pit crew on a small Indy car team, then an engineer on a very big Indy car team. Thanks, Sam!