Home Car and Driver Article March 1972 Dune Buggies and Hot VWs April 1977
The Brubaker Box is a VW based van designed by Curtis Brubaker in 1972. It is considered to be the first minivan ever made. Brubaker got the idea of producing a van for surfers to rival the minibuses produced by Volkswagen. The initial idea was to sell completed vehicles built upon new VW Beetle chassis supplied directly from Volkswagen. Unfortunately a deal could not be reached, so production began by buying complete Beetles and breaking them for the chassis and selling off any unused parts. Unfortunately this scheme was costly and Brubaker went bankrupt the same year. After Brubaker went bust another company Automecca bought the moulds and sold them in kit form for home builders. It is believed that there were only around 53 Brubaker / Automecca Boxes ever made They were only sold in the USA. Currently 12 have been located in the world.
My Brubaker seems to be a home constructed vehicle as there are many non standard items fitted. It is on a 71 chassis, but other than I'm not sure where on the Brubaker timeline it sits. It was registered in Maryland in 1983, but could have been completed earlier in another US state.
Read the build blog from the beginning on the links below
Page01 Purchase, Shipping from USA, body stripdown and drivers side door repair.
Page02 Chassis removal, replacement and renovation.
Page03 Chassis reassembly, wheel renovation, adapters and fitting.
This morning my brother Ian and I began the trial fit of the chassis. All went quite smoothly and the new jack helped very much. We removed the rear wheels and slid the chassis underneath. When the body dropped on we noticed the front left was not sitting correctly and about an inch too high. After much head scratching we noticed the left floor is reinforced with about an inch of chipboard (Something I hadn't noticed before). This was the reason the centre tunnel had been butchered about by the previous owner and why it was all bent out of shape. I am now even more convinced that this car has never been on the road. After more head scratching I decided to cut the floor out as this will be hidden under the driver seat. I may glass this back in, but might leave it as it would make seat mounting easier and more secure. There is still more under the front section, but I didnt want to cut this out just yet. I might be able to remove just the wood packing from underneath with the body back off. We centred the body both front and rear and bolted it down in 6 places. I will add more when its finally down for the last time. It now sits very square and much better than before.
At close of play the Brubaker was back in the garage on its new chassis. The wheels seem the perfect size, but the front is a little low and the rear a little high. Hopefully with the engine installed and the front adjusted up a little the stance will be perfect. Now it is onto the pedal and steering mockup. I am very pleased as I have only been working on the car for 4 months just at weekends and I already have it rolling.
Not too much done on Sunday, but I did get time to have a look at the pedal assembly in the footwell. The throttle pedal looks to be designed to pull a cable from a front engined car, so this will have to be modified with some sort of bellcrank or beetle style lever. Perhaps a bowden cable can be made to flex in a U shape to it. This will take some thinking about.
The clutch looks a little too close to the brake pedal and the steering column won't pass between them. I'll have to cut the assembly and reweld it further apart. Below is a view of the footwell. The top left hole is for the steering and aligns well with the steering box, the right hole was for the brake master cylinder. This is very badly done and needs to be cut away or repaired. I have also noticed that the track rod arms are very close to the body just behind here (Only about 1mm away). I think this needs sorting, so I will cut this area completely away, install the pedals and reservoirs and then see how I can fill in the gap. Fortunately Mr Brubaker provided a few cover plates here and there so this gives me the opportunity to extend and modify them to fix the gaping hole. I would also like to provide some sort of foot rest just below the pedals. My initial thoughts are to fix something behind the pedals to the chassis, which remains when the body is lifted. The join could be just neatly bolted around when the body is dropped on. If all else fails I can carpet just this area to cover any insightly joints and holes which is what the previous owner has done. Some Brubakers have a top dash board which hides this area. I would like to have the option of keeping this area open as its quite a quirky feature of the Brubaker
No physical activity on the Brubaker during the week, but there is no reason why I cannot do some purchasing. I really need to get the seats ordered so I can begin to lay out the interior and pedals. A pair popped up on ebay for a good price and so tonight they have been ordered. £199 a pair with runners seemed reasonable.
They are PVC vinyl so should be hard wearing and easy to match when recovering the rear seat. The seats also have seat belt holes so if I have to fit race harnesses to get an MOT these will be OK. As you can tell the Brubaker isn't going to be a restoration as original parts are too difficult to source here in the UK, so I will go for a "Classic Car Racing" look. I must be careful not to make it look too modern inside. Probably not too hard in a 1970 time warp Brubaker!
Back home for the weekend and straight to work on the Brubaker. First off was to go and pick up the seats I ordered. Well done again ParcelFarce as once more they couldn't deliver to a neighbour. So another round trip to Milton Keynes. The seats are absolutely superb though and the vinyl looks very hard wearing. There are even zips up the back which appears at first glance to enable the covers to be removed.
After that trip there was little time to do work, but I did manage to cut out the floor area behind the pedals and have a better look. I used an angle grinder and a Dremel for the corners and covered the steering arms with offcuts of angle iron so i didn't cut through them. The floor is very thick and of a strange sandwich construction. The middle layer looks like foam, the sort that you find injected to form modern rear car seats. Again very strange. It looks like a very tight squeeze to fit everything in and the steering rods still foul the body even with the steering column fixed and the steering box aligned properly. I tried adjusting the front suspension up, but even so I would still like more room here. I think I will relieve the body a bit more to give good clearance. I could fit the control arms underneath, but this would mean reaming the knuckle tapers and I would rather keep them standard. I also sliced up the pedal assembly to give me a better idea of the job in hand.
I need to add about 2" to give room for the steering column and I may mount the pedals at a slight angle with the cylinders pointing upward about 15 degrees. The mounting bracket is going to have to be a weird shape. I may also add some type of guard around the steering column so you don't feel it on your feet when operating the pedals.
This will take all day tomorrow and maybe into next week, but it is quite enjoyable work and much better than sanding and painting!
I have spent all day today trying to fit in the pedal assembly. After a lot of thought I angled the pedals up 15 degrees and made a stand for them. I welded the clutch and brake pedal 70mm further apart and this gives good clearance to the steering column. I may not need a guard around the steering shaft after all. Unfortunately the steeing column will need to pass through the assembly, so I have cut a slot in it. I may need to move this lower when all is finally in place. A quick try inside with the old seat and the position is high, but is quite comfortable.
On fitting I believe I may be able to get them at a slightly shallower angle and still clear the steering. I am hoping to move the pedals forward if possible as they seem very close to the seat. I believe the driving position was very cramped before. It's OK for me as I am 5ft 8", but any 6ft people would probably struggle and it would be nice to have the option of more space. The support frame is only tacked together at the moment and will probably change a lot, but I will use some of it in the finished design. My initial plans are to brace it at either end with some 1mm sheet down to the top torsion tube and maybe a 5mm gusset between the brake cylinders again to the top torsion tube and weld some bolt eyes there to take the load. There also seems room for the fluid reservoirs in front of the bulkhead so this should give a clean look inside.
I returned home late this evening, so it wasn't worth getting all the welding gear out to do the pedals. On the way home I had stopped to get some hardboard and this was put to good use mocking up the fuel tank. The original beetle tank is around 10 UK gallon (45.5 Litres) so I aimed for this. I managed to get in a tank 635mm long x 430mm wide x 175mm tall. This gives a good clearance all around for brackets and any pipes I need sticking out. The initial volume with one corner slightly chamfered is 47 Litres. I'll probably lose a bit for the filler neck as this needs insetting a little and also a bit of volume for the sender. So I am expecting to hit the 45 Litre volume. The 175mm height is just right for a 170mm vertical sender and this is on order. I hope to get this mockup done tomorrow and then back onto the pedals. The tank design I am going for doesn't encroach into the body in the sill area so the body can be removed without disturbing the tank. If at a later date I wanted more volume I could gain a little more here (Probably about 3 - 4 Litres) or even add an extra tank above the engine.
Todays first task was to complete the mockup of the fuel tank. OK the resulting shape does look a bit like a coffin for a cat, but it should do the job. During this work my dremel gave up the ghost so this is another tool I need to replace.
I still need to design the filler position, the mounting feet, the outlet and vent pipes and also complete the flange design for the sender unit, but these I can do next week. The tank just fits in, I may have to pinch a few mm from the foam foot stool that goes above it, but I can do this with a slightly raised cover.
There is also more space below the tank and I could gain another Litre or so, but this keeps the tank simple. I can always modify it at a later date, but for now about 45 Litres will be fine for my 1600cc engine.
Next job was to continue work on the pedal assembly. I reduced the angle to 8 degrees from horizontal and made up some brackets to fix it to the torsion bars. I used my jigsaw, pedestal and angle grinder to shape the parts and made them both identical either end. In this way I could align the pedals parallel to the torsion tube and not rely on the bodyshell for measurements. I placed the brackets in such a way to allow me to move the pedal assembly across with spacers should I need it. I have had a trial sit in the seat and it looks like I may need to move across about 10mm to maximise the space between the clutch pedal and steering column. I may even modify the pedal slightly but it does work ain the position I have it. I'm tacking everything together at the moment until I am confident that the reservloir and steering clamp can fit in. I will also add another support between the brake cylinders and It looks like the body mount thread on the torsion bar could be used for this. I think I will have to shorten the reservoir feed pipes that came with the pedal assembly and also use banjo fittings to connect them to the cylinders. There is still lots of work to do here, but progress is being made.
I was busy on saturday, but was determined to get some work done today. I can't really finalise the pedal setup without a correctly mounted seat, so this was the task for today. I spent all day cutting, positioning and welding and finally have a seat position somewhere near. The frame and runners are all constructed and the adjustment forward and backward will accomodate my young lady and myself with extra adjustment either way. The seat is now bolted to the floor in two places and will be secured further when the body comes off. I think the seat could do with moving a bit more away from the centre tunnel, but I will have a look at this next week. I took my time and the drivers seat can be removed easily with four bolts that are easy to get to and it will be possible to leave the lower half of the frame in place. I had to cut another section of the floor out at at the front, but this is hidden well. I have another plastic bucket seat, so I will see if the frame can accomodate this also. This way I can keep the nice seat in the house and install it when all the hard work is complete. I have mounted seats before only to find that you get weld burns or scuffs on them before the car has even hit the road!
In order to lay out the interior space it is important to position all the seats correctly. Today I modified the drivers seat frame to position it about 1" further from the centre tunnel. I finished welded it up and used 6 x M8 bolts throught the floorpan. I had to cut a little more floor away, but again this isn't visible. It was now onto the passenger seat. This is mounted differently as it will be bolted through the floor. The floor here is the same chipboard sandwich as the drivers side, but it did sit flush on the chassis and doesn't need to be removed. Unfortunately the floor is badly bowed here and not flat at all. I used the same construction as under the drivers side, but modified the height of the frame. The passenger side is 92mm high (Floor to underside of seat) as opposed to 122mm for the drivers side, the floor bieng a 30mm construction of chipboard and fibreglass. I am still at a loss as to why this car ever required two floors! Even if it was for safety, it could have been reinforced underneath the floorpan (Similar to how many soft top cars are done).
The image above shows it tacked up. I welded some cap screws through the six lower holes to act as fixed studs. This way it is a one man job to unbolt the seats from below the car.
With the seats positioned level with each other, there is 16" access width to the rear. Unfortunately getting onto the driving position like this will be hard, so I guess the seat will normally be rolled back a few inches. The seats do tilt forward, so access wont be an issue, but this is important as It means I cannot have a full roll cage coming down the B pillar this side to attach the 3 point seat belts. My initial thoughts are an asymetric design with a hoop behind the drivers seat coming to a mount just behind the hand brake on the centre tunnel. The inertia reels will be in the centre of the car and the clip in harness on the outside of the vehicle. This will give a clean look when you open the door. I have had a look at the rear of the van and there is a place for a roll bar to come down behind the rear seat just in front of the rear glass. I will need to triangulate a frame from the shock towers and rear gearbox mount to support it under the bodyshell, but this should give a clean unobtrusive cage not visible in the front of the car. I need to be careful not to restrict the headroom in the rear which is already very low. The roll cage design is the biggest challenge of the car build. I would like to make this myself. Maybe I will draw it up and get the tubes bent, assemble it in the car myself and tack it up, then get it profesionally welded.
Unfortunately very little work has been done over the weekend as I was busy with family, but there has been some developments with regards to the engine. Last night I won a type 4 engine from a VW 411. This is a 1679cc fuel injected engine with 80bhp. I don't think it will fit in the Brubaker, but this would free up my Baja bug engine and tinware to donate to the build. The engine was quite cheap and pricing up all the parts to dress the type 1 engine I have would cost in excess of £1000 by the time I had bought carbs, alternator and tinware. This way I can experiment with the fuel injection in my Baja bug and have all the parts I need to complete the engine in this build.
OK the engine looks a little "Rhubarb and Custard", but hopefully with a clean up and paint it will go great in the Baja...Still might try to squeeze it in the Brubaker!
Next week I hope to take delivery of the type 4 engine as shown above. Prof. Originale is currently rebuilding his type 4 engine for his bus. During the week I helped him remove it and so I have negotiated with him to borrow the engine case and rear fan housing to have a trial fit in the Brubaker to see what modifications I would have to do to the rear cover. With this in mind it is important that I have the rear engine cover mounted and so this was the job for today. It appears that most Brubakers have the engine cover attached with bolts and this make engine access a real pain. I thought I could improve on things so decided to mock up a single hinge mechanism in wood. Unfortunately after mocking this up I realised that this wasn't going to work. A better solution would be a pantograph type setup where the lid moves back and away from the body. I spent another couple of hours mocking this up and I could see I was onto something. It still wasn't right however as it stuck out too far back. I began to play with the lengths of the arms in the mechanism and after several more hours came up with the following.
I am very pleased with the result. The mechanism fixes with 4 bolts to the body (Two in the recess on the parcel shelf inside the glass and two on the back lip of the main body). The mechanism has unequal length legs which are curved to clear the body when open. When opening the cover first moves back to clear the body the curves upwards and angles forward to park itself close to the rear glass. I still need to do a little more work on the geometry before I am happy, but even if I leave it as it is now the access to the engine will be more than adequate. It is then just a case of replicating the wooden parts in steel and fibreglassing some mounting bolts to the rear of the cover.
A few smaller jobs were completed today. First was to finish off the engine cover hinges. I spent another couple of hours refining the mechanism and I now have it parked close and parallel to the rear window. The mechanism is now much smaller than I originally had it but works better. I spent a little time making the wooden mockup a little more rigid and I will leave that for a while until I have the engine bay layout finalised. I want to make sure that it clears the engine, carbs and battery before I spend money on laser cutting parts.
Next job was to mock up the fuel filler cap. Unfortunately this was brought to an abrupt halt as the supplied bolts were far to short to pass through a thick fibreglass body. I have now ordered some longer ones and hopefully next week I can finish the wooden fuel tank mockup.
Towards the end of the day I continued work on the pedal assembly. I moved the whole setup about 10mm further left and this now feels much better when operating the clutch. I had to make some further mods to clear the steering column but made good progress in cutting paper templates for all the extra plating I will need to stiffen the pedal box back to its original strength. Still lots of work to do in this area, but it is moving forward. Tuesday is approaching and I am hoping to get my first look at the Type 4 engine that may be finding a home under the rear cover!
Prof. originale and myself took a road trip today to Belper just north of Derby to pick up "Rhubarb and Custard" the engine we had won on eBay. Quite a long way, but well worth it. The engine looks great and three of us nearly killed ourselves getting it in the back of the car and it was even harder with two of us at the other end. The seller was a nice bloke and gave us quite a few other bits and pieces including 3 distributors. The engine was originally destined for a nova kit car, but never made it. The engine is now safely on an engine stand in a North London garage awaiting examination.
Not much time to work on the engine this evening in London, but the Prof. and myself did get a little look at "Rhubarb and Custard". With plugs removed the engine turns over easily and under one of the rocker covers looks really clean. The rocker adjustment seems about right and so far nothing is amiss. We have noticed that although the engine is a Type 4 it may be fitted with the correct flywheel for beetle box (Logical as it is out of a type 411 vehicle). This is a bonus, but next week when I take over my new lockup garage we have a little more room to work we will know for sure. In the meantime I borrowed a Type 4 case and fan housing to have a trial fit in the engine bay. Back in Bedford I'll know for certain tomorrow whether where this engines future home will be.
A busy day at Helium Frog HQ. Lots of little jobs and a little clarity as to which direction to go with the engine. First order of the day was to see if a Type 4 engine goes in a Brubaker.....It doesn't ......well it could with a bit of persuasion!
A type 4 engine fits up but in order to shut the rear lid, there needs to be about 2" cut out of the rear. Firstly the lower section with the 3 holes would need to be removed (I would have done this) and a further cutout would be required under the number plate hole. This was a step too far which I was not prepared to do. Also to be honest It doesn't look right hanging below the rear like this. Conclusion a type 1 engine is destined for the Brubaker. "Rhubarb and Custard" will be cleaned up and put in the Baja Bug. This will free up all the tinware and ancillaries for the Brubaker which will be mated to the recon engine I bought a while back. This actually makes things easier as the Baja is due to go down to the lockup in London and "Rhubarb and Custard" is already there.
With that decision made it was onto the next task of completing the fuel tank mockup. I fitted the new fuel filler cap which meant a slight modification of the inside body was required. I am still keen to be able to remove the body without taking the tank out, so it was necessary to recess the fuel inlet a little into the tank. I am also pretty sure I now have a good location for the outlet and vent which will clear the body and I might add a return line should I ever add fuel injection in the future. The sender unit is also positioned, but this may move as the straps need to be slightly asymmetric to attach neatly to the chassis.
Overall I am pretty happy with the design. The filler is a little horizontal, but I am hoping this is OK.
During the day I had a few visits from friends. First was Martin on his BSA M20. Its always a pleasure to get a visit from "ShiteHawk Motorcycles"! Second was Paul who has a very nice VW Caddy. I'm not a big fan of water cooled VWs in general, but I do like VW caddies and this was a really nice one. This is another car on my list that I would like to own. It had lots of really nice custom details and was in my favourite colour. A satin finish grey.
This car has got me thinking perhaps there is another type of camper that could be made. A VW caddy with a slide off mini caravan!....No No I must stay focussed.
Not much work on the Brubaker of late as I am concentrating on the Baja Bug, however a few bits have arrived and have been fitted. After mocking up the rear hinges a few guys at work wanted some bits laser cut. This was the perfect opportunity to get the hinges made professionally. The bits cost about £30 in 5mm stainless. I still need to laminate in the mounting, but have put a few holes in the plate to give me some choice. Stainless is very tough so wont bend easily and of course wont rust. I'll certainly be having a few more items made like this as it is very cost effective.
Finally I have been able to get back onto work on the Brubaker. After the sale of "Rhubarb and Custard" I turned my attention to the 1600cc Type 1 engine sitting at the back of the garage. Over the winter I have been helping Prof. Originale with his busses and have negotiated some tinware and other bits for the project. I think I now have most of the bits to complete the engine. I am going to do the engine as a simple single carb engine which is just cleaned up. I like the used look, so I am going to tidy up old tinware and build it up with that. Today I bought a new PICT 34 carburettor and together with new electrics this should give a nice reliable engine. The engine I bought all that time ago is suppsed to be a recon, but just to make sure, we removed the heads and cylinders to have a look. Inside the engine looks very fresh and the cam and followers look new as do the cylinder bores. Myself and The Prof. are in the process of putting it all back together. Last week we used the Baja bug as a test bed for another engine we have been building and this proved really useful. We can swap engines in about 15 minutes and of coures the baja has all the starter motor wired in and a ready supply of fuel. Next week we hope to get the Brubaker engine into the baja and give it a quick blast up the road to check things out. It looks like this year may also be a busy one for me, but where possible I want to fit in work on the Brubaker where I can.
Getting distracted on the Prof. various busses, but work has progressed on the Brubaker engine. We tried to fire up the recon engine we bought, but it didn't run too well and was making some nasty noises from the lower end. OK rather than putting this in my car we decided to completely strip it down and start again. The crank in this "Recon" was really poor and the bearings were scored a little. We have now fitted a new crank, camshaft bearings, full flow oil pump and are just in the process of fitting new barrels and pistons and new heads......Well it's all new really isn't it apart from the engine case!
I decided to fit some Scat "Big Mouth" pushrod tubes, just to give them a try. They are OK, but some 'O' Rings were missing and they had also supplied one washer of the wrong size. I have ordered another. I thought Scat stuff was good, but it appears they also have quality control problems.This is another engine that will be first run in the back of my baja!
The brubaker engine is now assembled and running. Tonight the Prof. and myself buttoned up the last jobs on the engine and put it in the back of the baja bug for testing. First we left the plugs out and turned the engine over to get good oil all over the internal components. Unfortunately the oil warning light failed to go off. We scratched our heads for a while and then began to investigate. We removed the oil sensor and turned the engine over. No oil came out of the hole!, so we worked back. There was oil in the pump and filter. Finally we found that the wrong oil filter had been supplied which blocked the return holes on the full flow oil filter and pump when screwed fully home. Luckily the Prof. had a type 4 filter which we swapped in. The outer holes of these are set back in the flange a little more so gave us full flow through the outer holes and so solved the problem. This was a lucky find. Imagine if we had run the engine without our initial checks. It would have siezed without us knowing why. The difference in the oil filters is so subtle it could be easily missed.
I also added the stinger "bobtail" exhaust to give it a try. I am really impressed. The bobtail is quite quiet (it has a baffle fitted to it). I wouldn't be too worried about driving this around town and of course it looks great on a baja. The engine runs really well and seems to have lots of power. The Baja has never run so well. There are still a few things to sort out though. I need to add some better wiring to connect the fuel cut off solenoid and also the Scat "Big mouth" pushrod tubes drip oil. This is a real disappointment as they were expensive. I'll never buy those again. Maybe I will just use standard stainless ones in future. I am learning that so much of these aftermarket parts are a real waste of money and dont work as well as the standard stuff. Still its a good learning experience and we will slowly get a set of parts that we like and can use over and over again.