The Custom Flame-Work of Tim Phelps, Part 3: Spyders and Bugs…

Another highly-anticipated article from one of our favorite customizers and auto historians, Tim Phelps. I thoroughly enjoy reading his articles, and I am happy that he makes me feel that much smarter afterwards.  And he definitely puts my “Hey, this model is cool” posts to shame.  

Catch Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Remember, if you would like us to consider an idea you have for an article, email us at  I cannot guarantee we will use it, but we are always looking for something interesting…

(Thanks Tim)

Spyders and Bugs

In my second blog entry for the Lamely Group, I spotlighted vintage race and exotic
Porsches among a stable of Ferraris. For my third entry, I want to continue the lava-
love fest with a look at more flame painted and race-striped vintage coupes and include
Porsche’s cousins: Volkswagons.

So let’s start the Arachnoid tour with some spyders and bugs. We’ll tour some busses
dragged, trucked and windowized! Finally for fun: the final image in this installment will
include a blue bug of another mother.

Porsche 1955 550 Spyder & 1996 Boxster

Although the Porsche name was famous in 1931, the first cars bearing the moniker
were not in production until 1946. The first models were hybrids, utilizing Volkswagen
engines, suspensions and transmissions. The Spyder debuted in Paris in the fall of
1953 and won its first proper race in its class in the 1954 Mille Miglia. This marque
won numerous awards in class and category in both the 1953 and 1955 LeMans races,
boasting three Spyders that placed four, five and six behind two D-Type Jags in ’55.

Stirling Moss drove a Spyder and loved it. He raced his in the ’58 Buenos Aires 1,000km
race qualifying two seconds slower than the pole sitting Testa Rossa of Phil Hill. James
Dean’s 1955 550 Spyder, bearing the number 130 and nicknamed “Little Bastard,”
epitomized all that was cool and rebellious in the mid-50s. Urban legend and mystery
surrounds his fatal late afternoon crash and the aftermath in Chalome, Calif., in 1955.

A spartan interior sporting only the bare necessities included, among other things, two
rather mundane leather seats and a few instrument dials on the dash. But speaking of
dash, this little arachnid could muster up a mighty mite performance. The Spyder’s
mid engine flat 4-cylinder could reach a high speed of 190 mph, going from 0-60
in eight seconds. The racing versions were built on a ladder frame of welded steel
tubes, much like the early CR Cunninghams. Most popular in “Germany Silver” it also
came in red, white and blue. The car sat just at about knee height with a 9-inch high
windshield. Writers of the day compared the Spyder to the Mercedes 300 SL in the
elegance of styling, engineering and performance, putting both cars into a “dual-purpose”
category. The Mercedes may have won out in touring appeal, but the Spyder was tops in
competition and racing. Hammer fans might proclaim, “Can’t touch this,” because the few
original Spyders left are so rare, they bring in excess of $450,000 at auction or sale when
available in Concours shows. But alas there is still hope for the rest of us.

Replicas abound now, capturing the rebel racing spirit. In the late ‘80s Beck
Development of Upland Calif., spun out a new Spyder. Considering turning out only
10 cars a year, after news of his Spyder spread; Beck had to up the ante to 10-a-month.
Built in Brazil and exported to the U.S., this “kit car” was second only to the Cobra
in popularity in 2002. It is always an inspiring, as well as an aspiring, sight at current
vintage motorsport events. Beck’s group also produces replica Lister Jaguars. Too cool!

The early ’90s found Porsche posting losses in its sales. Its cars seemed stale in design
compared to contemporary offerings and were languishing only on previous popularity.

Fame was leading to famine. As the public began to gravitate to its competitors, BMW,
Jaguar and Mercedes, a jump-start was sadly needed. Porsche designers and stylists went
retro, returning to the roots of the great racing machines of the ’50s. Ain’t hindsight great?

In the 1996 Boxster Porsche, body styling did not stray too far from the stylish Porsche
stable of earlier models like the 550 and 356 and Volkswagen’s Karman Ghia. It debuted
at the North American Auto Show in Detroit in 1993. Although in the company of other
popular mid-90s sports roadsters from BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes, the Boxster wowed
those in attendance garnering the Best in Show in its category. The name “Boxster”
comes from a combination of terms, roadster referring to an open two-seater and boxer
referring to the horizontally opposed engine design.

I have included a number of coupes in both 1/64 scale and 1/43 scale made by Maisto and


The initial Beetle 1932 prototype was known by three names: Kleinauto, Project 12 and
Volkauto. Adapted by Ferdinand Porsche and Erwin Komenda, three small car prototypes
were built in 1933. They were further refined through a commission by Adolph Hitler,
into three VW prototypes in 1936 and successfully tested by the Nazi SS. It has been
suggested that the Czechoslovakian Tatra T77 and shorter T78 designed by Hans
Ledwinka in the early ’30s provided an initial inspiring spark. Ledwinka worked with Dr.
Paul Jaray, who designed and tested the prototype rear engine streamlined automobiles in
the wind tunnel of the German Zeppelin Works in Friedrichshafen. Both Tatra versions
are striking in their similarities to early Beetles.

Although he didn’t know how to drive, Hitler was quite a car buff; he read a biography on
Henry Ford while imprisoned in the Landsberg Fortress in 1923. At one point, Ford had
been given the opportunity to take on production of the Volkswagen, but declared, “they
aren’t worth a damn.” Like father, like son, Henry II called it ” a little shitbox.” The
building of the Volkswagenwerk factory began in 1938 but was cut short by bombing
during World War II. The factory was later erected as Wolfburg after the war. Importing
into the U.S. began in 1949, and Volkswagen of America was established in 1955.
The Beetle flourished! Quite a sight compared to other American offerings on the
road, creative advertising ensured “that beauty is only skin deep.” Failing to meet U.S.
emission standards in 1974, the bug was squashed by a “Rabbit.” It, however, continued
to flourish everywhere else around the globe.

VW Type 2 busses or Kombi busses, debuted in 1950 and went on sale in Brazil in
1957, 1.5 billion have sold to date. Life on the production line will cease December 31,
2013. ‘Kombinationskraftwagen’ is German for combination motor vehicle. The original
beetle was produced also in Brazil from 1938 to 2003. Samba busses have skylight and
side windows and a cloth sunroof. Crew cab or flat bed versions were also advertised in
the late ‘50s. Newsflash: Volkswagen just announced ceasing production of their line
of microvans in 2014. Brazil is the only and last place they are being produced. Better
get ‘em while you can!

A resounding debut 20 years later at the 1994 Detroit Auto Show proved there was still
love for the little Beetle! The happy and smart shape and roomy interior appealed to
the public! Redesigned by Jay Mays and Freeman Thomas, the instantly recognizable,
geometric domed body with retro bulbous fenders updated the earlier “folks wagon.”
The “Concept 1” went into production in 1998, continuing the unparalleled trend of the
Volkswagen as the best selling car in automobile history. And, if that was not enough,
2013 shows us the “Beetle” again; a coupe that is lower, sleeker and embracing all that is
“retro-revisited X2.”

Primarily in 1/64 scale, Hot Wheels, Jada and Maisto products provided the canvas’ for
this Fleet of Traditional Heat!

Heroclix Blue Beetle Bug

My son has become a fan of role-playing games. His current game of choice is HeroClix
that has in its stables a number of superhero pieces garnered from decades of comics and
graphic novels. Since 2002, HeroClix has molded over 3000 game pieces and is currently
creating vehicles. The super-hero Blue Beetle first appeared in 1939 (hmmm–close to the
founding of the Volkswagon factory building in 1938). He was a rookie cop-turned-super
hero who wore a bullet proof costume and acquired his super-energy by sipping a tonic
of “Vitamin 2X.” With his celebrity falling in and out of favor over the next 68 years
through 3 separate publishers, DC comics, in 2006, introduced a new and improved Bad-
ass Blue Beetle complete with an alien-crafted scarab beetle cruiser to assist in squashing
his foes.

I felt that this “Fire-Fly” was in need of some hot rod flames! It measures about 8 inches
in size.

Traditional hot rods and custom cruisers will be the next installment. If you like what
you see or have any questions about the art of flame painting, feel free to contact me: I love to pass the torch!

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