Richard and Joanne Gregoire’s restored 1957 Volkswagen Beetle looks as fresh as it did the day it rolled off the showroom floor some 60 years ago. They spent nine years restoring the vehicle. (Photos by Larry D'Argis / Winnipeg Free Press)
When we think of vehicles that can lay claim to making a major change to the shape of the automobile industry, the Model T Ford would be at the top of the list.
Another innovative entry would be the Volkswagen Beetle. The German-built “people’s car” led the way for the import invasion, which would see sales take off for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles which came to the forefront in automobile sales during the 1950s and ’60s.
Built on a platform-like chassis with a central backbone and integral floorpan, it made for a lightweight, solid structure. Suspension consisted of torsion bars up front and swing arms in the rear, giving a reasonable ride and nimble handling for the day. Power came from an aluminum, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine. Air-cooled, the engine had no problem with winter freeze-ups or overheating. Rear-mounted, the engine gave great traction and its light weight kept front/rear weight distribution near optimum. By the mid ’50s, more than 250,000 units were being produced for the North American market.
Richard Gregoire wanted to find a Beetle like the one he had when he was 17 so he could restore it.
“I always liked them, but for a restoration, I wanted one with absolutely no rust and I located one just south of Lethbridge, Alta., in January of 2000,” Richard Gregoire said.
The car was dismantled, and there was no rust, with about 90 per cent of the parts included to complete the restoration, plus extras.
Back in Winnipeg, Gregoire started on the car by replacing the front pan under the trunk lid to correct a minor hit the car had previously received. Next, it was off to his friend Maurice Gauthier, where the car was sanded down to bare metal and prepped for paint. Kenny Lang Auto Body in Richot,bathed the Beetle in a flawless coat of Diamond Green, matching the original colour of the car in 1957.
For the interior, Gregoire turned to TMI Products Inc. in Corona, Calif., to supply the complete light tan reproduction upholstery, including seat skins for the front bucket seats and rear bench seats, door panels, headliner and floor covering.
Chrome for the car was replated by the House of Silver in Winnipeg, with Wolfsberg West in California supplying the balance of the reproduced stainless-steel trim and brightwork.
“You can pretty well buy everything needed to restore a VW Beetle, thanks to the many suppliers of restoration parts,” Gregoire said.
The steering and suspension rebuild was straightforward, with the addition of all-new components and finished off with new 15-inch radial tires on steel wheels, with chrome VW hubcaps.
The 36-horsepower, 1200-cc four-cylinder engine was rebuilt by Gregoire, with the assistance of Keith Bluglaid in Gimli.
Backed by a four-speed manual transmission, the Beetle is a real driver’s car.
Factory equipped with electric windshield wipers and bullet turn signals that replaced the stoic side semaphore flags on the 1955 model, there are few options other than the Motorola AM radio, passenger sun shade and dual rear side-view mirrors.
With the Beetle finished in 2009, it made its debut at the Piston Ring World of Wheels car show in Winnipeg.
“I only have about 600 miles on the car because I have other cars I drive, but the Beetle is a crowd-pleaser,” Gregoire said.
“At the Back To The ’50s show in 2015 in Minneapolis, Minn., there was always a crowd around wanting information and to share their VW Beetle stories.”
Finished to factory condition, Gregoire’s Beetle looks like it just rolled out of the showroom.
Paint, upholstery and attention to detail are second to none. Just what you would expect from a leader in the automotive industry.
The Diamond Green paint tops off the restoration.
The interior of Richard and Joanne Gregoire’s 1957 Beetle features upholstery from California.
Richard Gregoire rebuilt the engine in his restored 1957 Beetle.