I'm so full of idiosyncratic automotive tastes that I'm probably the automotive-taste equivalent of a pervert. I've come to accept this, and now I delight in sharing my fixations with you. So, with that in mind, let's talk about one of the objects of my creepy attentions: the Brubaker Box.
The Brubaker Box — also produced under the name Automecca Sports Van — was a custom vehicle built, like so many kit cars of the era, on a VW Beetle chassis. The Box wasn't exactly a kit car, though, since it was only available in finished form during the all-too-brief time it was available.
The Brubaker Box was conceived by Curtis Box (just kidding, it's Curtis Brubaker) when he noticed during a trip to Newport Beach that there were a hell of a lot of old, beat-up VW buses around. They were the vehicle of choice for the surfer community, and Brubaker saw an opportunity here.
Happily, Brubaker was also equipped to take advantage of that opportunity. He'd studied at Art Center in Pasadena (one of the best auto design schools anywhere), helped design the iconic Lear jet, and worked in GM's Advanced Research Group. At the time he had his own little design house that
"did more work for General Motors, Volvo, Ford and the Japanese here than [he] did in Detroit."
So, when he sat down and designed his little one-box van, he had lots of influences to pull from. In an interview with Brubaker from Rodster, he reveals
"It was a one-box design. We did a mock-up right there in our little office and brought in investors and people got excited and we ultimately raised a small amount of funds."
They showed the car at the Los Angeles International Motorsports Show, and got such a good reaction that he decided to build the cars completely, rather than as a kit. The problem was he never could reach a deal with VW to sell him only chassis and drivetrains, so he was always stuck buying full Beetles and selling off the unneeded parts, which was hardly efficient. Selling the cars at $3995 only let him barely break even.
Eventually, the Box design was sold to Automecca, who sold it as the Sports Van, though not many were sold there, either.
Check out a vid on the Box from eGarage below:
And, it's really a shame, when you give the Brubaker Box a good inspection. It still somehow manages to look modern and sleek today, and if you swapped out the 70s lighting and electronics and other details with more up-to-date units, this thing would look futuristic today. Brubaker was clever in repurposing parts, like the use of a Pinto Wagon's rear glass, and Datsun pickup taillights.
The Box had only one sliding door on the passenger's side, which is what allows the Beetle's dash controls to be relocated to on the driver's left side panel. The radio is tucked over there, too, which likely pissed off the passenger, but, screw 'em, the driver gets to pick the tunes here, and if you can't take nonstop Tull (or whatever), there's the door.
The interior layout is a study in both maximized space and 70s decor. The front and rear glass are pushed out each a couple of feet from the original Beetle, and this opens up a vast amount of space inside. The rear is like a little lounge, with the central/left-mounted gas tank turned into an ottoman, which I think is the only time in motoring that's happened.
Up front, you might need a telescope to tell how fast you're going or how much fuel you have left, but you won't feel cramped. I feel like some sort of tray up front could have been handy for stowing luggage, though I guess you could just throw some bags in that vast area in the nose.
The car's only 53" tall, and as such it has a very different feel than the tall-boy Kei vans and other tiny van designs. It feels much more rakish and sporting, and strange details like the wooden bumper bars the car came with just add to the appeal.
Man, the more I look at pictures of these, the more I want to find one. Only about 50 or so were actually made, so that won't be easy.
The Brubaker Box is also a great example of the amazing possibilities afforded by a cheap, ubiquitous, highly flexible platform for custom auto design. For decades, that platform was the Beetle pan/drivetrain. It was reliable, available everywhere, and easy to service. We don't really have anything like it today, and that's part of why the kit car/small niche manufacturer space has contracted so much. But we could.
Just like Jonathan Ward is hoping and I've brought up before, the Tesla "skateboard" chassis would make an ideal modern replacement for the old VW Type I chassis. It's a long, flat platform with everything integrated right into it. Sure, it's probably expensive, but you could make one amazing modern Brubaker Box on the thing.
I think the real ideal situation would be to have access to some sort of easily customizable platform like the Tesla chassis (or something with a gas engine — I'm not picky) and perhaps with advancements in large-scale 3D printing technology, maybe someday I'd just be able to download and print my own, modern, Brubaker Box.
Frankly, that seems about as likely as me finding one to restore. If I'm going to dream, I may as well dream with a backup plan, right?
UPDATE: I've just spoken to Curtis Brubaker, and among other things he told me the rear glass is from an El Camino, not a Pinto. That makes much more sense.