The Volkswagen factory rally team will be entering three Polo WRC cars in the Dayinsure Wales Rally GB, from October 27-30. But there’s also another, slower Volkswagen entry in that race, a 1958 Beetle named Bertie.
The Beetle is campaigned by Bob Beales, and with the help of VW Heritage for parts and support, Bertie managed to win its (his?) class at last year’s Wales Rally GB. They’re hoping to repeat that for this year.
Beales has at least one memory of running alongside the official VW factory team from last year:
“I actually passed one of the Polos on last November’s event when Jari-Matti Latvala got stuck in a ditch – that would have made a great photo!”
That rally is no joke; it’s 648 brutal miles, and last year terrible weather made the course even more treacherous, with the Beetle breaking a stub axle at one point. Even with all that, the 58-year-old ‘58 (is there a name for that kind of mathematical symmetry, by the way?) finished 54th overall, and, as I mentioned, first in its class.
The Beetle became a rally car in 1961 after being hit by a bus, and then later rolled. For whatever reason, fate wasn’t interested in this Bug being a commuter car. It was rallied in the ‘60s by VW specialist Bill Bengry, and that’s when its rally spec was defined.
The modern rebirth of the car is designed to stay as close to the original spec, which includes an engine with a coveted Oëttinger kit, and, it seems, a set of Okrasa go-fast parts on the 1295cc twin-carb engine. The Oëttinger spec is, TSV 34R, and that gives between 60-70 HP at 8000 RPM. That’s about twice as fast as a normal VW flat-four of that era engine spins.
There’s actually some fascinating tips for driving an old, underpowered, oversteering car like a vintage Beetle in rallies from Bob Beales on VW Heritage’s site. Here’s a good general overview of driving the car:
Driving a Beetle is totally different to a modern vehicle. It’s not a fast road car by any means, but it is possible to maintain a high average speed. The swing axle, criticised for its poor handling characteristics by the press at the time, can be used to your advantage. When entering a corner too fast it is possible to get the back to step out by lifting off the power then quickly going back on the throttle and steering with the throttle once the correct steering lock has been applied. This technique is not recommended for beginners or on the public roads. As press reporter and autocross expert Laurie Manifold once said – in his day, if he needed to get away from the rest of the press hacks, the Beetle was the best car to do it in as none of the other cars could keep up!
I spoke with David Vardy, Bob Beales co-driver, about the rally and the car a while back, and it’s clear the man adores this car and helping to rally it:
First off I don’t drive the car, its joined at the heart with its owner Bob Beales. Bob purchased the vehicle in 1966 after it was owned by the legendary Bill Bengry. The vehicle was born in 1958 and converted by Bill into the rally car it is today in 1961 and was used as a back up car to Bills illustrious success in tests back then.
Bob took the Rally car in 66 and has competed in over 700 events since, winning many championships including his most memorable win at the Targa Rusticana and also competing in the Monte Carlo WRC Historique 25 years ago.
...it is as close to original spec as you would imagine, still competing with minimal changes in its 50+ year history!
I met Bob in 2013 at Autosport International. I run a Motorsport team called VrDMotorsport and have a family history with Volkswagen that dates back to the early 50's. My Grandfather was one of the first importers of aircooled bugs, so you could say the Vardy name helped bring the Dubs to the British isles!
With me Co-Driving and Bob driving the Beetle like he was a teenager we made waves across many events over the past few years. Bob is an incredible driver and I have been lucky to shout the notes at him on some fantastic events.
The Beetle became the oldest race car to compete at Goodwood Festival of Speed last year and we remain with that honour to this day as we continue to appear there and at many other events across the UK.
With Bob entering into his final chapters as a Rally Driver I wanted to make sure the events we did now were right at the top of the bucket list so i started looking at some special rallies Bob would like to do.
Contacting the Volkswagen Original Classics Parts team at VW Heritage we formed a formidable partnership in the latter part of this year and under the VW Heritage Rally Team Banner we put an entry in to the final round of the World Rally Championship National event, Wales Rally GB.
The aim was to have some fun and try to make it to the end of the 648 mile event, one of the toughest in the world.
With the help of the experts at VW Heritage we managed to complete an engine rebuild in the weeks leading up to Rally GB.
There’s nothing I don’t like about any of this. And while I’d love to see this old yellow Beetle go bonkers on the rally course in person, I’m nowhere near it. But you may be! VW’s press release has information if you want to check it out yourself:
Tickets to follow Bertie’s fortunes on this month’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB are now on sale. Advance adult admission starts at just £20 for the family-friendly RallyFest at Cholmondeley Castle, with day tickets available for £25 and the full four-day World Rally Pass priced at £99. All tickets include free parking and an event programme priced at £9. Accompanied children aged 15 and under are admitted FREE – a real half-term treat for families. The latest event and ticket information can be found on the official www.walesrallygb.com website and the official Rally Planner is now available online, providing fans with all the details required to plan their visit.
Best bet is to pretend and be 15 or under, and hire someone to be your parent.
Good luck, Bertie. I’m hoping you kick some ass again this year!