LS Powered VW Bus: Wild in the Streets

02/08/2024

LS Powered VW Bus: Wild in the Streets

02/08/2024

For some gearheads, devotion to a certain brand or type of vehicle is a trait inherited from siblings or parents. For others, all it takes is a chance encounter with a particularly charismatic machine. “One day I spotted a rail buggy sitting in a car lot, and I had to have it,” says Clayton Hollingsworth, the owner and operator of Outlaw Powder Coating in London, Kentucky. “And I’ve been hooked on Volkswagens ever since.”


While Hollingsworth’s day job allows him to keep his powder coating and fabrication skills sharp, he’s also a longtime drag racer, having campaigned a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle in the SEVWA national drag racing series, where he amassed a healthy collection of trophies over the years. His latest project, the wild 1970 Volkswagen Transporter you see here, combines his creativity and skills in the shop with his penchant for going fast.


“I’ve actually had this one since 1989,” he explains. “It was basically just an old work van at that point – it was a camper van, but someone had taken off the pop-up top and installed a piece of metal. I paid $600 for it, and it became my daily driver. Later I started using it to tow my rail buggies on the weekends. When my son got old enough to drive, he started using it to get to school and back. One day he decided he wanted to hot rod it and tore the transmission out, but it ended up sitting in a field for the better part of a decade after that.”

In 2019, the Hollingsworths decided to turn their attention back to the project. “We brought it into the shop and completely sandblasted it inside and out,” he recalls. “And that’s when we discovered that the rocker panels were full of Bondo. It must have come from Ohio or somewhere like that, because it was like that when I bought it back in 1989.”


He cut all of the plastic filler out and ordered new panels for the Bus, and when they arrived, he set to work welding in the new sheet metal. “But that ended up warping everything, and I knew I was going to have to use a ton of Bondo again just to fix that.” Rather than going that route, he decided to instead create “stitches” with the welder, a solution that Hollingsworth says was inspired by a build on the Rat Rod Bob YouTube channel. “It made it appear like the panels were sewn together with a needle and thread,” he notes. “I really liked the look, so I just left it like that. And that kind of dictated this sort of rat rod direction for the project.”


See Holley’s full line of engine-swap components now


Although he originally intended to rebuild the Bus as a daily driver, a healthy dose of horsepower was always part of the gameplan. “I built an independent Ford 9-inch rear end for it, and I put an old 350 small-block in it. We ended up entering it in a burnout contest at London Dragway and winning.” But Hollingsworth says that he soon felt like the 350ci wasn’t enough, so he replaced it with an LS in 2023. The new powerplant proved to be a bit too much for the independent rear end, though, so he soon swapped over to a more drag racing-friendly solid rear axle.


Along the way, he also decided to add a bit of character to the VW’s exterior. “The bumper is the first thing I built for it,” he says. “I took one-inch square tubing and framed it up, and then welded 24 of those spiked lug nuts to it. As far as the paint goes – I actually repainted it four different times before I landed on something I liked. We also have a 4ft x 4ft plasma table here, so for the headlights and mirrors I just drew up the design, welded everything together, and bolted it up. The bullhorns are something I just found at a flea market.”

The engine combination currently consists of a 383 cubic-inch LS V8 that’s outfitted with an Eagle crankshaft and connecting rods, forged Mahle pistons, LS7 lifters, AFR cylinder heads, and an ATM carburetor, which Hollingsworth says is good for about 550 horsepower at the crank. The power makes its way to the rear wheels through a two-speed Powerglide transmission and a Ford 9-inch rear end with a third member from Strange Engineering.


While the front suspension remains more or less factory-stock, the rear now boasts a custom-fabricated four-link setup with QA1 coilovers. To make the VW easier to handle with the additional mass of the V8 powertrain involved, Hollingsworth also snagged a power-steering box from a Polaris RZR side-by-side and hooked it up to the factory steering assembly.


The exhaust setup, meanwhile, was fabricated from a turbo kit that was designed for a Chevy S10. “I’d had it laying around for couple of years, so I just decided I would make something out of that, too,” he says. “I stuck the Y-pipe to the side of the Bus and I liked how it came out, so that just became part of the look.”


See Holley’s full line of engine-swap components now


Since completing the build last year, Hollingsworth has brought it out to LS Fest East and a number of car shows. The team also recently got a chance to give the build a proper shakedown at a no-prep race in Russel Springs, Kentucky. Running in a street car class, they won their first round at the event, but Hollingsworth was called away from the track before they could suss out how competitive the Bus truly is. While he doesn’t have an official personal best for the Bus with its current combination, he does have some goals in mind for the 2024 race season. “I’d like to get it down into the 5s in the eighth-mile,” he says.


He’ll likely hit that target sooner rather than later, as he’s planning to add a Weiand supercharger to the mix very soon. He tells us that he’ll also be using the Bus to tow his twin turbocharged LS-powered Volkswagen Karmann Ghia drag car to the track – another VW that he’s had for more than three decades – so he can race both of them.

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