This 1963 Volkswagen Panel Bus started off as a rusted out hulk of metal and worn plastic. Now it’s the brand ambassador for HDQTRS NYC.
The VW panel van is one of the most iconic and beloved vehicles in the world. They’re not setting lap records on the Nürburgring, but what they lack in performance, they more than make up for in personality and utility. In the case of this HDQTRS NYC version, you can add style to that list.
The VW panel van/microbus started as a sketch based upon the little trucks that Volkswagen used inside its factories. Ben Pon, the importer who brought the first VW Beetles to the US, submitted his sketch of what looked like a loaf of bread on the VW rear-wheel chassis, and the rest is history. This HDQTRS van stays true to that original DNA while upgrading various aspects throughout.
The reason these vehicles became popular so quickly is that they were so radically different from anything on the road when they were introduced back in 1950. There was no long hood and aggressive grill because the rear-mounted engine allowed for a cab-over configuration that put the driver and passenger right at the very front - perched high to see everything in panoramic splendor. They were a flat-faced, self-effacing, utilitarian offering, introduced at exactly the right time in American history - when surfer and hippie culture were roaring to the fore.
As the microbus/van started to gain attention worldwide due to its unique styling and affordable price point, poorer countries with warmer climates prompted the evolution of design innovation.
These safari windows were the result, and they were standard on the vans\buses that were shipped to Africa, Central, and South America. They allowed the passengers to experience the air cooling effect that one might imagine the VW engine was also experiencing.
Though the original vehicle had a swing axle rear suspension with transfer boxes, it is quite obvious that this HDQTRS NYC version is utilizing a modern air-suspension system to achieve this slammed profile. Wagenswest’s full front beam upgrade and Air Lift’s 3S air management system allow the ride height to be controlled from a smartphone. Add the lower profile Falken Ziex tires on those 15” stock wheels with blacked-out moon hubcaps, and you get a much lower center of gravity.
Matching the casual stylishness of the van, Jay Shells (Creative Director at HDQTRS NYC) gives us a clear demonstration of just how low they managed to slam the van using modern air suspension. The original vehicle height was listed at a little over 76” (6’4”). Both he and the van are now sitting in the 70-inch range. Jay said that this aspect of the build was his nod to his love for JDM slammed cars.
It is impossible to ignore the unique color of the HDQTRS NYC van (painted by SOS Customz) - and difficult to be absolutely sure what color it is truly. Is it gray? Possibly, a dark green? The term you’re searching for is “Grigio Medio” which means medium-gray in Italian - entirely appropriate since it was a color specifically developed for Ferrari. Apparently, the color was so perfect for the exterior that they decided to bring the perfection indoors by color-matching the the two. This nod to such a pedigreed manufacturer accentuates the upgraded Wolfsburg-emblemed steering wheel, which hearkens to VW’s own legacy and pedigree.
This OEM VDO gauge represents a storied history. Vereinigte DEUTA-Ota (United German Tachometer Company) is a German gauge manufacturer. They were founded in 1929 as a result of a merger between DEUTA (German Speedometer Works, Ltd.) and Ota (Offenbach Speedometer Works, Ltd.) Since this, they have earned a consistent reputation for best in class.
The stock panel van had this combination of bucket and bench-style seating, but the seats were weathered leather. Jay had them reupholstered in this fabric with this gray with white stitching that better resonates with the Ferrari Grigio Medio interior paint. Not to mention, making for a softer, more comfortable experience for both driver and passengers.
This specially designed sticker wall with wood floors and astroturf inlay is the perfect homage to what HDQTRS NYC is all about as well as a result of Jay’s own personal style. HDQTRS is an accessory pin lifestyle brand that showcases pop culture across the full gamut, from music and art to food and sports. They specifically work with disparate brands to target and highlight each brand’s uniqueness. What could be more perfect for such a company than a vehicle like this which has been a cultural icon for style and uniqueness since its inception?
Although the stock engine is 1500cc and produces 51hp, this engine has been upgraded to 1800cc and produces 80hp. They’ve added Dual Weber carburetors and an MSD Blaster 2 coil, which implies that they’ve installed an electronic ignition (which, for VW enthusiasts, implies that ignition points are no longer necessary). If you’ve never had to align the ever-misaligning stock ignition points, you are fortunate indeed. They’ve also added an alternator, as opposed to the stock generator, to power the vehicle’s electronics.
The stock van had a single carburetor setup that helped to produce an anemic 51hp. This Weber dual carburetor setup boosts that output by about 60% to 80hp. Despite the upgrade and resulting boost in power, Jay feels that the ultimate answer is to swap this engine out for something with a bit more punch.
The purpose of this van build was to capture the HDQTRS NYC ethos in a vehicle that could double as a popup shop. Every detail signals the cool stylishness of the brand - even the ones that the average observer will never see.
This custom leather flap is a prime example. Its purpose is to protect the paint job from gas spillage at the pump. Few will ever see it… but it’s there.
This custom, 3-inch exhaust replaces the small box on the stock vehicle that helped to blow heated air into the vehicle. In lieu of this, an aftermarket heat source has been added. They’ve also wrapped the headers to help with heat dissipation for a cooler-running engine. In addition, they’ve added deep dish, aluminum valve covers to hold more oil along with a performance valve train with larger rockers.
This image highlights, once again, just how much detail went into this slammed HDQTRS van. Normally, the stock tail lights would be trimmed in chrome, and the bumper would be much thicker. Instead, they chose to trim the tail lights in liquid black to match the blacked-out Euro blade bumper.
Behind these custom painted wheels lie Wilwood brakes, calipers, brake lines, and pads - all of which will be much better suited to the engine once it receives a serious power boost. In the meantime, it’s these little details that make for an amazing build. Notice that the valve stems are black dice - very cool.
The stock, elephant-ear door mirrors have been swapped out for these round 101-style, hinge mounted mirrors. This style choice does so much to bring all of the other styling cues of the van together. The black accents all of the trim features while the shape resonates with everything from the wheels and emblem to the headlamps.
The owner, Jay Shells, is particularly pleased that the project is basically finished and that it looks almost exactly like their original rendering. It has been one of his top five dream cars from as far back as a child watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fighting crime from the Turtle Bus. In fact, he actually sold his 2000 Ferrari Modena to free up the money to purchase this van. Clearly, he has gotten his money’s worth.
The HDQTRS NYC van was commissioned to create a brand ambassador vehicle that doubles as a popup shop. It is a rolling commercial, calling card, and conversation piece. More than anything, it has been garnering major support and huge positive responses wherever it goes.
This build is a metaphor for life. Many people think that everything comes down to the luck of the draw. Surely, luck is a component of where we all start in this life, but, just as surely, hard work and a clear plan can alter that “luck.” Where we begin is not always indicative of where we will end. This build stands as mute testimony to self-determination.
This van started its second lease on life as a rusted pile of neglect and a vision. That idea was crafted into a plan to which consistent, hard work was applied to bring that vision to fruition. Now it sits transformed - bathed in the light of accomplishment. As a certain philosopher once said, “Started from the bottom…now we’re here.”
Story by Avon Bellamy
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you liked this Volkswagen Bus, you can find additional Volkswagen content at volkswagen.fcpeuro.com. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS