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Aug 17, 2023

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The idea of a V-8 engine stuffed into a classic Volkswagen Beetle is the sort of thing sand-dune-chasing dreams are made of. A bug's butt is the perfect place for that big of an engine if you're tackling the loose sand in places such as Glamis, Oregon, Dunes or White Sands. The Beetle's rear engine layout is already beneficial to the rear tires' traction—adding more engine back there only helps things further. For those who like track days and paved roads, however, that rear-mounted engine can deliver challenging on-road handling, which is why you don't see too many rear-engined sports cars (Porsche's painstakingly developed 911 being the exception). But what if you wanted an old Beetle combined with a V-8 and modern Porsche-rivaling handling? Well, over in South Africa, you'll find your answer through 3L Engineering and Design's V-8 StealthBeetle.

That's right, what you see before you is a V-8 powered Bug. It might not be obvious at first. Sure, it wears big tires out back with wider fenders, but you can do that with a stock four-cylinder Beetle. Same with the center-exit exhaust, and even a roll cage isn't a dead-on giveaway. You either need to hear this Bug start up or take a look behind the front seats. Well, that's if you also ignore the "V8 4200" badge on its hood, though you'll still be missing another factor about its power plant: it's got a pair of turbos strapped to it. Wait, behind the rear seats? Yep, the V-8 StealthBeetle isn't merely an engine-swapped VW—it's an entire chassis kit that relocates the engine where it should be: slightly ahead of the rear axle, rather than hanging way out behind it.

The changeover completely replaces the chassis pan and suspension of the original Beetle. According to Jean Fourie, the founder of 3L Engineering and Design, the chassis wasn't even the hardest part about designing this kit. It was making a chassis that would fit a V-8 engine under the body and still have room for, you know, the occupants while retaining the original firewall position of the Beetle.

What's somewhat unusual about the 3L StealthBeetle kit is that they are using aluminum over steel tubing and plating. Their team also welds the 5083 aluminum rather than bonds it as OEMs do. "We are a small factory," said Fourie, "and bonding takes a lot of labor as well as sophisticated jigs—and processes—which we cannot afford." You could also argue about using extruded aluminum, but again that is a very large investment for the small kit car team. Regardless, the 5083 is an aluminum-magnesium alloy that retains nearly its original strength even after welding, so the usual worry about changing the heat treatment of aluminum after welding is mostly avoided (which is the usual reason aluminum is bonded by OEMs).

We should mention the engine mounted under the lead V-8 StealthBeetle is an Audi 4.2-liter V-8 with a pair of turbos to boost its power to a highly specific 402.3 hp and 308.3 lb-ft of torque. However, the standard kit uses the naturally aspirated Audi V-8 without turbos and 3L is also building an LS version of the chassis kit to offer another V-8 option. The LS was a challenge to design with the same constraints as the Audi V-8 because the LS is actually longer than the Audi V-8 by almost five inches. But, 3L made it work and allowed them to use similar six speed Getrag transaxles for both engines. The kit also improves the suspension and upgrades the brakes from the original Beetle to handle the additional weight and power either V-8 will provide.

This all sounds great, but where can you get one? For now you'll have to import it yourself. While 3L is located in South Africa, home to many well known Cobra replicas and other kit car manufacturers that have importers in the US, 3L currently doesn't have an official importer for America. At least not for the V-8 StealthBeetle kit, "I think we'll concentrate on our immediate future at present," said Fourie, "but we also design and build aluminum chassis for the Cobra and an aluminum chassis three-wheeler for the US market," but adds in, "We would always be open to negotiation." With the clean looks the V-8 StealthBeetle offers while adding in the classic, iconic design of the Volkswagen Beetle, it would be a shame to never see the kit get sold here.