The 1967 VW Beetle That’s Rallying Around the World
Building a custom car for shows and to drive around town is one thing, but modifying a stock 1967 VW Beetle to rally around the world is an entirely different challenge. Today I’d like to introduce you to Ed and Janet Howle, a couple who are conquering the world in Stewball.
Who is Stewball?
Stewball is a 1967 VW Beetle (633 Blue Type 1). He was initially bought with the intention to win The Great Race, Inc., 2008 around-the-world antique car rally that was to start in New York City and finish in Paris. This was the centennial year celebration of the only other around the world race in 1908.
2011 World Race
A little more about The Great Race around the world rally
The race was to begin in New York City, travels west across the US to San Francisco where the car was to be shipped to China. The race was to continue across China, through Kazakhstan, Russia and then into Europe. The 14,000 mile race would end in Paris with a prize of $1,000,000. Due to begin on February 11 2008 – 100 years after the legacy race – the Beetle with its rear end engine and rear wheel drive seemed ideal. But the event was cancelled when Great Race went bankrupt. Janet, Ed and Stewball did drive the US portion with a few other car enthusiasts, following the waypoints from George Schuster’s diary, the winner of the 1908 world race.
Janet in the driver’s seat
So what happened to Stewball?
Although Ed and Janet’s dreams of competing for the $1,000,000 had been dashed, that didn’t stop them doing what they had planned to do and in 2011, they entered another world rally organized by Jerry Price (after completing a number of rallies across the US, including Alaska).
I was honored enough to talk to Janet over email and got her first-hand story on their rallying adventures.
How did you get into rally racing?
Ed is restless and for years he held onto information about the Great Race, Inc. and their vintage car endurance rallies across the US. This was a ‘maybe someday’ file. To begin with we started and ran our own business and raised 6 children. Needless to say, we neither had the time nor the money for long distance rallies. Time passed. In 1998 we returned from living in Paris, France with our two youngest children. Ed needed a new adventure. Finally in 2005 everything fell into place and we bought a 1932 Desoto to drive in the The Great Race rally from Washington, DC to Washington State.
The Kremlin, Moscow
Why did you pick a 1967 VW Beetle?
We picked the 1967 VW Beetle with only one rally in mind. The 2008 World Race. With each rally comes a new set of rules. The Great Race required that our car be at least 40 years old. Since the race was due to start in February, the car needed to be able to negotiate both winter snow and ice as we would cross the Rocky Mountains in the US and then similar conditions when we would travel through Siberia.
We had already rallied three times with The Great Race when we learned of their plans to recreate the 1908 World Race from New York City to Paris, France. The main question was what to drive? Ed decided the 1967 VW Beetle with its rear wheel drive and rear engine would be a great snow car. And so Stewball came into our lives and did make this drive of 14,000 miles in 2011 without changing a tire.
The Tropic of Capricorn
What modifications did you make to the car?
When it comes to endurance rallies, preparation is always the key. Ed replaced the engine with a new 2005 1600cc South American engine and fitted the required rally harnesses. Bob Hicks of Hick’s VW Service in Durham, North Carolina was our VW guru and went over every system in the car, checking hoses, clamps, suspension and brakes.
Changing a flat tire in Africa
It was then vital that we stripped out unnecessary weight and so the back seat was removed which also made more room for luggage, the second spare tire (we were required to carry two), spare gas cans, car jacks, emergency triangles and tow rope-all required by the rally organization. Boards were put down to cover the floor and then – with Bob’s help – we created a collection of spare parts that might be necessary, including: carburetor, fan belt, plugs, generator, fuel pump, distributor, tires, jacks and control cables. We learned later we should have included a windshield wiper motor.
Kissing Stewball in Paris
In order to participate, there were an additional 3 modifications that we needed to make for the car to be ‘rally-worthy’. First, we needed a super accurate rally speedometer – quite an expensive addition – but luckily it fitted in the same space as the standard speedometer. The magnetic pick-up was supposed to be mounted on the drive shaft but Stewball didn’t have a drive shaft so Ed managed to cement it to one of the rear wheel rims. He mounted a second onto one of the spare tires as well in case we needed to change them at any point and then that way, we’d still have a working speedometer.
The second modification was for the fuel. Ed installed a funnel that separated the gas, water and particles and then added an internal marine filter too. Contaminants in the fuel was a big concern for us and so we needed to make sure we could filter out as much of it as possible. (It turned out, only once on our World Race did we get bad fuel and that was in a very remote part of western China.)
Stewball’s engine after the Safari Challenge
The third modification was an upgrade to the cooling system. Stewball needed to be able to withstand 112 degrees F crossing the Mojave Desert and the Gobi Desert. To combat this, Ed installed a Doghouse type oil cooler and a larger cooling fan.
What is your favorite thing about the car?
Neither of us really started out as Beetle fans. I had never even driven one. The requirements for a successful long distance rally car is to have one, like the Energizer Bunny, that can just keep going. We (make that Ed) wanted the 1967 because it was the first year that had a 12 volt system. That made everything easier. It had more horsepower than the earlier ones but perhaps the most important thing was, it was possible to get any and all repair or replacement parts new AND we could pack all the parts we needed in a small suitcase and carry them with us. Every participant must carry everything in their car. Clothes, tools, parts etc.
Traffic jam in China
What are your future plans for Stewball?
Stewball is already on his way to Buenos Aries. We fly November 9 to join many friends we’ve made along the rally roads for the Rally of the Incas organized by the Endurance Rally Association. The requirements for this organization are a bit different and Ed installed a Terratrip rally computer which operates from a satellite, much like a GPS. This will involve 28 days of driving through Argentina, Chili and Peru, countries we have never visited. The greatest challenge for Stewball (and us) is a climb to 4,800 meters (15,000 feet). I don’t know who will have the most difficulty with this. We are taking supplemental oxygen for us and octane booster for Stewball.
We’ve already planned for two additional rallies in 2017. Stewball will be shipped to Italy for the Odyssey Italia organized by Rally Round next September. The race last 14 days where we will drive from Liguria and include Corsica, Sardinia and Elba, ending in Siena, Tuscany. Again territory neither Stewball nor us have seen.
Just two weeks after that, we will once again participate in the African Safari Challenge, 5 countries (5,000 miles) in the south of Africa. This time Stewball will not be there. Stewball make this trip in 2015 and has already proven he can do this but we found it far less expensive to buy another Beetle in Cape Town and with the help of a friend have now purchased a 1968 for this rally. Besides, we don’t have time between the two rallies to ship Stewball. (We haven’t told him yet).
What has been your favorite country so far?
We can’t really name one country. We have seen so many and each one is unique in its own way and each provided new travel experiences. We can say without a doubt our favorite rally was the African Safari Challenge which included South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. Everything was spectacular, the ever changing vistas; mountains, deserts, open plains, and big game parklands, the wildlife, luxurious lodges, including Victoria Falls Hotel and various safari lodges, and the people. That’s why we are doing this one again.
Rallying around the world is an amazing hobby, what does it mean to you?
For us, rally racing is all about the people we meet. Rally participants are an adventurous group of people from all walks of life. We now have friends around the world and the adventures we have shared with them make these friendships something special. We meet again and again in different places around the globe, sometimes in their homes, (Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, France) sometimes on rallies. And each time adds more meaning to these friendships. This is really our favorite thing about rally racing.
Redwood Forest in California
Details of their travels can be found on their blog www.thelongroadtoparis.wordpress.com
Before you go, please tell me a little bit about your book. The Long Road to Paris.
When we signed on for the Around the World rally we intended to write a travel memoir of this unique experience. When that rally was cancelled, we found ourselves with time on our hands and decided to fictionalize the story. The Long Road to Paris, a romantic suspense, was the outcome. The starring role goes to a 1967 VW Beetle, outwardly identical to Stewball, but with an engine that has been modified in radical ways. It is a threat to Russia’s oil exports and a solution for China and its limited energy resources. A man and a woman, strangers to each other, are hired to drive the car. The car’s inventor will not tell them what fuel runs the engine. That will only be revealed once they reach Paris. One month into the race, the driver discovers that the inventor is not the only one keeping secrets. He finds himself on the Trans-Siberian highway, only miles from China’s border, and embroiled in international espionage, murder, betrayal, and a face-off between two nuclear powers. Determined to deliver the car to Paris, his only possible ally is his captivating but secretive navigator. But can he trust her? All this unfolds as readers follow the fast-paced suspense across America to Asia and Europe.
Everything we wrote is true, except for the parts we made up.
The novel is available from Amazon.com
Wow, what a story and what a journey. Thank you so much Janet for sharing your adventures!
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