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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Paul Newman's Beetle is "Winning" nearly 40 years after it was made

A Volkswagen Beetle with Paul Newman Provenance and a $250,000 Price


Oldbug.comThe Volkswagen Beetle convertible once belonging to Paul Newman.

Before the actor Paul Newman became infatuated with auto racing on the set of the 1969 film “Winning,” he owned a red 1963 Volkswagen Beetle cabriolet. By all accounts, he loved the car. What Mr. Newman did not love, however — according to the car’s current owner — was being teased by the fellow actor and Porsche owner Robert Redford for the Beetle’s lackluster performance.

Modifying a Beetle for speed was, and still is, a straightforward affair, but Mr. Newman wanted something special. More importantly, he wanted something that would bury Mr. Redford’s Porsche.

What he created was more beast than bug. Now, his car is being offered for sale at $250,000 by a former acquaintance of the actor, Sam Contino, who took possession of it after retiring as an instructor at Chaffey College in Southern California.

Mr. Newman’s handlers had pressured the actor to rid himself of the car, which they believed to be far too dangerous, said Tom Contino, Mr. Contino’s son, when reached by telephone. After a chance meeting with his father, who was head of the college’s automotive technology program, Mr. Newman donated the car to the school, where it served as a promotional tool and teaching aid.

For the build, the actor enlisted Jerry Eisert, a manufacturer of racecars for the IndyCar series, to create the ultimate sleeper. The Beetle was wholly disassembled and rebuilt. A midmounted, 351-cubic-inch Ford V-8 was installed ahead of a 5-speed ZF gearbox, and the whole affair was ensconced in a lovely custom-made engine cover that may look familiar to anyone who has been a passenger in older, midengined water-ski boats.

Oldbug.comThe Beetle’s midmounted V-8.

The original bodywork was maintained, but the suspension and steering components were replaced with custom bits similar to those used on cars that Mr. Eisert built for the Indianapolis 500. Mr. Newman’s commitment to maintaining a stock look was nearly total. Details like drum brakes were maintained, though they were upgraded to finned aluminum units from General Motors. The actor even lobbied against the inclusion of a roll bar, though ultimately he acquiesced, said Tom Contino.

The finished car was featured in several magazines, all of which made subtle nods to the owner’s identity while never quite revealing it outright. According to Tom Contino, it was important for Mr. Newman that his Beetle maintained a degree of anonymity — the better to surprise and humiliate other drivers in stoplight drags and on canyon runs.

Upon his retirement, Tom Contino’s father acquired the car from Chaffey College and embarked on a five-year restoration project with his son. As reported recently by Inside Line, the car is for sale and listed at Oldbug.com, a vintage-Beetle enthusiast Web site.

Tom Contino admitted that the price may seem high “due to the association with Paul Newman,” but added that the quality of the build would not disappoint buyers. He also recounted that a period magazine had estimated the cost to build the car in the late 1960s at “somewhere upwards of $15,000,” which would equal almost $90,000 today.

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