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Show Rods


American Beetle



Built by Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth in 1968.

"American Beetle" represents the first VW trike. Ed used a 36 horsepower engine from a 1957 VW and a Honda front fork. Due to all the weight in the rear Ed corrected the teeter totter effect by filling the front forks with five pounds of lead.

Rear-mounted, air-cooled VW engine, four-speed manual gearbox in rear-mounted transaxle, springer-type front forks, VW independent rear suspension, and rear-mounted VW drum brakes.

Ed Roth’s “trike phase” was no passing fancy. In fact, Roth’s series of radical custom trikes spanned from 1966 to his passing 35 years later in 2001, with many examples remaining among the most memorable works of “Big Daddy” today. In addition to his prodigious creative output over the years, Roth was extremely frugal and resourceful, often working with very limited financial resources that were supplemented by his many design and fabrication talents. These tendencies were fostered from early youth by Roth’s father, a German-born cabinetmaker who supplied a workshop and a set of tools to keep his sons busy and out of trouble.

Later in life, however, Roth’s resourcefulness sometimes attracted unwanted attention. In one particular incident, Roth and a friend were cruising the streets of Los Angeles in search of old Volkswagen donor cars for yet another trike project. Having spotted a likely donor car at a gas station, Roth attempted to leave a note with his phone number on the windshield of the VW when the gas attendant approached. When Roth tried to explain what he was doing and obtain the owner’s contact information, the attendant threatened to shoot Roth. Unfazed, Roth extended an index finger against his jacket, feigning a handgun and advising, “I wouldn’t do that if I was you.” Minutes later, the police had both Roth and his friend in temporary custody. He was a wild character, to say the least.

In 1973, Roth created the “American Beetle”, yet another trike design, which was predictably based on a Volkswagen Beetle rear chassis and powertrain with a hand-laid fiberglass body sporting a raised tandem two-seat layout. Since Roth planned to produce the American Beetle in kit form, he even applied for and successfully obtained a patent for the design from the United States Patent Office. A number of the drawings from Roth’s successful patent application can be found in Roth’s autobiography Hot Rods by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, which was written with Tony Thacker.

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According to a certificate of authenticity issued by Darryl Roth, Ed’s son, this particular American Beetle is an original Roth kit whose body was made from a mold of Big Daddy’s original trike. It is mostly complete with a VW powertrain, yet requires a cosmetic restoration, detailing and seat upholstery. Its offering provides an ideal opportunity to acquire a genuine Roth creation, with the unique option to finish it in one’s individual style and taste.

Sold at auction by RM Auctions on Saturday, September 26, 2009 for $3,630



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