It's mid-February and Lidia, Lee and myself are driving up to Notting Hill in London to visit friends and customers of Heritage Parts Centre, Jack's Garage. There's plenty to talk about with owner Joseph and workshop manager Vaidas, from the future of the motor car through to the aftermath of a terrible local tragedy.
Under the arches
has been established since 1995 and is located under the arches of a Victorian Railway bridge, on a quiet side street in Notting Hill. To be honest, it is tucked away and took a few attempts with the sat nav to find - and Lidia has been here before! The final clue, was the smattering of older VW vehicles around a narrow driveway entrance between a block of flats and the bridge. We park up on some yellow lines, with the assurance from Vaidas that the local Traffic Warden will show up on their CCTV and give us a chance to move, before issuing a ticket.
Who is Jack?
Having met Joseph and Vaidas, the obvious question was of course, who is Jack?! Joseph fills in the blanks and explains "Jack was the founder's Grandfather" going on to explain how he came to take over the business from the previous proprietor in 2007. Vaidas has been at Jack's since day one, he jokes telling us "back in Lithuania it was considered an insult or an embarrassment if you worked on Aircooled vehicles. And here I am, now spending every day with them!"
With the greatest of respect...
Standing at the entrance to Jack's Garage it only takes a glance to the sky, to see the white covered silhouette of the Grenfall Tower, complete with its green heart tribute at the top. The fire which happened in June 2017 officially claimed the lives of 72 local people who lived there, although many think the actual number could well be higher. We've not come to discuss the tragedy, but likewise, we can't pretend it didn't happen, and Joseph is very open about its effect on his business. "We noticed a distinct drop in customers in the weeks, months and even subsequent years following the fire. No-one wants to come around for tea if you've got a bad smell on your doorstep, and sadly this very high profile disaster kept visitors at distance from an area that really needed their custom more than ever. It's only been through the financial assistance of TFL (Transport For London) and the local authority that we've continued to be here"
A plugin solution...
It's been a tricky few years for Joseph and his team, but keen to keep his eye on the future he spent time investigating and converting his own personal VW Beetle, called Pugsly, to electric power. The red 1303 has undergone the transformation with the assistance of an off the shelf kit from Electric Classic Cars. "This is a Gen1. car" Joseph tells me. "It has batteries from an Electric Smart Car, a limited run which was offered for sale in California to comply with legislation and allow for them to also sell combustion-engined cars to this lucrative market still. Richard at the Electric Classic Car Company sourced a number of them from low mileage examples, and it made an ideal donor for what we needed. This car was proof of concept."
Driving an EV Beetle!
To best demonstrate the evolution of the EV system and conversion, Joseph hands me the keys and invites me to take the wheel. It's a bit like being a learner again, I know I can drive, but can I drive this?!
It turns out it is pretty simple. We pop the Beetle gear shifter
into second and basically leave it there. With a straight and empty bit of road ahead of us, Joseph instructs me to floor it. The pick-up is quick, eerily silent and controlled by a pedal that I can only describe as feeling like that of a dodgem. When it comes to slowing us back down again (from the speed limit, I hasten to add) the standard Beetle brakes
do the job, but as many will know, lack a little refinement.
The Power to do good
It was through a chance encounter with the team at eClassics
at a German Classic car show, that Joseph got talking about what he was doing with his own car and discussions turned to business. Long story short, Jack's Garage have become the UK agent for their 'plug and play' aircooled VW conversions. Joseph shows me around the yellow car. "This is the second generation EV conversion; the car which won the support of the senior executives at Volkswagen." Built by eClassics it features 100% new components, but as it is one of ten prototypes, these are not VW parts. "The motor is from Bosch in Stuttgart, mated to a custom rebuilt gearbox and the battery bank that sits under the floor is made by LG" Joseph adds.
It is the 3rd Generation cars that will benefit from the backing of our favourite brand, and it is these vehicles that Joseph and the team at Jack's will be offering in the UK. With all the passion of a parent who has just watched their child win Sports Day, Joseph excitedly reels off the facts for me. "The main leap between 2nd and 3rd generation is that the new cars use only VW OEM components, which is why they are supplied with a 2 year main dealer warranty. This includes the motor in the back which is just as you would find in a brand new E-Up! The batteries, charging units, controller and converter are also stamped with familiar part numbers, coming from a host of Volkswagen group vehicles and blended together to best suit this classic cabriolet. No joke, if you have an issue with one of these cars in your ownership you can pull into any VW dealer, anywhere in the world, and they can fix it for you!!"
The eClassics car is a real step up from Puglsy in terms of build quality, fit and finish - taking nothing away from the fact that Joseph taught himself the principles of EV whilst converting that car. Retaining the single binnacle 1303 dashboard
, the interior of the yellow cabriolet is blessed with a touch screen tablet offering the typical infotainment luxuries of contemporary cars. With modern sports seats trimmed in black leather with racing stripes to compliment the exterior colour scheme, the cabin is a pleasant place to sit. My only visual concern with the transformation is the body-coloured side skirt below the Beetle running board
, a 'necessary evil' to hide the bank of batteries lurking below the floor, although I can't help but think it should be predominantly black.
Joseph negotiates the tight entrance driveway to their railway arch workshops and we whizz down the road to grab a few pics elsewhere. Then it is my turn again, I'm about to experience this machine in the environment it is perfect for: the city. "Everyone loves this car" Joseph smiles as he tells me. "We'll get everyone waving, the colour helps attract attention and then people look a bit puzzled when they can't hear the engine."
The yellow car is a 2 pedal set up, start and stop. There is a forward and reverse gear with no need for a clutch kit
. Pulling away the accelerator has a linear rather than on/off feel and the car is noticeably more nimble. The steering feels great, with the leather-clad OE wheel being light enough to tackle tight turns, but not disconnected from the feeling of the road like many modern super minis. I nip through a chicane-style junction and roundabout combo and Josephs compliments me on my driving... I could work with this, I think.
Go around again!
Our road trip takes us out onto a section of dual carriageway, but not before Joseph eggs me to complete a full lap of the roundabout to get an idea of the cars cornering prowess. I must say, it gave as good as it got and with the weight of the batteries below my feet, it sweeps through curves with much ease, I'd go as far to say that it could even raise a smile.
Slowing it down
A bit like a Formula One cars KERS system, the eClassics car has its own energy recovery system which takes some getting used to. At the point you let off the throttle, the motor applies a slight brake, generating additional power and slowing you down before you reach for the anchors yourself. Stopping is courtesy of a quartet of Porsche brake discs
and calipers, whilst it feels more efficient than the red version, this was still the biggest reminder that I was driving a 40-year-old Beetle, not a forecourt fresh city car.
Break for lunch
Terrifically generous, Joseph treats us (and the rest of his team) to kebabs from his favourite Middle Eastern takeaway. The food is divine and is just what we need to warm up and fuel the rest of our tour of Jack's Garage workshops.
As you approach from the road, arch one is home to the office, a mezzanine storage area and staff room above and the floor and ramp space for day to day mechanical work. A Type 25 hangs from a 2 post lift above Puglsy and a Late Bay waits patiently in front of the shutter. I question whether they undertake MOT testing on-site, and Joseph explains clearly "I feel it could be considered biased of us to test a customers car, and then tell them what it needs to fix it, and then charge them for that service. We use a local Test Station who we trust to offer impartial MOT tests, and we then use that to base our offer any required remedial work to the customer afterwards."
Below the tracks
With the Circle line trundling along above the ceiling, there are another two arches at Jack's Garage to help Vaidas and Joseph's teams serve the customers who travel from all over the UK. The 'middle' arch is an overflow workshop for mechanical work. Another Type 25 greets us and a Bay Bus is high in the sky receiving a new aircooled engine
. It seems like a good time to ask the question about making the much loved VW Campervan into an electric vehicle too, and of course, Joseph and eClassics are already on the case.
Joseph reveals "there will be a Type 25 kit which features the Volkswagen ID3 electric motor as the standard option, and this motor will also be available for customers wishing to convert their Bay Window." I first saw the ID3 in the flesh at the Festival of Speed last summer... It's pretty impressive to think that a 40 year old bus could be fitted with technology from such a new vehicle.
Given the nature of these vehicles, it made sense to question the range and whether you could still practically go touring in one. Once more Joseph has the answers enthusiasts will want to hear, offering "long range battery packs will be available as an option on all models, and once launched by Volkswagen, the 60kW power packs from the ID3 will be fitted, giving a real-world mileage of 300-350 miles on a single charge." Furthermore, he explains "the ID3 batteries have the ability to accept an 80% fast charge in just 40 minutes" which means a service station top-up mid journey is a realistic process to enable eco friendly European road trips.
The 3rd arch, which is furthest from the road is where all the messy stuff happens. Once more there's a Brickshaped bus, this one is having body work completed. Alongside it, an Orange 70s Bug in a state of undress is having new Beetle repair panels
welded in, prior to a Full EV conversion.
"The Beetle is a local one-owner car," Joseph tells me. The owner had reached a point where a classic Beetle was no longer practical for them, but Joseph plans to reunite them one last time, once his bright orange, emission-free transformation is complete.
The Culture of the City
I really felt we had experienced something special with our trip to Jack's Garage. Joseph spoke so knowledgeably about the EV conversions, but also educated me to how his local inner-city community worked, and of course how it has been affected by the events of recent years. London, whilst only 60 miles from the coast is a very different place to Shoreham-by Sea. We discussed religion, we ate amazing international food; Jack's Garage, on that day was so much more than just a workshop that fixes classic cars, and I'm pretty confident the warm and inclusive welcome would be extended to any visitor who arrived at Joseph and Vaidas's door.
Our thanks once more to the whole team at Jack's Garage for the warm welcome. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Andy, Lidia and Lee