Heavy Metal Affliction - 1967 VW Squareback
Nate Morse and his son Josh are two guys with some serious skills in building VW and Porsche-powered machines. In this edition of HMA, we’ll explore how the pair are carving out their own bit of history.
This father and son pair have built something unique in what they call “The Squarsche.” It’s a Porsche powered Volkswagen Type 3, otherwise known as the Squareback. The Morse’s refer to their Squareback as the type 828.666∞. That number is somewhat of an inside joke, referencing the average of all the VW and Porsche model numbers that make up the Squarsche.
For starters you have the Type-367 of the Squareback, a 1967 Type-3. Then there is the 914 motor, the 911 front suspension, the 912 transmission, the 924 rear suspension, and the 944 parts used to put it all together. You could also throw 930 Turbo in there for the shifter and steering wheel and 987 for the Porsche Boxster wheels, but it would change the math a little. As a gentleman at a car show once noted, “This ain’t your grandma’s Squareback.”
The Morse’s call themselves Mutt Racing, representing the culmination of parts that make the Squarsche such a thoroughbred racer. And yes, they do race it, not only at local autocross events, but at none other than the Bonneville Salt Flats, where it was recognized as the first Type 3 Volkswagen to set a speed record. As Nate puts it, “What that really means is that we were just the first that were foolish enough to bring a VW station wagon to a land speed event.”
Nonetheless they destroyed the land speed record for their class. The previous record was set by an Australian father and son team in a VW Fastback (technically a Type 3, but not a wagon). Their speed was around 75 mph. The Morse’s broke that VW Challenge record by nearly 20 mph, running a 96.99. They knew the Squarsche was capable of better speeds, since it jumps to around 115 mph on the roads of Washington State. The difference came down to the 4,200 foot altitude of the Bonneville Salt Flats. While they had the tune set up to run right, there simply isn’t as much air to suck. After all, internal combustion engines are really nothing more than an air pump right? Less oxygen means less power; in this case about 18 percent less.
Taking the Squarsche to Bonneville for the 2014 World of Speed (WOS) event, which is one of the five major land speed events that take place on the salt, was the result of a lot of hard work. It’s worth noting that this week would have coincided with Speed Week 2015, another notable land speed record event, but weather conditions have forced its cancellation and the 2015 WOS is still holding their breath hoping for conditions to improve to allow for its September date.
The conditions of this unique space have to be right for the array of motorized machines to run flat out. The salt on the speed course is graded but, if it’s not right, it is a safety issue and puts the salt at risk. With hundreds of racers showing up for speed events, there are strict rules to ensure the unique environment isn’t damaged. The paddock area alone for WOS is a quarter-mile wide, and over a half-mile long.
The trip to Bonneville was a reward for all the hard work that it took to build the Squarsche. “I really wanted to have Josh experience what a well-earned reward feels like when you bust your butt,” Morse said. The pair had worked hard to get the little wagon from the daily driver it was when the elder Morse got out of the Navy and began working at ProVolks – a local VW/Porsche shop that Morse later purchased and now operates.
The Squareback began its transformation back in 2008 with a well-planned build that Nate chose to take on in phases to avoid getting overwhelmed or burned-out. “This is how many cars end up on Craigslist or under a tarp,” Nate said, “and I was determined not to let that happen.”
You can read up on the build in detail on The Samba.com forums where Nate shares every step of progress and fellow VW fans have shared their input. Basically he broke the build into five phases.
Phase 1: Transplant a low-mileage Porsche 914 2.0L motor and convert it to Megasquirt2 V3 (fuel injection) with EDIS ignition. The biggest challenge was figuring out the Megasquirt tune, that came with some help from VW fuel injection pro Mario Velotta of the Dub Shop. Morse then drove the Porsche-powered Squareback for about a year.
Phase 2: The motor received 96mm flat-top pistons the bumped the displacement from 1971cc to 2056 and upped the compression from 7.5:1 up to 8.25:1. The engine tin was powder-coated and the exhaust ceramic-coated. The car was driven for another year to shake it out.
Phase 3: Things got serious when Morse got his hands on a wrecked Porsche 912E. The five-speed transmission was finagled into place, the old swing arm rear end was swapped out for an IRS configuration, brakes were upgraded and the interior got comfy with some custom-upholstered 911 seats and “the world’s fastest cup holders.”
These custom cup holders are made out of a pair Porsche 911 3.0 cylinders.
Phase 4: At this point, the Morse’s pulled out all the stops and completed the vision of the Squarsche. Where the car had been pretty much a sleeper until now, this phase would drastically change the look of the car and give up its intentions at a glance.
The fenders were widened to accommodate much more rubber, Porsche 911 steering was incorporated, 911 and 914 front suspension was added, and Porsche 924 rear suspension and a bevy of associated mods to accommodate it all. The EFI system saw some tweaks and an entirely new wiring harness was installed. The system has multiple MAPs and delivers data logging. They also lightened the car with fiberglass bumpers, and increased fuel capacity to nearly double. The Squarsche can travel up to 500 miles on a single tank – depending on how heavy Morse’s foot is.
Phase 5: Up until now the car was an array of colors, primer, rust killer, and touch ups, so a full paint job was in order. Morse did it himself, with spray paint. The color is Ford Tractor and Implement Gray. It’s a clean look, nothing fancy. Remember this is a race car with blinkers. It is destined to get dinged up. Morse’s philosophy is: “If I drive fast enough, no one will notice the flaws.”
The Squarsche was “finished” on Friday and on a tow dolly the following Wednesday headed for Bonneville. Josh drove the rig over the top of the Utah mountains and piloted the Squarsche on the Salt Flats – where there is no driver age restriction (he was 15 at the time). When they got home, they spent days removing the salt from the car – over 40 pounds from the fenders alone – Morse uses some of that salt for Friday BBQs at ProVolks.
Since then the pair installed carbon fiber interior panels complete with visors; all full-custom and at no small expense. The result is a really cool and lithe appearance. As with any project it will never be truly done. Josh just completed the build of a stoker motor that will go in soon.
When this pair make their return to Bonneville in 2016 for the fastest 60-90 seconds of their life, they will undoubtedly make their way into the “130 Club,” making their mark on the annals of racing history in their own very special way. Getting there they have built much more than a really cool car, they have created a bond that will last them a lifetime.