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Jet Beetle a flight of fancy

This New Beetle is one of the fastest street-legal cars in North America.

  • Gray modern car closeup on black background.

This New Beetle is one of the fastest street-legal cars in North America.

Look beyond its cutesy face, its bulbous shape, and its sleepy silver paint — because it packs serious heat. What’s that in the hatch, you wonder?

It’s a General Electric Model T58-8F helicopter turboshaft engine, converted into a jet engine fitted with an afterburner. Horsepower: 1,350.

Rational thought ended shortly after I began the conversation with its creator, Ron Patrick.

He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Stanford University who now lives in Los Angeles and has a passion for custom cars.

But considering two recent high-profile jet dragster crashes — Kendall Hebert’s death in a jet dragster at Toronto Motorsports Park and British TV presenter Richard Hammond’s heavy jet dragster accident at a U.K. airfield — isn’t a jet-powered street car overkill?

“If it wasn’t overkill, I’d do something else,” says Patrick. “It makes a lot of sense. Every two years in California, they check for engine modifications, combing a list of accepted engine modifications — but none will allow you to add 1,350 hp to your car. So I just carry around a jet engine for when I want a thrill.”

Apparently, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has made a formal request to a federal agency to determine if Patrick’s Beetle constitutes a threat to U.S. national security.

Patrick explains that since it was completed in January, his Jet Beetle has been to a few custom car shows, sometimes with memorable results.

“Some people were saying my car was fake, so I lit it up,” he says. “I was parked outside, between two pavilions, and ended up setting fire to a beer kiosk. They banned me for life from the show, but still awarded me the first-place prize.”

Besides finding a loophole that allows him to carry a jet engine in his car, Patrick says many years of building custom cars started to get boring.

He bemoaned the lack of originality in modified cars, saying that show winners are either ’32 Ford Roadsters, muscle cars or sport compacts. He wanted to be different.

“I really think this is the New Beetle’s alter ego,” he says.

“Many times, I thought that VW knew I’d be doing this. Whenever I needed space, there was space. When I needed a bracket, there was a bracket. It was perfect.”

Before choosing the Beetle, Patrick made a cardboard mockup of the engine and visited local car dealerships — shoehorning the large cardboard cylinder into different cars to test its fit. Even so, there are some issues with the finished product.

Besides the engine’s nozzle protruding from the rear of the car, the jet’s air inlet is just behind the occupants’ shoulders.

When the jet is fired up, the windows and sunroof have to be open to allow air into the engine. Although a screen is fitted on the air intake, passenger comfort isn’t a top priority.

“Oh, the jet sucks,” Patrick admits. “There’s a lot of wind inside the car, but there’s a lot of wind when you’re doing 200 km/h on a sportbike, too.”

Then there’s the cost. Forgetting the price of aviation-grade fuel, the engine alone costs an estimated $675,000 new.

Patrick’s engine was purchased used, but a complete rebuild would set him back about $168,000.

Would his project have been possible if he still lived in Toronto?

“No, because a key component is money,” he says. “Canada has a lot of talent, but if you want to make money, you have to go south. Americans spend money, where it seems like Canadians hoard their cash for the next snowstorm.”

Despite the obvious abilities of his car, Patrick says even he has a limit on how quickly his silver Beetle will travel, adding that about 225 km/h is fast enough, even though “from 200 km/h to 225 km/h, it’s accelerating even faster.”

“My goal is to thrill me, and not kill me,” he explains. “I want to make noise, be stupid, and have fun.”

Patrick spent four years in his garage designing and constructing the car, working out every single detail to exacting specifications.

From an engineering standpoint, his Jet Beetle is an elegant solution to the challenge of going fast under the watch of the California DMV and local law enforcement. Beyond that, the jet fits into his lifestyle: When he wants to have fun on the way home from work, a quick thrill is the click of a switch away.

His next car will most likely be a Honda Insight, Patrick says, which he notes will be the world’s first tribred: “Gasoline, electric, and rocket.”

His preliminary calculations indicate the car may be capable of 0 to 240 km/h in three seconds.

But a love for being different and bringing excitement to car shows is the real reason Patrick creates machines in a “perfect storm of stupidity.”

“You know, 10 years from now, I like to think any kids that have seen the car will remember a jet in a VW, and not two-tone paint,” he says.

Or the sight of a charred beer kiosk.


wheels@thestar.ca

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