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EMPI demo cars


Another EMPI section... But not just another Inch Pincher one (lol)... Well, you all read the EMPI story here, but what about some period facts regarding the EMPI demo cars? A lot of EMPI cars might be considered as demo cars. After all, the Inch Pincher was the very first and most successful of them all. But others EMPI equipped cars might be considered as demonstrators. Read the EMPI Firebug and Gold bug stories on the right columns for example, but letís start that section with rare facts & pictures of the true demonstrators cars, aka the sales representatives ones.

To be honest, I had the idea of such a section when a very friendly and enthusiast guy called Adam LEACH entered in touch with me some weeks ago. Would you believe Adam is the son of an ex-sale representative from the EMPI golden era, understand in the late 60s at Roberta street, Riverside, California. His name was Brian E. J. LEACH! Those facts are really precious, to say the least! I just hope you will enjoy those fabulous EMPI memories Adam dug up for all of us!

Do I really need to comment the above picture ;) How cool is this!!!

Adam recalls ďMy father was sent by an english company to work in the USA in 1961-62 as sales representative in insurance, he worked for Hertz in the U.K. and applied to a job add in the paper in Santa Barbara for EMPI. It was no secret my mother didnít want my father to take the job with EMPI, as in those days, it was a commission only job, no salary. But my father took it anyways, as it happens he was making 3 times the salary he did at Hertz, due to his destructive driving I would imagine (more on that later...). Not to mention the classic english accent amongst all those californians. Anyways, the rest is history.. Joe VITTONE loved the english accent, so did Dean LOWRY and my father was given the job in only one interview, not the standard 2 or 3. He worked with EMPI right up until 1969 when he returned home. Joe offered him a senior position, but such were the employment laws in the US my father would have to apply for first papers (what we call the green card today) to take the position. But he didnít want to become American so he came home to the U.K. with my mother and sister.

This family picture is the one and only color picture I have ever seen of those salesmen cars.

His full time job was to take dealers and shop owners out in the bug demonstrator and scare them with the power and performance, then obviously they would buy EMPI parts... I think he destroyed at least 4 complete engine blocks, and always smiled because Deano was the man to maintain the bug for him. There is a story of my dadís car coming in the shop twice in 10 days for new engines, and Joe gave him a bonus for exceeding his remit... it was all about the power... What a job... There are other stories also of my father and the others sales representative meeting for unofficial drag races in storm drains, and street racing around the suburbs for fun, beach races on the coast in shop dune bugs but just general young men madness. These stories were not shared with Joe, as he only wanted you to destroy cars with customers in the front seats. My dad had numerous stories like driving the Inch Pincher and, of course, running his own bug on the strip Ďafter hoursí, he used to work the show stand while Deano raced, then hook up for beers I believe...

Another treasure coming from the personal archive (and used here with permission of course) of Glenn MILLER. This demo car was picture at Roberta street shop and Glenn recalls it was sometime around 1964-1965... It is another interesting picture because at that time, Glenn recalls this one was a black bug. Note the early EMPI rims knock-off! Oh, yes, your sharped eye is right, this is the very same picture appearing on the California book #2 of Keith SEUME. Seems we have the same source ;)

My dad was demo-ing at the time JKF was assassinated in Texas, and the whole world stopped, except my father... He said he finished the drive, and the sale, and then listened to the news on the radio... He often said he was the only person driving, even the freeways came to a standstill on the news of JFK. My dad just said it was easier to get to his Ďdriving areaí. He was a rebel even in those days, a perfect EMPI employee. I also remember my father telling me he was using a complete set of road/race tyres per month, every month, and on a couple of months he didnít change, he was told off!!! Use the car, or lose the job I seem to remember the words my father saying. He never would have lost the job, but you must appear to do the right thing!!! Did my father liked his job? It was his happiest time. My mother says he was never the same after he came back to the U.K. without the car, and all through my childhood until recently, 40 years, I have listened to the stories I am sharing with you.Ē

I would say this picture is an early one. When demo cars looked just like the early Inch Pincher. Even the racing stripes were there... Note the GTV badge on the front quarter panel and the Delswift mirrors.

Some facts on the EMPI demo cars now. They were a short run fleet cars, even in those days all hand modified by Deano and identical in appearance, so you know they were the Dogs Ďspecial bitsí. The cars only had front seats (3 points race harnesses), in order to save weight but also to carry small customers parts from there to there.This said, it seems that all the sales representative cars were not painted the same color. One thing is certain : most of them were bright orange, just like the Inch Pincher... But it seems others were blue or black. Glenn MILLER came another time to my rescue (Glenn, youíre THE man) and sent me recently an AWESOME picture of a black demo car. I figure that very early demo cars were black, maybe dark blue (remember the early GTV in front cover of the 1st Volkswagen annual magazine?), later ones being orange. Also, we can put that some early ones had the typical Inch Pincher white stripes, while later ones seemed to be pinstriped just like early GTVs. Well, those cars were GTV equipped bugs, sporting the distinctive EMPI globe logo on both front doors. From what Adam recalls, the demo cars were generally taken from the salesmen after a couple of years, totally rebuilt, and then sold as ex-demonstrators. Adamís father had 4 demo cars in the total time, and it seems Joe VITTONE offered him the last car he had, but he couldnít afford to bring it home, with moving an entire life and family back to the U.K.

Another sales representative fine example. This one appeared in the 1st Volkswagen Annual one and only very desirable magazine with the following comment : "Hundred of thousands of test miles are driven with EMPI equipment by the EMPI sales force. Salesmen's cars are all painted orange (???) and all are loaded with every EMPI option possible/ This testing, however, is only coincidental to extensive laboratory evaluations".

I now wonder where all of those demo cars ended and if some of them still remains somewhere, waiting to be discovered and bring back to original life of real EMPI cars. The neverending quest...

Now, I just want to send a personal though to Adamís father, Brian, as dementure has taken his mind and details of those early EMPI stories by the way. Also, Adam found some rare EMPI goodies (mainly very interesting literature) and if youíre serious enough, please enter in touch with me and Iíll forward all details.


Below is a complete article (with period pictures!) that appeared in Dune Buggies & Hot VWs dated June 1970!

Thanks to understated german design, the Volkswagen is a car that will live forever. Retaining the same familiar lines from year to year, a vintage Volks differs little from its showromm fresh successor.

There is one problem, though ; somewhere along the way of its many-yeared existence, battle scars develop and the once cherry VW takes on the appearance of a training car for parking lot attendants.

You just have to fall in love with this very special Nostalgia EMPI car! Enjoy that rare color picture!

The owner can do one of two things : slap on a few of those oh-so-cute bandages that say "ouch", and listen to the fenders flap in the wind, or replace the damaged fenders, hood, decklid and doors with fiberglass components. The latter is a much wiser choice and an excellent way to extend the life of a VW. EMPI, the VW specialties firm from Riverside performed just such a parts transplant on a '65 sedan. They did it not so much to rejuvenate the car (which was still quite sound) as to demonstrate their wares and the advantages of fiberglass.

The result of EMPI styling romp is called the Firebug, a very logical name for a flame-painted beetle. The Firebug looks five years younger, thanks to its fiberglass facelift. Around the fenders, it carries that wide-track look of action that typifies the hot street machine. They're 'glass fenders, incidentally, and they're adorned with late model headlights and taillights to make the 5 year old beetle look 1970-ish.

Sculptured fiberglass sidescoops and flared fenders lend a personalized touch to the very nondescript Beetle. Metalflake paint is used extensively, is sprayed on the body, molded into the accessories.

The Firebug looks hood and decklid go the stock VW one better. They're fiberglass (no rust) and carry some styling refinements that Wolfsburg has yet to discover. The decklid at the front of the car holds an EMPI 8.000 rpm tachometer that nestles in a sculptured channel along the driver's side. Fairing along the leading edge smooths the airflow around the device. The hood or engine cover at the rear of the car utilizes sculptured air intakes that serve as both functional and decorative adjuncts to the normally plain surface.

Flared fenders are used on all four corners, allow plenty of room for wide rimmed custom wheels such as these EMPI stars. Later model taillights and bumpers also are used on the car, giving it a '70-ish appearance.

Sculptured air intakes also are mounted along the side of the car, just to the rear of the side windows. These scoops, however, are non-functional and act strictly as a styling device.

The exterior surface of the Firebug is finished in gold metalflake. It's been sprayed on the main parts, such as the body, and molded into the accessory parts, such as the fenders. Despite the divergent means of application, all surfaces match, and the Firebug can show its colors with the best of the factory's paint jobs.

Fiberglass facelift turns old beetles into new Firebugs. This 5 year old VW looks showroom new with the addition of 'glass fenders, hood, decklid and side scoops. Metalflake paint and flame paint add a personal touch to the very distinctive-look sedan.

The interior has been EMPI-ized to bring it up to date with the exterior. Stock Volkswagen seats and carpeting have been replaced by EMPI items such as the contoured rear seat unit and upholstered front buckets. The dashboard has been rejuvenated with the addition of custom gauges and wood applique paneling. The steering wheel and gearshift lever have been replaced by appearance-enhancing EMPI items.

All the EMPI dress-up items can be fitted to any VW. The beetle universal (unchanging) desing sees to that. And, while the change is more apparent on an early beetle, it is almost as noticeable and certainly as pleasing on the latest model.

Fiberglass fenders are evident here! Stance is unusual nowadays... but still looks cool if you ask me...

Copyright © 2011 El Dub - All rights reserved.

E-mail : eldub@cal-look.com



Some times ago, I was thinking that the Firebug and the Gold bug were the very same car, the first one being a revamped and up to date fiberglassed version of the second one. Well, it seems I was wrong as, from what Iíve read, one is a Ď66 bug while the other seemed to be a Ď63.

Gold Bug
The engine chrome-plated color picture cover is very cool! Grab this piece of EMPI literature while you can, the're still around sometimes on ebay...

Finding material dealing with the Gold bug was not an easy task to say the least... I didnít found any specific article in my period magazines stash. The car was detailed in a Volkswagen special issue from Hot Rod, but it was more on a technical angle than a car focus.

Well, so you will found here all that I know about the car... If you know more, feel free to contact me...

Gold Bug
This rare picture appeared in the famous 1st Volkswagen annual mag date Fall 1966 with the following caption : the "Gold Bug" is a 7.000$ Okrasa equipped VW with gold metalflake paint.

Gold Bug
Another cool picture, in color that appeared in the Volkswagen Owners guide also dated Fall 1966 with the title : Notes for Women with Folks...