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Split Decision
A child of the Cal-Look generation, Robert Reese has more recently turned to the vintage-resto side of the hobby

By Karl Funke
Photography: Ryan Lee Price, Robert Hallstrom

It's interesting the way some people progress through the VW hobby. Time and tastes evolve inevitably, and many times the fire of youth is replaced with more conservative values reflected in a given enthusiast's choice of project platforms. Take Southern California-resident Robert Reese as an example. In his youth he was an avid proponent of street performance, but lately his tastes have shifted toward the vintage end of the hobby. Where once he got his kicks from ripping down the street in a holistically modified Cal-Look racer, he now derives far more pleasure from cruising that same street with a modest 25 horses under the decklid.

Reese has been interested in VWs since he was 15-years old. Back then he built a '67 Hardtop with a big motor and fully-built tranny. He drove this car through high school and sold it in 1987 to a gentleman who exported it to Japan. Then he left the scene, as he puts it, for about a decade after that, as he tended other aspects of his life, then re-entered with a 1963 Cabriolet. He built this car in much the same way as his first: big motor, built transmission, four-wheel disc brakes. Then he had a look at some even earlier cars, and they piqued his interest in a way the others hadn't. He became set on the look of the Split, and subsequently began the search for one of his own. For a guy who doesn't specifically make his living buying, trading or building vintage VWs, Robert Reese has pretty good connections in the hobbyist network. He began dialogue with Bob Koch and told him he was looking for an early car to purchase. As it happened, Koch had an early Split he needed to sell for a customer. This particular customer was juggling several cars at once--too many, in fact--and he asked Koch to sell one of them.

That car was this 1952 Split. It was in pieces, but many parts, like the front end, chassis and motor, were all already rebuilt and refurbished. The body was in pretty good shape too, and Reese and Koch decided the car would make a great starting point for Reese's Split-Window restoration project.

It just doesn't get any cleaner than this.
Reese had the pieces shipped to him and began the project in his garage. He assembled the underpinnings himself and sent the body on a rolling "donor" chassis to West Coast Classic Restoration, where Lenny Copp and crew refurbished the panels, laid the paint and mapped out the interior.

The project is your basic period restoration, but purists will note a few custom additions. Most obvious are vintage Albert mirrors installed on both sides of the car. Though they're not period specific, they look good and work very well, according to Reese, because he can actually see out of them. All the body panels are original, except for the rear fenders which were replaced because of a surfeit of rust. When Reese purchased the car, the shell was wearing beige paint. He saw the car's current color, L51 Bordeaux Red, on another car and fell in love with it. Technically it's a color from VW's 1951 catalog, but looks so nice on this application we're not going to complain.

Various NOS parts for the project were supplied by Bob Koch, including the headlight buckets, door handles, Bosch horn, e-brake boot and accessory cigar lighter. The interior employs period-correct upholstery and carpeting supplied by WCCR. If it's one thing Lenny Copp prides himself on--other than his world-class vintage restorations [See Page 74 for details]--it's the quality and authenticity of his interiors. Reese's interior incorporates genuine German "streifenbraun" cloth, German squareweave carpet and a German wool headliner.

The engine was already assembled when Reese took delivery of the car, and its origins are not entirely known. It is however a faithful 25-hp restoration using all period parts except for the intake manifold. Though only the keenest VW intellect would be able to discern this, Reese is currently tracking down a more appropriate period piece to make the engine 100 percent original.

If you attended the Classic last year, this car might seem familiar. It won first place there in the Split-Window class, as well as first place in the Split class at Bob Baker's yearly Carlsbad show. We have a feeling it'll keep on winning if Reese keeps entering. Mostly though, he just likes to drive it on weekends. According to him, it's the best cruising vessel he's ever owned.

"It's just a joy to drive," he says, the enthusiasm surging in his voice. "I love driving it, especially now that I have the double clutching down. The hardest part of this project was waiting for it to get done."

The original beige paint was replaced with Glasurit L51 Bordeaux Red because Reese just loved the color. Though not period accessories, the Albert mirrors are a nice touch and work well with the overall scheme.
WCCR in Fullerton remade the interior using authentic carpet and upholstery sourced from Europe. Currently, Reese is having an old Telefunken radio refurbished which he'll soon add to the car.
The tires are BFGoodrich reproduction whitewalls that impart classic good looks and the benefits of modern tire technology.
The 25-hp engine and crashbox tranny were rebuilt to original 1952 specs. Reese tells us there's a hill near his Rancho Santa Margarita home that presents an interesting challenge for the little 1182cc mill.

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