Thomas Husselstein can’t sit still.
Even as a teenager he kept his hands busy in the mechanic shop at Turlock High School where he impressed his teacher with his work on vehicles. Husselstein’s secret was that during the summers he worked in local auto body shops, starting at Tumazi Auto Repairs, before he picked up a job sweeping floors and taking out the trash at H & R Auto Body.
He maintained his job at H & R through high school where he eventually graduated to washing cars and by the time he left the shop at 23 he was painting them. Husselstein and his brother both drove Volkswagen Bugs as teenagers, but little did he know he would return to H & R roughly 20 years later with a new Bug: a 1961 convertible.
“I always wanted either a sliding rag top or a convertible,” recalled Husselstein, whose first Bug was a hardtop.
Husslestein can be found zipping around town in his glossy black Bug, but while it may look sleek now, that was not the case when he bought it.
Looking for a hobby after landscaping his backyard and fixing up his house, Husselstein kept his eye out online for a fixer-upper Volkswagen.
“I needed something to do,” said Husselstein.
He found one in such poor quality and he watched the price drop for months before he bought it for a mere $3,900 in 2009.
However, that was just the beginning of the expenditures.
Husselstein spent years acquiring specialty parts and revamping the vehicle, the majority of which was done locally in Turlock: H & R worked on the body of the vehicle; Corona’s Upholstery, the owners of which he met at the Turlock Swap Meet, redid the interior with plush creamy leather; Don’s Mobile Glass cut new glass; Balswick’s did the tires; Hilmar Powder Coating worked on the under frame; Tumazi worked on the motor and transmission; West Coast Chrome of Modesto refined the door handles and chrome trim; Paul Moore did the alignment; and C&W Machine Shop worked on the engine and breaks.
Husselstein has exhibited the work of the local craftsmen at Volkswagen shows in several states, driven the Bug in the local Christmas and 4th of July parades, and was even awarded Best of Show out of 100 vehicles at the California State University, Stanislaus Warrior Fan Fest 2013 event.
The Bug has since brought Husselstein worldwide attention as he has appeared in several VW oriented publications such as Hot VW’s and Volks America.
“It’s definitely a show car, but I still drive it,” said Husselstein whose family has taken the car camping and on trips.
His Bug has also brought him a sense of community.
“There’s a large group of us and in the summer we all get together and BBQ, buy parts from each other,” said Husselstein, noting that the majority of his fellow enthusiasts are located elsewhere like Lodi, Stockton, Fresno, Tracy and the Bay Area.
The multi-year transformation of the vehicle was witnessed by his wife and kids, and while his 17-year-old daughter turned down the opportunity to drive the car, he still wanted them to share in the experience.
“I wanted to show them that if you set your mind to something you can do it,” said Husslestein.