Have you ever gotten an idea for a build that just sticks in your head and won’t leave until you’ve done something about it? Well, Mike “Hot Rod” Rowan found himself in that very situation, so he took what was in his mind and make it a reality. What he created is a 1961 Volkswagen Beetle that looks like a real-life Hot Wheels toy and he has his sights set on putting all 1,600 horsepower down to a track surface soon.
To understand why Mike really decided to build his insane creation you have to know where it all began.
He has been building wild rides, including a VW bus with a blown big-block Chevy named Bubba, for more than 50 years. It’s no wonder he earned the nickname Hot Rod — he even had a hot rod-themed wedding that turned into a car show and was covered by the local newspapers.
“My dad was in the military, so we constantly had to move; every time we would move I had to make new friends. The car hobby wasn’t something I had to make friends with, it was already there and would help remove the need to make friends quickly. All of my uncles and grandfather raced, too, so it was something we just did,” Mike says.
Mike is a very visual person — all of his builds come from something that inspired him and became an idea he has to create in the real world. The Beetle build started out this way but took a while to bring to life. Over time, Mike refined what the final product would look like, and when the opportunity arose he made it happen.
“I drew a picture of it about 15 years ago, and then 10 years ago I built a model of it. I was already building the chassis and when my benefits package finally came through from the VA, I had enough money to build the engine. I took something that was in my mind and made it a reality, that’s how I do things — I have to physically be able to see something before I build it. Things just fall into place after that,” Mike says.
The Beetle body rides on a custom chassis that Mike fabricated; from the back of the doors forward he used a 1999 S10 chassis he was given for free. Since Mike drives his builds everywhere, it made sense for him to use the S10 chassis because of parts availability in case he has an issue on the road. For the rear of the chassis, he used a 1975 Lincoln Continental rearend for its big axles and 14-inch disk brakes.
Powering the Beetle is 496 cubic-inches of big-block Chevrolet power. Inside the engine, Mike used an Eagle crankshaft and connecting rods along with JE Pistons. To finish the engine off, Mike added a set of Brodix cylinder heads, a COMP Cams camshaft, Dyers 8:71 blower, a pair of 750cfm Quickfuel carburetors, and a 500-horsepower shot of nitrous for good measure. Behind the engine is a TH400 built by Richard Godley and a Hughes torque converter.
Mike’s Beetle will grab anyone’s attention at a stoplight as the blower surges and belts out over 1,600 horsepower. Since getting the car completed, Mike has put over 5,000 miles on it, and he’s more than happy to drive it almost anywhere. His next step is to make the car fully legal for the dragstrip so he can reach his goal of going 200 mph.
“I am going to take the car to the track as soon as I can get a roll cage put in so it’s legal. Nobody makes a roll cage for the 1961 Beetle so I’ll have to have a custom one made for it. That’s the last piece of the puzzle before I can take it down the track safely. I have wound it on the freeway and it went over 164 mph in a hurry,” Mike says.
Mike Rowan’s hot rod Beetle exemplifies what makes drag racing fun. He took an idea and did what was needed to turn it into a running vehicle. Mike’s Beetle might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it brings a smile to his face now that will only grow brighter when he can make some laps down the track.