This unique bus is the handiwork of Ron Berry, who built it from the ground up in his home garage in Washington, Utah.

Brilliant Bus

Ground up, hand-built chassis and body, Ron Berry goes where no VW bus has gone before!
By Dean Kirsten | November 12, 2015

Photos by Dean Kirsten


Upon first glance, you might consider that this wild creation was made using a German-built 1965 VW bus as a foundation. But in reality, this bus was built from the ground up, only using some of the VW’s suspension. This extreme project was the brainstorm of Ron Berry, who built the vast majority of it in his home garage in Washington, Utah. His concepts come from drawings, or cartoons, that over time often morph into real life running, driving cars. By scaling his pencil drawings, he came up with a finish size that is not only proportional, but has the basic appearance of a real Volkswagen bus. By comparing his drawings to a projected 72-inch wheelbase, he was able to come up with a functional scale of 9.5:1, to give him a guideline for the remainder of the project.
Unlike a regular bus there are no side doors, the entire front swings open to allow driver and passenger access.
So how does one start such a major undertaking? For Ron, he first purchased a trashed 1965 bus with title that was destined for the wrecking yard. But knowing that he was only going to use the front suspension, steering column, pedals, and rear torsion housing, the rest was not important. Using the bus front beam and rear torsion, Ron began to lay out the chassis using two sections of 3x6-inch rectangular steel for the main rails, along with three cross members to support the body. From the rear housing, Ron fitted a pair of Type 1 IRS trailing arms, and custom spring plates and axles, to fit a ’69 Bug transaxle, built by Mark over at Strictly Foreign in Grants Pass, Oregon. This box features a 4.86:1 ring and pinion, along with a Super-Diff, side cover and welded 3rd and 4th gears, designed for the extra tall tires and mostly city driving.
From the basic front beam assembly, Wolfgang International lowered spindles were fitted, along with a custom-made sway bar, and adjustable Afco coil-over shocks. Ron adapted Chevy Camaro disc brakes to the VW spindles, which also allowed him a desirable 4-3/4 x 5 stud pattern, to fit 24x10-inch Panther Menzari chrome wheels at all four corners (VW-to-Chevy wheel adapters were used on the rear drum brakes). Steering is still stock VW bus, using an OEM column and a 17-inch 4-spoke street rod steering wheel.
Power sunroof exposes Ron’s custom surfboard, and highlights the wood inside window garnish moldings.
For the engine, Ron wanted something way-wild so he had Las Vegas’ Ron Jones build him a 2275cc, based on an Auto Linea aluminum case. Inside it was fitted an 82mm Scat Pro forged crank, matched with a full set of Pauter H-beam steel rods, Wiseco 94mm pistons and JayCee Enterprises cylinders. There’s an Engle FK 7 cam inside, along with 28mm Melling oil pump. Cylinder heads came from MoFoCo, and are their 050 castings fitted with 42mm x 37mm valves, along with Pauter 1.4:1 rocker arm assemblies. While all this sounds pretty much mainstream for a hot street engine, what’s on top isn’t something you don’t often find in a ’65 bus! There’s a 600 cfm Holley 4-barrel carburetor sitting on top of a freshly rebuilt Dick Landy/B&M blower, currently set to make 8-lbs of boost upon demand. With this setup, power is said to be over 209hp at 5,800 rpm, which is a serious amount for this bus, even with only 7.0:1 compression.
Dash panel features Stewart Warner combo gauges, sexy hula girl and compartment for solenoid remote.
Billet aluminum details are many, including power control panel (windows, doors, wheelie bars).
Now that this chassis and drivetrain were almost done — and sorta driveable…, it was time to move to building the body. By scaling his blueprints, Ron took sections of 1 x 1/2-inch rectangular tubing and formed the contoured sides, roof arch, and front hatch assembly, since side entry to the front seats would be limited due to extreme tire and wheel well size. The tricky parts to create were the roof gutter lines, which needed to match the belt line, which is easier said than done. Ron finally nailed their design, and fabricated that flowing chrome belt line using fiberglass, then had them chrome plated thanks to D&S Plating in Garden Grove, California. Once the area between the roof edge and belt line was established, he then cut cardboard templates for each window, and then fabricated their framing. As Ron went along, he also began to add structure to the interior panels, bench seats and dash. These were made up of steel frame work, sheets of plywood and aluminum panels.
Both the front and rear Safari window frames were custom-made and are controlled by remote and interior switches, thanks to modified linear actuator motors (found on cars with adjustable headlights, such as the Chevy Corvette). The two forward side windows are powered by remotes, as is the sunroof, rear engine decklid, and two rear wheelie bars which look like wooden skateboards and retract into hidden compartments within the engine bay. The right side door opens with a solenoid popper, to allow access to the center bench seat. And last but certainly not least, the entire front hatch panel pops open and pivots to the left, to allow front access for both the driver and co-pilot. Once closed, this panel doubles as the front dash, fitted with twin Stewart Warner combo gauges and a sexy hula bobble head girl.
How do you build a VW bus from scratch? Here are a few shots of the construction phases of this project. Ron built his own chassis and body framework, while bodywork was handled by SKJ Customs in Washington, UT.
Both the headlights and taillights were custom designed and built by Ron, using Lexan formed with a heat gun, and surrounded by chromed fiberglass bezels and fitted with LED lights. We should mention that the headlight buckets were actually former stainless salad bowls found at a local WalMart, as they were the perfect size needed and cost next to nothing. Even the VW front nose emblem was made by Ron from scratch!
Once the entire framework inside and out was completed and to Ron’s liking, the exterior skin was then applied, using sheets of 18 gauge sheet metal, welded together. As the body came together, it was nearly time to move the body over to SKJ Customs in Ron’s hometown of Washington, Utah to handle the rough bodywork. The crew at SKJ took that body and transformed it into a smooth, straight showcase of their workmanship. It took months of block-sanding and filling to get this good enough to spotlight all of its contours. Finally, the body was covered with coats of PPG Radiant Orange Glow, along with using White Pearl with gold highlights to make this VW bus shout with color. Once it was covered with clear and buffed smooth, it was ready to go to the upholstery shop, where Troy Rieger, now of Grand Junction, Colorado, handled the interior.
Ron’s first drawing of his vision for this custom VW bus.
The majority of the interior was done in a cream vinyl with red piping, while the carpeting is tan (hemp) tweed. The headliner was made up of sections of cloth covered foam sections, which interestingly enough, were held in a framework of chrome strips, using rare-earth magnets to hold them in place. Each panel can be easily raised or moved out of place without effort. Each window has been trimmed inside with hand cut and shaped wooden frames, which continue around the perimeter, including the Safari windows front and rear. From the driver’s seat, Ron can control all of the windows, sunroof, decklid and more from a handy control panel, as well as a keyring remote. Despite its looks, there is actually plenty of room inside for four or more adults.
What is most unusual about the design of this “bus” is how the decklid works. As we have mentioned, it raises and lowers by way of an electric motor, which pulls the panel up, then in above the engine using pulleys and cables on a metal track. Whenever this bus runs down the street, the decklid is open, which allows the exhaust to exit and bring in some cooling air. The wheelie bars are on a separate circuit and add to the surf bus theme. There’s even a custom-shaped surfboard strapped on top, which Ron made to fit, and was painted to match.
Ron made his own headlights, taillights and turn signals. Chromed bezels are plated fiberglass. Taillights use two LED early VW sedan rear lights, mounted sideways.
What needs to be said about this bus is that it does run and drive, and is fully licensed in the state of Utah. Ron has built dozens of hot rods over the decades (he is now 68 years old), including a Notchback for his daughter. While he is technically retired, building this Brilliant Bus from scratch is truly one of his talents.

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