ZZ Top are known for a few things – Texas beards long-legged girls the Eliminator ’33 Ford coupe and some damn fine blues rock. Of the three band members guitarist Billy F Gibbons gets the majority of the limelight both for his fretwork and his equally impressive collection of cars. But of those the one that garners the least publicity of all is the radically customised Beetle convertible built for Billy in the late ’80s by Denny Johns of D&D Specialty Cars in Arkansas.
Only one photoshoot ever appears to have been done on this car as the same set of pics were used in the launch issue of VolksWorld as well as VW Trends Street Machine Beki Adam’s Star Cars book and no doubt one or more of those coffee table books your mum buys you for Christmas because you’re into VWs. Erstwhile Custom Car and VolksWorld contributor Beki Adam wrote the pieces in Fruit Machine VolksWorld and of course her own book all of which came out in 1987 though the former claimed a world exclusive on the shoot. It may have been but as readers of both magazines back then will remember it was disappointing seeing the same pics and essentially the same write up in the two mags so close together especially given the excitement of finding the first ever issue of VolksWorld. But then like Keyser Soze the car disappeared.
It doesn’t even warrant a mention in Billy Gibbons: Rock + Roll Gearhead the definitive book on the man and his guitars ’n’ cars. As it was neatly put by online book reviewer Jason Fogelson on Forbes.com “Mr. Gibbons’ taste evolves and each of his cars becomes progressively more precisely detailed more exacting and more personally reflective of his taste.” Perhaps that’s why the old Bug was left in the shadows replaced by a succession of high-end hot rods and customs built by some of the biggest names in the business. No matter we’re here to celebrate the chop-topped suicide-doored creation as even today it stands up as a fine example of the now lesser spotted full custom VW (we’re not buying Ms Adam’s claim of an emerging new trend, Tex- Look). One of the neatest tricks in this car was the extension to the area of the body below the (non-existent) rear window. That along with the 3½-inch chop really emphasises the car’s rake helped along by a traditional Sway-A-Way four-inch drop and classic 135 / 185 Michelin rubber rake. I personally dislike ’59 Caddy tail lights even on a ’59 Caddy but at least here they were tunnelled so deep into the rear wings that they’re barely seen. It’s the hidden flip-up headlight conversion though that gets most people’s goat. Interestingly I’ve never seen a picture of the car with the lights flipped so can’t say how they look in action but they sure gave the front end a different look. Continuing the smooth vibe were de-seamed quarters shaved bonnet and door handles (but not boot for some reason) and blacker than hell paint on the hybrid body which actually started life as a 1970 model though only the four-lug wheels give any indication of that in the finished car. The choice of base model the steel wheels with Porsche crest caps ’n’ rings and the presence of Datsun seats a Formuling steering wheel and a JVC head unit and graphic equaliser front and centre in the dash all date the build to more free flowing creative times when cars were built from the heart without boundaries to constrain the imagination. The ‘ZZ Soft Top’ was a cool car in ’87 and if you stand back and assess it on its merit it’s still a cool car today with or without the now ubiquitous celebrity endorsement.
We’d love to know where it is today or if it even still exists. If you’ve got any leads please do get in touch.
Words: Mike Pye Photos: Archives
(From April 2021 issue of Volksworld)