Rhett Nankervis’s 30 years of VW passion

Volkswagen freak Rhett Nankervis inherited his passion for the marque from his father and at one point they had 96 VWs between them in the backyard! Here are just some of Rhett's favourite rides and builds over the last three decades


Any petrolheads’ interest in cars, and their particular brand allegiance, gets passed down to them via their parents. This was certainly the case for 42-year-old Rhett Nankervis, who grew up immersed in the Volkswagen life under his father Ian’s influence, which has blossomed into nearly three decades of Rhett’s own VW journey. “It’s pretty all-encompassing,” he says. “At its peak, we had 96 VWs in the backyard!” We’ve managed to whittle Rhett’s extensive VW history down to just some of his favourites, which we’ll share here.

First published in the October & November 2023 issues of Street Machine

1. In 1992, Rhett was an impressionable 11-year-old living in Howlong, NSW when his dad Ian bought a custom Beetle. It had a huge impact on Rhett and catalysed his obsession with cars. “Dad has always owned modified cars – particularly VWs, with over 300 passing through his hands at last count – but he was never one to keep them long,” Rhett recalls. “He sold this car unregistered in 1993, and we moved interstate to Bendigo in 1994, so I never saw it again.”

Ian’s Bug would’ve been a huge project back in the day and was loaded with custom features, including frenched tail-lights, aerial and rear number plate, along with a smoothed engine lid, bonnet and dash. The body featured an oval-window conversion and was dechromed, and all the guards were widened, with the fronts extended and squared off to form a spoiler. And you couldn’t miss that awesome custom paint!

2. With Ian’s influence set in concrete, the writing was on the wall for Rhett when it came to purchasing his first set of wheels. In 1996, aged just 15, he shelled out $500 for this 1966 Beetle. It was already looking cool with dechromed and smoothed bodywork along with gloss-red paint, so Rhett simply lowered it over a set of wide steel wheels.

“It was my first registered car, so there were a few possible temptations that proved to be a problem,” he recalls. “I wasn’t old enough to have a licence, so I had to get a mate to drive it to Springnats for me.”

3. Rhett was an 18-year-old P-plater enjoying the ’66 as a daily driver when the Nankervis family moved to a bush block. “I figured it was the perfect opportunity to convert it into a Baja Bug for some off-road fun, so I lifted the suspension and trimmed the bodywork back, adding off-road tyres and some spotties, too,” he says. “It was a heap of fun, perfect for a then-young bloke like me to bash around in.

“Unfortunately, it came to a premature end when I rolled it at 100km/h.”

4. After rolling the Baja, Rhett needed a new daily driver quick-smart, so he purchased a red 1965 Beetle in 1999 for $300 and had it on the road three weeks later. “This one went through a few different facelifts, which helped make some of the ideas always spinning around in my brain come to fruition,” he says. “First up was the old speed look, adding the racing stripes, no bumpers and wide wheels.

Two years on, it was lowered over red steelies with flat green paint and purple flames, before its final incarnation in 2003, [where] I went for the combo resto/Cal-Look using flat purple and white two-tone, lowered even more and dripping with as many original accessories as possible.” The PHATVW number plates have served duty on a few of Rhett’s builds now, and were a 21st-birthday present from his now-wife, Shell.

5. A VW Type 3 squareback is a cool shape in anyone’s language, and this neat 1969 model came from modest beginnings. “I found it languishing in a shed in town,” Rhett explains. “An old guy had owned it since it was new, so it was in really original condition but was pretty rough all the same.

“I cleaned her up, got it on the road then slammed it and bolted up a heap of period accessories. It was a cool ride.”

6. The VW love runs deep in the Nankervis family, and ‘Boogs’ was the nickname for this sweet ’63 Beetle that Rhett pinched from his little sister back in 2006. “I gave this the tried-and-tested VW formula to make it a cool cruiser: lowered, racing stripes, Porsche caps, visor, roof rack. It made for a fun and reliable daily.

“I eventually sold it on, and I last heard that it was rotting away in a garage in St Kilda. If anyone knows the owner, I’d love to buy it back!”

7. In 2014, Rhett and his mates decided to screw together a gasser to take along to Chopped. “We clamped eyes on my buddy Pat’s ’59 Karmann Ghia cabriolet and reckoned it would make a worthy candidate,” Rhett says.

“It had been sitting for a while, and Pat had no real plans to restore it anytime soon, so we got stuck into the build, and the result was ‘Karmageddon’. It was hilarious to watch people’s reactions to it, especially at VW shows knowing we’d done this to quite a rare car! It has since been sold and is now getting restored.”

8. This tidy-looking Type 3 fastback dubbed the ‘SL/R 1600’ was originally built by Rhett in 2015 for his brother-in-law, before being bought from him and finished off with the sporty mods shown here.

The custom bolt-on flares were based on a set originally designed for a Torana hatch, while the Kamei front spoiler and whale-tail were VW Beetle items modified to suit. Lowered suspension tucked the vintage Western wheels in nicely, the latter items having come in from the States on an old kit car.

9. Let’s step back a few years to 2010. Rhett was nearly 30 and already had quite a few VW builds under his belt, but he couldn’t stop thinking about his dad’s old awesome custom Beetle. “I decided to place some wanted ads on various internet forums and Facebook in the hope that it might still survive,” he says. “I continued to repost the ad every 12 months or so, but each year rolled by without even the slightest hint as to its whereabouts.

Then, in July 2018, I posted the ad on Facebook once again; this time, within a matter of hours, there was a simple reply: ‘I have it, Rhett.’” A bloke called Jason is the hero of this story; he bought the car in 1994 to use as a parts donor for his other VWs, then parked it on a family property. In March 2019, Rhett and his best mate Micka made the 300km trek from Bendigo to the farm in question just outside Albury, to find Ian’s old Beetle safely hidden away in a massive blackberry patch. After a lot of pruning and bloodshed, the boys pulled Rhett’s unicorn project from its thorny tomb!

“It is amazing how well the car has survived, considering where it has sat for the past 25 years, and I cannot thank Jason enough for letting me buy it back,” Rhett enthuses. “I also have to thank Micka and my ever-understanding wife, Shell, for helping make this happen. The plan is to do a sympathetic restoration on the body while keeping as much of the original custom paint as possible, but we’ll completely restore the chassis, drivetrain and interior. Dad is 73 now and was so excited to see the car for the first time in over 25 years. Both he and my 19-year-old son, Brodie, are very keen to be involved in the project.” Three generations working together to restore a family heirloom – it doesn’t get any better than that!

10. Rhett’s dad Ian originally built this Baja Beetle back in 2000 to cross the Simpson Desert! “It did the trip successfully, but then he parked it up and built an off-road ’67 split-screen Kombi to have a bit more comfort on these adventures,” Rhett says.

“The Baja then sat around until 2008 before I acquired it and cleaned it up, as seen here. It had about 15 inches of ground clearance and reduction hubs at the rear for ultra-low gearing, and was super-capable off-road. It was great fun to cruise around in and generally confuse the motoring public. too. I eventually moved it on in 2013.”

11. It’s very rare to find such an early Type 3 VW notchback in Australia, but this cool ’63 model served as Rhett’s daily driver between 2007 and 2009. “It was an awesome little car, running a later 1600cc drivetrain,” he says.

“I just slammed the suspension and added a few choice accessories to make it cool. I sold it locally here in Bendigo, but I don’t see it around as much as I used to.”

12. Rhett rates this 1967 Beetle as the coolest car he’s ever owned. “I bought it back in 2012. It had a three-inch roof chop, shaved bodywork and super-smooth satin-black paint,” he recalls. “I drove it every day of that year, rain, hail or shine, even using it for school pick-ups and grocery shopping.”

It would have been quite a sight to see six-foot-three Rhett folding himself up to get in and out of it, but that’s the price we sometimes pay for coolness! It was later sold to a mate of Rhett’s who pestered him for months to buy it; he still owns it today and it still looks just as good.

13. Rhett and the Nankervis clan had been wanting a Kombi for a number of years as the perfect set of wheels to haul the whole family around. This 1975 bus was bought from a friend a couple of years ago, and was finally finished and back on the road in late 2022. ‘Period 70s cool’ was to be the theme for this build, so the Kombi was set up with some serious sniffer rake, a set of jellybean wheels, fat rubber and some funky stripes.

Apart from the stripe colours, it’s a near-perfect match with Rhett’s best mate Micka’s ’72 bus, which they built about 10 years ago. The tired 1600cc is shortly making way for a Commodore V6, so it should have no problem keeping up with modern traffic.

14. This uber-cool 1966 Bug – dubbed ‘The Flash’ – was Rhett’s 2010 ride, which cruised around slammed with a narrowed front axle beam, chrome Empi wheels and a few choice accessories. How cool is the side flash trim?

This rare Australian VW accessory was the perfect addition to break up the medium red paint. The stock 1500cc engine proved super reliable, but the car was eventually sold on in 2011, finding its way to Brisbane. If anyone knows where this one is, Rhett’s son would love to buy it back.

15. Rhett acquired this 1979 Golf a few years ago from an elderly local VW guy. “It has been driven daily for most of its life and now has over 503,000km on the clock!” he says. “Being a GLD model, it has the tiny 1.5L diesel engine but also has a five-speed ’box. The original Santos Green paint has shined up pretty well with some love, but it still shows its age,” Rhett says. “But hey, that’s just how we like them!”

To get the low stance just right, the Golf has been fitted with fully adjustable coil-over suspension, and the original 13×4 rims were ditched for some 15×8 alloys and stretched rubber. My favourite part? The ‘stinger’ exhaust tip, more often found on hotted-up drag and Baja Bugs. “It’s slow as hell and noisy like an old Fergy, but it’s super fun!” Rhett says.

16. Back in 2006, Rhett built himself a HiLux mini-truck, but it didn’t stick around for long. A few years ago, Rhett’s son Brodie started showing an interest in cars, so the pair built this very cool 1994 Rodeo dual-cab ute as Brodie’s very first set of wheels.

“We went with a Mooneyes theme, so we wrapped the lower half in the appropriate yellow and added a couple of timely stickers, before dropping the suspension low over some billet wheels,” Rhett says. “Mechanically it remained stock, which made it perfect as reliable first-car transport.”

17. Fast-forward a few years and the car-building bug has well and truly bitten the third generation of Nankervises, with Brodie now working as a fitter and machinist apprentice and navigating four car projects of his own!

The aforementioned Rodeo has since been sold, but Brodie’s current fleet includes a slammed early Honda Civic, a Ranger mini-truck, an imported early Nissan Pathfinder, and this in-the-build 1963 Beetle, which is already looking the part with the appropriate patina, lowered suspension and chrome wheels.

18. In 2011, Rhett learned of the existence of the VW Taro. “They are basically these weird VW-badged Toyota HiLuxes from the 90s,” he says. “I couldn’t shake the idea of building one, so when I found out that a mate had new-old-stock Taro badges and a grille shortly before a work colleague was selling his tidy dual-cab HiLux, the planets had aligned and the replica project was on!”

After Rhett had the ‘Volkswagen’ pressed letters (donated from the tailgate of an early VW Caddy ute) grafted to the ’Lux’s tailgate, a smooth-sided SR5 tub was fitted. The suspension was lowered four inches, while the polished 15-inch Porsche Fuchs wheels only required some minor machining to fit. “It still ran the original Toyota 22R four-cylinder, just as the Taro did,” says Rhett, “but I recently sold the ute to make way for something new.”