61. A visit to the famous Fellows Speed Shop

Yesterday I took the train down to Longbridge, Birmingham to pick up the Sick Bay from one of the most talked about garages in the historic VW scene – Fellows Speed Shop. People are talking about Fellows because they are the leading players in the Subaru conversion field, and more and more Bay owners are being tempted by the triple siren calls of Subaru – namely Reliability, Economy and Power.

When I first got my Bay it had the original aircooled 1600 engine, affectionately known as the ‘lawn mower’. It was very simple to maintain and repair and I thoroughly enjoyed learning how it all worked. It was thanks to this engine that I began to realise that cars are not powered by magic but that all the parts have a purpose and if everything does what it should then you have a reliable and faithful friend at your command. All this engine requires in return is a little bit of TLC and a basic understanding so that you can fix any part that goes wrong. (Just like he says in Zen and the Art…)

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Ben Fellows (Fellows Speed Shop)

When the kids started to borrow the Sick Bay I explained how to perform some of the acts of ‘TLC’, such as checking the oil levels. My son quickly glazed over and my daughter just said that if she ever sees a red warning light anywhere she will just stop and call the RAC. I soon realised that if we were going to get the most out of our Bay, we needed to move over to the dark side and get a Subaru conversion.

So about three years ago I bought the conversion kit from Fellows and asked Stefan at MAC VW to install it. The van was transformed – easy to drive, reliable, economical and, crucially, the kids would never need to open the engine lid. Put in the petrol, turn the key and drive off. It was a win-win but I must admit that some of the romance was lost. I have no more idea of how this engine works than you do of any modern engine and I can no longer do running repairs – so I have lost some of that independence which I had come to value. I also miss the distinctive phut-phut sound of the old aircooled engine. I used to listen to the engine carefully as I drove along so as to pick up on any problems, nowadays I just listen to CDs.

So what was I doing at Fellows? My 1600cc aircooled lawnmower was perfect for the little 3 rib gearbox that it was built for but to harness the full power of a Scooby, I had to have the third and fourth gears extended by the guys at Fellows. This has the effect of allowing you to cruise at higher speeds for the same revs per minute. Coming back from Birmingham I noticed that at 3000 rpm I was doing about 65mph when previously that number of revs would see me at 50mph at best. Whether the resultant fuel economy will ever pay for the cost of the gearbox modification,(over a grand), is a moot point but given that I have plans to take the Sick Bay all over Europe, (and Morocco), I think that enhanced miles per gallon has got to be a bonus eventually.

Fellows Speed Shop is a thriving family run outfit set up about ten years ago primarily to cater for the demand to fit Subarus into old VWs. The driving force is Perry Fellows, a Brummie naturally, his son Ben and his wife Carolyn who does the admin side. These days they get involved in some of the most prestigious restoration projects in the VW scene and have designed and installed complete new systems for use in racing and Ben showed me a suspension system they had recently designed for a Splitscreen. I was not allowed to take a photo as it is very much under wraps. As you can imagine, the shop is full of the most amazing vehicles, including something that Perry told me was currently the ‘oldest VW in the UK’.

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I can’t remember what Perry said this was but apparently it is the oldest VW ┬áin the UK

Perry had offered to pick me up from Longbridge railway station and sitting on the train the thought crossed my mind that if Cornwall is the spiritual home of old VWs then the Midlands has got to be the beating heart. I have never met a Brummie who is not in love with cars and you never go far at any VW event without hearing that unique accent wafting on the breeze. All the VW women I have met who are capable of fixing their own engines have been Brummies. It seems to be in their blood – just like heavy metal which they say also comes from the pounding of the Brummie motor industry. All of which has left such an indelible mark on the Brummie character.

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This van obviously needs power and accordingly has a 3.5 litre Subaru lump

Perry picks his customers up from the station because the garage is out in the sticks, down a pretty little country lane, not at all like the area I had expected to find Fellows Speed Shop. He is a busy guy and drives like he enjoys going really fast. A Brummie through and through. The narrowness of the lane held no fears for Perry and nor did the icy stretches, (which he told me to watch out for when I came back in my van!) He mentioned that after fixing my gearbox he had taken the Sick Bay out for a test drive. I don’t think he’s the type to give easy praise but he did say that he liked the van and the way that it drove. Then he said there was only one issue: it ‘clunked’ a bit when you drove it at speed through potholes. Had I noticed this? I replied, perhaps a bit hoity toity, that I never drove it through pot holes. He muttered something about were there not any pot holes in Manchester but we left it at that.

Apart from pondering on my newly found admiration for the Brummie culture whilst on the train, I was also thinking about my recent visit to see my son in Groningen, Holland. As I parked my bicycle with just a handful of other bikes at Stockport station I was reminded of the scene at Groningen station. In common with all Dutch cities, Groningen is in love with bicycles and I was told that the storage facilities were designed for five thousand bikes, although there were probably even more than that. I often take a bike to the station and it is quick and convenient but if we are ever going to achieve the Dutch levels of bike usage we have to make it safer, more attractive and more convenient. In Manchester they are building fantastic new cycle lanes and people are using them in ever greater numbers. But then Manchester is the home of British cycling and is a good place to ride a bike, but even here we have got a long way to go to catch up with the Dutch.

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Just a handful of bikes at Stockport station…
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…more than 5,000 at Groningen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at Fellows I saw a friend’s Doka, another vehicle which I have seen and admired on several occasions. I met Bern, and his wife Jenny, through the Late Bay forum and we know them well. Bern had decided to have his other Bay converted to Subaru and the Doka was part of the deal that Bern had done with Fellows. Unsurprisingly, Fellows planned to fit a Subaru to the Doka and they had sold the previous air cooled engine…to…Stef from MAC VW. It’s a small world in the VW scene.

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Bern’s beautiful Doka – now proudly owned by Fellows Speed Shop. Not the first time it has featured in SickBayDays!
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A pristine VW Beetle chassis. Some very high end projects here.

 

 

 

 


About Basil John Mandy

A sixty odd year old born in Ladysmith, South Africa. Manchester United supporter and a great fan of the city in general. I worked for Kelloggs since 1982, apart from a year's sabbatical that I took to ride a bicycle to South Africa. I retired at the end of 2015 and have 2 grandsons, Lenny and Ellis. And now I've got a granddaughter as well - Dottie Joy!!

5 comments:

  1. Another great update John, just had a read through and caught up with what’s going on! Looks like Fellows have nailed the third and fourth gears for you, the write up has just given me another nudge towards a Subaru conversion for our westy. I must say from what you and Bern have said so far its a worthwhile investment.

    Keep the updates coming and have a happy Christmas. Will catch up with you next year!

    1. Thanks Mark Converting to Subaru has worked really well for me although I do sometimes miss tinkering with the old 1600. The gearing mod is definitely worth it if you plan to do a lot of miles. Hope you have a great Christmas and see you soon. John

  2. Hi been following your blog for a while I have a 70 crew cab and I have just bought a m/y 2000 2ltr n/a Subaru Forester that I want to have fitted, I am in Wigan so looking for someone local to fit, my question is what was your experience of MAC would you recommend them or would I be better dealing with fellows, want to use as much from the forester as poss. Hope you don’t mind me asking.
    Cheers
    Mike

  3. Hi Mike I have had extensive experience of Stef at MAC VW over the years and would recommend him all day long. He fitted my Subaru and I had no problems for three years until I needed a new cam belt. Stef fitted that and I have had no problems with that either. I bought the kit from Fellows and I was very happy with the quality of that although it was not cheap. Fellows also did the gearbox extension (through Bears in Birmingham). So to answer your question, I would recommend both MAC VW and Fellows. If I was doing it again I would go to MAC VW again as Stef will give you personal attention and explain everything that he is doing. I hope that helps and it all goes well. Let me know. (I would also think about going to Techenders in April to meet like minded people and join TheLateBay.com)

  4. Hi John, thanks for the reply and the advice will hopefully be stripping the Subaru soon so will speak to Stef. Have been on TLB for a while now and read a lot of threads re Subaru conversion and certainly intend to make it to techenders as it sounds like a great weekend but unfortunately am in Spain till May

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