The Schley Brothers could have been known all over the world for their ace tuning on Fords.
Paul Schley says, “We chose to race the Volkswagen simply because it was the only car we owned in 1963. We were 17 and in high school. Our first car was a Model A Ford, and we would have loved have bought a muscle car, but our mom decided otherwise. She was scared that we would be getting into trouble. If only she knew what we would be doing with our small VW afterwards. Our first ever Beetle was a brand new black 1963 sedan, with white shoeshine lettering on its sides. It was nicknamed the “hairless Beetle.”
But instead they are known for tuning the first Volkswagen Beetle to run in the 10 second time in the quarter mile – the fabled Lightning Bug. V-Dub enthusiasts worldwide put the engineering feats of Paul and Mark Schley amongst the legends in the greater car culture. They were part of the iconic 1960s tuner culture in Southern California that made the covers of every hot rod magazine in the country.
Being friends with Chad Schley, CEO of BOXO tools, I scored an invitation to his dad and uncle’s shop/museum in Orange, California. What a treat! Beyond the wicked cars – including a recreated replica of the famed Lightning Bug, there were many cars to see, along with numerous displays that told the story of making Beetles and other air-cooled dragsters scorch the strip.
The original Lightning Bug was crashed heavily by Mark in October 1969 at Orange County Raceway. Paul and Mark generally took turns running the car and it was technically Paul’s turn, but he was tied up with some activity in the pits. Unbeknownst to Mark, he would be the victim of a broken weld on the front axle.
The bug rolled several times before flipping over the guard rail. Mark fortunately escaped unhurt. Considering the “racing seat” was a cafeteria chair from Loyola University in California, it was a miracle that he wasn’t killed, but it was the end of that incarnation of the Lightning Bug.
Original door panels from the car – along with the original motor – are on display. A functional replica of the car, that runs in events all over the world, sits in the garage with a number of other fast cars. The brothers have since discovered road racing and have several cars, including a modern Corvette ZR-1 that take to the track regularly. They also campaigned a Dodge Viper successfully in several events.
Paul and Mark Schley are also the founders of Schley Products, better known as SP Tools which manufacture OEM specialty tools for Snap-On and other well-known tool truck brands. The innovation that the Schleys have brought to racing — and the cars we all drive on the street – are all on display in the large garage.
The walls are covered in pictures and display cases. Driver’s suits, helmets, crew shirts from several different seasons adorn the walls and cases in the museum along with memorable photos of an incredible era of hot rodding and drag racing. Two of the cars in particular stood out as we walked around: rails powered by air-cooled four-cylinder VW engines – capable of sub-10-second runs. That might not seem so unusual for today’s 1000 hp tuned fours, but for the late 1960s and early 1970s, this was virtual magic.
For the car guy who grew up reading all the magazines will recognize much of what is on display. But needless to say, a history lesson is there to be had. A special section is dedicated to the brothers’ grandfather, Conrad Werra, who discovered the process of aluminum casting and built a foundry dedicated to the craft. They are very proud of their roots as much as they are proud of their own accomplishments in tuning, industry and racing.
My tour was led by the uber-friendly Schley Brothers themselves. They had many stories to tell. For me, it was an unforgettable trip, deep into Southern California car culture, which set the bar for all who followed.
I tried to take in as much as I could. But, in all honesty, I think I may need another visit to the Schley Brothers’ garage to set it in concrete for my mind.