From Mild to Wild: The Diverse Volkswagens of Taj Ma Garaj

A selection of charming and unique Volkswagen models from the esteemed collection of John Dixon.

Andrew Miterko

In a nondescript building in the Dayton, Ohio, metro area resides the multifarious collection of the late John Dixon, known as the Taj Ma Garaj. What began as a single building to house Dixon’s cars became three, over the years growing to be a museum and event space filled with distinctive Porsches, Volkswagens, and a vast selection of rare literature, collectibles, engines, and an assortment of arcade rarities. Each room displays the sense of humor he is remembered for alongside the exciting and eclectic pieces of his collection, which he was constantly expanding.

While the Taj Ma Garaj is often described as an “eclectic Porsche paradise,” the collection includes a number of unique Volkswagen models, from charming Type 1 Beetles with fascinating history, to wild one-off customs certain to delight enthusiasts of all automotive preferences.

RM Sotheby’s is honored to present the Taj Ma Garaj Collection on behalf of the Dixon family, an absolute auction, on the 28th of September. Click ahead to explore the unconventional Volkswagens of the late John Dixon.

1967 BMW-Volkswagen 1500 “Fikobike”

Estimate $5,000 - $10,000. Offered without reserve.

Nestled between the frame rails of this BMW R60 motorcycle resides a compact, 1,500 cc flat-four Volkswagen engine. For Lee Fikes, a standard Volkswagen engine would not suffice. He outfitted the compact engine with performance parts to bring its specifications to that of a Porsche 356 Carrera four-cam engine, prior to installing it in place of the original boxer twin engine. He dubbed his creation the “Fikobike” and proceeded to terrorize the streets of his Highland Park hometown. Since its addition to the Taj Ma Garaj, it has been preserved along with extensive service and parts receipts and correspondence between its former owners.

1967 Volkswagen Beetle Deluxe Sedan

Estimate $30,000 - $50,000. Offered without reserve.

On the 28 February 1967, Lorin A. Wheeler took delivery of this Ruby Red Beetle, one which he would keep his entire life along with the same UGX 708 black California license plate since its first day on the road. As service records show, from the first 300-mile complimentary engine and transmission oil service to its most recent, it has been lovingly cared for. Today this two-owner example remains in largely original condition, with some evidence of repainting over the years as needed, and a mere 6,135 miles on the odometer. The interior appears original, despite the beige leatherette differing from the VW museum records, and includes numerous period accessories, including a Sapphire V all-transistor radio with rear speaker, under-dash storage tray, driver headrest, and wind deflector.

1973 Volkswagen Type 181 Safari

Estimate $25,000 - $35,000. Offered without reserve.

Safari. Thing. Camat. Trekker. The Type 181 goes by different monikers dependent on the region in which it was marketed, but all are instantly recognizable as Volkswagen’s lightweight off-road-capable multi-purpose vehicle. It was originally conceived as part of European governments convening to create a multi-capable military vehicle, but after the abandonment of the project, Volkswagen executives realized the potential to market the vehicle in Mexico and the U.S., where the popularity of dune buggies was rapidly growing. This low-mileage example was built for the Mexican market and imported to Texas in 1973, where it was used sparsely before its addition to the Taj Ma Garaj Collection. Since they were built and marketed to be used to their full potential, few remain as pristine and well preserved as this example.

1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle Sedan

Estimate $20,000 - $30,000. Offered without reserve.

Nearly forty years after its initial development, the Volkswagen Beetle by and large stayed true to its original form, albeit with incremental improvements made every year. The Super Beetle of the early 1970s was slightly upsized, offering more luggage capacity, MacPherson front struts, and a semi-trailing-arm rear suspension. This example is finished in the uncommonly selected Texas Yellow, a hue only offered for two years among the palette of two-dozen colors available to choose from. Showing just over 16,400 miles on the VDO odometer, this Super Beetle is in exceptional condition, with its paint and chrome work shining brightly over an impeccable black vinyl interior. A previous owner fitted a set of EMPI GT wheels in place of the original hubcaps, along with period love-bug rubber floor mats to protect the carpeting beneath.

2004 Volkswagen Beetle Última Edición

Estimate $20,000 - $30,000. Offered without reserve.

To commemorate the Beetle’s official end of production for the Mexican market, Volkswagen produced 3,000 Beetle Última Edicións to be offered throughout dealerships in Mexico in the iconic fashion of the beloved Beetle. It incorporated modern touches, such as contemporary bucket seats, an AM/FM CD player, and a Wolfsburg steering wheel. This example is finished in Harvest Moon Beige with color-matched wheels wearing chrome hubcaps and whitewall tires. Shortly after its original owner purchased the Última Edición for 85,001 pesos, John Dixon purchased it and added it to the Taj Ma Garaj. Having covered only 337 km from new, this example of the final production air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle presents as new and has been highly sought after by air-cooled aficionados since its release.

1956 Volkswagen Beetle Outlaw “Death” by Franz Muhr

Estimate $40,000 - $60,000. Offered without reserve.

Once an abandoned turquoise 1956 Baja Bug project, Franz Muhr of Muhr’s Kustom Coach Werks spent 3,000 hours chopping, channeling, sectioning, and stretching the humble Beetle body and floor pans to craft the ominous 36-inch-tall creation dubbed “Death.” The front windshield is a mere four inches tall, a result of chopping a full eight inches from the roof at the B-pillars and an additional inch at the windshield and rear window. At just barely two inches off the ground, its builder cites its inclination to bottom out, joking to Hot Rod magazine that adding power helps it out of perilous situations. Its engine and transaxle were raised to avoid excessive camber, and the steering was moved to the right side. The editors at Hot Rod called it “the most outrageous thing we saw the entire year” and nominated it as one of their top 10 customs in 2008.

1970 Volkswagen Beetle “Casa Linda Lace” by Rafael Esparza-Prieto

Estimate $40,000 - $60,000. Offered without reserve.

As the story goes, Mexican welder and metalworker Rafael Esparza-Prieto was approached by his boss while working at a local Volkswagen parts store to fabricate a Beetle shell from wrought iron to be used on a rotating display. Using only a hammer and anvil, he created the skeleton of the Beetle and began creating the curlicues to fill in the empty spaces. This gained the attention of both the public and Volkswagen executives. With the 1968 Summer Olympics being held in Mexico City, he was asked to create two running and driving examples to promote the marque while the athletes traveled to Mexico City. Mexican restaurant owner Jose Barajas commissioned his own fully functional example to be unveiled at his Casa Linda restaurant in 1985, featuring 2,600 individual floral-inspired curlicue designs. This example is the famed “art car” from Casa Linda and is a true work of art and a masterpiece which will be the center of attention in nearly any collection.

1967 Volkswagen Type 2 High-Roof Panel Van

Estimate $60,000 - $80,000. Offered without reserve.

Ben Pon, a Dutch-market Volkswagen importer, identified the need for a reliable utilitarian vehicle with a tight turning radius and a narrow width which could easily navigate the tight European roads. The prototype was so well received that they were put into production shortly after, with a passenger van version and a microbus following not long after. This example is among the final production of the T1 vans built before the redesigned T2 model that followed in late 1967. It was fitted with the uncommon high-roof configuration, which employed taller doors and a cargo area tall enough for most adults to stand upright once inside. This German-market example was meticulously restored between 2003 and 2004 and finished in the alluring shade of Dove Blue with original-style grey upholstery and an off-grey cargo area. A custom fabricated white roof rack with step ladder accentuates the additional height of the Hochdach option. Since the majority of these vans were destined for hard lives, very few are known to have survived—this is one of the exceptions, presenting in nearly new condition, and is certainly one of the finest to still exist.

1971 Volkswagen Beetle “Jungle Bug”

Estimate $25,000 - $35,000. Offered without reserve.

In addition to John Dixon’s love affair with the automobile, he was an avid sports fan. This 1971 Super Beetle has been extensively modified both inside and out as a tribute to the Cincinnati Bengals. The exterior trim was shaved and smoothed, the fenders were widened with the running boards extended to match, and the bulky taillights were shaved in favor of a set of LED strips integrated into the fenders before being sprayed with a metallic-orange-and-black color scheme intended to mimic the stripes of a tiger. A reworked dashboard features orange pinstriping highlighting white-faced VDO gauges amidst the grey tweed and orange leather interior, which houses a massive custom audio system. Former Cincinnati Bengal Shayne Graham’s signature on the driver-side door panel commemorates the 2006 Pro Bowl, tying together the Bengal theme.

1971 Mangosta Sport Buggy

Estimate $50,000 - $75,000. Offered without reserve.

Little did Bruce Meyers know that when he used his expertise in fiberglass to craft a lightweight tub to join with the components of a Volkswagen Beetle to create the Meyers Manx, he would set in motion the dune-buggy craze of the 1960s. Detroit’s Karl Krumme decided to create his vision of the pinnacle of the buggy—lavishly appointed with deep metallic paint, quilted upholstery over every surface, plenty of chrome, and accessories. This example is reportedly the last Sport Buggy to have been built and used by Mangosta for marketing and promotional purposes. The opulence of the Sport Buggy carried a tremendous price tag, leading to the production of a mere six examples.