Listen to this article

The VW Type 2, better known as the VW Bus in the U.S., holds a special place in the hearts of millions around the world. The boxy icon of the 1960s “flower power” movement is still popular today, with plenty of pristine examples still running around. While most aim to preserve the van’s quirkiness, Perry Watkins went a different route, adding a Rolls-Royce jet engine to the rear while restoring it to the highest quality. The result is a 5,000-horsepower (3729-kilowatt), street-legal head-turner.

The Oklahoma Willy started as a 1958 VW Bus, though it wasn’t the first thing Watkins bought for the project. That would have been the 1978 Rolls-Royce Viper 535 jet engine that once powered a BAC Strikemaster. It took Watkins two years to prep the jet engine, rebuilding it while adding chrome and polished aluminum touches. Six months were needed to install the afterburner. It took another three years to complete the build for six years in total.

It tips the scales at 6,600 pounds (2,993 kilograms), and can theoretically hit 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour), though Watkins said things begin to get hairy at 160 mph (258 kph). A 50-year-old van isn’t used to that kind of excitement. Surprisingly, the Bus still retains its stock engine, which means it’s entirely street legal. There’s an access maintenance panel on the lower side of the Bus that allows access to the jet engine’s operating hardware.

Gallery: Jet-Powered VW Van

The jet-powered VW Bus is a wild thing to see, especially as it rockets – literally – down the drag strip. Even though it’s capable of much higher speeds – Watkins said he’s only reached 157 mph (253 kph) – a VW Bus with a column of fire shooting out the back is still fun to watch.

Got a tip for us? Email: