Photos from – Apal Corsa image from totalkitcar archive

Although only having a limited impact on the UK’s kitcar industry (they marketed the Belgium-made Apal models, Buggy and Corsa, in the UK in 1971-72), Cartune was once the UK’s leading Volkswagen Beetle specialists, which means they would have supplied many thousands of parts to owners/builders of Beetle-based kitcars.

Indeed, the company still exists, today.

Mike Griifin (centre),Leeds & England footballer Jackie Charlton (left) and Cartune (Teesside) branch manager, Peter Raybould

Let’s wind right back and trace the company’s history, though. The Cartune name was first registered by Fred Matthews in 1938. He was a skilled engineer and enthusiastic racer and would later become the RAC’s chief scrutineer, who had raced his own FSM Special in the early thirties.

However, the Cartune story, as we know it, really started in the early sixties. A chap called Mike Griffin, born in Middlesbrough, but back then living in Surrey, bought the Cartune name from Matthews.

VW megaphone exhaust

He set up, selling VW parts, in partnership with his friend Roy Vaughan, a GPO engineer, as a part-time business based in Vaughan’s mum’s house in Grenfell Road, Mitcham in Surrey.

Meanwhile, Griffin, although the founder, never did really work for Cartune, he was mainly a guiding hand. However, Cartune grew quickly and, Vaughan was full-time.

Griffin was a keen racer (that’s how he’d met Matthews) and he was an apprentice at Lagonda in Staines but left when David Brown’s Aston Martin took over in 1947.

He then worked for an engineering company before becoming an Austin Morris dealer for a couple of years. His next move was a significant one as his relationship with Volkswagen UK started when he went to work for the German manufacturer in their technical service department in London.

He did well there because he became workshop manager in St John’s Wood, North London, in 1958, before rising to general service manager, in 1966, meaning if any Volkswagen owner in the UK had a serious mechanical issue, Mike oversaw it. He was also a race scrutineer at weekends.

Comfortable leaving Roy Vaughan running Cartune on a day-to-day basis, Griffin did take a year off in 1967 when his sideline became a serious operation. Their VW Beetle inventory grew amazingly quickly. They were an ambitious duo and were eager to expand.

They wanted to stay in the southeast, but moved to more professional and obviously much larger premises in Stanwell Road, Ashford ( that’s the Middlesex one rather than Kent).

They then opened a second branch, 254 miles northeast in Middlesbrough, of all places. Why Teesside? Well, Griffin was born in Middlesbrough.

They acquired a Volkswagen dealership owned by Ron Turnbull, which became Cartune (Teesside) Ltd. Turnbull became manager of that branch. Meanwhile, the Ashford branch became known as Cartune (Volkswagen) Ltd, with Vaughan continuing to manage that.

With the two very pro-active branches they really accelerated and soon became the UK’s leading purveyor of Volkswagen Beetle performance parts. They soon moved to a very large purpose-built premises in the Park End suburb of Middlesbrough, which cost £110,000 in 1972 (over £1m today).

Cartune was a seriously big player on the VW Beetle tuning scene in the sixties

Although with the more humble stuff such as Restall Seats, leather steering wheels and the like, they sold engine packages and components like cylinder heads, pistons and the like.

One of their biggest sellers was SPG roller bearing crankshafts (expensive at £130 in 1970, which, allowing for inflation equates to £1406 in today’s money). When bought in conjunction with a big bore cylinder heads, pushrods, camshaft and pistons gave customers a 2-litre big bore engine.

Cartune would scratch-build engines for you and also offered a menu of tuned Beetle units and in addition to the 2-litre there were also two 1700s. These options had to be done by Cartune (all machining was done in Ashford) although their 1300-into-1500 and another less powerful 1700 package (customers could use 1300, 1500 or 1600 as a donor) were sold as DIY kits. Talking of machining they did a nice line in recutting value seats.

You name it, if you had a Beetle, they could make it look better, give you a new engine, or sell you engine parts to make it go faster. They were also agents for Koni, Brabham-Lukey exhausts and other leading aftermarket companies.

A massive range

Unsurprisingly, several of their managerial team were ex-VW including chief mechanic John Wall and service manager Peter Raybould.

If you wanted new jets for your carb or ram pipes they could help you while they also sold Reece Fish carburettors.

Cartune were Volkswagen dealers (both branches) as well as NSU and Audi and when Griffin joined the leading Porsche dealer group AFN as service manager in 1968, they also gained Porsche dealer facilities in Teesside, too.

In 1970, Griffin went to work for the amazing character that was Felix Demetriou and was crucial in getting the agency to sell the stunning Vignale-built Fiats in the UK (including the Samantha and Noddy-car-like Gamine. They imported hundreds of them, but other than a few Gamines, they ended up with a stockpile of unsold cars.

Griffin made Cartune an agent but they couldn’t shift them either. The company also became an agent for Graham Warner’s Chequered Flag garage, which in the early seventies, was the UK concessionaire for the Brazilian Puma marque.

Cartune also dabbled with kitcars, too. They sold the Belgium Apal Buggy and Corsa models (under the Cartune-Apal name) but couldn’t shift them either.

Mike Griffin sold Cartune to the Martins Group in 1975. Vaughan continued to work for the company into the nineties.

Griffin became a mechanical engineering teacher in Saltburn, although latterly he ran the Triple 6 Rally Team in Middlesbrough. He died in the mid-eighties.

As mentioned, the company still exists and you can find out more about them by visiting