Claude, Bob & Rick
Claude's Buggies to CB Performance 60+ years making Volkswagens perform!
BY BRUCE SIMURDA
Photos courtesy of CB Performance
Looking back to the infancy of the VW aftermarket industry, we doubt that the pioneers who started a business repairing or providing repair parts for early VWs really had any idea of what the future would bring. The sport was in its infancy, and many businesses started out with more of a passion for the VW vehicle than a true business plan for making money... or a future. But that's really how many of the successful businesses in this industry began. And although it's been over 50 years since the first issue of Hot VWs hit the newsstands, there are companies that have histories even longer...
One such business is CB Performance in Farmersville, California. If you have a high-performance VW, then chances are you have one or more of CB's parts somewhere on your car. Today, besides selling a variety of different parts to build everything from a stock to high-performance VW, they also manufacture several hundred with their own part numbers, and continue to develop new components for the high-performance enthusiast with an emphasis on quality and function. But like many companies, it has been a long and interesting road.
The history of CB Performance goes back to the mid 1950's, when Claude Tomlinson of Farmersville, California decided to open a VW wrecking yard/repair shop. Claude was somewhat of an entrepreneur, and tried several careers from ranching in Nevada to owning saloons in the California central valley. But when his other business ended up not being profitable, he turned to the one thing he loved, and that was automobiles. VWs hadn't been imported for very long at the time, and new cars were hard to find, so Claude decided to go to the insurance companies and arranged to buy all the wrecked VWs he could. He then opened a 2-acre wrecking yard in the lot behind his home, and started a small shop with two factory-trained employees. Besides offering repair services, they would take parts from several wrecked VWs and assemble a good car from the pieces. This proved very successful, and people would even custom order cars built from his lot. That was the beginning of Claude's Buggies in Farmersville, California.
At first, Claude's Buggies was operated out of a small open slab on the side of his house, but things got busier and busier, and in 1968 decided to build a shop right on Farmersville Boulevard - which is essentially the building that houses CB Performance today. That shop had three hoists, which were custom designed to fit the unique shape of the VW chassis. Claude also gets credit for helping develop the "Super Stud" with Porta-Tool, which was a replacement head stud with oversize threads and a "chip hole" that could be screwed into the case to replace a stripped stud, without the chips falling into the case. That was before the development of the Case Saver, and about the time when the idea of performance and Volkswagens could be talked about in the same sentence. With this new interest in making the VW go faster, Claude began sourcing performance parts from companies like Empi and Scat.
Hot Rodders at Heart
Claude's son, Bob Tomlinson, was a hot rodder as a youngster, modifying flathead Fords and such, and always wanted to make whatever vehicle he had go faster. In the '60's, Bob was working at Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton, California as a Regional Sales Manager in the Video Sonics Systems Division, and would often travel for work in a Volkswagen just because it was fun to drive. On weekends and vacations he would drive to Farmersville to visit his dad with his son Rick, and kinda picked up on what Claude was doing. Getting more and more involved in the business, Bob and Rick began testing performance parts on his Bug at the local SoCal dragstrip, Orange County International Raceway, on Wednesday night "Test 'N Tunes."
At that time Bob was traveling extensively for Hughes, and decided it just wasn't worth the effort, so an agreement was made with Claude and he moved to Farmersville and took over management of Claude's Buggies, eventually changing its name to CB Performance to better reflect the direction the company was heading. In the early '70s they bought their first mill and lathe and started machining parts - the first being a sand seal slip-in pulley. Next came the 40-horse stroker kit, which used a 69mm crank, modified 83mm big bore pistons and narrowed 40-horse rods. By 9171 they produced their first catalog, and placed an ad in Hot VWs magazine. Those ads and catalogs featured the unique artwork of Lance Bowen, with characters like "Stroker McDell", Weber Man and Sparrow, and Fil Star," and caused quite a controversy at the time poking a comical finger at the competition...
Discovering 044 Heads
Traveling to Brazil looking for part sources around 1973, Bob met a man named Ingle Falumer who had some contacts at Volkswagen and other places. He had a struggling export business, so they started working together to import a variety of different VW performance parts. According to Bob, "We ran into companies like Schadek, who makes some of the finest oil pumps in the world. Even today, the first oil pump we designed, we're still bringing in. We also brought in a lot of parts from Volkswagen of Brazil, with the help of Ingle. The 041 head was actually found accidentally. They had a little 2-seater sports car that they had developed in Brazil with a pancake engine - the SP-2. It was a beautiful coupe, but all it had was a 1600, but with big valve heads - which they called the 041. They made them for one to two years only, then shoved the tooling aside. One day I was in the factory with Ingle, and his brother was the export manager at Volkswagen. He picked up a cylinder head and asked, "Have you ever seen one of these?" I just thought, "Wow, big valves from the factory!" So we made a deal and ordered a container of them... We then went back to Volkswagen and said, "Look, we need a cylinder head with big intakes and big exhaust ports, and a different spark plug with longer threads," so they made the 044 for us."
Other products soon followed, like bolt-in 87mm pistons and cylinder, then the popular 92's, both manufactured by NPR, and dual Weber IDF carb kits. "Probably the most excited I've ever been was the first day we got our fuel injection running," commented Bob. "We had been developing cylinder heads, and at one time VW even made our engine cases that were filled-in at the back webbing - the Panzer case. So we'd seen a lot of hard parts. But the day Pat and I managed to get the fuel injection running was the most fun and excitement we've ever had." Through the years Bob has even published several Technical books on jetting Weber and Dellorto carbs, turbocharging the VW engine, and Electronic Fuel Injection.
From the time they moved to Farmersville, Rick Tomlinson became involved in the company. As a young boy Rick had learned to drive an Oval Window with the top cut off around his grandpa's lot while visiting on weekends and vacations, which apparently solidified his love of VWs as well. When the family moved to Farmersville, he began learning the business by doing everything from picking up core engines at Scat in Santa Monica to machining parts and porting cylinder heads to taking inventory and sweeping the floors - learning every aspect of the growing business. Eventually, he began helping to source import parts from around the world, and developing a wide variety of Volkswagen-related products made in the USA, including narrowed beams, aluminum manifolds, deep sumps, billet distributors, drop spindles, disc brakes.. the list goes on.
But it's always been a team effort at CB Performance, with Rick's sister, Susie Tomlinson Canvasser joining the company in 1984 to run the accounting department. Rick assumed duties as President of the company in 1995, and Bob worked until 2006, when he retired due to health issues. But you can rest assured that he still stops by the office any day of the week, just to check in.
While truly a family run company, a big part of CB Performance's success has been surrounding themselves with a team of employees that works hard to ensure that the business runs as efficiently as possible. Over the years that team has included Kevin Lewis, Ramon Sapien, and many others in the CB Performance Team. But without the vision of Bob Tomlinson, CB Performance would have never become what it has today - a leader of new product design and Development. According to Rick Tomlinson, "Our Motto is to look to the future with new products to help the VW enthusiast. We are an original company with a original name and products."