Judy's Toy Car
A little less than 2 years ago, my wife, Judy, decided she needed an economical car for running around town. She always liked the VW Beetle we built for our daughter a few years before and thought another one would be ideal. We looked around for a few weeks for just the right one, finding mostly a lot of rusted junk (unlike when finding my daughter's car, I now knew where to look for rust).
Finally a friend told me that his wife had one she wanted to sell. It turned out that she was the original owner of this '74 Super Beetle, having purchased it new from the local dealer. She drove it several years, then got married to my friend, Bob. Sometime later she turned it over to him to fix some minor problem which she no longer remembers. Well to make a long story shorter, it sat outside in his industrial equipment yard waiting for 10 years for this repair. Shortly before being parked, it had an engine fire and had a new engine installed. It also had a new set of seat covers.
Supposedly the car had never been wrecked but all four fenders and hubcaps and both running boards were badly crushed and both bumpers had been hit hard enough that their shock absorbers failed to pop back out. When the engine was replaced, burned paint and rust were left in the louvered area above it and the air conditioner compressor was left off. The ten years also took a pretty good toll. The entire car was lightly covered with a really tough industrial orange paint overspray from something nearby. The new seat covers were totally baked. A couple of large dents appeared in the top from something falling on it. The passenger side floor rusted through and the tires rotted. The exterior looked like it had been painted with chalk instead of paint. And the repaint after the fire no longer matches the color, if it ever did, as is obvious here forward of the back fender after initial cleanup and painting the fenders. Outside of that it looked like a pretty good car in need of some tender loving care.
Well, the car certainly presented a challenge, but it was a one-owner car and came with the original sales order, the original owner's manual and all maintenance records. Besides that, the price was reasonable, which was important at the time. And, compared to most of what we had looked at, it really wasn't all that bad. Most of the others in the low price range had much more rust, typically in the outer skin, where repairs are much more difficult, as well as missing pieces. The photos here and above give some idea of what it looked like when we got it. Actually, these are some of the better ones but do show the general condition. So, I made the "deal" with Barbara, Bob's wife, pulled the major fender dents out so the wheels could turn, loaded it onto a dolly and towed it home to begin restoration.
Well, this was the fourth car in my driveway, only one of which was driveable (see other pages at this site). I really had to get right on it so at least half of them ran. The first order of business was to get the engine running. I went through all the usual procedures for one not started in ten years. I drained the oil and fuel tank and replenished them, removed the spark plugs and squirted oil into the cylinders then turned it over several times by hand to wet the cylinders. The next step was to crank it with the starter until some oil pressure built; I used an external gauge to determine this. Finally, I replaced the points, plugs, plug wires, distributor cap and rotor, overhauled the carb and fired it up; not too bad really. Of course, it wasn't to be that simple. Ten years of sitting had completely plugged the gas tank pickup tube; the engine would run only if gas was taken from an external source. I had to remove the tank and work with an old speedometer cable as a probe for some hours to clean out the curved, internal tube.
This was a start but only that. There were electrical problems. In '74 they added an interlock relay that prevented starting unless several conditions are met (safety?). As it was not functioning, I figured out how to wire around it. The alternator light glows softly all the time but it does seem to charge properly. The oil pressure light comes on sometimes for no known reason. The first few times this happened, it scared me but I hooked up the external gauge to check it and found good pressure. Now I still check it with the gauge about once a month. Eventually, I will have to resolve both these problems. Of course, there were the usual problems with lights and bad grounds, none of which was particularly difficult to fix.
The second step was to get the brakes up to par. I replaced every cylinder, all flex hoses and shoes. I also replaced all the adjusters and springs, flushed the system and installed new fluid. The drums did not require machining. In short, it has an all new brake system. Bob told me it probably needed new struts but examination revealed that all it needed was ball joints. After that, a new set of tires and alignment, a tag and state inspection and the little bug was ready to drive although it still looked pretty bad.
Although driveable, it was pretty much a one person car as it seemed unsafe to put a passenger in the second seat due to the rusted floor; a friend leaned on it to check the battery and actually fell through. This was my first attempt at a floor replacement but it was not as hard as it sounded. I drilled the original spot welds, cut the old floor out and ground the weld remains flush with the mounting ledge. I then punched holes in the new one about where the spot welds would have been (every 30 mm) and welded it in with a MIG welder through those holes. It looks just like it had been rivetted at the factory. With that done, it became a second car. It had to be mine for a few months though as Judy didn't trust it (with good reason, it turned out) and it also still looked plenty ugly.
I next set about cleaning up the body. The first step was to replace all the glass rubber to keep water out; the other rubber was in good shape. Then it was time to do something about the fenders. These were original German fenders so I wanted to straighten rather than replace them. This took some time but the result is well worth the effort. Rather than try to match the old paint, I chose to do the fenders in a dark chocolate brown. I have never seen a VW painted that way and think I like it so intend to leave it that way. Next, I popped most of the large dent out of the top with a suction cup dent puller. Then I color sanded the entire body with 1000 and 1500 grit paper which ultimately removed the orange overspray then rubbed and buffed it back to near original luster.
Finally, we purchased a set of new seat covers, removed the imitation sheep skins and installed the new light tan covers. This really makes the car quite attractive inside as well as out. It is now a car that I believe we can feel justifiably proud in owning and driving. I have received many nice compliments from strangers. Just before VolkShow 12 this year, I finally cleaned and painted inside and outside the louvered section above the engine so it looks like the rest of the car now. I also repainted the cooling tin black one time when the engine was out.
The car has been driven daily for almost 18 months now with only minor problems, to be expected from a 24 year old car. Except for replacing a broken engine fan with a defective one then having to do it again and wearing out the clutch, it has been quite reliable. In addition to the daily commuting, we have also made a couple of road trips to try it out. In short, it has been an exceptionally enjoyable little car. And if you don't count my time, I have considerably less invested in it than its current value. In fact, even if I value my time around $15 per hour, my investment is still a little below market value.
This is the VolksClub of OKC annual cruise, paused on the Lake Hefner Dam on the way to the cookout the evening before the car show. That's us right in front of the first bus you can see. Next is in the parking lot of Stars and Stripes Park where the cookout was held. Finally, here we are at the car show the next day in June 1997.
Probably next summer, I want to finish repairing the dents in the top and fix some hail damage. This will require repainting the body. My plan is to keep it the current color, sahara beige with the carriage brown fenders. At that time I will probably repaint the engine cooling tin beige also. Meanwhile, this is just a glamour shot of the owner with her toy.