Super Project '71
Part One: Introduction to the Subject, a 1971 "1302" Super Beetle
From the May, 2009 issue of VW Trends
By Ryan Lee Price
Photography by Ryan Lee Price
Here she sits as she sat for...
Here she sits as she sat for 15 years, though only the last two have been inside. The rest of it was under Mother Nature's unforgiving glare. We have a big job ahead, but it will also be an adventure.
Once we cleaned off all of...
Once we cleaned off all of the junk that gets stacked up on a derelict car and dragged it outside to take a closer look, we were happy to see that the car sat square with no obvious problems so far... except for a few rusty panels and the flat tires.
A nice front-three-quarter...
A nice front-three-quarter shot shows a fairly solid Volkswagen. Disregard the roof rack. It belongs on another car, for starters, and won't go with the overall design of this one.
The engine was removed several...
The engine was removed several years ago and all that's left is an old transmission, air hoses and various wires that will all need to be sorted through and cleaned.
Our first clues to this car's...
Our first clues to this car's past are these matching body panel weld marks on their side of the engine compartment. With the "Mexico" stamping on the rear apron and fenders, it is quite clear that the car was hit hard enough in the rear to necessitate a replacement. As well, it looks as though it was hit early enough in its life that the work was done by a VW dealership.
We hadn't seen Gabriel's Roadstar...
We hadn't seen Gabriel's Roadstar shocks in a number of years (as they discontinued offering this model in the '80s), and the axle boot hasn't ever been worked on by a VW dealer, because, after 1972, the driveshaft featured a ridge that better secured the small end of the boot as well as a clampless rolled seal over the end cap. The use of hose and pinch clamps were discontinued and often upgraded on later models.
The sticker from the dealership...
The sticker from the dealership can still be seen. As sentimental as we are, we're still not sure how to preserve this detail, as Valley Autohouse Ltd in Abbotsford, B.C., Canada, is still in business and is still selling Volkswagens.
The once chrome bumpers have...
The once chrome bumpers have rusted so much that they cannot be merely cleaned. Either they will have to be rechromed or new ones acquired.
The running boards have had...
The running boards have had it. The corrosion even claimed two connection bolts. As well, one of the bolts between the front fender and the board had to be cut off. I see new ones in my future.
The hit parade: Just some...
The hit parade: Just some of the dings and dents that will have to be removed. Not shown is a slight wave on the hood and a fist-size dent near the right-side cowl. Don't drive angry!
Underneath the driver's side...
Underneath the driver's side fender we find a host of things on our to-do list. A spring/strut-job is first. Then we'll find out why there is a couple of inches of play in the steering wheel. The tie rod ends will all see the trash can and all bushings will be replaced.
Yuk, look at this wheel. Though...
Yuk, look at this wheel. Though it's still round and still holds the tire, it will get sandblasted and repainted. Why are we keeping the wheels stock? Why not for now? We can always change them.
A big place for rust is in...
A big place for rust is in the door hinges. Care must be taken when removing them at this point until we can find out how serious the damage is. Don't knock out the pins with a hammer, whatever you do. Odds are that rust at the bottom area of the doors is caused by plugged drain holes.
The floor is littered with...
The floor is littered with old parts and junk that have been stored in the car over the years. The previous owner was nice enough to include the original steering wheel, and note the hard-to-find item next to it, a radio face plate.
The dashboard as it is now....
The dashboard as it is now. The pad is cracked and brittle. The metal around the radio hole is scarred and this dirty worn steering wheel must go.
The one gem is this car is...
The one gem is this car is the Eberspacher gas-fired heater (311-261-103--factory option M60). Though it never worked, it is rather a sought-after item for purists. I think we'll let some other lucky soul try to figure out how to get this thing working again. Of course, in its absence it leaves three holes in the body to fill...or leave gapping.
Just north of the gas heater...
Just north of the gas heater is the brain of the whole car; behind the speedo pod is this collection of wires. Most of which were added later and no longer serve any purpose.
The trunk as a whole became...
The trunk as a whole became a catch all for lots of stuff. Surprisingly, the items in here are in pretty good shape. The fresh-air control box, the ducts and hoses, were all in great condition and, after a good cleaning, will be returned as they are. The fuel tank, however, still contained 15-year-old gas and will be replaced.
Underneath the back seat was...
Underneath the back seat was this conglomo of useless wires, most of which led to two horns that were on the car. If you think nobody listens to an apologetic VW horn, blow an oogah horn at them.
To the left is the battery...
To the left is the battery tray. Since this is black and white, I'll describe the color: Rust. The positive cable corroded to the battery terminal and had to be cut off, while the metal lip that secures the base of the battery is rusted as well.
Speaking of rust, one of our...
Speaking of rust, one of our fears is connected to this image of water damage on the headliner underneath the rear window. Without pulling up the carpet, it sounded a little crunchy when we pressed on it.
A closer look at the knobs...
A closer look at the knobs and controls on the dash show that they are, for the most part, in good working order. If yours are also, be glad, because they don't make new ones anymore.
The mirror, however, wasn't...
The mirror, however, wasn't so lucky. Before I touched it, it was in perfect condition, held together by just habit, it seems. Now, it's called trash.
More wires. Note that the...
More wires. Note that the footwell heating ducts are in good shape.
See my welding handiwork on...
See my welding handiwork on the broken clutch pedal? I did this when I was 17-years-old, and I still have the burn scar on my hand to prove it. As proud as I am of my work, I still want to get a new pedal cluster for safety's sake.
This is a closer look at the...
This is a closer look at the right wheel hub, and somebody was good enough to scribe an "R" on there, for "rust" no doubt.
Most all of the bushings underneath...
Most all of the bushings underneath the front end are in one degree of disrepair or another. The track control arm, the steering knuckle, the ball joint and the stabilizer bar need attention, as well as do their corresponding bushings.
Through the cob webs is the...
Through the cob webs is the drop arm which is part of the steering system. The top of this photo points to the rear of the car. The drop arm is attached to the base of the steering gearbox at the top, while connected to the steering damper at the bottom. The steering damper prevents shock from the road to be transferred through the steering wheel to the driver.
The coil spring on the strut...
The coil spring on the strut looks fine...but we won't know for sure until we can take it apart.
Here's what years of water,...
Here's what years of water, salt and the elements can do to metal. These areas under the fenders will have to be fixed.
This canister, located under...
This canister, located under the right rear fender is part of the evaporative emission control system. Supposedly, this canister is filled with charcoal, which absorbs vapors from the fuel tank and pushes them through the carburetor. It doesn't work, and I know so because the line that connects it to the expansion chamber (under the cowl) is disconnected.
Here is what the engine gets...
Here is what the engine gets to look at. This shows the 10-louvered deck lid of a 1971 Super Beetle as opposed to the 26 louvers of the following year.
The whole double-jointed rear...
The whole double-jointed rear axle unit, from the transmission on the left to the wheel on the right.
A closer look at the end cap,...
A closer look at the end cap, C.V. joint and screws that hold it all together. It looks similar to something found on the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic. Fortunately, for the sake of the project, none of this will survive the project.
It's hard to tell if the starter...
It's hard to tell if the starter is in working order or not. Odds are good that it is serviceable, but we won't be able to tell unilt the unit is removed or an engine is added.
The only actual "installation"...
The only actual "installation" of anything we did was the powdercoating of the wheels and the mounting of new tires. Since we are starting our plans with a stock Super in mind, we chose L91 Chrome wrapped with 165/15 3/4-inch whitewall BFGoodrich tires.
Once on, the BFGoodrich GT-100...
Once on, the BFGoodrich GT-100 radials really give the Super a classic look, enhanced by the respectable whitewall found as a stock part on convertibles of that era.
The Super Beetle is a funny car. It is inflated, rounded, bulbous and bloated. It's a turkey the day before Christmas and most of us the day after, but lots of people swear by them. I do. It looks solid, squat, thick and sturdy. Its name is an adjective, meaning better than everything else, and implies reliability. It's longer, faster, wider, taller, roomier and heavier. It's a Super Beetle, and the subject of VWTrends' next car project.
This one, a 1971 model, was built the first year Super Beetles were offered, and they made quite a few of them that first year. Of that number, only 331,191 Beetles of all types made their way to the U.S. and Canada, this being one of those. It was built in Germany in late September 1970, and originally sold at Valley Autohouse Ltd in Abbotsford, B.C., Canada, which, 30-years later, is still a VW dealer. It made its way south in the early '80s and has been in my family since April 8, 1989, when it was purchased for $1800. Of course, 15-years ago, it was in much better shape than you see it now. Time, weather, sun, heat and moisture has taken quite a toll on its parts, leaving it in this less-than-perfect condition. Nonetheless, it will provide a great platform for our project.
Say you've got a Super Beetle laying around, like this one, and you want to return it to its former glory, like we plan to do with this one. Well, you're in luck, because over the next few months we plan to put this Beetle back into shape, so get out your tools and be prepared to follow along. If you don't have a Super Beetle, get one while they're still relatively inexpensive and easy to find.
Throughout this series, we will try to explain the ins and outs of the various steps along the way. Though they may differ from your idea and order of how to do things (and probably will), we will cover all aspects of the buildup in a useful and informative way. Our plans include a complete rebuild of the suspension systems, both front and rear, a complete rebuild of the brake system, from the pedal to the drums (and yes, we'll keep the brakes stock), a fully refurbished interior, paint and body, electrical, engine and transmission and an overview of all of the little things that make a Super Beetle so super. For example, that crazy emissions control system canister and collector found in the Super's fuel system, the MacPherson struts and rear semi-trailing arm suspension that had been offered on the '67-and-later automatic. Of course, along the way in our project, as also as in yours, we'll discover problems and obstacles that need to be surmounted before we can reach our final goal: To drive off into the sunset with a beautifully restored/rebuilt 1971 Super Beetle. If it all goes off as easy as this paragraph, drinks are on us (but don't hold your breath). Let's get started.
First, let's take a walk around the car and look at some of the immediate things we'll have to attend to as this project develops. After being left outside for most of its life, the body has begun to rust, the rubber window moldings have started to crack and most everything plastic is brittle, shattered and/or deteriorated. In the years I drove it as a daily driver, it never had a flat tire and never needed one replaced, but in the 10 years it sat under the sun and rain, two sets of tires rotted out from under it.
Underneath the cracked, oxidized paint, overall, this appears to be a very straight and solid car, with no major scars to worry about--only a couple of minor ones we'll point out in due time--no previous body work that needs to be fixed and no horrific "restorations" to undo and redo.
Starting in the front, the first thing that catches your eye is the surface rust along most of the hood's ridges and on the apron, especially around the large dent I added as the results of an off-road excursion and friend and I took one day. While we're down there, you may have noticed the lack of the 39 louvers that are normally associated with a Super Beetle's front apron. In most warm-climate countries these were added to ventilate a condenser mounted behind the apron, part of an optional air conditioning unit. Generally, it wasn't part of Canada's line, and was offered as factory option M559 instead. To give further credit to this is an Eberspacher gas-fired heater (311-261-103--factory option M60) stuck under the hood. However, on this particular car, it never worked. Plus, the idea of keeping a flame that close to 42 liters (11.09 gallons) of fuel was always a little unnerving, so it probably won't be returned to the car when the time comes (Remember though, over the course of any project, like a woman planning a wedding, your mind can and will change. For example, this project was originally slated as a big-motor German Looker and now we're opting for a factory stocker). Back to the car.
The front bumper's rusted, but straight, and the rubber impact strip (M162) is cracked in several places (one from running into a fence--oops). The bumpers will have to be either rechromed or replaced altogether, as a spot of steel wool has proven useless on several occasions. The tires are shot...again. The wheels are rusted, flaking and worn in places, and the running boards' rubber covers have split. The door hinges have rusted, the window scrapers are hard as rocks, but the sash works well, rolling the window up and down as it always had. The roof is straight and dent free, though some rust buildup has collected in the sills. The bottom of every body panel has some degree of rust, the fenders, the doors, the aprons and the quarter panels. The right rear fender has a large dent (that's rusted over) because a kid ran into it on his bicycle, and it'll have to be fixed.
The rear bumper is the same as the front, but was replaced once before in its life, because it is missing the rubber impact strip (from the luxury package starting in 1970) and, instead, has the black stripe found on most all Super Beetle bumpers. There is a "Mexico" stamping on the rear apron and some weld marks on the inside, suggesting that the apron has been replaced by an aftermarket unit, and each fender has "Mexico" stampings as well. On the surface, the rear end body work was done good and straight, and I've seen worse. Since the engine's gone, we get a nice view of the compartment cluttered with spider webs (and eight black widows), leaves and an assortment of random wires, hoses and trash that will have to be gutted and sorted. To be on the safe side, the transmission will probably be replaced (but we'll find out what's wrong with this one first).
Mechanically, most of the parts for the brakes will need to be replaced, as all of the lines are brittle and one line is even crimped somehow. The drums are rusted and flaking, the shoes always gave some trouble and the cylinders have long since dried up. Pressing on the pedal means nothing to this car anymore. The e-brake line works to some extent, as long as you don't give the car a good shove. The struts and shocks, ball joints, CV boots, steering arms, steering box, knuckles and tie rods will need a complete going through. A light film of rust covers everything underneath the car, but only breaks completely through under the front right fender (nearest the curb, hence, nearest the water-filled gutter). The interior is a mess and always was, even when this car was alive. With the exception of the front and back seat frames, everything will have to be replaced. The carpet (house variety... it was a thick tan shag if I remember right) is long gone. The seat covers have ripped through, showing the original covers underneath. The dashboard pad has cracked in many spots, and when I went to adjust the rear-view mirror, it simply crumbled in my hand. So much for plastic. Hello, West Coast Metric?
In the back, the rear window has leaked over the years and stained the lower portion of the headliner. Hopefully it hasn't caused any damage to the package tray (though I did hear something crunch under the carpet). Underneath the battery, which is long gone, it looks like Mars, red, rusted and rocky with oxidized bits of flaking metal. There are wires everywhere, like an electrician went nuts. Some goofball had some fun running speakers all throughout this car (me), as well as a couple of horn buttons under the dash (one for the regular horn and another for an oogah horn). The steering wheel is a Grant GT knockoff that will hit the trash can first, and the pedal cluster will need some attention, especially since I had to weld the clutch pedal back on after it broke off under foot one day (I had to drive it for three days without a clutch...explain that to your date as you jostle her away from a stop sign). I'm not much of a welder so it would make me feel better not to have to do it again. Speaking of welding, I'm delighted to say that I was one of those people that felt that if a fancy new radio doesn't fit, simply cut the dash... not in one or two places, but 14 separate cuts...groan, so I do have some welding to do. Over the past few months, I've become pretty handy with my Hobart 135 Mig welder. You'll see.
This is what we have to deal with so let's get started. But where do we start? Good question, as there is a hundred different ways to begin, and whether you begin by gutting the car or pulling the body from the pan, it makes no difference as long as you plan it out and stick to the plan. Us? We're starting with tires and wheels. I know, it sounds rather backwards, but since I had to chain up the Super to the truck and drag it out of the garage on flat tires and rusted, stuck drums, I need to get it physically rolling again. Also considering that we will need to take it to several different places during the build-up process, we wanted to support it with some good road wheels and tires during all of the towing. Be safe once instead of sorry twice (you know what I mean).
New wheels for a four-lug Beetle are becoming more and more difficult to find, and since we want to retain as much as we could of the original car, we decided to sandblast and powdercoat these. There are several other options, such as a wire brush, some sand paper, solvent and a couple of cans of L91 chrome silver, but we chose powdercoating instead. It's cleaner, quicker, the surface is protected from the elements for a longer time, and you can get any color you want. If you have to think economically, try the DIY kits from Eastwood, as powdercoating is sometimes an unnecessary luxury.
If it is a must for you, odds are good you've got your favorite sandblaster and powder coater's phone number on your speed dial, so let him know you'll be by with a few old wheels. Mine is Gerhard Schapp of G&M Schapp Powder Coating, who is in partnership with Ron Rose at R&R Sandblasting, conveniently located next door to each other. Schapp is an old-school German whose been around VWs for his whole life, while Ron knows exactly what we're looking for in a set of refurbished wheels. Out of one shop, into the other and back home on the car in only three days; it was a remarkable transformation from rusty, dirty and spotty to clean, shiny and new.
Keeping as close to stock as possible, we went with 165/15 3/4-inch whitewall BFGoodrich tires from Coker Tires, which was a dealer-installed option (and standard equipment on the Vert) at the time. Coker Tires have always been a good source for period-correct rubber for almost any type of vehicle, so there is never a question where to go.
Now that the car rolls, pushing it in and out of the garage on fresh tires will make working on it a lot easier. Up next, we'll go though the highlights of tearing out the interior, the gas tank, wiring and everything that won't eventually get painted. As well, we'll discuss some problem areas we encountered and how we plan to overcome them, more importantly, how you can too. After that, we'll tackle the one thing that sets Super Beetles apart from the run of the mill Beetles: the MacPherson front suspension. In the meantime, stay Super.
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