Rich's 1973 Super Beetle
This story are my memories of Dads VW Beetle. Dad had a love for these little cars which he passed on to me. This was also "our" father and son project so to speak. I can remember working on this car whenever I came to his house for a weekend visit or during a school vacation. My love for cars started here. What started as a father and son project for us is now a father and sons project for my two sons and myself. As I have rebuilt this car I have tried to remember things dad told me that he wanted to do to it and find the pieces that were needed to make what he wanted to happen. Love and miss ya Dad. I hope you like what we did. The Story of Dad's Beetle starts back in 1972 with my grandfather Jim or Daddy Jim as we called him as kids. In 1972 daddy Jim bought a 1972 VW Baja Champion SE Super Beetle. The Baja Champion SE was a limited production run of cars to commemorate Volkswagen Baja off road race success from 1967-1971. 1,000 Cars were imported with a few special features. Marathon Blue paint (L96M), black basket weave interior, Lemmerz Baja sport wheels with Silver wheel nut caps and Hexagonal VW emblem hub cap, taper tip tail pipes,a plaque on the glove box door and dealer optional Baja side stripes. The car daddy Jim bought lacked the stripes. I'm not sure exactly when Dad got his hands on it but I'm assuming it was sometime in 1975 or '76. Between then and 1985 I know he drove it and at some point in the early 80's I believe he had it repainted or was planning on doing so.
In 1985 Dad moved to Houston. He brought the car down with him and it sat for a few years. In late 1990 he put it back on the road. Unfortunately spending most of its life in the harsh Massachusetts winters took its toll on the car and it was rotted and he didn't realize that aftermarket parts were available to repair what broke. I unfortunately can't remember exactly what broke I was 8 but I do remember him learning about a year later that whatever part he needed was available and he was really mad that he didn't look harder when the car broke. Being the pack rat he was he stripped absolutely every thing he could from the car. At some point in 1991 he came across the Marina Blue 1973 Super Beetle. Now again I'm working off the memory of a 8 year old but I'm pretty sure he told me that he bought it at a salvage yard in Houston for $1000. There are some major differences between the '72 and '73 Supers. The biggest one is the windshield. The 72's had a flat one and the '73 has a curved. I can remember dad complaining about it as a kid. He also hated the color in a bad way. However one thing he did like the fact that it has air conditioning. He never did manage to get it to work but he found all the pieces.
Dad drove the '73 daily for a while and at some point had to have the engine rebuilt. In 1992 he was forced to come back to Massachusetts. The 73 made the journey on a trailer behind a box truck up to Quincy. He ended up in Pittsfield at some point in the '93 where he stayed till fall of 1995. In that time frame the Beetle was his daily driver. Making trips to Boston when he worked at the conservatory and the occasional trip to pick me up. I can remember many trips across the Mass Pike in this car. Every now an then we'd have something go wrong and have to pull off the highway and fix it. I can remember one particular night he took a wrong turn on to I 495 and got us a lost. In the course of trying to figure out where we were the Beetle started running horribly. He pulled off the highway and attempted to figure out what was going on but didn't have a flashlight. At this point it was 10 pm. He realized we were close to my grandparents house in Natick so we headed there. My grandparents were night owls and were just sitting down to have dinner. Dad had daddy Jim move his car out of the garage so we could look at the Beetle closer and with light. After a few minutes we figured out that a wire on the coil had come loose. Couple turns of a wrench and we were on the road again. I can remember my grandmother telling Dad, " Doug, its late. Spend the night and go home in the morning." But dad wanted to get home so we shipped out.
Once he was in Florida the car was put under a car port and left untouched until my arrival in February 1996. During the week I was in Florida we dropped the engine so he could take it over to Houston to have it rebuilt by a guy named Herbie, of all names. Herbie was strictly a air cooled VW mechanic. He was very familiar with Dads car as Dad had taken it to Herbie when he was living there. I'm not exactly sure what he rebuilt but when I returned in the April of 2000 Dad and reassembled what Herbie hadn't done and reinstalled it in the car. After a lot of messing with the timing we finally got it to start. It ran horrible. We didn't have time to mess with it much because as this was happening he was also getting ready to move from Coca Ramon to Naples but the car was running,not well but it was running. A few days later I returned to New Hampshire. I wouldn't return to Florida for another 14 years. Dad attempted to drive the Beetle from Boca Raton to Naples but would only get about half way before he had it towed the rest of the way. In the course of that 14 years life changed a lot for both Dad and myself. Dad changed jobs several times and I had moved further north in New Hampshire. After my oldest son was born it became impossible for me to go to Florida and figure out what was going on with the Bug. Dad and I had talked a couple times about him bringing the car up to me so I could figure out what we did wrong however it never happened. In 2011 my brother in law talked dad into trying to get the car started. I'm not sure how long it had been sitting at this point. Dad had been working in Memphis and was going back to Florida for holidays. When they did attempt the engine was seized. They did manage to get it to started but again it wasn't running right. Time ran out and Dad to had to return to Memphis. So again the car sat.
On January 9, 2014 around 11 am I received a call from Danielle. I thought this was weird and kinda exciting at the same time because Danielle and I didn't get to talk very much as our schedules were very different. " Hey you need to sit down" she said. At that point I knew something was very wrong. My first thought was that something had happened to Craig since he was in the Navy. "Dad died last night' she told me. My world seemed to stop at that moment. A week later I boarded a plane to Fort Myers. I spent 4 days in Florida After saying hello to people I hadn't seen in close to 15 years I snuck down to the garage and spent a few minutes with dads car. I sat in the passengers seat for a few moments then headed back upstairs. After the wake I found myself at Sania's and Danielle's condo with Craig and a friend of his from the Navy. I got bored and started thinking about the video dad had sent me back in 2011 of the Beetle running. The more I thought about I remembered telling dad to re-adjust the valves. So I grabbed some tools and headed down to the garage. I popped the valve covers off and sure enough the valves were WAY out of adjustment. I tightened them up to what I thought would be close enough and went back upstairs.
The following day my brother in law Jon and I worked to get it started again. We got the old gas out of the tank and put 2 gallons of fresh gas in. It fired up fairly quickly. But still didn't sound right. After we shut it off I started picking up the tools we took out Jon said to me "wanna drive it"? As I thought about what Jon had said my response was ABSOLUTELY! We pumped up a flat tire and fired the engine back up. I put the shifter in reverse and slowly let the clutch out. The engine stalled. I started it again, feathered the gas and let the clutch out again. The car didn't move. When dad had parked the car last he had set the parking brake and sitting for as long as it had the shoes had gotten stuck to the drums. We jacked the car up and I managed to break the shoes hold on the drums. Again I started the engine and put the car in reverse. This time it went backwards into the driveway. At this I was happy. It started it moved back into the driveway and was sitting in the sun. The paint was dull from being covered in dust and not being washed in years. Jon looked at me and said "take it down the street". I thought about what he said and figured what the hell. I hopped back in it and back it into the street and took off. I went to the end turned around and returned to the driveway. In a small way it took away some of the sadness I had been feeling. Before I went back home I took it down the street 2 more times. Once for Sania to see and once for my Uncle Greg to see. In November I returned for Jon and Danielle's wedding. Before going down I bought a few parts so I'd have something to do while I was there. After trying a few different things I pulled a spark plug and discovered something was definately wrong internally. I did drive it down the street a few times again once taking my nephew Andrew for a ride. Again the Beetle sat. In the fall of 2016 Sania asked me to come pick it up. She had decided to move and didn't want move it again. In March of 2017 Tiffany and I headed south to pick it up. It fired right up and drove itself onto the trailer I rented to bring it home. After it was loaded Danielle, Tiffany and I headed to the cemetery where Dad is buried. After spending a few minutes there we headed out. We dropped Danielle off at her apartment and headed home to NH.
I rented a storage unit to house the Beetle since I did have room at my apartment to store it. It didn't take me too long to order new brakes and new tires. Both my sons helped me get the brakes changed. I sent the rims down to a friend In Connecticut to have them powder coated. As my luck would have it we had a few late snow storms so work on the car was slowed a bit. Once the weather warmed up some I got back to it. Looking at everything that could possibly make the engine run badly and kept coming up empty. Finally I did a compression test and I didn't like what I saw. Cylinder 1.3 and 4 had 120 pounds of compression give or take a few pounds. Cylinder 2 however had none which meant the engine had to come out. It kinda bugged me because this engine had less then 125 miles on it since dad an I had put it back in in 2000. I got to work getting it out and on the ground. Once it was out I pulled the cylinder head for pistons 1&2 and quickly discovered why cylinder 2 had no compression. The top of the piston was pitted badly and the head was the same way. I removed the cylinder from the piston and finally had the answer I wanted. When the engine had seized in 2011 the piston rings got stuck to the cylinder wall and had broke the top of the piston creating the pits in the head and top of the piston.
After finding the damage to the head and piston I kinda had to wait a bit to get the money to put it back together. By mid May of 2017 I had the engine back together and in the car. After a little trouble shooting I had it running almost perfectly. I took me another couple weekends to get the brakes working properly but once I did Nick and I drove it home. It was a very bittersweet moment for me since dad wasn't there to see. For the summer of 2017 I took the car to several cruise nights at the Tilton Diner and Village Pizza. It gathered lots of attention at both places. Towards the end of the summer I drove it every day to work for a few weeks. Once October rolled around it got to cold to drive it so I put it away for the winter a total of around 1,100 miles were put on from the end of may till October. A few times a month I'd fire it up and let it run for 15-20 minutes just to keep things lubricated.
By the end of march 2018 the snow had pretty much melted and the salt was off the roads so out it came. The oil was changed and the valve adjusted. Again for this year I took it to cruise nights but mainly only at Village Pizza. I also took a few 2 hour one way trips with it and it handled it perfectly. At the end of august I pulled it off the road for the year. Amounting another 1,400-ish miles for the spring and summer. In late October early November I put the car on jack stands to repair some rot, sand and lay on some bondo. I just finished painting it L99 Marathon Blue and need to install the glass and a few other things so that my sons and I can finish my tribute to dad.