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Desiree's 1971 Super Beetle
Sonny Reign is a 1971 VW Super Beetle who was only days away from the metal shredder. The name, Sonny Reign, came from the name of a song by a little band out of New York called Johnny Society. I don't know why the name suits my Beetle, but as I listen to the song, it just sounds like a Bug theme to me. The first time I ever gave any serious consideration to Beetles at all was when my best friend took me for a ride in a light blue '71 Super Beetle he lovingly called Cloudy. His tales of VW driving kept me in stitches. I quickly decided that I wanted one and began my search into finding one I could afford. I began by going to strangers houses, whom Beetles sat in their driveways, asking where they got them and if they wanted to sell them. This led me to a guy named Jack. Jack was into Bugs. At his shop, there was a pretty white '79 convertible outside with a for sale sign on it. I told him what I was trying to do and he gave me a tour of his place and explained what he did with Bugs. He Showed me another Bug he was selling, but just as with the convertible, too expensive for my skinny little pocket book. Out in the back was a multitude of Bug and Ghia bodies as well as other "projects". Jack then pointed me in the direction of a little red/orange Bug. As he talked to me about it, he showed me its condition which included a lack of an engine but the transmission was still in it and it seemed to work. There were no seats except the driver's side and the poor little creature was just a mess. Jack said that if I wanted that one, he would put an engine in it and sell it to me for $1200. So, I gave it some serious thought. When we talked about it again he said he would sell it to me for less and let me work on it at his shop until I got it running (this included him putting an engine in it). More thinking....... my brain began to hurt. In the meantime, I consulted with my best friend and his dad. They offered to go with me to have a look at it. We all loaded up and went to Jack's. Jack gave them the grand tour and told them how he was going to get rid of all that stuff in the back, including some Ghias. In the end, they bought the Ghias, all four of them and some other stuff and talked me out of the Bug, saying I would be biting off more than I could chew. So, I listened to them and told Jack I would not take the car. Out at the farm, the Ghias were being transported and lined up. What a sight that was. I was waiting for the last load to come in and could see the van coming up the road. As they pulled into the driveway, what was on the trailer?......... that forlorn little car, Sonny Reign. I was so excited to see it! Sonny was unloaded at the back of the farm.
It was explained to me that Jack said he would sell the little car to them for 200 dollars otherwise it was going to the metal shredder at the local wrecking yard the next day. It was then that they decided to take it along with the rest of the junk back to the farm. So it was agreed upon that if I wanted the car, I could buy it for the 200 dollars that they paid and they would help me get it in shape to drive. Hence, the work began. I met Jess because of my relationship with his son, Trevor, which ended due to irreconcilable differences. (It was a heartbreaking decision for both of us but one that had to be made). During that relationship I came to know, respect and love Jess, (who is 73), whom I now consider as my adopted Dad. My own dad died four years ago. Jess had two sons but no daughters. So I became his daughter. Jess didn't live in this area (he lived about 750 miles or so away and always drove to the farm!) but came up in the summertime to kill mesquites (the farm had land in the CRP program and the government said the mesquites had to go. Note: for those who are unfamiliar with mesquites, they are a thorny bush that grows in west Texas and once they get established they suck up all the water and are virtually indestructible. In east Texas they grow up into thorny trees). Okay, back to the story. I figured it would take a month or so to get Sonny up and running......NOT! Eight months later and I'm still working on it. I work during the week, leaving only the weekends to work on Sonny. But Jess puttered around with it while I wasn't there. He and Trevor cannibalized Cloudy, putting her engine into Sonny. They checked out the transmission, sure enough it worked well. The brakes weren't too bad but the front end wasn't good. Jess was trying to find an engine for me at a reduced cost as they were terribly expensive and I really couldn't afford to drop fifteen hundred bucks to get one. He had his son in California on the look out for one. As time went by, and there were no prospects in sight, Trevor decided he would sell Cloudy's engine to me. Jess taught me the process of changing the oil and adjusting the valves. So, Jess bought parts and replaced the front end. When I went out to the farm, he worked on it some more and I watched intently. At one point he was coming back up the road and there was a horrific sound coming from Sonny. We had discussed earlier that if there was major problems with the frame or front end, then it wouldn't be worth the cost of continuing with the project. When I heard the noise, I was afraid of the implication. As we ran up to the car, we looked at the left rear wheel and it was wobbling blatantly. Holy cow!!
Then it dawned on us, Jess hadn't tightened up the lug nuts and so the wheel was flopping around! Whew! That was close. Everything had been changed out except the struts and their bearings, those appeared to be fairly new. Back into the shed for work he goes. I began the task of gutting Sonny. Jess had gone back home for a few weeks for doctor appointments and such so I worked alone in the shed on Sonny. I stripped down everything, took the wire wheel grinder to it, there was cancer all over the place. Under the battery, in the back, in the floor. I plugged up many dust masks in the process and most times came out looking like a raccoon. I stripped the seats down to the frames. I ordered new padding and seat covers as well as new door panels. Jess had some Rivera wheels for another Bug that was in the barn and he offered them to me at a ridiculously cheap price. So I took them and stripped them and put new tires on them. Sure looked good. I hauled them back and they eventually got put on Sonny. They were pretty big and there was the question as to whether they were too big. But they looked beefy! Jess returned and more intense work began again. The morning would begin with me cooking breakfast for him and Grace, his wife, (she had a stroke nearly twenty-five years ago which left her so that she couldn't care for anyone including herself). Then we'd discuss how things were progressing. He and I would take a walk down the road about a half mile and continue the discussion. Upon returning, we went to work. I had all the cancer places thoroughly buffed out so rust killer could be applied. Then Jess cut metal and attached it to the holes in Sonny's body. After than we painted canned bedliner over the patches several times to ensure the protection of the areas. Jess took all the glass out of Sonny so we could do a new headliner and such. I took the glass to work and had it tinted. I figured it would be easier than doing it after finishing the work. Boy, that was dumb. I later learned that putting the glass back in as well as putting the seats back in didn't work so well. I ended up scratching the tint on just about every window. Anyway ..
We ordered a headliner from a place an hour and a half away, thinking that would be easier than getting it online as you never know if it will be right and it's such a headache to return. We checked into other things while there picking it up and then made our way back to the farm. We began our task of putting in the headliner. Could not figure out why it wasn't looking right, didn't stretch right........ hmmm. And by the way, where does this sixth bow go??? Good grief!! This headliner was for a standard Beetle NOT a SUPER Beetle. (sigh) Oh, well, too late to do anything about it, gotta keep going. Jess and I worked together on this poor little creature and my love for this little car kept growing. I could hardly wait to get to drive it. Still, a lot of work remained. There was still the electrical system, which there was NO WAY I was going to tackle that. But Jess, a man that had a heart as big as the sun, kept going. He began the task of getting the electrical system going. He worked and worked. One headlight would come on, one wouldn't. Switch the brights on, the one would work the other nothing. Turn signals? Not over there but there. Nope, not here anymore. AARRRRGGGH!!!! Then finally SONNY LIVES!!
We then started tying up wires, tidying up the trunk. We had put a new line on the gas tank but for some reason the engine wasn't getting gas. We pulled the tank again and blew through the lines and put it back. But we kept smelling gas. Oh, well for cryin' out loud, the gas line I got from the parts store wasn't fuel line!! And on top of that, it had gotten pinched off! Okay, it's off to the parts store again. (Mind you the parts store is twenty miles away) We got that little dilemma fixed and it was on to the next. The generator light would be on and the turn signal indicator would be lit up but couldn't for the life of us to track it down. Maybe it's the regulator. Okay, this is too frustrating. Poor Jess is wearing himself out with this. I will take it to a little German guy in town that does VW's. We got a new dash to put in it. I carefully measured where the knobs would come out and carefully cut holes. Uh, it doesn't measure up right. Fine, cut a little more on the outside. A little more, a little more........ Got the defroster vents put in too. Sure looked spiffy. Well, it was time for Jess to go away again. More doctor appointments. When he returned, that very evening, he felt so bad that he requested to go to the hospital. He was kept over night. Jess was released the next day and went to the farm. I had been called about it and I was terrified that he was having a heart attack. (Indeed, it was his heart, but the doctors here missed the warning signs.) But Jess rested up a few days and was right back at it. Killin' mesquites and workin' on Sonny. I tried to get him to slow down but he wouldn't listen.
Autumn was fast approaching and so was the time that Jess would be leaving until the following Summer. I had begun the task of laying down insulation on the floors and in the doors (I had put it on the roof before the headliner episode) We finally got to put the windshield back in. As we continued to work, there were more than a few times that I'd go to reach for something through the windshield only to be reminded by a thump on the knuckles that I can't do that anymore. Oh, how exciting it was becoming because it looked as though it was nearing the point where seats and stuff could go back in. Uh, no. Still not there. Sonny was finally put on a trailer and taken to the town I lived in, the same one that the little German guy had his shop. He'd been in business twenty some years. I met Jess and Trevor there and they rolled Sonny off the trailer then fired him up and parked him in front of the shop. Ooooo that was music to my ears! Gery, the owner of the shop, was getting older and he was just as hard to understand as he was years back. But I explained to him what I wanted him to do. He got my phone number and said he'd call me. A week later he calls up and said he's done. After some discussion, I figured out that all that I needed him to do was not done. So, I started going to his shop on my lunch hours to clarify and kinda prod this man. Oh, and guess what?? After getting a couple more regulators, he figured out that one of the wires wasn't hooked up to the regulator and that was causing the generator to do funky stuff. Yep, Gery's getting old. He told me he was retiring that month. So, he wanted to get Sonny out of there as soon as he could. He did say that if I had an emergency, I could call him. Well, finally, Gery called and said I could come get Sonny. I lived a mile or so away from the shop so I walked there, paid my bill and then got into Sonny to drive home. That was a nerve-racking drive. I stopped at a convenience store and put five bucks worth of gas in and then proceeded home praying the cops weren't nearby. No registration, no tags, no insurance. On the drive home I figured out real quick the importance of door gaskets. The doors rattled like a bucket of bolts. I drove up into the driveway and parked. Went inside and pulled out the new car cover and threw it over Sonny. At last, Sonny is home. The wintertime had arrived and it got dark by the time I would get off work so working on Sonny had stopped. Every day I'd see him sitting there, all covered up. But I was happy that he was there. There were a couple days that I could work outside, so door gaskets were put in. And more insulation, and finally I started putting in carpet. One day I decided to put the front seats in. I had them apart, the backs from the bottoms, thinking I'd put in the bottoms first then put the backs on. Uh, no. I spent an hour huffing and puffing and struggling to get the spread on that seat back to go onto the bolt. Okay, I give up. Covered up Sonny for another day. One of the things that I needed to do in order to feel okay about driving Sonny was to make sure that the front end was lined up. It felt funny when I drove it from Gery's shop so that made me a bit uneasy. I contacted an alignment shop and the owner, whom I'd known some years, turned out to be an old VW mechanic. Yes, actually a certified old VW mechanic. I told him what I had and he said to let him know when I wanted to have him work on it. Sonny had a tiny little steering wheel that Jess suggested that I change to a larger one. After driving him that one time, I decided he was right. I had a larger steering wheel, which was from a regular Bug but supposedly would work for the Super. I thought about the change for several weeks before getting the courage to change it myself. I mean, after all, how hard could it be?? Just take the one off, make sure I don't move anything and put the other one on. Right? Uh, no. Eventually, the time arrived and I decided to take Sonny to the alignment shop. The guy had been too busy to pick it up so I decided to drive it over there. I got up real early one morning, my day off during the week, and because it was early, I figured that the traffic wouldn't be too bad and I could just slip across town to that shop without the cops catching me. That was the most nerve wracking five miles I believe I have ever driven! It was cold, oh man, the air coming through that dash was like the Arctic had moved into New Mexico! Then the first traffic light, he died. I learned from Jess that you have to the turn the ignition all the way off to restart so I was quick to do that and I was on my way again. Got to the next light, had to turn left this time, turned on the left signal and the indicator showed both directions!! Oh, boy. I just won't use them the rest of the way. I finally arrived at the alignment shop and parked. Whew!
Apparently, Jess did a pretty good job of guessing when he replaced the front end and set everything back up because the front end was barely off on the right side, both camber and toe. I told the shop owner about the steering wheel change and he said he noticed right away that it was upside down and a quarter of a turn off. He said he would fix that. He also said he would check the little car over for me before I picked it up. Well, that was two weeks ago. Sonny still isn't home. But I went to visit him. He is tucked into a shop, nice and safe. The owner has been busy with "bread and butter" jobs so Sonny is on the back burner, which is okay, sorta. I still have things that I want to do to get him going..... like polished aluminum running boards, side moldings, door thresh hold plates, you get the picture.