My Ongoing Obsession with these Funny Little Cars
I am not sure if this is a hobby, illness, or obsession. My 1974 Super Beetle is the one featured in this article - but that is far from the entire story. My ongoing affair with Volkswagens dates back to 1979. I was in need of affordable transportation. My longtime friend, also named David, suggested that I'd "look cool" in a Beetle. I had never even thought about buying this funny car. As a child Beetles were something we made fun of. Sure, they were everywhere in the 1960's, but I was a small child and my family drove big American cars. My father called foreign cars of any type - "throwaway" cars, and a waste of money. I remember seeing the streets of Brooklyn lined with them. Some of my friends even said that they sat in the "way back", imagine putting your child there today?
When I finally decided to pull the trigger on my first Super Beetle I purchased a 1973 hardtop in Texas Yellow. It had dealer installed air conditioning and I did not know how unusual that was. I began to tinker almost immediately and learned body work and basic mechanics in the process. I even cut a hole in the roof and installed a glass sunroof. The air conditioning never seemed to work well and robbed a lot of power. After several years I treated it to an expensive (to me) $400 paint job and it looked like new, but that didn't last long. To me $400 was a lot of money for a paint job from a national chain and was their most expensive option at the time. Unfortunately, the paint began to peel in less than two months. The yellow came off in sheets. I returned to the paint shop and they agreed to repaint it. That occurred two more times and each time the paint fell off in a strong wind, forget about a car wash. I took the better part of valor and sold it and made sure that the purchaser knew the whole story and was willing to deal with it.
Next came a 1973 Convertible. It was in good shape except for floors and the paint was a bit tired. Things proceeded much better this time. In my mid-twenties now, I had a garage and a collection of tools. I learned to put in floors, pull the engine, and most things that Beetle owners need to know. It was my daily driver, logging almost two hundred miles a day. It never left me stranded and we were good friends. Life moves along though and marriage and children gave way to safe and practical. Neither my wife nor I thought it was a good idea to put an infant in the back seat of the trusty Super Beetle so off it went. I watched it drive away knowing that one day there would be another.
Ten years passed and the hunt began again. It was 1993 and I found the Florida Blue Super Beetle pictured above. It sat in a garage in New Jersey for ten years waiting for me. It was silver at the time of purchase and was on the high end of "basket case." Fortunately it was completely original and the owner had put a new roof on it before he parked it in the garage, although Fred Flintstone would have been comfortable with the floors. Every panel was dented from garage issues and a complete restoration was the plan. I paid $2500 for it and it actually ran so I thought I'd drive it home - carefully. The ride was the better part of 50 miles and my wife followed me, I can only guess what she was thinking.
It actually ran pretty well, was beat and ugly, but I had my Beetle again and nothing smells like a Beetle. Within a few miles of home I got cocky. It was running well so I decided to push it, knowing that an engine rebuild was coming. As any VW owner knows - our cars have personalities. My newest Beetle thought it was time to show me hers. At about 60 MPH on a country road the accelerator cable snapped and I went from hero to zero. I rolled onto the shoulder and answered my wife's inquiries as to what I was doing. I opened the hatch and it was idling perfectly - laughing at me, I'm sure. I placed a piece of cardboard under the accelerator cam and nursed it home. I had to endure a couple of lights with a revving engine and some dirty looks but I made it.
Thus began a two year tear down, frame off restoration. My wife, ever tolerant, chose Florida Blue for a color and the factory silver was gone for good. By now I was comfortable with my skills so I did almost everything myself, except for the paint. When all was done I had a consistent show winner that I could drive every day. It was definitely my favorite, maybe because of the amount of work I put into it. Everyone in my community of Washingtonville, NY knew the car and it had many fans.
Time marched on again. It was 2007 at the VW Bug-In in Litchfield, Conn. Kids were growing and the novelty was mine alone now. I went to the show where we had taken 2nd place a couple of times and I put a FOR SALE sign on it - as a lark. Before I could sit down someone came along and offered me a wad of cash. I thought my time with VW's had run its course and we closed the deal. I needed to figure out a way home. I had a pocket full of $100 bills - which felt awkward for sure. Once again I had room in my garage and life went on. Until 2013 that is.
In 2013 the hunt was on once again. Having moved to Florida, I figured I could drive my vert year round. It is stunning what some people think their cars are worth. Cheap paint, poor body work, and barely running cars were priced like they were show winners. I looked at seven Super Beetle Convertibles before I found the one I now plan on keeping forever - maybe.
My present 1974 Super Beetle has lived a comfortable, lazy life. I found it in Mt. Dora, Florida in the fall of 2014. It was living at the home of its original owner in a garage with a cover on it. While not in great shape, it was unadulterated. Largely original, the engine had never been out and about ten years prior it was completely serviced and tuned at the local VW dealership. The owner had all of the service records. Floors would be necessary and a top was also on the "to do" list. I made a fair offer and he rejected it. I explained that having floors installed and a new top could cost $2500.00. The paint was showing its age and a respray was also on the list. I left without making the deal and told him if he changed his mind to call me. Fortunately three weeks later he did. He said that Beetle meant a lot to him and he wanted it to go to a person who cared about them and who would "bring it back".
So began my present and likely last restoration, albeit a relatively easy one. Since the car was running I was able to have fun from the outset, I literally filled the tank and drove it. In short time I changed the oil, checked the valves, and installed a Pertronix II electronic ignition module. Tackling the floors was next. There was a lot of rust on the driver's side and the battery tray was gone on the passenger side.
Off to Harbor Freight I went to purchase a basic welder. My welding skills are limited, but welding in a VW floor is a job that most of us can do if we have the time and the place. No one sees the welds anyway and all they have to do is hold the pan in place. I replaced the driver's side and opted to keep the passenger's side original metal and patch the battery tray. While the seats were out all new foam was added. I even connected the 1974 only ignition interlock and it still worked - then I disconnected it. Anyone who had one knows why. The more I looked the more I wanted to do. I went for a short ride and the clutch gave out. Ugh.
Out came the engine. The odometer showed 75,000 miles and the previous owner stated it had never been removed. It made me smile when I removed the pressure plate and found an original VW logo and number on the clutch disc - also on the throw out bearing. Wires, plugs, gaskets, seals and everything else I could think of were also swapped. A compression check showed all cylinders around 100 PSI. For all of those who swear that removing a Beetle engine is simple - hats off to you. I've always hated it and found it to be a royal pain. Having a lift would make it so much easier.
Engine in, floors done, new foam and I was smiling. Next - I contacted Chuck's Convertible and order a new top to replace the cheap-vinyl window version that currently existed. Chuck is one of the best suppliers I have dealt with in my 40 year obsession. Even after answering a myriad of question I opted to have an upholstery shop install it. I didn't want to look at it every day and wish I hadn't done it myself. It was well worth the $500 cost for expertise and labor.
I was done and there was nothing else to do, I had my driver. It was healthy and it looked pretty good as well. Then ..I was hosing it down one day preparing to wash it. A large piece of paint came off of the hood all the way to the primer. It was about 6" by 4" in an irregular shape. I cursed, shook my head, and resigned myself that a respray was in the cards. Trying to match bright orange on the hood would never please me. The search began for a quality painter. Fortunately I found a local shop that only painted cars - no collision work. After a healthy debate between single stage and base/clear coat I gave in and went for the clear coat. I took the car completely apart to avoid overspray, lines, and to allow paint everywhere he could get it. It was not money I had budgeted for. $2500 later I had a car that looked and ran as new. I sourced a set of Sport wheels, added some powder coat, white walls from Coker, a modern radio and now - I'm almost 100% finished. In the que is a Disc Brake conversion.
I drive my orange Super Beetle often. Like most of us, I get comments and stories from people and I hear their childhood memories. VW owners are eccentric and generally social and this is a hobby that transcends cars. It is about history, culture and fun. I hope the pictures and my story help to share my VW obsession. Cheers to all!
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