Saturday, January 30, 2010

Customized cars

This rot in the nearside doorstep (part of the heater channel/sill structure) is all too apparent, and proves beyond any doubt that new heater channels are needed. On some cars, rot like this will be camouflaged with GRP and/or body filler, so don't judge solely by appearances – use the magnet, probe with a sharp implement. This car would fail any roadworthiness test, yet if it has good mechanical components and only 'honest' body rot, it could make an excellent restoration project.
There is such a wide range of off-the-shelf customizations for Beetles that it is difficult to give advice which is strictly relevant to all types. The main concern must be the build quality (because many such cars are built by amateurs), not only of the bodywork but especially of fuel, brake, engine and electrical components. Bear in mind that these are all possible causes of fires, which are even more serious with GRP ­bodied cars than with steel cars.
All Beetle-based kit cars fall into two basic groups. Some utilize the Beetle spine/floor pan assembly and others are built up onto a special chassis. When assessing the former, always pay special attention to the spine/floor pan assembly – it could have started to rot even before the kit body was bolted on, or in the case of a shortened chassis (Beach Buggy) the welding could be of a very low standard and the chassis spine consequently weak. The author has seen shortened chassis/floor pans on Buggies which appear to have been crudely `stick'(arc) welded, and which still showed evidence of burning through – the inappropriate welder burns through the steel which it is meant to be joining! Begin by visiting a large Beetle gathering, so that you can see the various customs in the flesh and make a proper decision regarding which best suits your needs. this will also allow you to see both good and bad examples of the build quality of the custom, and enable you to quickly decide whether any car which you subsequently view is a badly or well-built example. Talk to the owners of any customs which take your fancy, because they will be able to give you valuable information on what specifically to look for when assessing the cars.
When viewing a customized car, be it a kit or a one-off special, try to establish whether the car meets all legal requirements, bearing in mind that in some countries these include the positioning of lights, number plates etc. Also, check the car over for anything which might cause it to fail the government roadworthiness test (MOT test in the UK), which can include any projections which the tester feels might pose a hazard to other road users or pedestrians, moving parts which are exposed or an insecure battery etc.
The available selection of any single type of custom Beetle is a fraction of that of standard cars, and the pressure to buy a viewed example 'before someone else gets it' is therefore stronger. Don't rush into a purchase because to do so is nearly always a mistake. If you have any cause for doubts about a viewed car and the vendor begins to get pushy to try and hasten you into a buying decision, leave the car alone and console yourself with the thoughts that you could probably build a better one yourself, there will probably be a better example available next week and pushy vendors want you to buy before you find the fault which lead to the car's being placed on the market!
Quite a few customized Beetles come onto the market as un-finished projects. This can arise for a variety of reasons, and it is important to establish which. Many people simply run out of money before they complete the car, something which is a familiar occurrence in the kit car world, where those essential items which are sometimes listed by the kit manufacturers as 'optional extras' can add up to rather more than the cost of the kit and lead to financial embarrassment for the builder. Some unfinished projects are due to a lack of time to complete the build, others due to a lack of motivation to see the job through.
All of the above, perfectly plausible, pretexts for selling an unfinished project custom or Beetle-based kit could be given as a cover-up for a more sinister reason –the knowledge that the work done to date is in some indeterminate way inferior, or the fact that the kit or custom is based on a weak chassis.
When viewing an unfinished project custom car, you really have to be very careful when assessing the build quality of the job to date. Check the floor pan (and any standard body panels which have been retained) for rot and even for light rusting. Check any GRP panels for signs of damage and/or repair, because someone might have accidentally dropped something onto one.
Buying an unfinished project can save a lot of money in comparison with completing a build-up yourself, but it can also lead to heartache, so tread carefully.
In the case of kit cars, you might also care to obtain the manufacturer's build manual (most will sell this separately) in order to familiarize yourself with the kit and the way in which it is built. This should help you to properly appraise built examples.

Restored cars

Forget it! This car is best considered a donor for a re-shell as far as the DIY restorer is concerned. Heavy frontal or rear collision can alter the positions of the sturdy chassis components which hold the suspension components. Unless you have a jig to ensure 100 per cent accurate rebuilding, a DIY restoration of such a car will probably be unroadworthy.

A good quality professional Beetle restoration will generally cost the owner more than the resultant value of the car. A full and conscientious DIY restoration not only costs a lot of money, it usually involves thousands of hours of work – not all of it pleasurable. It is little wonder that many would-be Beetle owners seek a ready-restored car, nor that the vendors of good restored cars very often set high prices.
The first fact to face is that you will not be able to buy a good restored car cheaply. If a restored car is offered at a low price then this in itself should arouse suspicion regarding the quality of workmanship and/or the extent of the restoration work – not to mention the possibility that the car could be stolen. Apart from the vendor's natural desire to recoup as much of the financial outlay involved in the restoration as possible, a genuinely good restored car will usually attract other potential purchasers, one of whom may want the car badly enough to try and outbid you.
22You should also face the fact that a high price is no guarantee of quality, and that a number of `budged' cars will inevitably come to the market place dressed-up as restorations and priced accordingly.
Both with professional and amateur restorers it is now almost universal practice to keep a full photographic record of the work in progress, and it is recommended that you do not buy a `restored' car unless you can see such a record (and satisfy yourself that the car pictured is the car you are buying).
Because there is usually so much money at stake when you are buying a restored car, it may be worth commissioning a Motor Engineer's survey before parting with your money. Alternatively, take along a knowledgeable friend when you view cars – if you don't have a knowledgeable friend then join the nearest Beetle owner's club and quickly make friends with the most knowledgeable person you meet there!
In addition to the points made in this chapter about assessing cars, there are a few extra checks to be made in the case of restored cars. A restoration basically comprises two parts; the bodywork and the mechanical elements. It is common for people commissioning a professional restoration to have the body restoration work carried out professionally, but to undertake the mechanical build-up themselves. It is vital that you attend to small details when examining the mechanical components and, more particularly, their fastenings. Look at the screw slots, the nuts and bolt heads. If the screw slots are distorted, if nuts and bolt heads are rounded, then the person who carried out the rebuild obviously did not possess a very good set of tools, and the state of the fastenings could well be reflected in more important, hidden areas.
Irrespective of whether the body shell restoration was carried out professionally or at home, it goes without saying that your inspection should be thorough. Rather than try to assess the body inch by inch, concentrate on the areas where repair panels (as opposed to full body panels) are commonly used. There is nothing wrong with the use of repair panels, but some people will try to weld them to existing metal which has thinned through rusting (and which will therefore be weak and/or will rust completely through in the fullness of time) instead of replacing the entire affected panel. Where you do find welded joints, assess them, and look for pores, poor penetration and the usual welded joint faults. (See Chapter Five).
Welded joints on external panels are usually well finished and should be invisible, so whenever possible, try to get a look at the inside of the seam. If you find rust there, then expect all repaired welded seams on the car to rust out before too long.

the work-horse

On torsion bar suspension cars, check the front beams for any signs of collision damage, because this can adversely affect the suspension geometry. You'll need to raise the front of the car and use a torch for illumination in order to see the beams. Another sure sign of front-end collision include corrugated flitch panels – turn the steering to full lock and take a look inside the front wings above and to the rear of the bumper mounts.

if you seek a low-cost Beetle to put into immediate daily use, then the state of the mechanical and electrical Components automatically assumes greater importance than it does in the case of the restoration car. If you were to buy an older car with a predominance of tired and worn components, then these would inevitably fail one by by one at unpredictable intervals and the car would never prove reliable. The more recent the car, the better.
The best advice would be to concentrate on finding a low mileage recent car (1302, 1303 and S) which has a full service history (look for the letters FSH in advertisements), or one which has been owned for a long time by a competent and conscienscious DIY mechanic who has not skimped on regular servicing. Proper maintenance includes anticipating at what point in the near future various components are likely to give problems and replacing them before they fail. The vendors of such cars should be able to show you a series of invoices for spare parts (and labour charges if the maintenance has been carried out professionally) to prove that the car has been properly cared for.
The state of the bodywork in such cars is even more important than that of the mechanical components because, whilst a mechanical fault can mean taking the car off the road for perhaps one or two days whilst the fault is rectified, the rectification of bodyrot entails taking the car off the road for far longer – sometimes weeks, sometimes months, if the work has to be carried out on a DIY basis.
Most Beetles are now old enough to have received some degree of bodywork repair and you should assume that a viewed car will have had, or will soon require, such work. As with any other Beetle, you must be vigilant when looking for camouflaged bodyrot and poor repair.
It is advisable to accept from the outset that you are increasingly unlikely to be able to obtain a solid and reliable Beetle cheaply. The vendors of such cars will bear the maintenance plus any repair, new component or bodywork costs in mind when setting the price. In the long run, it is usually cheaper to pay a fair price for a good car than it is to buy the cheapest you can find and suffer a constant stream of repair bills when it breaks down.Avoid cars which have been off the road for any length of time because as previously stated most mechanical, hydraulic and electrical componentsactually age far less when the car is in regular use than they do if the car is left standing idle. Also best avoided are cars on which the vendor has recently spent a lot of money in mechanical repair; this indicates that a
majority of components have reached the end of their useful life and hence that components not repaired or replaced recently will also need attention.
Most large motoring associations will – for a fee –undertake mechanical and body surveys on cars on behalf of members. Motor engineers usually offer the same service. Both will furnish you with a written report on the state of a viewed car and, if you are not confident in your own ability to properly assess the condition of cars then the fee involved in commissioning such a survey could repay itself many times over.
Be wary of cars with brand-new test certificates: some – by no means all – of these cars may have had a minimal amount of work carried out so that they can scrape through the test (which makes them easier to sell) but they could be on the market because either they are unreliable or because the owner wishes to avoid looming repair bills.
Several companies in the UK sell Beetles which they have 'sorted' the mechanics of in-house, and these usually come with a guarantee and can be safe buys. Other companies sell Beetles which they have fully restored and these, too, are a good option for those who want a reliable car. In both cases it pays to deal with companies which are situated fairly close to your home; you don't want to have to drive (or trailer) the car for miles if you have problems with it.

This engine

This engine bay may look a little down at heel due to the poor condition of the pipes, but the fan belt was recent and correctly adjusted, the ignition components were in reasonable condition and the oil was clean — all pointing to a reasonably well looked-after engine.


Lost restorers keep a small stock of project cars which they will have invariably have bought in at low prices and may be persuaded to sell at a small profit.

If you seek a Beetle to be the basis of a restoration (or to re-shell or build up into a Buggy or other kit) then it will pay you to look for a particular type of car. This will be one with a predominance of excellent (recently replaced) mechanical components and good trim but with a shell/chassis which will be in need of some welding. Such cars usually come onto the UK market when they fail the MOT test on bodywork grounds, and they
Usually come very cheaply, even if the hapless vendor has recently spent much money renewing mechanical and electrical components. If the engine or gearbox is claimed to have been replaced recently, ask to see the invoice/receipt, to ensure that the reconditioning was carried out by a reputable company. The price paid for such a car should be a fraction of the sum of the costs of the new and usable components. The advertisements for these cars usually include the pitiful words 'some
Welding needed for MOT'.
If you intend to find a restoration car and repair its rotten body shell then be very careful when checking for previous collision damage. Restoring a straight hodyshell is usually within the capabilities of the enthusiastic amateur, but straightening out a bent one is most certainly the province of the professional. The Beetle spine chassis is particularly strong, although certain heavy collisions could cause mounting points for elements of the steering and suspension to be out of a ignment – a front-end collision, for instance, can move t he frame head and hence the majority of the suspension mounting points. This will make the handling and road holding of the car unpredictable and in most cases will render the car unsafe and certainly unfit for use on theroad. The costs of straightening out such a car would probably prove prohibitive, and a new chassis (floors and spine) might be the only option.
Whilst it is true to say that any car – no matter how badly the body has rotted – can be rebuilt, there is a degree of body and chassis rot which makes body restoration both uneconomic and so difficult that it is inadvisable to attempt a rebuild unless you have access to jigs to help align panels, a deep enough pocket to buy in a lot of quite expensive body repair and replacement panels. Such cars are best considered candidates for either re-shelling or conversion into one of the kit cars which come complete with their own chassis.
Check that the car has been maintained properly by examining the state of the oil, and checking whether the engine bay and engine ancillaries (especially the distributor cap and other elements of the ignition system) are covered in dirt or oil. A car on which maintenance has been skimped will furnish mainly dubious spares, and the last thing you want is a freshlyrestored car which keeps breaking down whenever another component decides to fail. Engine oil plays an important role in preventing the engine from overheating. If a car has poor oil pressure or low oil level and has been run in that condition, then it will have run far too hot, and component wear will have been high.
If you want a quick and easy re-shell or kit car build­up, avoid cars which have been standing idle for any length of time. Many mechanical components appear to deteriorate more quickly when the car is left standing than they do if the car is kept in regular use. Another point against cars which have not run for some time is the likelihood that many of the nuts and bolts will have seized solid, making the initial strip-down far more difficult and frustrating than it need be and giving you no option but to cut, drill or grind away seized fittings, which must of course be replaced with new ones at mounting cost. Even worse, there is always the danger that whilst dealing with a recalcitrant fitting you will damage the associated component.It is a good idea to seek a car which, although in poor bodily condition, is sound enough be used on the road for however short a period before the test certificate expires. Using the car on the road will help to highlight any looming mechanical problems which can then be dealt with at leisure during the restoration.
The very best Beetle for a restoration is one which, although it may have some body rot, has not previously been bodged. When the author asked the Beetle Specialist Workshop to keep an eye open for a Beetle forhimself, they managed to find a 1970 1500 (RVJ 403H – soon given the name 'Project') which had failed the MOT on bodywork but which had no previous evidence of bodywork repair excepting some body filler on external panels – a car which, in BSW workshop manager Terry Ball's own terminology, had 'not been got at'.
The rot on Project included the heater channel rear ends, sections of the floor pans, the rear body mounting points within the wheel arches and the rear bumper
21month. Plenty of rot – but honest rot. If you can find much a car then the restoration will be so much the tier.


The first question to be addressed is which Beetle? The Beetle world appears to be split into two camps which might be summed up as the 'traditionalists' and the 'radicals' – both love the Beetle, but in different ways. The traditionalists like the Beetle just the way it is, and whilst some might view the whole subject of customization as slightly infra dig, most will accept the custom enthusiast as a kindred spirit. The radicals favors one of the various schools of customization, and might view the standard car as OK for those who like that sort of thing – but not for them.
The Beetle is all things to all men; some might require an honest, roadworthy and reasonably-priced example, demanding no more of it than reliable daily transport with a little more character than one finds in modern cars; others might seek an early car for restoration or customization whilst yet another group may wish to by-pass the countless hours of hard lab our which go into such projects and buy an already restored or customized example.
Amongst restored Beetles there is a choice between early and late, convertible or closed, original spec or mildly customized; amongst customized examples there are Cal lookers, Bajas, Beach Buggies and Rails, plus innumerable one-off specials – the range of available options is immense.


Because there, are so many Beetles in existence, buying one is blindingly easy. Buying a good one is not. Although time-proven as a rugged and long-lived car, many examples (especially the older ones) will be suffering from advanced, often camouflaged, body rot or serious, mechanical problems which render them unsafe for road use. Sometimes cars with dangerous body rot are sold honestly at low prices as `restoration project' cars, but quite often the problems are hastily and shoddily covered up and the car sold dishonestly and sometimes at quite high prices as roadworthy. It can be
difficult even for an experienced person to assess the true condition of a car with expertly camouflaged body rot, although mechanical problems are often self-evident, for example when they noticeably affect some aspect of the performance of the car, such as poor braking, road holding or acceleration. Some mechanical faults, however, are less evident and demand an expert knowledge of the car and of how to properly appraise it.
Many of the Beetles which come onto the market may be advertised as restored and offered at an appropriately high price when in fact they have been incompetently repaired by a DIY enthusiast, or a back­street body shop. Price is no guarantee of quality. Many of the customized examples which are offered for sale may have been converted in a similarly slipshod manner, and even the best-looking and highest-priced of both restored and customized cars can actually be in poor condition. A few may even be death-traps.
Another pitfall awaits the unwary buyer: as the prices realized by Beetles continue to rise, the cars become more tempting targets for thieves who, using a variety of devices, fraudulently sell the cars on to honest buyers who will lose both their car and their money when the true identity of the car becomes known to the authorities.
So, despite the Beetle's exceptionally robust construction and reliability, finding a genuinely good example can be as problematic as finding a good example of any aged car.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Driving the Beetle

Transaxle jacking and its effect on road/tyre grip. The car is going around a right hand bend. When the transaxle lifts, the heavily loaded outer wheel develops positive camber 'A', whereas the lightly loaded inner wheel develops negative camber 'B'. Grip is greatly reduced.

Driving a Beetle is very different from driving a more recent car. The seemingly lazy, slow revving engine which lacks straight bhp in fact delivers sufficient torque to get, and keep you, on the move without ever breaking into a sweat and, although the nought to sixty mph times are anything but impressive, the torque always seems to be there when you need it for overtaking. Ignore the speedometer reading at your peril; the slow engine revolutions are deceptive and can lull inexperienced Beetle drivers into driving far more quickly than they suspect.
The interiors of all Beetles are spartan in comparison with most modern cars. The seat bases are passably comfortable but the seat backs lack proper support, most noticeable when cornering. Instrumentation is kept to a bare minimum, displaying the speed and fuel tank contents but not the revs, oil pressure or engine temperature. Quite in keeping for a car which revels in being an anachronism in its own lifetime! Driver visibility is generally excellent, although all four wings are hidden from view, which perhaps explains the high numbers of town Beetles with dented wings!
The unnecessarily huge steering wheel coupled with the massive rear weight bias of the car makes the steering so light – even when manoeuvring at car park speed – that you could be forgiven for wondering whether Ferdinand Porsche cunningly hid a power steering pump within the steering box. Put a few too many psi in the front tyres, though, and the car feels as though the dampers at the front have failed; the eccentric bush-induced understeer is also increased which, coupled with the bouncing of the front end, can make cornering a little too exciting.

Correctly shod and with no weak points in the suspension and especially the dampers, Beetles can go around tight corners at considerable speed as sure-footedly as if they were Рexcuse the clich̩ Рrunning on a pair of rails. Push the car a fraction too hard, though, and the rear end can break away into massive oversteer or in extreme cases a spin so quick and vicious that even the most experienced drivers can have trouble gaining control of the car.
The problem is one of weight distribution. Having the weight of the transaxle and engine over the rear wheels gives plenty of traction to get you moving on slippery surfaces, but when centrifugal forces become great enough during hard cornering, this mass possesses great potential energy which makes its presence felt the moment the rear wheels lose traction. Few people, though, ever drive so close to the limit for this – the so-called 'dumbbell effect' – to be a problem.
Swing axle cars are more prone to snap into oversteer than more recent semi-trailing arm cars because their rear wheels suffer constantly variable camber. Unlike the later Beetles which had universal Joints at either end of their drive shafts, early 'swing axle' car drive shafts possessed only one UJ at the differential end. Because the transaxle which houses the differential rises and falls relative to the road (and thence the wheels) its angle alters that of the drive shafts and the hubs and wheels which were fixed to them. When the rear centre of gravity of these cars rises on a tight bend, the heavily loaded outside wheel develops a positive camber angle (which gives very poor grip). This rise in the centre of gravity is exacerbated if, for some reason, the driver lifts off the accelerator pedal – or worse, applies the brakes – part-way through the corner. When that happens at speed, the dumbbell effect is increased greatly.
Ixperienced Beetle drivers will be mindful of the potential dumbbell effect and will not rush headlong into blind corners which could conceal some obstacle which would force them to take avoiding action while the rear Suspension was loaded.
The fact that the engine and gearbox of the Beetle

re situated over the driving wheels brings one hugee benefit; their weight gives those wheels great traction
nd hence the car excels when used on slippery surfaces KtInd off-road. The Beetle will go where most other cars Imply sit still and spin their driving wheels, and even e Iron t-engined, front wheel drive car takes second lace to the Beetle because, although its engine and gearbox might place weight over the driving wheels, the rearwards transfer of static mass which occurs when torque is applied to the wheels lessens their tyres' grip.
15So, the Beetle is not especially rapid, comfortable nor well-behaved on the road when compared to modern cars; why then, do Beetle drivers gain more pleasure from driving their cars than those in more recent or more exotic machinery? The answer is simply that the Beetle driver can enjoy the Beetle experience. He or she wants to savour the sensations which only the Beetle can provide.

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