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.

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