Because the Beetle is blessed with that rugged spine chassis, the strength of many pressings and assemblies –particularly the sill/heater channel assemblies – is arguably not quite so vital as is the case with their equivalent on monocoque bodied cars. However, the only real difference between the two is that the Beetle with rotten sills but a sound spine chassis is unlikely to suffer any distortion capable of moving suspension mounting points, whereas the monocoque bodyshell with rotten sills can easily be bent to the point that the suspension mountings are moved – which makes the cars unsafe to drive and which means that repairs have to be carried out with the aid of a jig (McPherson strut Beetles do rely on the flitch panel for the top damper mounting, so the foregoing is not really applicable to them). The actual work entailed in rectifying bodyrot on the Beetle can be as difficult and time-consuming as the same work on any other car. When assessing the bodywork of a Beetle which you intend to buy, therefore, it pays to be as thorough as if it were any other car.
The suspension mounting points of the Beetle can, it should be pointed out, be bent in a frontal collision. A bent front axle is a sure sign that not only has the car been involved in a heavy collision but also that the damage rectification was less than thorough.
Do bear in mind that it is usually more difficult and time-consuming to repair bodged previous bodywork repairs than it is to deal with honest to goodness rot. Furthermore, there can be little more dispiriting than to discover that a car is heavily bodged only after you have started work on what you believed to be a
straightforward restoration. Once you discover just one shoddy bodywork repair, then you really have no option but to strip the entire body down in order that you can find all similarly bodged panels.
One last point in this preamble; Beetles with sound
floorpans, heelboards, A and B posts, rear body mounting panels, bumper brackets and heater channels etc. will never come cheaply, and, in the experience of the author (and this is confirmed by Terry Ball), Beetles which are offered at low prices always require welded repair or replacement of one or more of these components. Beetles which are sound in these vital areas but which may have poor paintwork and tatty interiors can often be found advertised at prices similar to cars with plenty of rot on the inside but gloss on the outside and plush interior trim. Given a choice between the two, take the former.
When you go to view a car, you will need to take the following: a notebook and pen to note down any faults which you find; this will furnish you with a list of faults which might – taken as a whole – put you off a car or perhaps give you a useful bargaining tool; a magnet to test for misuse of bodyfiller; a jack and a pair of axle stands; a torch to help you see into dark crevices and a sharp implement such as an old screwdriver which you can prod into suspect metal to see whether it is sound or rotting; a pair of goggles, gloves and overalls will be needed if the inspection gets serious and you climb under the car.
Before getting dirty, however, you might care to examine the external panels – what you discover there might rule the car out before you have to don overalls. Begin by examining the visible external body panels for signs of rivelling; this is corrugations usually caused by heat build-up during gas welding, but also possibly a sign of badly finished bodyfiller which is hiding collision damage. You can see rivelling best by viewing along the panel concerned with your eye positioned a few inches above its surface, and this will also allow you to see dents more clearly. If the paintwork is covered with a thin layer of grime (giving it a matt finish) then you will not be able to see any but the largest dents, so ask the vendor to give any dirty panels a wipe with a damp cloth in order for you to be able to examine them properly.
Pay particular attention to the roof panel and pillars. Because quite a few Beetles have been rolled onto their
roofs over the years, some cars will be found to have dents which have been roughly beaten out then filled up with bodyfiller. Some bodgers don't bother to beat out roof dents because this entails removing the head lining – and the worst won't even clean and key the surface for the filler. If there is more than the thinnest skim of filler on the roof panel (or, indeed, any other panel) then you should suspect that the work was carried out to a very poor standard. If you find any evidence of filler in the roof pillars other than a very thin skim covering a welded joint, then the car has probably been rolled and it has most certainly been bodged.
On de-seamed cars check for heavy use of filler around the areas where the seams used to be. If a thick layer of filler is found here, then the chances are that `de-seaming' the car entailed hammering the seams inwards and flushing over with bodyfiller! A car treated thus has nothing to commend it.
Whilst checking the roof and pillars, check the metal near the window rubbers, because if the window has been replaced without sealant, water will have entered the rubber seal and caused rusting of the metal lip underneath. In time, this will spread under the paintwork surrounding the rubber. If this area is freshly-painted, incidentally, then it is probably to hide rusting of the metal lip – not too difficult a repair apart from refitting the screen afterwards, but nevertheless an indication that the car has been `tarted-up' for sale. If the window seals are in poor condition then you should expect to find some rusting from within on panels underneath; if the door window rubber is perished, for instance, then rusting out of the door skin and door bottom is likely. Whilst on the subject of doors, check for filler and GRP repairs right in the middle of the door skin, because there is a panel behind this which holds water against the skin. Carefully check door gaps and the hinges and their surrounds for evidence of brutality being employed to make the door fit — this can take the form of spacers or even washers hammered in front of the hinge to force it backwards, buckling of the skin adjacent to the hinge (either crash damage or extreme brutality when fitting the door) and obviously damaged paintwork on the hinges.
Lift the front (luggage compartment) lid: if you are immediately greeted with the aroma of petrol then either the fuel tank or line are leaking and the car should not be run until the problem has been identified and cured. Disconnect the battery immediately and inform the vendor of the problem and the dangers of using the car, smoking in its vicinity etc.Check that the lid seal is in position and in good condition and examine the edge seams for rust; if you discover any, then you may well also find that the luggage floor and/or the side channels are rusted. If the rusting of the visible section of the luggage floor is bad then anticipate having to either patch or replace thispressing (the latter is a difficult task, because only LHD versions appear to be available) and probably also the inner wing/flitch panels at the same time (a task for only advanced DIY'ers).
The spare wheel well will normally also be rusted if the luggage floor is and, if you find that the spare wheel well has recently been replaced on a car which has bad rusting of the adjacent pressings then you will probably find that all bodywork repairs throughout the car have involved welding good metal next to bad, so that a total rebuild is called for.
On cars fitted with McPherson strut front suspension, the loadings from the concentric spring damper unit (i.e. the shocks transmitted from bumps in the road) are fed into the flitch panels. Any rusting or signs of patching/bodging in these panels — especially in the vicinity of the strut top mountings — is to be considered very serious. Don't go by looks alone, because it is not unknown for these vital areas to be smartened with GRP and bodyfiller — check for metal using a magnet and, if you have any cause for doubt regarding the strength of the area it is best to reject the car or to consider it as a restoration project only. Flitch panel replacement is one of the most difficult (and expensive) jobs in Beetle restoration, and in reality the province of the professional and specialist restorer.
Open the doors. and examine them for signs of rusting, in addition to the centre of the panel as already described, also check the lower quarter of the skin and
This rotten parcel shelf end has been treated to a lump of bodyfiller and, because the hole was so large, this was reinforced with chicken mesh (not an unusual combination of materials for `repair' in rural areas – the car hailed from Herefordshire). Because the area was small, this was not too difficult an area to patch (but watch out for similar bodging in more important areas). More extensive rot in the parcel shelf can cause real restoration headaches.the door base. Attempting to lift the doors will reveal whether there is too much play in the hinges. The A and B posts rot at their bases, so check for signs of rusting and for camouflaged rot and shoddy welded patch repairs. If the sill/heater channel assembly appears to be in better condition than the bottoms of the A and B posts, then this indicates that the heater channel was welded onto rusted steel and means that both will probably have to be renewed together – a time-consuming task. The side of the car between the B post and rear wheel arch (the quarter panel) tends to rot at its base and again, if the heater channel appears to be in better condition than this panel then the car has been bodged.
Inside the car, the most obvious areas to seek rust are the sill/heater channel assembly and the floor pans. It is common (though not good) practice to patch repair the heater channels, especially on cars which have rot in adjacent bodywork, such as the door posts and car side. If the heater channel is patch repaired, anticipate finding rot in the whole assembly and, if the heater channel alone has been replaced, count on having to rebuild the lot at a future date. If the heater channel has been repaired or replaced, look for signs of burnt rubber which will be the remains of the belly pan gasket! If the car is carpeted, then this will have to be lifted out and, if you discover that the carpet is glued to the heater channels, it is best to either seek permission from the vendor to remove it so that the channel can be examined thoroughly or to suspect that new heater channels will be required. The same goes for the floor pan and, if the carpet is glued down then at the very least you should be able to lift the edges (which is where rot is most likely).
Lift the carpet and/or sound-deadening material from the rear parcel shelf and check the state of the metal. Rust here indicates a long-term problem with a leaking rear window rubber, and is usually dealt with by
patching – far from an ideal solution. The only really satisfactory way to deal with a rotted parcel shelf is complete replacement, along with the adjoining panels which will usually also have rotted – in other words, a bodyshell-off restoration.
If the floor is suspected of having weakness but a close inspection is not possible because of carpet glued to the topside and underseal underneath, then sit in each front seat in turn, hold the sides of the seat firmly and push downwards with your feet. A rotten floor pan will flex considerably under such provocation and you might even hear cracking sounds as rust flakes break lodse. A rotten floorpan or even a partly rotten one means a bodyshell-off restoration.
Still on the subject of the sill/heater channel, one thing you can check without getting your hands dirty is the condition of the jacking point. When rotten, these collapse up into the sill structure. A common 'repair' is to weld a sturdy steel plate onto the sill above the jacking point; this panel will effectively have sealed off the drain hole and the sill can be expected to rust through in record time afterwards! Later in the examination of the car you will have to jack it up in order to see underneath; if you hear crunching sounds as the jack begins to take the weight of the car then it is better to find alternative jacking points than to risk being blamed for pushing up the jacking point and crushing the sill – which is likely.
Before leaving the subject of the heater channel assembly and floorpans, some people have been known to weld the two together, whereas they should really be bolted. If you discover that the heater channels are welded to the floorpans then this indicates that the car has been most horribly bodged and is worth very little because of the amount of work which will be required to put it right!
When heater channels are replaced, the correctmethod involves lifting off the bodyshell complete with
37remnants of old channels, bolting new heater channels on the floorpan edges, then cutting the old channels from the bodyshell and lowering the shell back onto the chassis for welding to the heater channels. When this sequence is not followed, the holes in the floorpan and heater channel assembly don't line up, with the result that either the heater channels are welded to the floorpan as already described, or new holes are drilled in the floor edge to accept the heater channel fixing bolts. Some cars have extremely enlarged or multiple holes along the floorpan edge because of this; unfortunately these holes cannot be seen until the bolts and washers have been removed. This is not a problem in itself, but a sure sign of shoddy restoration which will be repeated throughout the rest of the car.