Monday, 20 February 2017

100th Post! Meeting Gretchen's original family

Yes indeed, I have now reached the numerically significant milestone of 100 posts! Pretty good going for me as I have a habit of starting journals and abandoning them after a month or so. However, the restoration of Gretchen has been rather special and I always feel compelled to continue documenting not only the progress being made, but also some of the personal history which helps enrich the story of her resurrection.

Fittingly for this anniversary post I am going to discuss a magical experience I managed to orchestrate last week. After many years of researching, tracing and planning I finally got to meet a true gentleman and someone very special to Gretchen's history; Alan is one of the car's original owners! He owned the trusty Beetle from 1968 - 88, which officially makes him the longest registered keeper (until 2020 when that title will default to me). I also had the privilege of meeting his lovely wife, Jean, as well as re-meeting his daughter, Alison, who used the car as a daily driver during the 1980's. Why did I use the peculiar word 're-meeting' just then you may wonder? Well, the story gets a bit unusual here and I need to back up a little to shed some light on a particular background event...

I had previously met Alison very briefly back in 2000 (possibly 2001), when I was a teenage college student and was working every weekend at a big DIY store back in my hometown. I can still recall the moment so vividly; she approached me excitedly when I was walking back to the car after finishing my regular Sunday shift. She was convinced it was her oId family car and explained that she was called Gretchen and this name had been affectionately handwritten in bubble writing on the original (long lost) owners manual. It was a completely unexpected chance encounter! I should point out here that I purchased Gretchen from Welling in Kent, some 80 miles away from my hometown, so the likelihood of this arbitrary situation occurring was remote. Also, judging by the old log books, Gretchen had travelled the country under the ownership of the 6 previous owners between Alan and eventually myself, so its not as though the car had stayed local during those intervening years! For some reason I didn't think to exchange contact details with Alison back then (something I have often regretted) and we did not see each other again after occasion. Until now that is. It was terrific to reintroduce myself and reminisce about that chance meeting in a car park 16 years ago. It makes me laugh that she can still quote what I said as a na├»ve closing remark "I'm doing her up". Haha, yeah, it only took me another decade to get around to making a start on that promise!

Alan and his family were so warm and welcoming. It was a privilege to personally discuss memories connected with the car and I brought them up-to-speed with the progress I had been making with the restoration. I was relieved that they were impressed with my efforts and seeing how happy they all were that she was being put back together has further fuelled my motivation for this project. They even suggested that I should consider looking into working at a professional restoration garage - high praise indeed from the very people whose opinions I value the highest!

Interestingly Alan and Jean recently relocated from the other side of the country to my old hometown, which is what prompted me to arrange a visit. I mean, if that is not a sign then I don't know what is! However, it turns out they are actually close neighbours with my uncle, living next door but one! This was something I only realised just after our visit and is another unbelievable related coincidence that further boggles my mind!

I have found that making new friends across generations through a shared personal connection with an automobile is one of the most rewarding aspects of owning a classic car. Certainly an aspect that was unforeseen by me, especially when I think back to the wide-eyed 18 year old me that just wanted a cool looking slammed pre-67 Beetle with shiny alloy wheels.

The highlight of this perfect morning when I presented Alan with Gretch's old faded front numberplate. It was genuinely touching moment:

Alan and me, 11th February 2017.

Big thanks to Alan for granting permission for me to use this photo and to talk about the experience. Special thanks also to Jean and Alison for their kindness and hospitality.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Auf Wiedersehen heater channels!

With the car firmly braced up the time had come for some brutal surgery! I started with the rear crossmembers and marked the location of all the spot-welds ready for drilling out:

A few areas had small weld stitch welds about an inch or so long, these were ground back using the dremel tool as I did not want to over grind the area, which is easily done with an angle grinder:

The Y-piece heater tubes had small blobs of brazing on the top and underneath to join them to the inlets of the heater channels. I also ground these back:

After a while of having fun with the power tools, the old crusty panels came free with forceful wiggle:

The old and the new (yep, there was quite a bit of material missing from that outer edge!):

Getting the remains of the heater channels out was largely the same process. Locate and drill out spot welds:

Cut carefully around and just to the inside of the seam welds of the B pillars and hack through the A posts ( I didn't have to be so precise here as these will be replaced):

Out they come ...after some twisting, tugging and leverage from a big flat headed screwdriver:

Comparison of the old and the new:

Interesting little discovery - the outer skin of the passenger side heater channel had apparently been patched up in the past using a now obsolete 'Veng' repair panel. Sticker still intact on the inside, as seen through several layers of corrosion:

With both channels now out of the car it would've been rude not to have a quick test fit of the Klassic Fab replacements:

Still some minor adjustments to make in order to make them sit right; namely, the carpet retaining strips that sit along the bottom edges of the door apertures appear to be too far back and foul both of the B-pillars. Nothing that a little trim wont take care of though. On the whole I would say it is looking fresh!

Edit (27/02/2017): The marginally incorrect position of the carpet retaining strips were really bugging me, particularly as they cost a pretty penny to buy. Klassic Fab are know for their outstanding attention to detail and it seemed a shame that this was letting the overall quality down. I sent my feedback to the UK vendor of the channels who got in touch with Gerson over at KF on my behalf. This is an extract of the replies I received:

"We got an email back from Gerson and hes checked all the channels he has and they are all the same. Hes sold over 400 pairs but has been told this by 2 other customers so he is now aware of it. He said that he thinks people just cut the small part out or de-spot weld and re-spot weld the strip."

"thank you for your email, yes Gerson knows all about this now so he will make sure that these are right in the future."

Happy to hear that this minor issue will be addressed going forward. Klassic Fab are a real asset to the aircooled VW restoration community and I am reassured by the fact that they take customer feedback onboard to improve their products.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Brace yourselves!

In preparation for the major bodywork surgery that is required to the bottom portion of the car, I decided it would be wise to upgrade the temporary bracing that was currently held in place with self tapping screws. I opted to add turnbuckles to the middle of the door apertures to allow for fine adjustment of the door gaps when the time finally comes to weld the new heater channels in place.

I took a trip across town to the steel merchants to buy some fresh 40 x 40 angle iron (3mm thick) and also picked up some M12 turnbuckles (I originally purchased some M10 turnbuckles online, but they felt a little flimsy for the task at hand):

After an hour of faffing I produced these little beauties:

Dry fitted to the car so that tweaks to final positioning could be made:

Welding the bracing to the body was a bit of a concern as too much heat would cause warpage to surrounding bodywork and too little would ....well, lets just say that there would be no point in adding the bracing if the welds were that weak. I practiced on some scrap steel and played with the MIG settings until I had found a happy medium.

With all the joining surfaces cleaned back to gleaming steel, I started adding a series of strong tacks. I then added cross support bracing to ensure that everything was robust and firm. This was the grand result:

Thanks to Stu_b over on the Volkszone forum for his input and for sharing photos of his bracing arrangement (which I pretty much carbon copied here!).

Now the real work can begin!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Happy New ...Rear bumper mount!

So, the rear bumper mount has now gone from this:

to this:

Pretty happy with my welding and it has ground down nicely (still requires a little bit of fine finishing). All is good ...or is it? You see, I made a rookie mistake along the way and I am now unsure if it is going to come back to bite me. Lets put the order of events into sequence and I shall explain...

After a lot of measuring (hours) I started cutting out the old bad steel progressively. I was continuously holding the new panel in place to ensure that I wasn't cutting too far back.
More hours of fitting and finessing later I had the panel 'dry fitted' and held in place with intergrips and c-clamps: 

The edges around the section to be welded were meticulously cleaned with the drill mounted wire brush to ensure a solid weld free of contaminates. I then started to tack the panel on, adjusting the profile and gently massaging everything into line where required:

Built up my tacks until I had a solid welded area, except for the rear section which needed cutting back further to remove mangled steel. I will eventually fabricate a suitable infill piece (see first pic above for the initial signs of that):

Good penetration on the rear side. I have now found the sweet spot within the settings of my welder for butt welding these thin body panels:

I ground the welds back and was feeling pretty good! 

I then thought I would chuck the old rear wing on to assess the fit and marvel at my handiwork. This is when I realised the error of my ways - I should have done this before commencing the welding! Basically, the two captive nuts on the repair panel did not line up well with the wing - although the edge profile did flow nicely (something at least!). It appears to me that the repair panel is possibly sitting a fraction too low. However, I am not sure I trust that old wing as it could have been knocked out of shape from the rear end shunt the car is know to have had. Plus, in general the wing was looking pretty forlorn, so I really need to repeat the fitment test with a decent wing before I jumped to a firm conclusion.

I will leave this section as it is for now and revisit at a later date - possibly with a reciprocating saw and a diction of crass expletives!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Hecho en Mexico!

Fortune was on my side last week as I was able to get my grubby mitts on some genuine VW panels (made in Mexico) from a chap who lives less than a couple of miles from me:

They are in 'as new' condition, but have been in storage for some time as you can tell from the slight discolouration of the crossmembers. In fact, he mentioned he had been slowly collecting various Beetle panels for years for his own project, but these were now surplus to requirements. The front right quarter panel and left rear cross member are now discontinued, so they rarely pop up for resale. For once I was in the right place at the right time!

The rear crossmembers do not share exactly the same profile as the original mid-sixties type, but the steel is a lot thicker and pressings crisper compared to current reproductions on the market. I confident that they are going to fit without too much faffing around;

Authentic VW factory sticker still just about hanging in there:

I am really impressed with the front quarter. It is designed for '68 and later vehicles, but can be made to fit my '65 with a few adaptions to the bumper mounts, petrol tank support rail and of course the deletion of the fuel filler recess. Just got to source the other Mexi side now (thankfully still available from the usual stockists);

Feels good to have some virgin VW steel to use in this resto. The resulting finish wont be a 100% year accurate build, but as I am more concerned with strength and functionality I can live with a solid car that hits the 95% mark. Christmas has come early!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Rear valance removal

To start proper repair work on my bumper hangers I needed to detach the rear valance/apron. To begin with I removed the (incorrect) patch panel that had been welded over the top of the original (same old story as before!):

I then removed the buckled engine tray on the passenger side (L/H):

Removing the rear valance basically involves locating and drilling out all the factory spot welds. There are quite a few down the side lips. Most need drilling, but a few had already broken off, having weakened from corrosion:

A few more spot welds inside the engine bay on the upper protruding taps and down the inner flange: 

I then needed to grind a couple of small solid welds on the top edge of the lip:

Same procedure on the other side as you would expect:

And away it comes:

The valance hasn't faired well. The left hand side of the outer skin is misshapen from the rear end shunt (although this doesn't really show in the photos, but it is very obvious in real life). Additionally, the inner reinforcement section has a lot of corrosion and rust holes. It would take a lot of work to get this section anywhere near good again:

I will keep hold of it for reference, but ultimately replace it with a high quality BBT reproduction.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Salvaging an engine bay side tray

The time has come for me to start getting serious with the shell. I decided to set to work on the drivers (right) side rear of the car, just because I had the best assess to this section in its current orientation. First job was to get rid of the incorrect bumper hanger that had been welded straight over the original:

Presumably when the original bumper mount had rotted out to the point where it was ineffective this later model repair panel was just slapped over the top. I will never understand why garages never seem to cut out the old rusty area first; patching over the top just becomes a hot spot for further corrosion to form and spread with vigour! I guess it comes down to saving time and doing the minimum possible to keep the car on the road for the short-term. After all, the previous owners were most likely just using the car as a cheap daily driver with no concept that it will one day be regarded as a cherished classic and subsequently undergo a major restoration. I remind myself not to judge them too harshly for not future proofing and opting for low cost repairs. I now regard these typical slap-dash patches as the 'standard practice' which kept the car roadworthy in the past and thus saved it from the scrapyard. To me they are like old scars from a previous hardworking life and their ubiquity doesn't really vex me as much as it used to...

Anyway, I ground off the welds and peeled off the nasty panel:

Next task was to remove the engine side tray located on the inside edge of the above rear quarter:

Removal would obviously enable me to recondition this part easier, but also give me better access to eventually repair the bumper hanger section correctly.

It is worth mentioning that the side tray on the other (L/H) side is not worth saving as it is completely buckled from a rear end shunt (which the original owner explained was caused by a mini sliding on an icy road and crashing into the back of poor Gretch!). As you may have noticed from the previous post, I have got a Hooky replacement tray for that side, which is so accurate that it will be near impossible to know the difference once it is in situ.

I hit the outer area with the drill mounted wire brush to locate the position of the engine bay spot welds and marked them up with a permanent marker (kind of hard to see in the picture below, but they are marked in red):

Having centre punched each of the spots I used my dedicated spot cutting drill bit so that I did not damage the lip of the engine tray behind, which I was trying to keep intact.There were also a few spot welds that I drilled out at the bottom of the firewall from behind:

After switching to the Dremmel tool to cut a few little additional weld blobs that were holding it in place, I managed to remove the side tray without any drama:

Rusty R/H tray compared to the new Hooky L/H tray:

I cleaned off the flaky loose crud and then shot blast the entire thing:

Needs a few repairs and flanges straightening, but it seems solid enough to reuse: