Tuesday 28 February 2017

Epic autojumble quest

When I purchased Gretchen back in 2000, the owner before me had carried out a few cosmetic modifications that deviated from true stock appearance. The tasteful alterations included an earlier style 'popes nose' licence plate holder, earlier model of front indicators and a gleaming set of Sprintstar alloy wheels (Flat 4 reproductions). I personally loved the changes he made (I still do!) and they were part of the reason I was drawn to this particular car. To me, they formed part of Gretch's character and I had every intention of keeping these parts as they were. However, a funny thing has happened to my perspective during this restoration journey and I now find myself desiring period correct components. Call me sentimental, but I think this stems from researching the cars history and being in touch with the original owners. I have garnered a different kind of respect for my old Beetle. I feel her original identity needs to be reinstated and celebrated, but with room for a little of my own personal expression. Therefore, I have redefined my vision for the finished car; a stock looking 1965 Beetle, which appears as though it has rolled straight off the factory production line and then slammed with a slightly narrowed 2" front beam (to avoid body modifications). I will add a couple of period accessories and put her back on the original steel wheels with domed logo hubcaps, which have been in storage for the past 15 years...

With this clear vision in mind I have been actively scouring the web for missing or incorrect parts. I have also started searching autojumbles with fresh eyes and recently got lucky at Dubfreeze:

I managed to bag a year correct number plate surround (the white one) within minutes of arriving. Unfortunately it was missing the bulb holder, but I found the correct part on another stall shortly afterwards. As an added bonus it came with a new and unused rubber seal. Later that afternoon I came across another complete unit (surround, lens & bulb holder) that was in slightly better condition and ridiculously cheap! So now I have two to choose from. Curiously, although these surrounds are both correct old parts, one is manufactured by Hass (white one) and the other by Hella (green one). They are almost identical apart from the fact that the Hella version has some additional cylindrical protrusions on the inside. It doesn't particularly matter which one I use (who is really going to know!), but I will try and find out which is native to the early '65 model nonetheless...

Also found a later model RHD accelerator pedal in great condition with hinge pin and return spring:

I have come to realise that early RHD accelerator pedals are unobtainable, so I will graft the bottom section of this one onto my original pedal to make it functional again.

Following my previous success in obtaining some Genuine VW Mexi steel, I managed to get a rear quarter panel (albeit a cannibalised one that has been hacked for cuts) for a bargain £35! 

These obsolete panels are now becoming so scare that the usual aircooled parts vendors were last selling unbutchered ones for in excess of £500! Now, despite several sections being missing, I am fairly certain that I can use some of the steel to repair Gretchen from the swage line down. For the cost of it has got to be worth a punt!

Other autojumble finds I have recently acquired include a couple of OG bumper overiders (to replace my thin repros) and interior grab handles (to replace my damaged/split originals): 

I also got hold of these original front indicators for a song off of eBay. They are in remarkable condition for their age:

Lastly, I acquired a front scuttle section (eBay auction success again!) that has very little rust around the window corners where the de-mister parts exit:

It is cut from a later model Beetle, but the specific donor areas that I require are an exact match, so nobody will ever know. Say. No. More! Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know whatahmean? A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat!

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.