Second Time Around (update 2)

[When I last reported on the second restoration of my 1952 Split, 'Val', the chassis and the underside of the body had been completely restored and re-painted.]

Since then quite a lot more progress has been achieved. The body and chassis have been re-united and the front axle and gearbox re-instated. This was all achieved single handed apart from replacing the front axle, which was really too heavy and unwieldy to handle on by own. With all the wheels back on, 'Val' is beginning to look more like a real car again instead of a seemingly limitless collection of parts. This process 'should' have been relatively straight forward (where have I heard that before) but typically was not without problems and some drama.

The first part of the process was to replace the gear shift selector rod and the handbrake push rod inside the central tunnel of the chassis. Both these tasks are far easier to do at this stage but none the less are still awkward. The gear shift rod has to pass through a circular guide bracket, which is located on the inside of the tunnel just to the rear of the gear lever hole and refitting the handbrake push rod necessitates connecting it up to the handbrake lever. Both these tasks were quite tedious and frustrating. A new master brake cylinder was then fitted as were all the brake lines. These were a set of copper pipes with brass unions that I obtained from 'Automec'. They were expensive but look fabulous and are immune to corrosion.

The chassis was fitted with a new rubber seal. This comes in a single continuous length but must be carefully cut into a number of separate strips. Great care is needed here, as there is only just enough for the entire job. From the factory this is hammered into place with some dreadful helical chassis nails. The chassis was already drilled with holes to take these but, to me, these create instant sites for corrosion and are a constant hazard to your fingers when working under the car. Therefore instead of these I used the nylon clips used on the door seals of 1303 Beetles and early Golfs. These do not break the paint film and won't lacerate the fingers of the unwary. The rubber seal was then carefully pierced in the designated spots for the body to chassis securing bolts.

With the body back on the chassis there are then 34 bolts to locate and tighten. Along each sill there are nine M8 bolts, each with their own reinforcement plates. There are another two pairs of these inside the car, on each side of the central tunnel under the back seat, making 22 such fasteners in all. These bolts are pointed to help guide them into place through the holes made in the rubber seal. At the Slough Swapmeet, I had managed to get hold of a complete kit of these made from stainless steel, which are far superior and cheaper than the plated originals, which soon corrode. There are then two M10 bolts that screw into the top of the front axle, just behind where the spare wheel sits, and another of the same size in the rear wheel arches next to the shock absorber mountings.

Again under the back seat, there are 2 more M1 0 bolts on either side, and a further pair beneath each door pillar. These latter ones can be very difficult to align, as they fit into captive plates in the base of the door pillar, which are loose and can easily get misaligned or bunged up with dirt and paint. I find it best to locate these first, by using very long bolts, M10 X 80mm, and once everything lines up properly replace them with correct M1 0 x 50mm ones.

I started by fitting all the M10 bolts, but found that the body would not sit centrally between the two 'horns' of the front axle. I am reliably informed that this is not unusual, as the body can distort whilst off the chassis and in the '50's the alignment probably wasn't that precise in the first place. Having achieved the best possible compromise, all of the M1 0 bolts were tighten and I set about the marathon of fitting all the M8 bolts, along the sills and under the back seat. As I lay on the cold garage floor under the battery compartment I was quietly relieved when the last bolt went into place. This feeling was quickly replaced with one of shock and horror as I could see a chink of daylight between the rubber seal and the body. There was an obvious gap, which could not be closed by tightening the bolts any further. This gap must have been there after the first restoration and, having let water enter the car, explained the patch of rust that had formed on the inside of the floor in front of the battery. There was only one thing to do, the body and chassis had to be separated again and a copious amount of black sealant injected into the gap. With the body back in place the gap was closed and all the 34 fasteners had to be tightened again. This was where the second calamity occurred. One of the captive nuts in the sill sheared with a sickening crack. This left me with a bolt, which could neither be tightened nor removed.

Not only did the captive nut turn as I tried to tighten the bolt, but it emitted a sickening grating noise. My first though was that the sill was full of rust and that all my worst fears would be realised. The body would have to taken off yet again and more welding and painting would be necessary! This prompted a retreat to the house, a cup of tea and the donning of my thinking cap.

After a while I hit on a possible solution to my dilemma. If I cut a small inspection hole in the sill on the inside of the car, where the carpet is attached, I might be able to get an open ended spanner onto the nut? It would depend on whether the metal duct, which runs down the inside of the sill, would allow this. Having cut a very neat rectangular hole about 3 cm long by 1 cm high in the sill, I was relieved to find that this idea worked. I managed to get a spanner onto the nut and remove it. It was then a simple task to fit a new nut and washer (made of stainless steel like almost every other fastener on the car), and tighten the bolt down. I also discovered the reason for the grating noise when the nut broke free. It wasn't due to rust, but the presence of grit left over from way back in 1988 when I had the entire bodyshell grit blasted, 'first time around'. The interior of the sill was completely rust free.

With 'Val' looking more like a complete car again, my next step was to replace the rear panel or 'H' valance. Readers may recall that this part of the car was badly corroded and, to eradicate the rust completely, removing the panel was the only option. It was held in place by a series of spot welds down each side, which were taken out with a drill, and four small tack welds inside the engine compartment, which were carefully removed with an angle grinder.

Like many Beetles of her era the rear panel had been 'butchered' at some time so that a starting handle could be fitted. This had not been done in a neat or sympathetic fashion, as a crude rectangular shaped hole had literally been 'hacked' out of the panel. During the first restoration my original welder had done a neat job patching up the hole, but to get a smooth finish a lot of lead and filler had to be used. Not ideal here, as the heat from the exhaust system can soon cause the paint to crack. Also, part of the all important 'H' pattern had been damaged so, 'second time around', I decided to try and obtain a new panel.

The centre section of the original rear valance had been cut to fit a starting handle. The pattern of the crude rectangular hole can still just be seen and, despite being expertly repaired, the damage to the H pattern and the bracket that holds the engine cover catch are still evident. This could be further disguised with filler but was not the preferred option on this occasion.

Obviously none of the usual sources could supply such a panel and those from later cars are the wrong shape. Trying to find an NOS item was pointless, as in nearly 30 years of attending shows in the UK and in Germany I have never come across one. By comparison, skips loads of the proverbial hen's teeth or piles of rocking horse poo are quite common. This meant either finding a good second hand item, i.e. one cut from a similar vehicle, or a good quality reproduction item. I chose the latter option. Wolfparts in Sweden supply such a panel but the pictures on their website suggested that this was only the outer skin and with currency change and carriage it would have cost well over 300.

This prompted me to contact club member Wolfgang Gips, who frequently advertises parts for sale in the magazine. As luck would have it, he had such a panel, which he had obtained in Germany for a Type 82e he is restoring. However, Wolfgang had a change of heart and decided he wanted to restore the old panel instead. I can understand this view as, with some restorations, and 'Val' is a typical example, you can end up replacing so much that you wonder if it really is the same car anymore. If possible, it is better to retain and repair the original part even if the result is not perfect. However, on my car, the original item really was too rough to put back. The new panel cost me about 250.

Even with this high quality reproduction item, fitting was not to be straight forward. Although the outer skin was near perfect in every way, I discovered that the inner support section, which is to be welded to the inside of the engine compartment, was not the correct shape and would not fit. The curvature profile was wrong and modification seemingly impossible. To remedy this situation would take some radical and potentially foolhardy action. The outer and inner sections of the panel can be separated, but are held together by no less than 24 spotwelds. Removing these myself was not an option, so I took the old panel to a local body shop. Here they used a special 'cobalt' drill to remove the spot welds. This cut through the upper layer of metal on the outer skin leaving the inner support section undamaged. This cost me about 32 to have done and they made an incredibly neat job of it.

Back home it was now my turn to 'kill or cure'. With much trepidation, I took my trusty angle grinder and, using a very thin cutting disc, cut away the inner part of the new panel. This was done in way that left the lip to which the inner section was welded intact on the outer section. I knew that if this went wrong, a lot of money would be 'going down the tubes'. My gamble worked, so I now had the original inner panel, which was reusable, and a new outer panel to fit to the car.

A few days later the welder came back to the house again and both sections were welded into place separately. I decided not to reinstate the 24 spotwelds joining the two sections, as there was no way this could be done neatly without very special equipment, so these will be held together with seam sealer. As I reported to Wolfgang sometime later, the finished result looks 'wunderbar' and well worth all the effort and expense.

With the rear panel welded into place, the next task was to go over the entire body shell, both inside and out, and meticulously fill and smooth out any imperfections and get it all into primer. By the time all this was done it was late autumn once again, so work had to be suspended for yet another winter. Alii will have to do then is to spray on the top coat of paint and that is when the real frustration and grief start. And I (we) do all this for enjoyment!!

In the background, the outer skin cut from the new reproduction panel and, in the foreground, the inner section salvaged from the car's original panel

The finished product after the two separate sections had been welded into place and the area prepared and primed. 'Wunderbar'!

Mike Johnson