COAL: 1973 VW Sport Bug – I Got The Bug. Or Buggered

(a comment left by 67 Conti turned into a post)      Irrational VW love is indeed a wacky illness. I have a similar story, but mine involved a ’73 Sport Bug. This was a limited edition Super Beetle VW, which only came in yellow or silver in 1973. Had great Recaro-like cloth seats and a special sport steering wheel. Tape stripes around the beltline, and all black trim and bumpers (with bright yellow tape in the center of the bumpers), even the tailpipes were black. Mine was bright (Texas) yellow.

Right out of high school in 1974, I got a job at a VW dealership in the parts dept, and my ride at the time was a well-thrashed ’65 Chevy C10 stripper. I decided that the wisest thing for me to do was buy this VW off our dealership lot and dump the old pickup. I think I paid about $2750 for it, of course with easy monthly payments at God knows what finance rate; I know I never bothered to pay attention, just signed the paperwork. The dealership knew how much (little) I was being paid, plus I had moved out of the parents house recently and split a small rental house with a room mate.

First on the to do list: Must have AC in hot SoCal. No problem, send it down to the docks in Long Beach, where they will install for around $500, with my dealership discount. The office manager at work worked out a weekly payroll deduction for this.

Next on the list, more power. This is where I made another great decision, pull the engine, tear it apart (great having the use of the shop and tools). Send out the case to bore for 92 MM cylinders, send out the heads for big valves and seats (this would come back to haunt me as well). Crane cam, headers with quiet muffler, Holly Bug Spray 2bbl carb (no room for duals with that big square York AC compressor.)

Hurst shifter and aluminum T handle and a set of black and gold coco mats, fake wood dash and knob inserts (these were real wood)! A used set of American Mag wheels, and painting the brake drums and engine sheet metal matching bright yellow completed the build. Except everyone at the dealership said the front end was too high, one of the mechanics heated the front coil springs to bring the nose down a little bit.

I was in hog heaven, could blast up the grapevine at 75 MPH AC running full blast windows up in August passing everyone in the little Beetle with it’s high compression 1835 cc engine. I was in ultimate VW heaven, for about a year and a half. People in late model malaise Camaro’s and the like would follow me home wondering how the VW could keep up with and even pass them. I was so proud of that Sport Bug.

Then it all began to unwind. After about 25k miles, one morning I started it and a loud clanging sound began, after a few seconds all was well. It did this a couple of times, always only on a cold start. I tore the engine down, all the techs and I inspected the engine, everything appeared to be in good condition, so back together it went. Of course, the same thing happened again, and after a couple of months a cold start resulted in a clang and then the engine seized. Pulling the engine again showed now the problem. The machine shop that installed the big intake valves and seats had incorrectly sized the bore for the new seats, and when cold the seat was popping out of its hole when the valve opened, the clanging was the valve pounding the seat back in it’s hole. Soon as the engine got a little heat, the seat stayed in place, until it got wedged between the valve and the head and punched a hole in the piston.

During this year and a half, I got rear ended sitting at a stop light (by an auto parts delivery truck, no less). This was paid by the other drivers insurance, only bent the rear bumper and brackets, fixed it my self and made a few bucks. A few months later, stopped at another red light I was T boned on the drivers side by an idiot in a Dodge Dart doing a burn out out of a gas station, he tried to take off but his battery was thrown into the radiator and cut the cables, stopping him in his tracks. Called the cops, police report faulted him, he had no insurance. Turned into my insurance, at least I had full coverage since I was making payments. The driver’s door,1/4 panel and rear fender were all replaced, the car was almost totaled but insurance decided to fix anyways. I did pay a little more and got the whole car resprayed and got rid of the stripe around the beltline, never really liked the look of it. Now the car looked great.

Until. A few months later, at a party in a not so good area, someone in a old pickup backed into my Beetle, caving in the hood, bumper and both front fenders, dragging the car half a block down the street before the broke apart, never to see the pickup asshole driver again. Another police report, turned this into insurance and once again the car was repaired.

After the car was fixed, the insurance company called me to cancel my insurance, because due to no fault of my own I was an “unlucky driver”. So the car payment got even bigger due to the finance company adding insurance to cover the not paid for car that I couldn’t get insurance for.

I couldn’t afford the car any longer, and about this time I was informed at the dealership that my services would no longer be required. So now it was a race to sell the car before the payments got behind and the car was repossessed. I sold the remains of the 1835cc engine, and built up a stock engine using a 1968 engine case. This would come back to haunt me as well.

By this time I was a payment and a half late, no job, and the car was in my driveway torn apart awaiting its replacement engine. I finally got the engine installed, and covered in grease went in to take a shower. As I was showering, I heard the car start up and drive away. Someone stole the car! But I still had the keys and the car was locked. Called the police, reported it stolen. Then I got a call from a mechanic from the dealership I worked for and bought the car from; he saw it drive in and be locked up in the impound area. The repo guys were waiting for me to finish the repairs so they could take the car!

Had to do the unthinkable and borrow the payoff from my parents to get the car back. They sold the car and I paid them the difference back. A few months later they got a call from the buyer who discovered the ’73 VW had a ’68 engine case, and were going to sue for selling a newer car with an older engine. So parents gave them $1000 to STFU, which I now also owed them.

I probably dumped in around $8000 or more in 1974/76 dollars ($44k adjusted) in the end. So yes indeed, the VW sickness can dig deep. But damn, that car was cool and so much fun for a while. Lucky for me I had no wife to answer to.

(images from the web)