COAL Mini Series: Volkswagen Westfalia Part III – What a Long, Strange Trip


Take a look at this van. Does it look ready for the scrapyard? It’s got lots of body damage, you say? Forget about body damage for a minute; I must have been suffering from brain damage when I bought this battered hulk.

I had already done a number of smaller fixes to get the van rolling, but before I could get to the bodywork, there were still several important issues that needed my attention.

For starters, none of the exterior lights on the van worked except for the headlights and the left rear taillight. All the turn signals were out. New bulbs from the local Napa got the taillights and reverse lights working again, but not the blinkers. So I took the blinkers off and found that at some point, they had filled with water and shorted out. So I ordered some new sockets, wired them in, and voila, the turn signals and bulbs were working again! I was kind of floored to learn that the turn signals were self-cancelling. Wow – high-tech!

Yeah, no wonder those lights didn’t work!


I pulled out the shifter and rebuilt it with an OEM kit I bought from a German parts vendor. But the shifter still shrieked each time I changed gears. One day, during a hike at a local state park, I had an epiphany, and grabbed a three foot long twig. I took it home, pruned off any offshoots, and fastened myself a long dowel. I then greased the tip and fished it through the tiny opening around the shift rod, applying grease to the area around where the shift rod bushing used to sit, and this got rid of the shrieking when shifting gears. Oh yeah!

Summer arrived, and I finally felt like I had the time and energy to get down to bodywork and rust repair. But my goodness, where to begin? I decided to start with a rust hole about the size of your two thumbs on the passenger side. After I sanded off the bubbly paint, I realized it was nastier than I thought, and bigger, too.

What rust hole, you say?


Oh – you mean that hole?


Out, damn spot!


After I had a satisfactory repair of that hole, I wanted to move on to the ugly rust hole below the windshield. This was going to require removal of the windshield and then a brand new rubber seal. Using a combination of three long flathead screwdrivers, I was able to push, pull, and pry to get the leverage I needed to pop the windshield out. It came out in one piece, and I thought, that wasn’t so hard! (I would later break the windshield when I took it out a second time to replace the old seal – D’’oh!)

I worked hard to grind off all the rust. Rust is cancerous, and the only permanent solution is to cut it out. But I wasn’t going to go to that extreme. I took the affected area down to bare metal, POR-15’d it, bondoed and then primered. In the end, I was happy with the results. No more ugly rust hole!

Finally, I was ready for the big-league job of attempting to pull the dents from the crunched in front end. I have no idea what happened in the original collision, but it looks like Jeddy may have hit a pole or a parking meter or something. There was damage to the front above the grill, and the deeply cracked paint suggested that the accident happened long ago. Jeddy might have been in this sad state for decades. The grill had been replaced at some point. And below it lay the most challenging part. The damage there was a long, deep folded crease. Both dents could not be pulled with plunger dent pullers or PDR techniques; They were old and heavy-duty wounds, which is why no one had bothered to fix them.

Here’s what the seller said about this van: “the frame is perfect, no rust, no issues, but the body needs some dents taken out as well as some rust repaired (all of which you can see in the pictures)”.

Remember that old saw about the time a reporter asked Ringo “Are you really as sad as you look?” “Nah,” he replied, “It’s just me face”.


Let me tell you something: With damage like that, you don’t just “take out” the dents. You need to be a skilled tradesman in the art not just of pulling dents, but of using Bondo and having or acquiring endless patience to block and sand. And while I had done some minor bodywork on my VW Eurovan years earlier, this was unchartered territory. But I figured this was probably the reason I was able to buy a Westy on the cheap.

Filling the crescent shaped dent with Bondo took no time at all. But flattening it flush with the body took forever. My block sanding skills are not great, and when it comes to body repair, you will see the slightest ripple if the repair is not perfectly flush. I was not able to get it perfect, but I’m satisfied with the repair.

You can fill dents with Bondo to about ¼”. Any deeper than that and you need to pull the dent out. At first, I tried this with a stud welder. The progress was maddeningly frustrating because the bottom dent was so long and deep. And there were areas where the metal was so thin that yanking the dent out with the sliding weight just ripped a hole right through the sheet metal. So I had to resort to the cruder method of drilling in holes and then using a slide hammer to gradually work the surface back to flush. I spent hours and hours drilling and yanking, making an awful racket in the front yard; I’m sure the neighbors were none too pleased. I don’t have a functioning garage, so all my automotive work is done outside in the driveway. Sometimes I get self-conscious about that, but at the end of the day, I’m just grateful to have a space with which to work on my cars.

Gradually, I reached a point where I had swiss-cheesed the front end good and worked it back to straight. Then, it was more grinding, and filling and sanding on both sides of the holes.  This was done on and off for about two months. At times, I’d get overwhelmed and throw my hands in the air. Then after a few days, I’d muster up the resolve to keep going. It was a very taxing job for one man, and I wouldn’t have done it for any vehicle I wasn’t irrationally and absurdly in love with.

And one summer evening, as twilight was setting in and the last coat of primer had been wet sanded down to a glossy finish, I watched the last rays of light cast their gentle caress over Jeddy’s front end. I tipped my beer and saluted a job well done. Jeddy was whole again. And so was I.

You mean I have to fill every one of those cracks? Just shoot me now.


After I went through this same process with the slider door, there was one quirk that was really vexing me: Jeddy’s idling issue. If you’ve followed this series from the beginning, you may recall that the van would just cut out and die at startup unless you fed it gas at startup for a couple of minutes until it reached operating temperature. You may also recall that I punted on purchasing the van initially when the seller disclosed this nuisance.

I spent hours poring over the manuals I had and listening to the sages on The Samba, a VW forum filled with people a lot more knowledgeable about cars than yours truly. Was it a cracked intake boot? I ordered one and replaced it. Nope. Was it the air auxiliary regulator? I removed it and tested it with a multimeter; It seemed OK. Was it the finicky Temp II sensor? The Cold Start Valve? The fuel injectors? The idle mixture? One by one, I chased these suspects and, in turn, chased my own tail.

One day, when I was hanging around at an independent VW repair shop to pick up a replacement windshield for the one I cracked, I picked the tech’s brain. He pointed me in the direction of a website run by and old aircooled wizard, who wrote about a similar malady to mine that had plagued Type II bay buses. He claimed it had to do with aging L-jet systems and the engine getting too hot at the warmup cycle. I found an engine temperature spacer on ebay made for a Porsche, and ordered it. I screwed it in to the engine head temperature sensor, installed it, and started the bus up. I waited with baited breath…and the idling held strong! No more stalling out! Hooray!

I don’t want to leave you with the illusion that this bus is ever going to be perfectly restored. Jeddy’s still rough around the edges, and he will always have some quirks. But I am very grateful for all I’ve learned about the van (and myself) by taking on a project of this magnitude. When I first started frequenting Curbside Classic, I never thought I would end up buying my own classic and restoring it myself.

What a long, strange trip it’s been!