After reading several positive update articles by Aaron65 on his classic fleet, I thought an update on my VW was in order, which has a decidedly different slant.
As of 2022 my Volkswagen had been languishing since the start of the Covid pandemic. I found myself at a crossroads, either I had to get it back on the road or let it go. Aside from my epic trip to the CC gathering in Detroit, I hadn’t really driven the car much and felt that I needed at least one more year to enjoy it on the road.
The biggest problem was the front end, or beam as it’s known on vintage VWs. I’d done no work here before getting it on the road in 2017, and there was a lot of shaking happening up there at speeds over 90km/hr.
VW beams come in two varieties, after 1966 ball joints were used but older cars like mine used a system of pins and bushings to accommodate suspension movement. Rebuilding a link pin beam was quite possible, but required tools that I didn’t have, or particularly want. There is a dedicated aircooled VW shop an hour from my house, and although Jamie had rebuilt my engine a few years back he declined to take on my beam.
I was stuck, until I found that a well known VW supplier in Milwaukee (whose name I won’t mention here for reasons that will become apparent) sold reconditioned link pin beams. This seemed like the perfect solution, swap out the whole assembly and be back on the road quickly. The company had mixed reviews, most customers were happy but if you were unhappy you didn’t get much help from customer service. I decided to take a chance, and ordered one in March hoping that the long advertised delivery would get it to me in May.
Imagine my surprise when the FedEx guy dropped this on my front porch a week later. 70 pounds of VW front beam. Shrink wrapped only, no box or skid, banged up corners and way too early for me to use. I stashed it in the garage, and my 30 day warranty was up before I would look at it again.
Getting the old beam out was straightforward, I just needed to have a friend lay with me on the driveway and lower it together. Disassembly also gave me quite a list of other parts to order as my steering damper, shock bushings, column couplings, wheel bearing seals, steering box clamp etc. etc. were all unsuitable for reuse. I renewed my relationships with Wolfsburg West and CIP1.
Reconnecting the tie rod ends I encountered my first problem. The arm coming off the spindle was seriously bent upwards. Had I done that somehow? I sure didn’t think so. As it was, the left kingpin on my old beam was still tight so I removed the spindle assembly. That was a milestone, I was now trying to assemble one good beam from the two that I had.
But something wasn’t right, the link pins wouldn’t come out. After driving them out with a punch & hammer I found that the link pins appeared to have been whittled out of a block of steel by a caveman holding an angle grinder. New bushings and pins were ordered. The proper new one is on the right, if you couldn’t tell.
I borrowed an arbor press to push the new bushings in, fumbling around with an unsecured press on the garage floor was a real highlight of the project. And did I mention that 2022 was a very hot summer in Ontario? Our driveway faces the afternoon sun and most days it was over 30 degrees while I was trying to do this work. Desperate measures were needed to keep my beer cold.
Finally back on the wheels in August. Letting the front of the car down was a sweet moment, which quickly turned sour when I realized that the front suspension didn’t move. Checking my work it appeared that like the link pins, the trailing arm bushings were too tight. This development will require another round of disassembly and rework in 2023. So for my money I basically got a rebuildable core (which I already had) and by the time I’m done I’ll have completely refurbished it in situ.
Even so, the summer wasn’t a total loss, I rebuilt the carburetor and again I’ll mention what a joy it is to order parts for this car, everything is readily available.
Additionally, my car has paint problems. The decklid and hood paint have been departing for years due to poor prep, and I could no longer ignore it. Since those were the only areas affected I sent them off for a repaint in the fall. I don’t have them back yet, they found bondo covering sandblasting warpage, so it’ll take more time and more money. If I get them back in time to move the car outside in the spring I’ll be happy.
And so the languishing continues, and I’m giving myself one more year to get the car roadworthy again. I always say that if it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any at all, so it’s quite encouraging to read other tales of success with vintage cars.
Surely the next update will contain better news. Until then!
It’s amazing that this primitive car with no effective heater sold as well as they did.
People talk about the Beetle’s lack of heat but I’ve had several aircooled VWs that had great heat. The whole system has to be intact – no hose gaps, all the rubber bits, no rusty heater channels, etc. The thermostat and flappers need to be functional too. Unfortunately these are the very parts that shadetree mechanics seem to discard first. Every aircooled VW I’ve owned (4-5) have required taking the engine out to replace all the missing parts that previous owners didn’t think were important. The design works good when everything the factory put on the engine is present and functional.
Too bad about your parts supplier. I used (I think) the same company in the past for an engine rebuild kit. Naturally once I started building the engine past the return date I discovered the main bearing set had multiple sizes of bearings. This was pre-internet. I assumed by 2023 they would have resolved these kinds of quality errors or fail to exist by now – but I guess not.
Sadly Joey ;
Many specialty partshaus’ modus operandi is to not care knowing they’ll only burn each Customer once .
This good thread has me working more and more on my ’59, I buttoned up the front brakes today and greased the beam, adjusted the link pins and re filled the steering box with oil ~ lucky me, it’s the original quick ration box from 1958 .
Great (!) update on the Bug, Doug. Too bad about the poor quality parts, but that seems to be the Order Of The Day these days. Over on the tractor forum I frequent, we call it, “parts from the Land of Almost Right.”
Now that my shop is done, I’ve been slowly digging out my boxes of parts for sorting and organization. I had started rebuilding one of two front beams before we moved, so that will be where I pick up in the near future. If I run into a snag, you may get a call!
Coupled with the short 30-day return period (which I think is the minimum allowed) and the truly half-assed way the assembly was shipped, it seems almost as if the whole scenario was intentional, i.e., say it will take a long time to process the order, then actually send a virtually unusable product almost immediately, with the intent that the buyer can’t/won’t discover the myriad deficiencies until well after the return period has passed.
I’m reminded of an experience I had some years ago buying a used ink jet printer from a private party on eBay. She put it in a corrugated cardboard carton, no bubble wrap, no packing peanuts (a/k/a ghost poop), no padding of any kind. It was ruined in transit. I think this was a case of “Don’t assume malice when stupidity is enough of an explanation,” but I was Seriously Not Pleased. Only time I’ve ever left negative feedback on eBay. At least I didn’t pay very much for it.
“I always say that if it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any at all.”
Your Bug looks great, I love the (?) Bahama Blue .
Bummer about the rip off, it turns out you don’t really need special tools to rebuild a link pin front end , I wonder if you’ve yet measured the trailing arms off set with a straight edge and ruler ? . this has total effect on the way it handles and tire wear .
I hope you’ll share photos of the fished paint works .
I wonder if I should write about my battered survivor ’59, I have plenty of stories and fairly good photos .
@Ed : 6 volt fresh air heating ! WOO-HOO ! .
Now that you’ve let the cat out of the bag, here’s my vote for a post on your ‘59!
The link pins are pretty easy. But if your king pin bushings are worn (my 63 had terriblly worn out ones), then you need the special reamer and a 20 ton press
First pic is great!
I’m wearing my 50th birthday party coveralls. My wife got a bunch of friends and relations to sign them with magic marker and I got them at the party.
Sadly they were too short, so reaching above my head was dangerous for my gentleman parts. My daughter sewed in an extension panel of VW themed fabric.
It’s an outstanding fashion piece.
What?! No picture of you wearing them?? “A picture is worth a thousand words”
Good on you for sticking with the project despite the setbacks. Unlike me, who has bitten off more than I’m prepared to chew with my uncle’s old ’64 Beetle. I am finally coming to terms with the fact that even though I thought I always wanted this car, I’m not the one to finish it, so I’m preparing to find it a new home.
Doug, your Beetle’s a looker. I always enjoy seeing your posts on it and hearing about it in your comments in other posts. It sounds like most of the other major systems are sorted out, so once the front end and paint are sorted out you can enjoy some more road time in it.
Have you ever looked at the “How to Keep Your VW Alive for the Compleat Idiot” by John Muir?
Excellent old school how-to book written in the 1960s. Was an excellent introduction to the aircooled VW and how to rebuild just about everything.
It is still in print today.
The writing style really connected with my brain. Wished they had written about Calculus too – might have made college easier. Danica McKeller has math (for kids) covered these days.
Yup, got a copy on my beside table actually. I’ll re-read the shakes and shimmies procedures before I get back into it when spring comes.
If John Muir had written about Shakespeare that would have helped me a lot in high school.
What “fun” you’re having.
Could be worse, at least I can stop whenever I feel like it.
Lowering the front suspension of these VWs is very common here in Brazil.
Preserve your original and do not use radial tires.
Ontario is wonderful.
Thank you, sometimes it is. -12 degrees Celcius today and -20 for tonight ! Brrrrr, no garage work happening today!
Why would anyone prefer bias ply tires ?! .
Just because we geezers survived them doesn’t mean they’re any good much less safer or better .
I recently learned that none of my local Volkswagen dealers will service air-cooled VWs anymore. When did this happen? They’ll order any OEM parts that may still be available (are there any?) and that’s it. Some nearby independent VW/Audi shops still work on old Bugs though. Myself, between impatience/laziness and chronic back pain, I don’t attempt much repairs or maintenance beyond tire rotations, minor electrical stuff, and the like anymore, and too many eternally half-finished projects around the house made me realize I shouldn’t attempt these things anymore. I still admire those who do though…
My 63’s front suspension was terrible when I got it. You would go into a turn and could feel the wheels lean, crazy how much wear there was. I had considered doing what you did, but thankfully I suppose was too poor to buy one. So I searched the samba constantly until I found the king pin bushing reamer for sale for a price under $100, bought a febi complete kit, and used the shop press at my job to do it. I brought in the spindles, then was able to do the first in an hour over my lunch break. Tough, but made it in time. The next day I did the second in about 30 minutes. Glad to see you got it all sorted out, should last a long time
Response to la673.
Your question, “When did VW dealers stop servicing air-cooled cars?” Well, a good part of the answer is age related. Air cooled VW’s and Porsches are now considered “ancient relics”, terra incognita to younger mechanics who have never seen them, never driven them, and most definitely haven’t serviced them. As an example of what I mean, in 2018, my then 45 year old (ancient according to some) 1973 914 developed engine overheating issues in Winnemucca, Nevada caused by ingested bird feathers/cooked goose body parts from a road goose strike on a two lane road near Billings, Montana.
(A clarification: an alleged Canadian Goose, so described south of the border/ but an American Goose, if north of the border, as told to me by my Canadian Friends who also said that many such geese are found in Ottawa’s Parliament Building, who knew?). No-one in Winnemucca had the faintest idea of dealing with an air-cooled engine, if it had been an F150, no problem.
So I was then forced to limp on that Saturday into Reno, NV, a long drive while nervously watching the oil temperature gauge all the way to the Reno Porsche Dealer, whereupon arriving on a late Saturday before closing time, I spoke to the grey haired Service Manager who knew what a 914 was and who said he could service one, but who said that none of his younger techs, all of whom were younger than the ’73 914, could possibly service one. He told me to stay in one of the local casino hotels, have a good steak dinner and drink, and to go to the local independent Porsche repair shop for service. So on that following Monday morning at that recommended shop, I was able to receive service by an older grey haired Tech familiar with old school air-cooled Porsches. He quickly removed cooling shrouds and then removed feathers and cooked goose meat from the cooling fins of cylinder 4 to get me back on the road, though cautioning me that overheating damage had already been done. The final breakdown occurred near Tonopah, NV, another adventure tale for another day.
So we are now living with venerable cars, actually speaking, really ancient relics, with a declining number of mechanics, in fact, aging-out mechanics, still capable of servicing them, and with declining numbers of parts suppliers for their repairs. Not good, some say. That is our reality. Cheers
It doesn’t surprise me that VW dealers don’t support air-cooled cars any more, but I’m more surprised to read Porsche dealers don’t either given that rear-engine air-cooled 911s were sold through 1998. I’d be really surprised if a VW dealer couldn’t service a ’98 Passat which would be the Audi-like B5 generation.
I hear you there, Vic.
When I got my old air cooled relic, I made a vow to learn to look after it myself, as there were no shops in my area that would do it. Lots of book reading and video watching (insanely useful) and some trial and error, but much learned, friends made and a fun, dependable little car, which I now know well enough to tell if something needs doing before it gets to be a major problem.
as the Germans say “selbst ist der Mann”!
Here the usual driveway chaos was caused by test fitting Fuchs – the sidewall height of that rear tire is way too low, by the way, only used to measure fender clearance whilst fully loaded to select the proper size.
Wow ~ that’s a brand new beam ~ I didn’t know anyone was making them .
All this talk about brakes and link pins got me off my duff today to look at what’s what in my ’58 Bug :
I tried to reduce the image size, it still won’t post .
I also have some experience with “bad parts”, sometimes caused by the fact that these parts have in recent years been sourced overseas (but that seems to be changing) with less quality control.
Over the past 5 years many, many mechanics with some knowledge of “ancient relics” have retired. There are very few mechanics with any knowledge of anything more than 20 years old, and there doesn’t seem to be any desire to learn, which probably makes sense in the general case – they are busy enough with the newer cars, the older cars are difficult to estimate, so that makes all kinds of calculations which are necessary to run a successful business difficult, easier to just say no. This explains to some extent the prevalence of “LS swaps”, you are swapping in something that modern mechanics understand.
@ JM :
They’re simply lazy in my experience .
LS swaps are far easier than taking the time to properly diagnose problems then repair and maintain as necessary .
I meet folks (not just guys either ) who are driving older vehicles and are -so- happy when I look / listen and tell them ‘oh, it needs this or that first’ when either no one else could figure it out or didn’t even want to bother .
A good Mechanic never stops, they just work on different things that keep them motivated .
Don’t feel bad, Doug…we ALL have bad luck in the garage from time to time. This is the Riviera’s engine as it sits right now. I just got the heads back from the machine shop: Two rocker arms were broken and wiped out two intake valve stem tips. Those two valves needed to be replaced along with their guides, and the shop milled the heads, exhaust manifolds, and did a valve job. It’s also getting an oil pump, timing chain, motor mounts, and on and on. The next update will be a doozy.
You’ll be back on the road in no time…
And the first few years of the ball joint front ends had plugs you were supposed to remove and screw in a Zerk fitting for greasing occasionally .
Aaron : this looks like one of those projects that creeped after you decided to replace the annoying noisy worn out timing chain……
The _good_ part is : after a job like this it won’t weep/seeo/leak oil for many years to come .
Kind of…it had a valve tick that I decided to check out, and that’s when I found the mangled rockers and two bad pushrods. I almost decided to replace the rockers and pushrods and leave the valves, but I just couldn’t do it.
Project creep is real, but I try to control it as much as I can. The reason I’m doing the chain is because Buicks had a nylon gear, and I measured about 10 degrees of slop when I turned the crank back and forth. I don’t think anyone’s ever been inside this engine before.
Amazing that cam gear lasted so long .
I dislike them intently but they were *much* quieter and that was a thing back then .
Old VW’s & 356 Porsches used a presses fiber cam gear for the same reason and they’d strip the gears one fine day just because .
Looks to me as though this car has something other than sealed beam headlamps behind those clear cover lenses. I think I see the old pre-halogen European R2 bulb, but from this distance I can’t tell what they’re in. Wanna show a clear, sharp, full-frame pic of one of the headlamps (switched off) and I’ll ID ’em for you?
Nothing fancy Daniel, just a regular ol 12v Philips halogen sealed beam.
Photo didn’t stick, probably too big. Try again here…
I see your pic of the passenger-side headlamp up above. Yep, that’s a sealed beam. I was looking at the driver-side lamp, though; is it the same? Maybe it’s just the distance creating headlight-foolies for me over here.
In the US the car could legally have come from the original dealer only with sealed beams. Was it different in Canada? Of course 60 years is a very big window of opportunity to swap out the OEM lamps.
From what I’ve been able to partially reconstruct of the regulatory landscape before the 1971 advent of the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, no province or territory required sealed-beam headlamps, which would mean a new car in Canada could legally have been offered for first sale with another kind. U.N. (formerly “European”) headlamps have been explicitly, federally legal throughout Canada since at least the mid-1970s.
Hoo boy, you have yourself a project. Or a creeping project that starts out one thing and becomes another. I hate those. Look at the bright side – you are becoming “the guy” others can call for advice on VW front ends.
Every time I start feeling starved of play-car companionship I see/hear a story like yours and become quite satisfied with getting my hobby car fix through CC.
@ JP ;
The one aspect of older German vehicles is : even when everything is perfect they require regular touching to remain that way .
The early Beetle and Bus front ends needed greasing more often than the engines needed oil changes and valve adjustments .
Why Japan was so easily able to overtake the rest of the world in selling cars .
Nevertheless, driving an old Beetle is extremely enjoyable for some .
The VW type 1 used king pins through the 1965 model; 1966 and on had ball joints.
I’m beginning to get the impression that ball joints were something of an underappreciated revolution in chassis design.
The hot driveway gives me flashbacks to 2020. I live in Central Oregon where 100 Fahrenheit is common in the summer and my driveway faces south. Good for clearing snow not so good when doing a 5.4 Triton head replacement. We drank a lot of Gatorade and I came this close to buying a 10×10 easy up canopy.
I low key want a Beetle as a project car just because it is devoid of the miles of wiring and vacuum lines found in 21st century cars making the mechanicals accessible plus no antifreeze spills whne you remove a cylinder head.
That’s the same pose I assumed about a year ago when redoing the entire front suspension on the Jaguar. I too encountered difficulties that involved taking it mostly all apart again and then putting it back together again after a few more trips to local hardware stores and internet wisdom…. At least I now understand (semi-)modern suspension theory far better than I did before.
But your front end is a whole ‘nother can of worms from the days of guillotines and trebuchets that leaves me looking askance again at “ye olden ways” of doing things that vaguely reminds me of the actual leather straps employed to help locate the rear axle on my old yet still 1980s Alfa Spider.
Like you, my car stuff seems to be relegated to either 100 degree days of summer or below freezing in winter. Spring and Fall seem to be sucked up by doing house repairs/modifications and the cars soldier through those seasons just fine…
I’ll hoist a cold one for ya though. Good job remembering to take some pictures!
I was in the same pose a couple of summers ago when I partially rebuilt the front end of my F100.
My first Beetle was a ’64 I bought in ’73 for $400 in Baltimore. It was in really nice shape, and the price was fair. Maryland already required a safety inspection upon a sale; it was the seller’s responsibility. They took it in and it required a front end rebuild, to the tune of $140, which was a lot of money back then ($1k today). The seller was not at all happy, but there wasn’t much they could do at that point. net proceeds to them $260.
So I got a nicely rebuilt front end, which was actually a bit stiff at first. But it loosened up a bit after a while. I drove that beetle all over the country for several years, including lots of jeep roads in the Rockies. And the original engine was still rock-solid when I sold it for…$450 a couple of years later. It had about 120+k miles on it then.
Few grasped (? cared ?) that the link pin front suspension was supposed to be greased every 1,500 miles .
The link pins are also adjustable, usually greasing and carefully adjuting them makes every thing right again .
I hear you with the heat. I did the carpets, dash and dash pad in the Skylark over the Aussie summer.
Did the power steering hoses and a sports wheel yesterday in 35 C and 100% humidity. My cider didn’t stay undrunk long enough to get warm.
Finding the right mechanic, as well as a good machine shop, is a real challenge. This may become the deciding factor in making a decision whether or not to keep a vintage car. Most old car owners will try to learn how to work on their own particular vehicle and handle most of the small jobs. Some jobs like complete suspension rebuilds can be quite challenging as dealing with compressed springs takes a lot of care and quality specialized tools. I did those in my youth, and have done some in my current past, but am reaching the age where I prefer not to attempt this kind of work.
Shops refusing to work on 20 year or older vehicles is really prevalent, I ran into that with my older Jaguars, then I found one that charged me a lot of money and didn’t really know what they were doing. With fancy high end cars like Jags and Porches, some shops don’t see anything but an owner with deep pockets and try to extract as much money as possible.
A note to Aaron; The aluminum timing case houses the oil pump, be sure that it is all still within spec. I believe that new timing cases are available from a supplier of high performance parts for Buick engines that is well known on the ROA. (TA performance) I had done several valve jobs on V8s back in the day, I had a shop redo the heads on my ’66. They didn’t do it right, they had ground the valve seats, (which was okay) but had failed to shorten the valve stems to compensate for the fact that the valves sat deeper in the heads. I believed that all was fine and re-assembled the entire remachined block, without checking the valve height. Some of the valves actually were hitting the piston crowns, and the noise caused me to chase a bunch of costly solutions before I paid a shop to tear down the top end where they discovered the actual problem.
It was disappointing to see that that suspension rebuilder sent you a hacked up mess that was probably additionally damaged in transit, due to improper packing. It’s usually best to order the parts when you are ready to install them so you can inspect them prior to installation and within the return period. I’ve been there also. Problems like these are why I sold three of my old cars and now back in my “Vintage light” used car phase. Good luck with your future projects.
Oh, the joys! Sorry to hear of your problems.
I changed out the beam in my Ghia for a 2″ narrowed one from Cip1 and was amazed at how easy it actually was, having been warned by local VW club members to let a specialist do it. The caveat is that I had an extremely rust free vehicle – otherwise I hear it can be a PITA. I read some old printed articles, watched a few YouTube videos and made sure I had all the bits necessary, as the car is a daily driver and I only had a weekend to complete the task. Supporting the complete beam whilst dropping and putting it back involved arms, legs and head, as I was wrenching alone, but proved it can be done without assistance. Assembling all its components (loved the torsion leaves!) taught me a lot about the rather unique way Herr Porsche’s early bug/Ghia suspension works and the results were great, getting the nose down about 3″, not only looking better, but improving crosswind stability no end. Ride is a bit firmer, but not objectional.
And here is how much lower the KG sat at the front after surgery – a bit too low, as it made the anti roll bar a bit vulnerable, so I raised it about 1″ from this and have left it there.
It really helps stability and seems to have improved aerodynamics, as the car runs with much less throttle at 70-80.
Nice! Glad it worked well. I didn’t mention that the front structure of my beetle is still slightly crunched from a long ago collision, and that made getting the beam and steering box out & in more difficult than usual.
To get the spare tire into the well I have to deflate it, put it in, then reinflate it.
Ah, Doug, that would make things much more difficult! Hope that is sortable in the future.
I was extremely lucky in that my Ghia is one of the few I have seen where the front end was never crunched. Enough dings and dents elsewhere though.
I forgot to mention that my new beam is adjustable for height – enabling lowering and that it is ball joint, which may have made it easier to assemble.
I also have a bit of wrenching experience on my old Triumphs, Minis and Corvettes. They are all so different though, that it is like learning a new wrenching “language” for each!
I think I can guess where you got your beam from – I have heard of their reputation and avoid them. What you received was shockingly bad – would have made a weekend change for a daily driver impossible…..
Love your bug – that color is exactly what I would want were I to change from the green on my car.
I do hope you get back on the road soon. Enjoy lots of VeeDubing and
keep the stories coming.
I bought mine on a bit of a whim and have really enjoyed not only the driving experience, dependability and usefulness (my bikes fit inside), but the good vibes it generates.
I could hook you up with really good beam builders. They’re in the southeast US and typically specialize in building custom narrowed lowered beams but will build stock ones as well.
I never suggest someone unless I have personal experience with them. Hit me up if you want.
There used to be ‘Griffins’ in So. Cal. Downey I think .
Tehy’ve been rebuilding VW beams forever and are affordable and honest .
Yes, ball joints are a seriously important suspension development .
Sadly not many have Zerk fittings anymore and finding replacement rubber ball joint boots is tough .
Doug, your Bug looks Great. I’m also in Ontario & I have a 1966 in Bahama Blue. Would you be able to share the contact info to the Gentleman that rebuilt your engine??
Here’s the link:
But it also says their schedule is full. 🙁
Milwaukee VW vendor? Does the name of the company start with a M? If it does, that makes sense.