Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The VW 1500 is coming!

Thanks to Lee Hedges for pointing me to an auction for this HO-scale Brekina model on eBay. I assume that if a model exists then there must have been real ones running around in 1961 as part of the Volkswagen + VW 1500 marketing juggernaut. I'd love to find an old photo of one of those buses in traffic.

[image brazenly stolen from eBay]

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Engine in

Finally got the engine back in today with some help from Jonny, who took time out from a weekend of poker to lend a hand. We started off by killing an hour trying to install a new clutch return spring. The less said about it the better -- suffice to say we learned that prying the hook on the spring around the arm is the very LAST step. We then moved the engine off the inadequate dolly it's been on (note: a Type 1 engine dolly is not a good idea for a Type 3 engine) and onto a motorcycle/ATV jack that I recently bought for the purpose.

I got the motorcycle jack because I wanted something more sturdy and stable than the cheap floor jack I've been using. I waited until the Sears premium jack went on sale -- it's really well made and a bargain for the price. I've heard pros and cons about using a motorcycle jack for a VW engine, and I found it all to be true: It's great to have the engine on a stable, level surface when raising it into position, especially in the tight space of an early Type 3 engine bay, but you also need to be able to tilt the engine as it's going up for clearance, which wasn't so easy with this jack. (We ended up shimming the front with a piece of wood to get the right tilt to clear the clutch at the front and the bodywork at the rear, and then we leveled the engine again once we had it at the right height.) One of the really nice things about the motorcycle jack is its low profile. We only needed to lift the car about 8 inches to slide the engine underneath. Piece of cake. Then we dropped the car back down over the engine and were ready to lift it into position.

We ran into some resistance when pushing the engine into place, which I suspected was the splines on the input shaft not lining up. The trick is to turn the engine slightly with a wrench on the generator pulley while pushing the engine forward. That's when I remembered that I hadn't put the generator belt on yet, so I set about doing it with the engine still on the jack. That wouldn't have been an option with an ordinary floor jack.

The VW Workshop Manual recommends the thin 27mm wrench VW 113 to hold the generator while tightening the nut on the front half of the pulley. I picked one up on eBay a while back and this was my first chance to try it out. Worked like a charm. A slight turn of the engine and a few tiny adjustments to the height of the jack and the engine slipped right into place.

Now I just need some gas and a new 6-volt battery and I should be in business.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Van Wyk's VW, Santa Barbara, March 1961

I remember Van Wyk's as the local VW/Porsche dealer in Santa Barbara, California when I was a car-obsessed kid. It was located on Chapala Street a few blocks from the beach, just north of Highway 101. This photo from 1961 of new and used cars on the lot really captures the flavor of Santa Barbara in the early '60s. The beautiful lowlight Ghia convertible in the foreground appears to be a '58 model (L428 graphite silver if I'm not mistaken), top down and ready for a test drive along the Pacific. In front of the Ghia is a lineup of brand new '61 Beetles with paper dealer plates ("Another Van Wyk Volks Wagen") and a mango green Microbus. Looming over the Microbus -- both literally and figuratively -- on a car carrier is a new Chevrolet Corvan, Chevy's unsuccessful response to the VW truck line. Behind the Ghia are a well-worn mid-'50s GM product ('55 Chevy?) and a couple of oval-window Beetles that must be trade-ins.

No VW 1500s here -- they were just about to start production in mid-1961 -- but there is a connection to my '62 1500 Ghia. It has been in the US since it was new as evidenced by the Bendix Sapphire radio and Hickok seatbelts it came with -- both 1962-vintage VWoA accessories. I bought it in Santa Barbara in 1994 and according to the previous owner it had been seen around town at least since the early '70s and probably earlier. That means it's more than likely that it was serviced at Van Wyk's and -- who knows? -- may even have been sold there as a gray market "used" car when it was new.

This image comes to us from the vast slide archive of Charles Phoenix. Charles is an LA-based pop culture historian, commentator, and author known for his shows of found slides from the '50s and '60s and as a correspondent for National Public Radio and a number of television stations. Thanks Charles!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Extreme Notchback abuse, Dutch-style

Jonny Lieberman hipped me to this insane Dutch TV show from 1978, just posted on Jalopnik, which has to be seen to be believed. It features amateur drivers racing battered cars backward around a racetrack accompanied by Pythonesque narration. A late '60s 1600 Notchback figures prominently in the action:

There's a '70s Fastback in there somewhere too. The Notch appears again in a two-wheel driving challenge, and fares better than a couple of Opel Kadetts did:

But the punchline is a Messerschmitt executing a perfect two-wheel sprint down the track:

The show's finale is a backward race restricted to DAFs. DAFs had a variable drive transmission that allowed them to go as fast in reverse as they could going forward, making them perfectly suited to backward racing. Backward DAF racing was apparently a big phenomenon in '70s Holland, which explains why so few of them survive today.

As if all that wasn't enough, two ridiculous eurodisco interludes performed on the track help push the show completely over the top. Do yourself a favor and check it out...now!

Achteruitrijden 1 augustus 1978 - Te Land, Ter Zee en In De Lucht

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Factory tool VW 681

It was good to get back to the Ghia this weekend after being sidelined for a couple of weeks by a bout of appendicitis. The weather was unusually warm, perfect for lying under an old car and scraping 45 years of gunk off of a leaky transmission.

There's no easy way to do it, but it has to be done. The main leak was from the rear transmission shaft seal. It was easy to spot once the engine was out.

It's been many years since I've replaced one of these seals, and I had forgotten what a chore it is to get the old seal out. I spent the better part of a morning trying every screwdriver, pry bar, pliers and church key I could find with no success. I consulted the VW Workshop Manual, which of course suggested factory tool VW 681. VW's engineers never met a task they couldn't design a special tool for. 600-series tools were intended to be made locally, so I found the plans on the great Workshop Equipment for Local Manufacture site.

It's a really simple tool, so I decided to go ahead and make one instead of running out to spend money on some other tool that may or may not have done the job. I had some 1/8 in. steel bar stock on hand. It was a simple cutting and filing job.

I improvised a little on the handle to minimize the amount of cutting. The plans also call for tapering the hook to a sharp point and tempering the steel, but I decided to take my chances without going to the trouble. Once I had it finished it took all of about 20 seconds to pull the old seal out. Almost too easy.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The First All-New VW in 15 Years!

What was probably the first road test of the VW 1500 available to American readers appeared in the October 1961 issue of Science and Mechanics magazine, a somewhat hardboiled pulp monthly for do-it-yourselfers and hobbyists.

It's a fair, well-written, and mainly positive review. The writer, Wayne Wille, takes the 1500 through its paces and finds that it more than lives up to the performance claimed by VW. He predicts the 1500 will be a success when it is finally available in the US -- in 1963 by his estimate. A photo of a very early Variant is included, which as in most American reviews of the time is compared to the now-obscure Corvair Lakewood station wagon. The car driven in the road test appears to be a prototype or very early production model with odd features including a white steering wheel (but with a black steering column) and the very early clamshell map pockets in the door panels. There's also a favorable description of the fresh air controls -- four air control levers that would soon become three in the production cars. Wille registers some surprise at the lack of a thermostat other than the manifold pre-heater valve (yet another clue that the car was a prototype -- the pre-heat valve wasn't fitted to production cars until late '62), but says thorough testing proved a thermostat wasn't needed according to VW's engineers. I guess they had reversed their thinking by late 1963 when an air-regulating thermostat was finally added.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Journalists visit the Karmann assembly line, 1962

Karmann apparently opened its doors to journalists in 1962, and several magazines ran stories about the coachbuilder in 1962 and early 1963. These articles coincided with the 1500 Karmann-Ghia's debut, so some of the accompanying photos show 1500 Ghias on the production line. What's interesting about these photos is that they show that the various models being produced at Karmann at the time -- the VW 1200 convertible, 1200 Ghia, 1200 Ghia convertible, 1500 Ghia, and for a short time the 1500 Ghia convertible, in addition to Porsche bodies -- moved randomly down the line, rather than being grouped by model.

Car and Driver's Karmann feature ran in January 1962, so the photos would have been taken in late 1961, before 1500 Ghia production was up to speed.

Road & Track ran this photo of a freshly stamped 1500 Ghia rear fender in its February 1963 article:

Safer Motoring also ran a Karmann tour feature in February 1963...

...which included this shot of a sea of 1500 Ghias waiting to be shipped to their destinations: