We’ve begun a project for a client who wanted to relive some of his fond memories from the 70s. He drove all over the country in various Beetles and felt they were one of the most reliable cars he has ever owned. His request to us was to build a clean, original Superbeetle that he could drive at freeway speeds with AC and a bluetooth/Sat stereo. We’re big fans of these cars so were happy to help!
After a thorough search, we found a car with a body that had never been in a serious wreck. We bought the car north of LosAngeles and drove her back to Temecula where the work quickly got started.
We found that the car was in a great shape with minimal rust and bondo. Mechanically the car was in good condition with a recent rebuild to its 1600cc engine.
After stripping the parts off, we had the body media blasted to remove the paint to reveal the body. This car clearly has lived its life in rust-free Southwest.
Epoxy primer was sprayed on to protect the bare metal during the next stage: bodywork. Dents and a couple of small rusted areas will get done during this stage.
A very thin coat of bondo was applied to areas that had minor scratches or waves that could not be fixed with a hammer and dolly. Then a polyester primer was sprayed and allowed to cure for a few days. Then a black powder guide coat is applied to find even smaller scratches. These are then smoothed out with even finer sandpaper – by hand (see above).
The floor pan was cleaned up so we can separate the corroded section. We had this sand-blasted to remove all the coating. The corroded area was located under the battery – an area that typically gets battery acid-induced rust. We are replacing this area with a new panel.
We removed hardware along with nuts and bolts that we had stripped and replated. They came back looking excellent. This will make reassembly an easier and smoother process.
We dry fit the fenders, hood and trunk to check panel gaps. Everything looked good but a few minor adjustments were made to get her looking really great.
The pan has been primered and then painted gloss black. We will spray undercoat underneath next.
Undercoating was applied to better protect the floorpan. It looks excellent.
We masked off the car to paint some secondary surfaces. The engine bay was painted satin black to keep it looking presentable.
We sprayed a few of the secondary surfaces with the Toga White paint that we got from PPG. The color took on a yellowish hue when we were expecting a greyish one. The paint booth is so white that we thought that might be having an influence and took a panel outdoors in the natural light. The yellow hue was still present so we decided to get a new batch of paint. We brought the paint back to our local supplier, who mixed up a new batch. They found an old Dupont paint chip sheet and sure enough, Toga White had a grey hue.
We resprayed with the new batch of Toga White and it came out as expected. See below. Very nice!
Many of the parts that we have been ordering have been coming in. There are many excellent suppliers who make parts for VW. Though finding a dash proved to be difficult and we had to source it from Germany. We are starting to reassemble her now.
More assembly but Christina first decided to get things organized nicely.
We are spraying the wheel wells with undercoating to give it better durability. This required more masking but the results are really nice.
Next up is the exterior panels, so more masking along with paintable seam sealer and few other details.
First layers of base coat and then clear. It is looking nice.
We’ve begun reassembly…
Some of the parts we had refinished are going back together nicely while others were in need of replacement. Luckily we have suppliers in SoCal that can ship quickly. We reinstalled the body onto the pan after adding some sealer.
Several new parts have arrived including a great new steering wheel, LED lights, and the stereo. We also had the stock wheels stripped and powdercoated. New Yokohama tires were mounted and ready to roll.
More sub systems need assembly in order to build the final car. We sourced a new dashboard as the old one was too far gone. We are also integrating AC into this car and Carlos found a clean way to incorporate the rotary switches. We’ve also tapped all the threads to ease reinstall of the interiors bits. This is tedious but makes for a better reinstall. We also took this opportunity to add a bit of sound deadening.
Carlos rewired some of the new wiring harnesses that we bought to make it more compatible with the AC system as well as to make it more reliable with improved connections. We also added more sound deadening to make her even quieter.
Suspension components are now getting bolted in place. We like paint markers to identify the hardware that we have torqued. New dampers are getting installed on all four corners. We are adding disc brakes to the front. Soon we will bolt on the wheels and she will be sitting on her new Yokohama rubber.
New suspension and front brakes have been installed. We’ve installed front discs to improve the brakes as this car will see freeway time. Carlos has been busy incorporating the new wiring harness into the old one. He checked the connections and rewired as needed. The new dash and stereo were also installed. This stereo looks old but has Bluetooth and XM – as the client desired.
The engine was inspected and deemed in need of some TLC. Our engine builder, Bruce, is a former VW employee who has built many of these engines. He came over and took it apart and suggested a mild build – up to 1800cc. This will give the SuperBeetle additional torque that will help get her up to freeway speeds.
The AC is mostly finished and final testing will take place once the freon is added. We started fitting the fenders, hood and trunk lid.
The paint remains untouched at this point. Shortly we will begin polishing the painted panels. The polish compound slings all over so we will delay installing the complete interior until we complete the polishing step.
The Bug interior was masked off and the polishing began in earnest. What started out as a great paint job got even better. The images below show some of the steps.
The interior and exterior details are getting installed. Of course, we find some small parts that are not in great condition. We have been reworking them or replacing as needed. The red interior really looks awesome and when coupled with the Toga White exterior, white headliner and wood steering wheel is going to be a stunner. We can install the sun roof now that the headliner is nearly complete.
Some of the small trim pieces in chrome or black rubber make a tremendous difference in the overall look of the finished car.
The engine block came back and is ready for reassembly. Some of the exterior parts will get painted to dress them up so we have an engine bay that looks tidy.
Most of us in the shop will agree that reassembly is one of the best aspects of a restoration. Putting the car back together after looking at it in pieces for so long is as much a pleasure as it is a relief! Jesus fit the doors and they look great, with excellent gaps and easy closure. The sound these doors makes is clearly the sound of German quality.
The doors internals and cards are done. The guys polished the door glass and it looks like new. We added new rubber seals as well.
We noticed that the spacing between the steering wheel and the column mounted stalks is a bit too close. A larger spacer is needed. Small details like this matter and can slow down the progress. Luckily the car can still be driven while we get a larger spacer so we will push forward to get this car ready to fire up.
We refinished the side sills to freshen them up. All of these details really make the difference.
The engine came back so we started dry fitting all the accessories – especially the AC parts. As it turns out the bracket that holds the new AC compressor did not fit with the exhaust design found on these later SuperBeetles. We brainstormed options and decided to opt for an earlier exhaust design that had the needed clearance. A trip to JBugs and we swapped out the exhausts. We can now plug the engine into the car and get her started.
Additional trim items including the new windshield were installed. The sunroof and headliner were installed. The new 3pt seat belts were installed for the front seats along with belts for the rear.
We installed the engine and got her running. Of course some fine tuning is in order. The initial drives were good but we did not go far as we needed to get her aligned. The plan is to get about 200 shakedown miles onto the car and check her out thoroughly. Of course, within the first 10 miles we’ve discovered issues to correct. As you would expect, when a car if fully disassembled and reassembled, a proper shakedown along with multiple inspections will be required.
Custom steering wheel spacer positions the steering wheel correctly. The short shift kit was not very good. We pulled it out for now. We may try it again later after getting more miles onto the rebuilt gearbox.
We have been racking up miles onto the Beetle including around town and on the freeway. We’ve been running with AC on and off to see how she runs. It blows cold and will easily cool off any occupants. The AC draws down the power but she will hold an honest 70mph on the freeway with it running. With it off, I managed a bit higher speeds. The suspension is planted at freeway speeds yet remains plush and comfortable. The brakes are good and stop the car well enough.
We discovered a few issues during this process including a fuel gauge that was not working properly. The sunroof is tight with the new seals so we need to re look at that. The short shifter was reinstalled and seems to work better than without it. It reduces some slop so improves feel. The heater spewed some smoke when we operated the levers to turn it on. We had stripped and repainted the heater box so some residual cleaner/paint was needed to burn off and vent.
I had the techs inspect the car, wheels off, to ensure all the nuts/bolts were tight. I then took her out for a 80 mile journey. I probably should have refilled the gas tank as I ran her dry as I was returning to the shop. This more powerful engine is not as frugal as the original but that is a reasonable trade-off for the comforts of AC.