My Beetle Restoration

Body Work

Initial Body Rust Repair Assessment

by on Feb.18, 2011, under Body Work

Now that the body is off the chassis, I can get an even better view of the rust damage and what needs to be replaced. Basically, most everything on the bottom 4-5 inches of the body will need to be replaced with donor parts or new panels. The bottom areas of the body suffered the most moisture exposure while sitting idle for 20+ years in the harsh Minnesota weather. I was told that it was sitting under a shed most of this time, but I’m guessing that snow and rain were still able to reach the underside of it. And if it spent the first 25 years in this harsh environment as well, it had probably already experienced some rust damage before it was parked for another 20 or so years.

So here is my initial assessment of what will need to be repaired:

Heater Channels: The heater channels have been destroyed by rust both inside and outside and will need to be replaced. The rear sections suffered the worst damage and have disintegrated completely. Both sides had mouse nests inside the channels. Since the replacement aftermarket heater channels available today are so different in both design and fit from the original parts, I have decided to purchase donor channels from a car of a similar age. I found donor parts on thesamba.com and they were shipped via Greyhound bus from California which is, by the way, an economical way to ship large bulky items. There is no guarantee that the donor channels will be a perfect fit, but they should be much closer than the new aftermarket parts and will have the same contours, stampings, and vents.

 

Front firewall: The front firewall is in fairly good shape. There are significant areas of rust on the bottom left and right corners where it attaches to the heater channels, but I should be able to graft in areas from new or donor parts. The areas that need to be replaced are really the only areas on the new aftermarket parts that are close to the original parts, so I may just buy a new panel and cut out the sections I need. Otherwise, the rest of the new firewall panels are significantly different than the originals and are missing the fuel valve hole, choke cable hole, and recessed stamping for the high beam switch and it would not be worth replacing the whole panel with a new one. Besides, there are many spot welds to drill out to remove the current one and just as many welds to make to install a new one.

 

A-Pillars: I know the passenger side A-pillar has rust damage because the lower door hinge would flex quite a bit as something inside the pillar was loose. I’m not really sure what condition the A-pillar is on the driver side and will not really know until I can take a good look inside of it. From the outside, it looks in pretty good shape. The correct replacement panels cost $120 each, so I will try to find a good donor panel first. Once I remove the heater channel on each side, I can see inside the pillars and get a better idea of the extent of the damage.

 

Rear Cross Members: The outside ends of the rear cross members are rusted, so I plan to only replace these areas. Aftermarket replacement panels are available and aren't too different than the originals, but I will look for donor panels because I intend to replace the ends of panels just past the heater tubes and want the tubes to match the originals. It will also be less work if I can use matching donor parts as the heater tubes will already be welded to the panels. With new panels, I have to move the tubes and weld them on.

 

Luggage Shelf: The luggage shelf is also in fairly good condition, except for rust on the very bottom left and right corners where they attach to the rear cross members and rear wheelhouses. I will look for a donor panel to cut pieces out for replacement. I did find a supplier that sells a donor clip with the entire luggage shelf with the rear cross members as well. That may be an option that will provide panel grafts for both.

 

Rear Quarter Panels: The bottoms of both rear quarter panels are heavily rust-damaged. In fact, both the inner and outer portions of the panels will need to be replaced. Since the heater channels that I am purchasing will include the rear quarter panels, I will cut sections from the donor panels to replace the damaged areas. The passenger side panel has a large dent in it that is covered with body filler. I will likely replace the panel past the point of this dent.

 

Front Apron: The front apron is in usable shape, but will need some repair. The overrider holes are mangled a bit from when the bumper was damaged. As long as there isn’t any rust damage on the underside of it, I may just weld in a patch where the overrider holes are and re-cut the holes. The spare tire tray that attaches to the bottom of the front apron will have to be replaced. I will likely use a new panel as they are close enough to modify to be like the original panels and they are inexpensive.

 

VIN Plate\Brake Fluid Reservoir Well: The VIN plate\brake fluid reservoir well has some significant rust, namely under where the reservoir is mounted and on the front mounting bracket that mounts the body to the front axle. This panel will need to be replaced. Since aftermarket parts are not available, I will need to find a donor part or try to fabricate parts, which would be very difficult to do. Brake fluid is a great paint remover, so an area like this that would normally be dry and safe from moisture, was soon bare and vulnerable to rust. Because of this, it suffered quite a bit of errosion and pitting.

 

Rear Apron: The rear apron is pretty banged up. The bottom of the panel is bent upward on one side and there has been some questionable body work done on it at some point. Apparently, to get the bottom corners to match the rear fenders, someone beat in the corners and then filled them in with body filler. The underside has a lot of surface rust, so I may have to replace the bottom portion of the apron with either a new or donor panel. The bottom portion of a new panel, from the weather seal down, should be fairly close to the original, but a donor panel would be preferable, but perhaps harder to find.

 

Front Wheelhouses: The front wheelhouses are in good shape except for the areas where they attach to the very front of the heater channels and also at the bottom corners of the front firewall. This area on both sides will need portions of a panel grafted in where the metal is rusted. I will use new panels for this. The rest of the front wheelhouses are fairly rust free. I do know that I have to weld one side of the horn bracket because I broke a spot weld trying to remove the horn. I also have a hole that needs to be plugged on the passenger side where a previous owner drilled through it to run a bolt to hold the bumper bracket. Apparently, the bumper mount, which is located inside the spare tire well, was stripped out and rather than repair the threads in the mount, they just drilled a hole through the mount and wheelhouse and ran a bolt through to secure the bumper bracket to the mount. I will either replace the mount or remove it, weld a nut on the back side, and re-weld it.

 

Rear Wheelhouses: Both of the rear wheelhouses need quite a bit of work. Both will need a large section of the very rear of the wheelhouses replaced. These areas include the bumper mount and there is a lot of rust damage there. Since the available aftermarket panels are similar to the original parts, I will use these to make the repairs. Both sides also have quite a bit of rust on the brackets that bolt to the shock towers on the chassis, so I would like to at least replace the brackets with donor or new parts. Also, both sides have a good deal of rust damage on the front of the wheelhouses. The available aftermarkets panels for this area also include the shock tower brackets, so these panels will take care of both issues.

 

There may be other areas that need rust repair, but these are currently my main areas of concern. There is surface rust throughout the body and I will not really know if there is significant damage until I start removing the rust. I want to get the major work done first, and will address the other areas after the structural work is completed. I’ll also have to tackle repairing and fitting the doors, front hood, and engine lid before getting to the cosmetic work.

There is also a great deal of work to be done to the chassis, such as replacing the floor pans and napoleon hat, which will need to be done alongside of the body repair. This work will be shown in a separate category named Chassis.

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July 2011 Update, Donor Heater Channels

by on Jul.20, 2011, under Body Work

Well, I haven’t done anything to the car at all since the middle of March. I’ve had time to work on it, but I haven’t had the money necessary to buy all the replacement and donor panels I need for the next step. It’s also been way too hot to do any work on it. It’s been unbearably hot in Central Texas this year! Once I have the money for the parts and tolerable weather, I will get back to it again.

 

I did purchase donor heater channels from a guy in California and had them shipped via Greyhound bus to Texas. It’s a fairly inexpensive way to ship big, bulky items like this. I would, however, recommend that if you have anything shipped this way to have the person shipping it to you to thoroughly wrap and protect the item. My guy did a terrible job packaging my heater channels they got banged up more than they should have. There was also sharp metal sticking out of the packaging and a bus driver cut his hand (not seriously) unloading it at my local station. The cranky old lady that manages my station complained vigorously about the poor packaging. Being partially covered in cardboard and shrink wrap was not sufficient to protect it… and it was dangerous as well.

The heater channels I purchased included the rear quarter panels. I don’t know just what parts of the quarter panels I will use yet, but I do know that I will need the inner panels for sure. I thought I was getting a matched set of heater channels, but got a pair from two different model years. I think they are close enough to my model to fit well and only the driver side is newer. I think it is only a year or two newer as it has holes in it for the wiring harness, but the vent louvers still match. These should be much better replacements than the new ones available today.

I started drilling out spot welds on the front end of the passenger side heater channel. I first removed the paint and the body sealer covering the welds with a wire brush in my drill. I then removed the remnant of the front wheelhouse. By that time, the inexpensive spot weld bit I was using was really dull. I’m going to need to purchase a much better one before drilling any more of them. There was a little surface rust under the panel, but overall it seems in pretty good shape.

 

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March 2012 Update

by on Mar.09, 2012, under Body Work

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve done anything on my car. I haven’t given up or lost interest, but still have the same issue of not having the sufficient funds to purchase the replacements panels needed to start the extensive rust repair. I would prefer to have most, if not all, of the pieces that I know I’m going to replace to be able to fit and align them together and to make sure everything is going to work. With so few reference points remaining, it’s going to be tough enough to get each panel in its proper place and having the adjacent parts should help quite a bit. Even with all original parts, it would still be difficult to get everything aligned properly and since I’ll be using a combination of donor parts and aftermarket repair panels, it’s going to be even more difficult for them to be properly aligned and fitting, structurally sound, and not looking Frankenstein-ed together like they will actually be.

Outside of structural and cosmetic concerns, my main concern is that the doors will work and fit well. My goal is for them to fit as well as they did when they were new. This will require the following:

     1) The ‘A’ and ‘B’ columns are equidistant. The measurements between the two columns on each side need to have the same measurements at the top and at the bottom, and the gaps between them and the door need to be even all the way up and down.

     2) The ‘A’ and ‘B’ columns are parallel vertically. By this, I mean their positions along the body of the car and not having one column tilting more towards the inside or outside of the car than the other. This will make sure that the door lays flat against the frame around it.

     3) The ‘A’ columns are structurally sound and do not flex or move. In order to be able to support the doors via the hinges and to maintain their alignment, the ‘A’ columns will need to be rock solid. I know that the lower portion of my passenger side column will need to be replaced. The bottom hinge was frozen and that area would give way when trying to open the door. Deciding just when to replace this is going to be difficult. On one hand, replacing it first will ensure that I have a more stable hinge mount to position and align the door and heater channel, but on the other hand it may just not make any difference. So many pieces have to be replaced and there will be a lot checking and rechecking as I go. Planning ahead will be critical to all of this working out, but even then, I’m sure there will be surprises and things I may not have expected that I will have to deal with.

     4) The hinges are working freely, but without excessive play. The play will make them droop and if drooping enough, the bottoms will rub on the heater channels. This will also make it impossible to align them properly and have the gaps around the doors and frames be even. This is probably something I need to address first since my hinges are worn.

     5) The positions of each heater channel are a) parallel to the bottom of its corresponding door and b) providing the proper clearance from the bottom of the door to prevent rubbing.

     6) Last, but not least, the gaps between the door and frame are correct — not too narrow or too wide.

I’m anxious to get started and to move from the planning/guessing stage to the doing stage. At this point, making mistakes is still progress.

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July 2012 Update, Donor Front Firewall & Napoleon Hat

by on Jul.07, 2012, under Body Work

I just purchased a couple of key replacement parts for my Beetle. I purchased a donor front firewall and a donor Napoleon Hat (sometimes called a front chassis support panel). Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, there are people in California that cut up perfectly good cars for parts. In my case, it’s a good thing as it makes it possible to replace some hard-to-find parts and panels that either 3rd party suppliers don’t supply at all or the parts they do supply are for newer models that neither look the same nor fit the same as the originals. As far as I can tell with an initial inspection, these two parts are very close to the original parts on my car. The front firewall is labeled as being from a 1966 model which appears to be correct. It doesn’t have the holes in it for the choke cable or fuel tap lever, but has the stampings in it where the holes used to be punched out. I can just drill these out to the proper size and it should match the original panel. All the other stampings and dimensions appear to be the same as the original. The Napoleon hat appears to be a very close match to the original as well and a trial fit to the donor front firewall showed a very close fit. I won’t know for sure just how close a match they are until the extraneous pieces and panel remnants are removed and I can put them up next to the originals and also until I can take some comparative measurements.

Note: These donor parts do cost a little more than the currently available replacement panels, but are, in my opinion, superior in design, fit, and quality. A new Napoleon hat is available for around $30 and the donor part cost me $75. Likewise, a new front firewall is available for around $50 and the donor part was $100. I think the extra cost will be easily justified once they are in place. These two parts are important to the mating of the body and chassis and will provide a good reference point for the heater channels on the front end of the car. Currently, these parts on my car are rusted away on their outer ends and provide no reference points with panels mating to them like the heater channels.

Along with the front firewall and Napoleon hat, I purchased a pedal cluster, 1 horn (he threw in an extra), 3 back seat bolts with washers, and 7 long 17mm bolts. All of the items together cost me $200 including shipping via Greyhound Package Express. As you can see, protective packaging is not my supplier’s forté. However, providing hard-to-find original parts with very little rust is. He wrapped the firewall and Napoleon hat together with stretch wrap as well as wrapping the horns together. They were all placed in a floor jack box with the pedal cluster and the bag of bolts. They seemed to make the journey here with little or no damage. Thanks Mike!

 

I’ve recently become very motivated to get started working on the restoration again, even if it is just little things here and there. I did some website work for one of the absolute best, if not the absolute best, classic VW restoration shops in the country and after looking at many years’ worth of their fantastic, top-notch work, it reminded me that I need to make progress, no matter how little it may be — every day, week, month, and year. I may not have the funds to buy all the replacement panels I need right away, but I can do something productive on it on a regular basis until I can. I’ve made a commitment to myself to get going and keep going.

 

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May 2014, The State of my Stalled Project

by on May.05, 2014, under Body Work

Sometimes, a picture just says it best – life takes over and the restoration project comes to a halt. For a year, two, or maybe more. As you can see, nothing has been done for a really long time. With great intentions of getting started and to keep going, I never did. I recently started following the progress of several home-garage restorations on volkszone.com and saw one project that showed a picture much like these after a long pause in progress. So I figured that I would do the same and show the reality of my stalled project. It did give me hope, though, to see others stop for long periods of time and start back up and actually finish the job. I will not make any promises or lofty goals, but I will say that I am once again really interested in this project.


 

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VIN Plate\Brake Fluid Reservoir Well Donor Panel

by on May.11, 2014, under Body Work

A while ago, I started looking for a replacement for my VIN plate\brake fluid reservoir well and found a 1958 donor front clip that included one on thesamba.com. The seller agreed to cut out and sell me just the area that was attached to the panel for $90, including shipping. It is a little banged up, but nothing that can’t be straightened out. There is also a bit of surface rust, but it is in much better condition than the one on my car.

The first 4 pictures are of the panel still attached to the donor clip and the remaining 5 are of the donor cut-out that I purchased.


 

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Disassembling the Donor Heater Channels

by on Jul.21, 2014, under Body Work

Finally back working on the car! I decided to tackle removing the quarter panels and other pieces still remaining on the donor heater channels that I purchased. Even though the quarter panels that came with the heater channels are in fairly good shape, I decided that it would be better to just remove them and just use the heater channels by themselves. I think it will be too hard to try to cut and splice the channels, and whatever part of the quarter panels I decide to use, into the body all at the same time. I do intend to use the lower part of the inner quarter panels from the donors as the inner panels on my body are severely rusted. I intend to use reproduction repair panels for the outer quarter panels as the ones on the donors both have issues. I started with the passenger side channel.

Even drilling very carefully on the spot welds, I still managed to drill through into the heater channel a couple of times. Oh well, I guess I’ll get a little more welding practice! It’s amazing how well the spot welds hold and just a small area missed can keep the whole area from breaking free. I took my time to do as little damage as possible to the heater channels when removing all the stuff I didn’t want and at the same time, trying to have as much usable area on the removed panels just in case I need something from them later on. Sometimes, though, areas on the panel being removed just have to be sacrificed to be able to get them apart.


 

First, I removed the outer quarter panel. I don’t intend to use this panel, but tried to do as little damage as possible so that it is useable either by me or someone else in the future. With the door jamb welded, it is difficult to get in the tight corners and cut it away. I ended up drilling or cutting away more that I wanted, but the main focus is saving the heater channel.


 

Since the carpet strip on the door threshold is dented, scratched, and bent, I decided to remove it. Replacements are readily available and less than $10 for quality replicas. It was kind of a pain to remove, however, with just over 30 spot welds to drill out and ground down afterwards. I think it will be worth the effort of replacing it though as this is very visible when the door is open


 

Next, I removed the inner quarter panel. There are several areas that are just difficult to access to cut, grind, and free the panel and not damage or mar it. Also, it’s often hard to tell just where the welds are and just what is preventing the panel from breaking free. This panel is in excellent condition and I will use the bottom of it to replace the completely rusted out panel on the car.


 

I then removed the remnants of the rear cross member from the rear of the channel. There were two thick layers of metal (the cross member & the reinforcing plate) with a lot of spot welds. The cross member actually fits under the bottom plate of the heater channel and is seam welded all the way across. I cut it just past the seam weld losing very little of the bottom plate. Removing this gives me the first view inside the heater channel. Not too bad for panel that is around 50 years old! I'm considering removing the bottom plate so that I can remove the dents and treat the rust inside. It's a lot of spot welds to drill out to remove it and a lot of welding to reassemble it, but it's really the only way to stop the rust, preserve the good metal, and get it looking its best.


 

Next up was the remainder of the A pillar. Again, I cut just past the welds to remove the panel piece and then ground the welds down.


 

Since my car didn’t have carpet retaining strips over the heater vent louvers, I removed it. I want to keep it as close to what it originally had as possible.


 

Last, I removed the remaining section of the front firewall. This piece is heavily welded both with seam welds and spot welds. Luckily, I don’t need to keep any of it and could cut and grind it aggressively. One down and one to go!


 

After getting it all apart, I think that this heater channel was cut from a 1967 bug or at least one that had seat belts from a 1967. It had a clip mounted on it that was used to hold back the sheath that covered the bottom part of the 1967 seat belt mechanism. Overall, I’m very pleased with the condition of this heater channel. I think this will be the closest available replacement part and at $100, it’s hard to beat the price as well. The closest quality replacement costs around $300 plus another $120 shipping for each heater channel!

The driver's side donor heater channel came apart pretty much the same way. I'm not sure this heater channel came from the same car as the other, but they were supposed to be a pair from the same body. The paint colors were different except for similar small areas with the same green paint. This side also had the running board bolt holes welded and ground flat to the surface and the molding clip holes on the quarter panel were welded as well. The passenger side did not. I think it's from a 1964-1967 model as it had a drain line in the quarter panel for a metal sunroof. Overall, this heater channel had more rust and rust damage and isn't in as good condition as the passenger side heater channel. Just as the other channel, I think the bottom plate will need to be removed to treat the rust and do other repairs. I still think it will be fine once done and well worth the $100 I paid for it.


 

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Disassembling the Donor VIN Plate\Brake Fluid Reservoir Panel

by on Jul.27, 2014, under Body Work

I decided to remove the extraneous pieces from my donor VIN plate/ brake fluid reservoir compartment. When it was cut out, there were pieces of the panel it was attached to that need to be removed before it can be welded on. That will be quite a while from now, but still needs to be done.

First, I used a rotary wire brush in my drill and went over the spot welds to make then easier to see. Amazing how many spot welds there was on this small compartment that had to be drilled out to get the old panel pieces off. A quick count yielded around 44 welds. I didn't track the time, but I'm guessing it took at least 2 hours to do them all.


 

The resulting replacement panel is in pretty good shape. It's a little bent up and is rusted through on the back part of the panel, just behind where the brake fluid reservoir sits. I'll find out later on just how far that extends when I clean it up for patching. Hopefully, it's just a small area.


 

One less thing to do!

 

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Disassembling the Donor Napoleon Hat

by on Jul.30, 2014, under Body Work

Since the Napoleon Hat on my car isn't worth saving or repairing, I decided to find a donor part. I contacted the guy that I purchsed my donor heater channels from an he said he had a chassis that he would be willing to cut up and remove the Napoleon Hat for me. He did a good job cutting through the tunnel on the floor pan side and left about an inch of the tunnel from the flange where they are welded together. However, on the frame head side, he cut most of the flange away on half of it. I'm sure it was more difficult cutting through with tunnel on that side with the frame head bottom plate in the way. I don't think it will be much of an issue just cutting that section of the flange out and welding in a patch. My intention is to do just that.


 

As far as drilling out the spot welds and removing the tunnel and bottom plate of the frame head, it was very difficult. On the tunnel flange, the spot welds were hard to find in some areas. The flange and tunnel are of thick metal and the welds didn't make much of an indentation into the metal, but the welds penetrated all the way through the metal and held fast. Also, with the metal being so thick, it was difficult to pull the pieces apart or get them to move at all until all of the welds were cut or ground through. I had to cut and remove pieces of the tunnel to make it easier. Still, it was a difficult task. Several welds on the bottom of the Napoleon Hat where it was welded to the bottom plate of the frame head were so close together that the weld penetration formed one large weld. It was difficult to get the weld separated without taking a big chunk of the bottom flange out with it.


 

I'm not overly happy with this panel, to be honest. I think it is better than using a new reproduction panel as they don't fit well at all and have to be cut up and re-shaped, especially where it fits around the tunnel. But on the outer ends of the panel, someone drilled quite a few extra holes on both ends. I'm not quite sure why the extra holes were drilled through them or what that accomplished. They can be patched and filled, but there is also quite a bit of rust on the inside of them. I'll have to clean the whole panel up and see just how deep the rusts goes and if the structural integrity is compromised. It may be worth buying a new panel and chopping off the ends and grafting them on my donor panel. The shape and fit are still quite a bit different on the new panels, but I will try to repair the donor panel first and keep as much of the original metal as possible.

 

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Disassembling the Donor Front Firewall

by on Aug.05, 2014, under Body Work

Next up for disassembly is my donor front firewall. I bought this from the same person that sold me the Napoleon hat. It's newer than my car and came from a 1966 model, but the only real differences from my current one is that it doesn't have holes for the fuel reserve valve lever and the choke cable (and isn't rusted away at the bottom!). The stampings for the panel are the same, but the holes are just not punched out. This panel is in really good shape with almost no rust and was a great purchase at $100.


 

The key words of removing the the old panel pieces from the front firewall are Spot Welds! On the sides where it was attached to the wheel wells, most of the welds are spaced about 1/4 inch apart. On the top where it was attached to the trunk, they are spaced about 3/4 inch apart. I took a wire wheel and ground off the paint, carpet glue, and seam sealant so that I can better see the welds. On the sides where the welds are 1/4 inch apart, I decided to just cut the panel off and leave the strip of welds on the panel. This way I can just ground the strip down to the panel itself. On the other welds that were spaced further apart, I drilled them out with a spot weld cutter. On the top of the panel, I just drilled the welds out with the spot weld cutter as well. There were about 40 welds on the top piece and the sides each had more than that just in the areas where I just cut the panel off.

On another note, there was one thing that made it difficult to access the areas of the panel joints that were in the interior of the body - the seam sealant. It was anywhere from 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch thick, especially in the corners. It was 50 years old and hard as a rock. I took my time and carefully scraped it off little by little, trying not to scratch and mar the panel. The metal under the sealant was as pristine as the day it was applied. It really did its job.


 

Lastly, I removed the pieces of the heater channel from the bottom corners. On the tops where they are rounded, they were spot welded. In earlier years, this connection was seam welded. My donor heater channels were both seam welded, but they were both older than the 1966 front firewall. The other joints on the bottoms and sides were joined with spot welds that were practically on top of each other, so I just cut rough the heater channel pieces and left the strip of spot welds to be ground down to the firewall panel.


 

Again, really happy with this panel, but not looking forward to removing the one currently on the car as I know how difficult this will be. Since I don't have to save any of it, I may just cut it off where the spot welds are right next to each other and grind off what's left. I prefer grinding to cutting out spot welds!

 

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February 2018 Update: A Sad Portrait of Reality

by on Feb.15, 2018, under Body Work

The intention of this post is to maybe give a realistic example of what happens with amateur restorations and the on-again, off-again, or maybe just off-again progression that many experience. If you have a project in your garage that looks like mine, you are not alone. Not that my failure should make you feel better about yourself. I remember reading my first restoration blog and the writer stating that it took him 9 years to complete the restoration and thinking to myself how ridiculous it was to take that long to restore one car. Well, I'm quickly approaching having this car for 8 years now and having done not much more than take it apart (the easy part) and think about it for a really long time. I am hoping to get started and stick to it very soon. I mean it. Really this time...


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A Nice find! Original, Unissued 1960 License Plates

by on May.04, 2018, under Body Work

I will not need these for a while, but I found a pair of original, unissued 1960 license plates. They cost about the same as most of the old and rusted plates I've found before and will not need to be restored. Texas will let you use original year plates as long as they are the same year as your car, the numbers are not currently being used, and if they have no rust. They will allow repainted and restored plates, which many states will not allow. I have been looking for affordable plates for years now and never expected to find unissued plates still in the original packaging.


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