The story of the Volkswagen Beetle is well known; it was designed by Ferdinand Porsche to provide cheap transport for the hard working German masses, hence the name, the “People’s Car”. For the myriad other names given to this popular car click here! Initially they were built in very small numbers before and during World War II; later the Beetle literally rose from the ashes of Volkswagen’s bombed-out Wolfsburg factory to become an instant success across Europe, Britain, America and virtually every other country in the world.
The model evolved through various facelifts and numerous mechanical changes – there were more than 70,000 identifiable modifications – while it also provided a platform for other models, including military (such as the Kübelwagen and the remarkable Schwimmwagen), commercial vehicles (such as the Type 2 Bus) and sporting derivatives such as those by Karmann-Ghia. It was this constant development and attention to detail which allowed the Beetle to maintain its remarkable sales success , and as production raced past the 15,000,000 mark, the Beetle went on to be known as ‘The Best Selling’ car of all time. But this record was eventually superseded by the VW Golf.
Readers of my Cars & More pages in this Blog may have noticed that while I was in Lake Forest College (during the early 70’s), I had obtained an old 1962 VW Beetle, into which later on had thrusted a rebuilt by-my-own-hands Porsche 356 engine in the back bay, turning the little car into a nondescript hot-rod; eventually converting the Bug into a wicked Autodynamics Deserter GT beach-buggy that accompanied me back home to Greece after graduation on board the super-liner SS Michelangelo.
I guess that the notion of re-living those long gone days of innocence and thirst for an adrenaline fueled life, was in the back of my head for some time. And out of the blue, the opportunity to acquire another 1962 Beetle came sometime in the spring of 2011. In April a bunch of car aficionados had successfully formed the “Car Friends Close Group“, a small private Face Book Group of friends who share their passion and love about anything on wheels. We then organized an event with our cars showing in a private collector’s garage aiming to raise funds for ‘a good cause’ in support of the Smile of Child, a well known Greek NGO (http://www.hamogelo.gr). Since the President of the NGO is an ex colleague from the IT Business, he asked me to help him in selling some old cars that were donated few years ago to the organization. Arrangements were made for me to visit the storage area in Corinth in order to take pictures and evaluate the cars on his behalf. Lo and behold, when the gates were opened I first encountered a 1973 R107 Mercedes-Benz 280 SL and right behind a 1962 Type 113 VW Beetle (aka Käfer) in anthracite color. Having myself bought just few months ago an immaculate R107 (see The Day I met “Princes Grace” post) I had no interest for yet another one in need of restoration. But the Beetle touched my soft spot; I had to rescue this neglected but quite original and in sound condition example. I must confess that among all my classic or modern cars, the Beetle, named Marlen II, currently commands the highest emotional charge! 😉
Rewinding on the story a parenthesis is due; the idea of re-living my College year’s of owning an early 60’s VW Beetle powered by a 356 Porsche engine, included a quest to source an appropriate unit for rebuilding and then fitting (a straight bolt on job) it to the newly acquired Beetle. Seeking such in Greece was unsuccessful; Enter in the picture a generous and noted Porsche cars collector, a Greek-American friend, Myron Vernis, who upon learning via e-mail exchanges of my quest, graciously offered to provide such a unit as a present to me! Ain’t that nice? Hence, after many arrangements done by my other close Greek car collector friend, Alex Vazeos, one September morning the 356 engine arrived at my garage in a crate, directly from Ohio, USA! I am most grateful about getting “a little help from my friends!” 🙂
Closing the parenthesis, back to present, making a longish story short, after negotiating with my ex colleague for a two car deal, I was able to get yet another Greek car collector friend of mine interested in the Merc R107; hence we concluded the purchase of both cars in late October 2011. I made arrangements for both to be loaded on a car transport truck and delivered to our respective workshops in Athens. I took delivery of Marlen II on Friday afternoon 18th of November at the premises of my trusted body shop, the A & B FOR CARS in Geraka (the friendly guys who did such a nice job on the “ground-up” restoration project of 2010 for my 1967 Mercedes-Benz W111 250 SE Coupé. Click here for the related stories). The drums of anticipation jumped gear thumping faster as I heard the truck’s diesel engine maneuvering outside the body shop’s gate. I had not inspected the car carefully while in its Corinthian storage, as there was not enough room nor had I the possibility to raise the car and examine at the undercarriage for rust spots. It was sort of a “blind date” purchase and now after several months of dreaming about the little car, I was going to face the truth, good or bad…
The relevant ‘Apocalypse Now!’ video clip is here-below; Manos’ expert eye confirms that the undercarriage is original, rust-free and unmolested. “Poly Kalo!” (Very Good! was his verdict). The car has not suffered any injuries from any serious crash accident and there would be little intervention to be done in her underbelly aside from a thorough steam cleaning and wax-oiling! A pleasant surprise 🙂
After some more documenting pictures were taken, I left the car there and headed for home (on the way I decided to offer Marlen II as a birthday present to my beloved wife Ivi, her anniversary being on Sunday 20th November)! Full of excitement about all that was eager and thirsty to hit the web and start researching about her birth date and many other Käfer related details. Her chassis No. 4 725 111 revealed that the official model is “113, VW De Luxe Sedan”, manufactured in May 1962; in addition, the engine No. 6 766 861 means that it pumps out 34 DIN PS with a displacement of 1.2 Liter. For more details I would have to await the receipt of the official ‘Zertifikat’ applied for from the Stifung AutoMuseum Volkswagen, Schatzkammer der Marke.
On the following Saturday morning the primary task was to start the engine! Of course the 6 Volt battery was dead so I had to ‘borrow’ the one from our 1956 Citroen Traction Avant! Armed with a ‘light’ toolbox and the extracted battery plus a spray can of ether engine starter, I proceeded to A & B FOR CARS to do the honors.
After cleaning the battery terminals and positioning the fresh power source in its tray under the rear seat bench-(also not rusted), I removed the carb air cleaner and was ready to turn the ignition key. I asked one of the guys to assist by only squirting ether twice inside the carb barrel. Ready? Ignition: on the second cranking the air-cooled motor without much ado, spurted to life! I could not believe my eyes, ears and nose. All three senses acted in unison as a total recall to long forgotten but familiar VW Beetle sounds and smells. My new ’49-years old’ VW was purring, revving at higher idle as a cold engine should. No excessive smoke nor valve train clutter was noticed. The red indicator charging/oil pressure ‘idiot light’ on the speedometer instrument going out as it was supposed to. Good omens for an unusually warm and sunny late November Saturday morning. I was very happy indeed! 🙂 A time capsule? Who knows how long ago it was when the engine was last used? How many previous owners? Are the 81310 kilometers indicated in the odometer true and correct? Further inspection and getting to know my Marlen II would sooner or later piece together some of the puzzle pieces of her past life.
Next stop was at the cleaners! Unluckily my friendly Pakistani hot pressure water equipped car washer was not available, so I had to hunt in the neighborhood for an alternate. After several gas station stops, one had the right equipment and was willing to undertake the job. A lot of old grease and caked oil had accumulated in the rear engine and gear box area as well as in the front torsion bar suspension. While at it, his Karcher machine broke down… 😦 The job was half done and the bill was reduced. Oh well, Kumar will do it properly for me come Monday.
A more detailed picture album of the car can be viewed by clicking HERE!
Next task was to change the vital juices: engine oil, gearbox oil, brake fluid. In addition to check on the road safety of the car in areas of steering, suspension, brakes, electrics (lights, turning indicators, horn, windshield wipers etc). These items were taken care of (the juices by Christos Economou VW Service) and the rest by Cabilis Performance, a VW specialist conveniently located only one block away from my garage! In between five new tires were fitted and the wheels dynamically balanced.
The mechanical repairs effected so far (Dec 2011) include:
- Brakes overhaul (new master cylinder, wheel cylinders, linings, hoses, bleeders)
- Front end (new steering damper, tie rod ends, wheel bearings cleaned & greased, new shock absorbers, travel end ‘stop’ rubbers)
- Rear end (re-tuned torsion bars as the car was sitting too high, new shock absorbers, travel end ‘stop’ rubbers)
- Engine (new distributor assembly, spark plugs and HT wires, valves adjusted, carb cleaned, fuel filter fitted in non-conspicuous spot, replaced gear shift lever with original one)
- Electrics (headlights replaced, light bulbs checked, horn, dome light, windshield wiper motor, wiper arms, windshield washer line replaced, generator coils re-winded and new bearing fitted).
What is interesting to note is that the Cabilis people (father and two sons) report that the engine has not been opened and its compression test was good and even! Aside from establishing that the engine is a “matching numbers” case, this good news supports the possibility that the indicated 80k kilometers might also be true. In the mean time, the “Zertifikat” along with the confirming letter stating that “that the above engine number is that of the original engine”, came via post just the other day. Considering all the above, I am now in a dilemma about replacing the original-in good condition-engine with the more powerful Porsche 356 unit as originally planned. That issue will be resolved in the near future as the restoration project progresses during 2012…
Next phase of repairs to commence in January 2012 will cover the following areas:
- Body shop work (addressing the few rot spots, stripping and sanding and respraying to the original color “L 469 Anthracite”, replacing front and rear bumpers, sand blasting and respraying the wheels to the original color “L 471 Stone Beige”, replacing front & rear windshield seals, all other rubbers and seals etc).
- Upholstery work (replacing seat upholstery according to the factory fitted “M 079 Upholstery leatherette” and the head liner of the original 1960-62 style in light gray nap cloth perforated type, fitting the proper carpet set as the original tan colored German square weave material, plus anything else required so that the car will be in an as much original condition as possible).
Preparing for implementing that exciting phase of the restoration, I have delved in appropriate VW parts sources and related info which I list below as a reference for other interested Beetle loving friends and readers:
To be continued as the restoration progresses!