Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Return of BUG - A New Life for an Old Bumblebee

Yes, dear readers, our famous Bug has moved on to a new life.  Just yesterday, she was purchased by a nice young guy from Tacoma - very enthusiastic about classic Volkswagens and eager to learn more.

Bug is his first car, so naturally the first thing I made him promise:
"Please don't run into things!"

That poor car has been knocked around enough.  It is nice to know that she's in the care of a gentle and careful soul. I'm sure she'll receive good care.  

Micah and Bug

Of course the only question filling my mind is 
"NOW what?!"
Oh man.  Maybe a Bus this time...no rest for the weary.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Return of BUG - Done!

Well, close enough anyway.  A vintage VW is never really finished...

But, like everything else: nothing comes easy, and the devil is in the dee-tails.  There were a few loose ends that needed tidying up before Bug was a real car again.
For example: the windshield.
   Bug had suffered the indignity of a cracked and clouded windshield for years, and it was time to clear her vision.
 Just a blur most of the time, the illustrious Gypsie (Ray) stops by to lend a much needed hand
A Chinese windshield, an American rubber seal, on a German car.  Yet somehow it fits, sometimes.
Installed!  It can be tricky getting the seal to do what you want, but with patience and a little help it can be done.  And it does look quite a bit better.  How nice that the wipers work again too.
And then:
 A new hood seal
 New door seals
 And new rear defroster vents.  That old plastic can get as brittle as powder after the first 40 years.
 Running out of bits to install, it is time to make sure Bug is still running right.  She has sat for a good 4 months, and Volkwagens get cranky if they don't get driven.  They really do, I'm not just being quaint.
When I parked her, Bug was fully dialed in and running like a top.  I didn't worry too much.
Meanwhile, a few hours later, Bug has her timing reset, a starter connection fixed, and the carburetor re-adjusted.  What the hell, these were all fine just a few months before.  I'm tellin ya they really do get cranky.

But eventually
Bug is running like a top again.  We zip around the neighborhood and get a tankful of new gas.
Check out that fancy accessory rain gutter!  Comes in handy in the flooded Northwest.

Of course this means Bug needs her first real bath after the rebirth.  It is as classic a custom as roller derby and Coke.

I enlist cute help to wash the old webs and crumbs already forming on Bug's new shine.  Spiders never sleep either, just like rust.

Thank you, cutie!

Bug is back!

And what an experience this has been, it really has shown me that a functional restoration can be completed within a reasonable amount of time, assuming one has a ton of help and buckets of tenacity.  There are so many unknowns into the depths of a project like this, but one must plow on.  "Perseverance Furthers" reminds old John Muir from those old greasy pages.  There is no telling what the future holds for this pretty yellow gal, but I sure hope it's as sunny as her glowing face.  "May the rest of your days be collision free!", is all I can ask.
Bug is now for sale, and it's now time to move on to other things.  
Thank you for reading!  Please contact me if you'd like to give faithful Bug a good home.

Until then:
Happy trails!  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Return of BUG - Paint!

It has been a busy, messy, productive, and insanely frustrating few weeks.  Bug is almost done!  And I'm now 1/2 crazy.

Paint, you see, is the goal all along.  All of that meticulous sanding, bodywork, rust prep - it is all just a base for that shiny Texas Yellow.  And each step has to be absolutely perfect, or it's time to start all over.

In my years, I have sanded enough rust to be King (of rust).  I have pounded bodywork and finished body filler, rebuilt engines and changed windows.  But, aside from spray can touchups I have never painted an entire car.  Always willing to try something new, and especially if I can learn something, I ask myself: the eternal five words:
"How hard can it be?"

First Bug needs a bath to get rid of all that old dusty crap.  And what a day for a bath, under the first hot blue skies of the year.  Oregon's liquid sunshine is over-rated...
Bug enjoying the outdoors for the first time in months

Friends Kirk and Don have loaned me a compressor and a very good quality German paint gun.  After hanging new light fixtures and wrapping the walls and ceiling with thin plastic dropcloths, I am anxious to get to work.  It is weird and womb-like in there, and the plastic moves about like rustling ghosts under the slightest breeze.  I clean the shop spotlessly, for the first time since 1947 apparently.  New paint from the extremely helpful guys at Industrial Finishes sits in its new box, along with hardener and reducer.  It is time to mask like a madman, and get to work making Bug shine again.  Oh man.

The fumes.  I'm not sure what chemical reaction takes place when you mix this toxic cocktail, but I have never experienced such vapors.  Even with a high quality respirator, I can still sense this chemical cloud hanging heavy in the air.  But at this point I am (or should be) committed...

Painting with a spray gun is very different than any other painting process, and especially with automotive paint.  I quickly learn that this toxic soup is very thin, and wants desperately to drip and run.  It must be applied in very thin coats left to dry for a good long while before the next.  All of the variables must be EXACT - air pressure, distance from the surface, drying time, or the paint won't come out right.  
I quickly find out that this is a lot harder than it looks, especially since the cold rain has returned, and I must seal up the garage like a cocoon, enveloping the place in a thin cloud of Texas Yellow death that lingers in the air.  But I stick to my guns, and after the air clears Bug is pretty and shiny again.

There are a few drips and runs, but otherwise the paint is acceptable.  I panicked a bit, until I discovered the joys of wet sanding - where blemishes can be removed by very fine sandpaper and water.  It is tedious, but it gives surprisingly good results.  Afterwards, the luster of the paint can be brought back with a liquid rubbing compound.

A few days later, the paint is looking pretty good.  But I see that I must repaint the passenger side, so I mask all over again, and dive back into the chemical air.  And after a few days of drying, and a little more wet sanding, Bug is truly done.  It is impossible being a perfectionist!  And I tip my hat to the real automotive painters out there, it is a difficult skill to master.  I don't think I'd attempt this again without a proper paint shop with better lighting and adequate ventilation.  

License light and decklid script installed, fenders lying about like appendages

With the paint now done, it is time for the (finally) clean job of assembly!  As each part is attached to her sparkling carcass, Bug is ever-closer to completion, maybe in this lifetime if I'm lucky...but it sure is nice to attach parts shiny in their newness into clean threads with new fasteners.  Almost soothing.

It is now time to install the fenders, and avoid scratching that shiny new paint.  Luckily patient Stephan stops by to lend a hand.  It's a good thing too, as this would be a difficult task to do by yourself.  It is also a good thing that I re-tapped all the mounting threads ahead of time - this made the job a hell of a lot easier.

new fender beading

Before you know it, Bug has all four of her fenders installed, and looking pretty good too.

A rare photo of me

cute kid and shiny Bug

It is interesting to see a project ebb and flow, where a dusty tabletop of accessories await cleaning and installation.  Before you know it, the table is empty and all the parts have been installed.  It's a weird feeling looking at that empty table afterwards, after taking up so much space for months.  But all the hard work is already done.

 This original (1972!) front turn signal seal is still good after a cleaning.  Just imagine.

The rear gets new seals, but the original lenses are still perfect.  What a world...

Original anodized aluminum "chrome" trim is still in excellent condition, but a few dents need to get hammered out.  It is very soft and fragile material so careful care must be used.

 before the hood trim

 Little white plastic clips retain the trim.  They fit into small holes in the body.

Now it's time to install Bug's eyes.  Labeling all the wiring ahead of time makes assembly so much easier. 
It's such a delight when all the lights work again.
Almost a Volkswagen again

The tail lights are installed just as easily, and happily they work too.

After a bit of a fight with alignment, the new running boards are installed.  They fit pretty well, but took some bending to match the unique contours of this particular car.  No two are identical, making finish assembly somewhat of a crude task.  

Then it becomes time to install the bumpers.  The original German VW bumpers are still in great shape, so after cleaning and restoration they are ready for assembly.  

Help arrives again from the illustrious Gypsie

 Thanks to this glowing Buddha full of beer
and this ancient drill
we get the job done
thanks Gypsie!  I couldn't have done it without you.

With a similar fight, but solo this time, Bug's rear bumper is installed too.  What is this, a car again?!?!!

Bug sure has come a long way.

It is a good feeling knowing that another one has survived.  It's really not about the car itself - it's more important to remind our culture of simple quality, as our society is flooded with flimsy junk.  The air cooled Volkswagen remains strong, durable, and very useful, even 40 years later.  That pretty much says it all.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Return of BUG - Getting Ready for Texas (Yellow)

Texas Yellow, VW Code L10B, that is...
I wonder what made them think of Texas?  What was Texas to 1960s Germans?
In any case it's a nice color, bright as hell but muted with some gray.  Bug left Wolfsburg that way back in 1971.

It has been an exhausting couple of weeks.  "Almost Done" stretches into an infinity of repetitious and sometimes dangerous tasks, punctuated by life's duties.
But, where would we be without hardware?  Our machines would fall to pieces but for a few 10 cent nuts and screws. 
 The fumes made me conclude: the greatest invention was not fire, nor the wheel.  It was most certainly sandpaper.

Towards the very end of Bug's sanding duties...transformed by mere sheets of paper.

It is a relief to run out of things to do, but like raising a toddler, the next steps of development are always more challenging.  But, breaking it all down into simple steps makes this big project seem less crazy.  I try not to think too far ahead.  And of course this is taking a lot longer than I expected, making me pretty crazy. You just can't win.

  The changing lineup, Don's new '71 Camper

In between the rain sheets, Portland is suddenly blessed with an instant summer!  With a week of 80's forecast, it is time to get Bug out of the shop and into the sun again, and wash off some of that filth.

This also gives me a chance to really clean out the shop.  This was last done on Feb. 4, 1947 soon after completion of the building.  I couldn't reach the dusty webs way up on the rafters.


It was time to pull out the windshield.  Funny, after all the surgery into this car I was nervous cutting into the tough old windshield seal.  Too late, buddy.
It took some serious cutting to get that seal to give way, but eventually I won the battle.

 Luckily only surface rust on the windshield channel.  It was on the verge of becoming serious, good thing I caught it when I did.  And then a mini-POR Party finishes off that rust for good.  "Rust never sleeps", argues Neil Young.  And he's right, and especially in places that collect water.
Not pretty, but permanent.  Don't worry, it will be hidden under the windshield and seal.

Take 10 breaths, 
and back to work.

Light?!  What is this?!?!  This shop is supposed to be a dank Sasquatch Manor.
Bug looks nervous, "what the hell is that?!!?!!".

Thanks Hal.  Some people you could never repay.

With vivid lighting and clean floors, this is starting to look like a good place to paint a Volkswagen.
Kirk has lent me his trusty 220v air compressor, but it is unknown and needs a little setting up.
In between the showers and sunshine, and attention given to a lovely kid home from school, we both travel over hill and dale to amass the right fittings and electrical connections.  It roars to life!

But wait, what is this?  A RUST SPOT?!  Oh man I'm done with that stuff.  No, somehow in the excitement I have missed a couple.  Nothing serious, but it means more dust and sanding into my former clean room.  Clean-ish room.  Ok a room. 
It was a good thing after all, because it allowed me to fix a couple spots that needed it, and give a final hand sanding to the entire car.  It's really amazing how much hand work is needed in a project like this, your fingers and hands can really accomplish some amazing things.  400 grit sandpaper is like magic in your hands as it transforms, just a tool of it's creator.

And today, after washing Bug again (and trying not to get water into the windshield opening), and washing out the shop, she is truly ready for paint.

But, no.  What the hell is this oil stain on this fender!?!!!??!?!
Oh man.  
Well, an hour later it's gone and back in primer.  Only a 6" spot, but what a mess.  It had really soaked into the porous primer, making me sand it down, again.  


Spring is going nuts out there!  Get busy, you!!!

Next, paint!  We'll see how that goes.