If you are reading this then chances are that you either own an air cooled Volkswagen or you want to. No one can blame you for that! Classic air cooled Volkswagens are the best cars on the road!
If you are thinking of getting yourself an old VW you have to decide which type and how much money you can spend. Beetles are the easiest and lowest priced VWs you can get as long as you aren’t particular about the model, however they still aren’t cheap. Whether you decide you want to own a bug, bus, karmann ghia, or other VW you will next need to know your price range budget.
If you can afford it and you just want to have a nice car right now then shop for one that is in excellent condition. Many people prefer to buy a cheaper car that is a “fixer upper” because they enjoy crafting and restoring an air cooled car back to life. Before you decide to buy a “fixer upper” look deeply into yourself and ask “Will I actually do this work?” If your honest answer is yes then by all means buy that VW and fix it up.
Here are a couple experiences of mine in buying a good fixer upper VW:
The first air cooled Volkswagen I owned was a green 1974 Super Beetle. I traded an old truck I had around $300 in for the bug. The Super Beetle wasn’t running very well and the owner didn’t know how to fix it. He said that he wanted the truck.
Before I agreed to make a trade I looked over the car. The body did have some rust and dings, but it was in pretty good shape as was the interior. I didn’t have a compression gauge, but I suspected that was where the problem was. I removed the spark plugs and blocked each hole with a wad of paper then I cranked the engine. I walked back to take a look and in cylinders 1 and 2 the paper wad was still there in the hole. The compression for those two jugs wasn’t enough to blow the paper out! I knew right then that I was going to be in for a ring job, maybe more.
We made the trade and when I drove that VW Beetle home I made no more than 25 mph. On some of the hills I would be in first gear barely crawling along! As soon as I got the bug home I ordered a set of rings and some tune up needs and started on the job of pulling out the engine.
A few days later I was back on the road and I am sad to say that I got the first speeding ticket of my life. That Beetle would do 75 and 80 mph with no problem and could take most hills with ease.
Another time I was approached by a man who wanted to sell me an old Bug. He told me that the body was in good shape but the engine wouldn’t start and he only wanted $100. Naturally, I had to go take a look at it.
The VW Beetle had been sitting in a barn on the back of a farm. Even though it was covered with dust it was still a beautiful car. At that point I already knew I wasn’t going to be passing it up at that price regardless of whether or not it even had an engine!
He put in a battery and the engine turned normally, but it would not fire. I started asking him questions while I was looking the car over. He told me that he had driven the car for about a year and even though he had kept it tuned up it kept running worse until eventually it wouldn’t run at all. It had been stored in the barn for more than a year.
I asked him if he had ever adjusted the valves, he said that he never realized you had to do that! I told him it was probably just the valves, but he just wanted rid of it. I bought the car from him and asked him if I could come back later to work on it. A couple days later, after we had gotten the paperwork done, I had a friend give me a ride out to the old barn and quickly adjusted the valves. The old Beetle started right up and I drove it home.
The previous owner had never adjusted the valves even though he had kept up with other parts of the tune up. He replaced plugs and wires, distributor cap and components and changed the oil regularly, but without the valves being adjusted the engine’s performance steadily decreased. In the end the valve clearances were so excessive that the valves were not able to be fully opened.
Written by David Slone, Copyright 2008 all rights reserved.