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My first car was an orange 1972 Beetle I bought from a man in Swansea (Wales) one dark and wet night. After driving it back along the M4 to Windsor I discovered some important car buying facts.

1. Never buy a car from a man in Swansea on a dark and wet night
2. Beetles get very good at collecting water in the rear footwells
3. Orange can hide a multitude of sins.
4. Properly working lights are really useful
5. Take someone who knows about cars when you buy your first one

In the cold light of day I realised I had bought a rust bucket with no heating and a small but annoying dent in the roof. After driving the car around for six months I decided to do something about it. I was lucky and had just started a new job that I could cycle to everyday, and I could borrow my mothers car in the evening.

So I took over the garage and decided to transform my car. The lack of heat was because the previous owner had decided to remove the pipes from the heat exchangers to the car, which meant that the sills acted as rain catchers. This gave the perfect breeding conditions for rust, and there was quite a bit of it. 20 years of previous owners had also rather messed up the wiring loom, and things were failing fast. Rather than scrap my first car, I decided to cut the roof off of it instead :)

First I took out the engine, de-chromed everything, and stripped out all the interior and all the wiring, as it was terrible. I then welded on the underside of the chassis 2"x2" thick box section from the very front to the very rear. I know you can theoretically drive an air-cooled beetle without the body, but I wanted this to be a daily driver car. I treated all the rust I could find, and made new fiberglass parts for the bits that wore too thin. I then painted the whole of the chassis with a rust proofing paint (a nice snazzy hammer finish silver I got from work - the fumes were fun when doing inside the car, and painting the underneath was just horrible.) I also welded some additional bracing inside the car for additional sideways stiffness without the roof.

I then broke out the angle grinders, and with a bit of help from some friends managed to get the roof off in a few hours. I wasn't just doing this to make a glorified trash dumpster though, I had bought a kit to convert the car into a 2+2 roadster. The new panels were large fiberglass pieces that attached with a combination of epoxy and rivets to the new bare metal. After much sanding and filling I decided that I had managed to get the detail lines right and there was no trace of the join.

I also welded up all the holes where the chrome had been, welded over the door handles and the front hood release. The drivers door I changed to a solenoid release, and opened the passenger door from inside.

I think I spent about 3 months either stripping off all the paint, or sanding, or filling dents, but in the end I had a great looking bare metal car. I then converted the garage into a spray booth for the 2-pack etch primer. With hindsight this wasn't the best idea, as that stuff is pretty nasty and has all sorts of dangerous ingredients, so please don't try that at home. I did take the precaution of making an air feed mask that was fed from a second compressor outside the garage. All in all thought I did a pretty good job of it, but the final pepper mint green 2 pack top coats I got done by a professional with an oven to bake the paint. They did a great job, then it was back to my garage to put everything back together, including the rebuilt engine. I also rewired everything, all in black:eek: . It seemed a good idea at the time, as I made my own wiring diagrams.

When I did the engine, I also fully ported the heads, and matched all the manifolds. You may wonder why on a 1200cc engine, but with the weight loss it did seem to make quite a difference. One side effect of the weight loss was the car sat higher, which wasn't too good, so I lowered the rear by changing the position of the splined torsion bars, and got the front done the cheap and cheating way of removing some of the springs - hey, I was only young and an apprentice, so money was tight.

I actually went to far, ant the car was too low, so that when I had a full tank of gas the car would hit the cats eyes in the road, so I did then have it raised an inch. The thing was like a go-cart though, great fu to hammer round corners. Front tyres were 145's and the rear where 165's, sitting on the original 15" steel wheels.

I drove the ca all over the country for about 2 years, then went to university, but in a rough northern town, so my car stayed at home. Fast forward 10 years, and I'm now living in London and the car has not moved in all that time, but it has been in a garage. I finally get the chance to look at her, and the car still looks great, but the engine is very stiff.

2 years ago I'm moving to America, so it's time to sell, which is very difficult to do. I spent a few weekends doing some things, such as redoing the wiring with a commercial loom, before selling it unseen to someone on eBay.

I still think of my first car, and do miss it. I don't have that many photos, but attached are a few. I hope she went to someone who could take better care than I could in the last few years. Now I'm married, and have learnt to leave most of the work to the professionals.


Debs here!
1,104 Posts
What a car! I would miss it too. You sure did a good job.the avatar picture just doesnt do it justice.

354 Posts
That's the great thing about the old aircoolds, the fact that with time and hard work, you can even transform a hopeless rust bucket into a looker like that mint green roadster of yours. ;)

Good news: Here in the States, it's a piece of cake to find a decent aircooled Volkswagen, so the next time you've got the itch, it will be easy to cure. Yes, it's nice having a New Beelte, what with all the modern conveniences it brings like working a/c and power windows, but if you've owned an aircooled, you're going to come back eventually.

I learned to drive manual in a '54 Beetle. It's only a matter of time before the aircooled siren calls my name and I'm forced to dump my money into a rustbucket of my own.
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