The Money Pit

I always wanted one, and now I've got one all of my own!

You're my Beetle now!

How little I knew then

I've seen the term 'money pit' before, but never knew exactly what it meant until I bought my 1972 Beetle. Anyone who has not owned or known someone who has owned an old car might not appreciate just how deep the money pit is. It has no bottom. It only exists for as long as you are willing to throw money into it. If at any time you decide to stop using it, it will just lurk in the side lines, waiting for you to buy your next toy.... then it will be back!

At this point I must show my appreciation and thank my parents for supporting my efforts to fill the money pit, but ultimately we all discovered that we either have the pit or don't have it. There is no happy medium. We tried to cheat the money pit by replacing parts and doing all the work we could possibly conceive needed doing ourselves but it struck when we least expected it - at the MOT!!

This page has become rather large over time so here are some links to various parts of the story:

Brief history of my ownership of the Beetle (ongoing!)

The engine
The electrics
The underbody
The year that followed
The second MOT
The brake pipes
The second MOT (take two)
The Brakes (oh no, not again!)
The garage
The discovery
The solution
The bleeding
The stereo

I like driving in my car - experiences of driving my VW

Air cooled is cool
Driving in the snow
The Trip

What follows is a brief history of the ownership of my very own Beetle.

September 1998

I'd seen this Beetle at a garage which is owned by a friend of my fathers. It was parked outside under a tree (pictured above), it looked to have good paint work, the front bumper was quite rusty but not important. What was important was that when we put a battery in it and a little petrol, it started up! After a good ten months sat idle outside it actually started up without any work done to it. I was hooked, and the money pit looked on.

We took it for a test drive, all was fine - the brakes worked, the steering worked, it went up the hills, the lights worked. I was very chuffed, even before I'd bought it. We agreed a price and I paid by instalments over the next six months (handy, being skint!)

The engine had been tampered with - the choke was on full permanently, the generator was dead, the fan belt was worn, there was an oil leak, the carburetor needed some attention, and most scarily of all some of the crank case bolts were ready to fall off!

With the rear seat removed the battery compartment is cleaned and sealed.

October - April

I unexpectedly got a job in Leeds, which meant leaving my Beetle back in my fathers garage in a village near Scarborough, North Yorkshire. This was to be the most times I'd ever travelled home in such a small space of time, and the most overtime I'd done at work and not really seen much of the money. Almost every weekend I caught the train back home to work on my car with the help of my father (he's a dab hand with engines) during which time we both learned how the Beetle engine worked, where everything went, how it should sound. The oil leak was considered to be minor for the moment, we concentrated on making it run properly to pass the MOT.

The inner front wing, just near to the suspension mounting. The large pipe connects to the 9 gallon fuel tank, which doesn't last long at 25 mpg (at best)

The engine

Going by the somewhat difficult to follow Workshop Manual we took the engine components apart as much as we could without removing it from the car. The carburetor was completely cleaned out, blown out, and wire brushed. We also had to fix the choke which had been bent and mangled so that it was on permanently; once the offending customisation had been rectified it worked as it should, which was nice.

The generator was to be the cause of a great struggle as we had to remove the fan housing in order to replace it; we tried to remove it with the engine still in the engine bay, but it was too much of a struggle. We decided we would have to try to remove the engine after all, but just as we were about to separate the engine from the gear box we made one final attempt and it just suddenly popped out! Just like that bit of apple from between your teeth, it lurks there stubbornly for ages and when you finally threaten it with the toothbrush it comes out.

With the top of the engine exposed we were able to remove the tin plating and to our horror (the thought that we'd driven it like this!) discovered several of the crank case bolts loose and some ready to fall off. We used thread glue to stick them in position and screwed them up tight in the hope that they never come loose again. We were also able to replace the generator with one which we'd got from a scrap yard, and cleaned the fan housing.

The points were cleaned, spark plugs replaced, the condenser replaced by the garage at the first MOT, and they kindly tuned it up for us at the same time. This engine rocked!

Joyous memories....not!

Now where did I put that Workshop Manual?

The electrics

I had an interesting time playing with the electrics, which consist mainly of a fuse bank and lots of wiring! Some of the wires to the head lights had to be replaced because it had fried, as well as some in the engine bay. A lot of replacement spade plugs were used (and broken when trying to fit the little blighters!), contacts cleaned and scraped, ignition turned on and off quite a few times. I replaced the battery with a brand spanking new one which, while it was expensive, has a lifetime guarantee with it; basically I have it down on paper that so long as I keep the battery in my Beetle and I still own the Beetle, I can claim a new battery when this one dies on me!

The windscreen wipers were the cause of much consternation and unnecessary disassembly and reassembly only to find I'd broken the bushes on the wiper motor which are expensive things to replace, new. In the end we discovered that the wiper motor worked after all and that it was the wiper arm mechanism which was rusted solid! A liberal dose of PlusGas released them beautifully. A replacement wiper motor was acquired from a scrap yard at relatively little cost. Whew!

The previous owner had fitted a windscreen squirts pump connected to the water bottle, which was originally pressurised by the spare wheel, except the motor in the pump gave up on us after a short while so again we had to go to a scrap yard and eventually took a pump and bottle off, I think it was a Ford car. Wired it up and fixed it in and it worked a treat.

So the lights worked, the windscreen wipers worked, even the number plate light worked! I was overjoyed, though, when I got the interior light to work too!! It only works if you turn it on manually though. I think the contacts for door-open activation are too far gone.

The underbody

This was it. This is where the money pit look up and began to take notice. We took the car for its MOT, expecting there to be some welding to pay for. There was. But the money pit was to be disappointed this time, as the bill was pretty minor (less than one hundred and fifty pounds), around the same time we also got four new looking tyres and sorted out the spare. It passed its MOT after the work was done and I was thrilled to bits. My first car, a Beetle, and I could drive anywhere I pleased! No more buses and trains, smelly old men hanging around the bus stop asking for change (that was only the drivers too!)

I bought some underseal but found myself using very little of it as most of the welding had been undersealed already.

The year that followed

Living in Leeds, I had to take my car with me so that I could go places, use it, do stuff when the buses weren't running, etc. As I didn't want to leave my pride and joy out in the street I negotiated to rent a garage nearby but there seemed to be none available. After a while an opportunity arose to keep it in a garage which was fifteen minutes walk down the road. As I had no alternative I took it. There the car sat, under its blanket in the safe, dry environment of the garage, there when I needed it. Except it was a pain. I found myself saying 'can't be bothered walking all the way down there only to have to walk all the way back up when I return'. What was more annoying was that I'd have to follow the same route that I walk to work every morning. And it cost me money to rent the garage.

The car during the Christmas holidays - it sat in permanent shade and was covered in frost for an entire week, and still started first time!

Some time part way through the MOT period I experienced clutch problems, quite a bad slip occurred when going up hills (very embarrassing while holding up traffic, I had no traction!) I took it to a specialist garage and asked them to look for the oil leak too while they were fixing the clutch. It turned out that the clutch had been damaged and was holding on by a thread, and the oil leak was the now well known problem of push rod tubes. The pair cost me over two hundred pounds to put right, as they had to remove the engine and do quite a bit of work on it. The money pit was pleased as punch.

The second MOT - April

Now, I thought, nothing can go wrong! I've fixed all that I can see wrong with it, I'd already had it welded up this time last year, what could possibly go wrong at the MOT? Maybe a little patch here and there, if anything. No. Estimated at over six hundred pounds of work to make it pass; I went into shock. I still had a few weeks left on the tax disc so I decided to shop around and try to get a cheaper price for the work, nobody wanted to know; they told me stories of well over a thousand pounds to put it right, and they wouldn't want to touch it themselves.

After several weeks had passed and I'd had time to think things over, I realised that I either kept it or sold it. One was expensive, the other made me some money. Wiping away a silent tear I put an advert in the paper: 'VW Beetle, needs some welding, 500 pounds'. To my bittersweet relief nobody answered. I wanted to keep my car, so I plucked up the courage and had that welding done, at a cost of five hundred pounds (including VAT). A lot poorer, and a little wiser, I opted to replace the brake pipes myself, with the help of my father of course. The car went back to live near Scarborough while this work was done, and I stopped renting that garage.

The brake pipes - September

This was one learning experience I shall never forget. I bought the brake pipes from the same place that did the welding, and the guy said to me "good luck!". Hmmm. Firstly we had to remove the old pipes - simple enough to do. Some brute force, a bucket to catch the fluid as it leaked out, and a hacksaw to cut off those awkward pipes that were rusted solid. Fortunately all of the nuts did come out in the end so we had good threads to put the replacements into. We replaced the T-piece which had been badly fitted and cross-threaded, and cleaned out the master cylinder. We also discovered that the brake sensor contacts had rusted away so my father went back to the scrap dealer and got a replacement.

All of the brake pipes came out, except for the mysterious one going across the back of the car between the two rear brakes; we couldn't even see it let alone reach it, but from the little bit of it we could see which was attached to the T-piece it was untouched by corrosion so we thought better to leave it where it is.

When we came to replace the pipes we discovered quite alarmingly that most of the new pipes were the wrong length! Only a couple sufficed, all the rest were either too long or too short. We took them back to the garage that sold us them, who promptly got in touch with the people who they'd bought the kit from with the measurements that we'd made from the old pipes. The guy at the garage was very good to us and made our pipes up to the right length there and then, so we went away happy.

The next few weeks would be how I spent a lot of my days off work this year - fitting brake pipes in and under my Beetle! The most interesting part was bending them to the correct shapes, around the chassis and suspension arms, under and over, round and round. The bleed nipples were also rusted so we had to replaced those that we could actually get off. At least one of them is as one with the brake so we just left it.

With all the pipes skillfully laid and fixed in place, new fluid was put into the system and the air bled out. All worked fine, at last! It was time to make some final niggling adjustments and get to that MOT.

The second MOT (take two) - December

We nervously sat in the waiting room at the test centre garage. It took nearly two hours to do, and when they'd finished they failed it. Excuse me? Failed? On what? Well, it turned out that over the last seven months some rust had crept onto the front inner wings, and one of the sills was poorly welded, the sill which was originally welded for the first MOT. I was stunned and very angry; I almost shouted at the guy before my dad calmed me down! The work was to cost only 180 pounds, which included a replacement steering track rod end (which I heard was a right little sod to get off!) I paid, wincing as I did. Being the kindly soul my father is, he also chipped in.

So the car finally rolled away working and legal. I returned the next weekend to pick it up. As I got in the car I noticed that the wing mirror was misaligned so I reached out to adjust it. As I did so it literally came off in my hand! It had been glued on with rubber solution! I was angry, but then recalled that the garage had given us a pretty generous discount on the work, and now I knew why! I got over this, and tried to start the car. A fuse blew, then the whole thing went dead. The money pit sneered. Fortunately I am a brilliant man, so I replaced the fuse, check all that I could think of and eventually traced the fault to the hanging-off live terminal connector on the battery. The guys hadn't reconnected it properly when they did the welding, doh!

So the car started up, I drove off and started out on a new adventure - driving without a wing mirror! It's quite an experience as you approach the main carriage way from the slip road and desperately look round and try to see if anyone is coming, through the rear side window and the blind spot which is the large area of body shell between the rear side window and the rear window. It is legal to drive the car like this, but I am going to try to get a replacement as soon as I can.

Present day - January 2001

I no longer rent a garage, I simply park it up the street out of the way. I surmised that if it can rust away as it did in the garage, it's jolly well not going to cost me money! With the some three hundred pounds a year I was paying for the garage I can have the car fixed. Sorted. I still hear from the money pit now and again, only this week I discovered one of its little ploys - a weakened part of the underframe which I'm having a garage look at this week. Best to keep a check on these things and have them done right away, before they grow and cumulate into one big MOT repair bill.

The Brakes (oh no, not again!) May 2001

The garage

My most recent adventure has been, again, underneath and in the car fixing the brakes. I discovered quite some time ago that I was losing brake fluid but couldn't pinpoint the exact cause or point of leakage, and it was only occasional too. After discussion with a mechanic I suspected the rear brake pistons so had a local garage renew the pistons and look for any leakage. The report was of no leakage anywhere and I was sent away with a bill and a message of 'good luck!'.

The brake fluid was still leaking, except now continuously (but slowly) and from the 'rear brake' portion of the reservoir.

The discovery

While parked in the company car park at my place of work I noticed rather a large patch of very fresh liquid under my car, and drips dripping from the central area underneath and next to the drivers feet - brake fluid! The puzzling thing was that the master cylinder, as was reported by the garage, was completely dry. It occurred to me to look under the foot rest plate behind the pedals and behold! A little lake of brake fluid which could only have leaked from one source - the master cylinder! It had leaked directly into the car via the brake pedal pushrod.

The solution

I ordered a replacement and endeavoured to save myself some money by fitting it myself, with the help of my father of course. I was a little concerned when I noticed that the new one had only one connector for the brake light pressure switch whereas the old one had two. Further investigation in the workshop manual revealed that there was such a thing as a brake failure warning light, but this was only half there on my car - i.e. pressure switch and connector but no light! The surplus connector was covered with tape and left dangling out of harms' way.

Removal of the old master cylinder was a case of lots of sweating, grunting and bashed knuckles, but eventually it was retrieved, like a treasure from the Titanic it had rust growing on it which gave it an almost life-like form.

The new was fitted, but only after one slight problem was overcome. The reservoir is connected to the master cylinder via two rigid metal tubes, at either end of which are rubber hoses that connect to the reservoir and master cylinder. The ones at the master cylinder end were old and weathered, and unfortunately one had split. What could we do? We needed to get hold of a replacement tube! Sunday afternoon, where is open on Sunday afternoon? Well most places, luckily. We tried some cheap hose from an autocenter but after much heating up and forcing it was clear it wouldn't do. A visit to our favourite MOT centre in Scarborough supplied two replacement hoses of exactly the right size and material which slipped on with no trouble at all. Job done! The pipes were reconnected and bolts tightened. The bleeding could now begin.

The Bleeding

The bleeding was quite a lengthy process but went without any real hitches, apart from the time that we realised the hand brake was on, and even after that the rear brakes refused to activate without a lot of bleeding. We also topped up the master cylinder, no doubt an essential part of the process but another that we 'made up' as we went along!

Now I feel confident in my brakes, no fluid has leaked recently and the pressure is good. Probably needs another bleed sometime but that can wait for another day!

The stereo

So what's so special about a car stereo? Well, my car had one for ages but it didn't work. Nor was there a speaker (the previous owner must have really liked that speaker!). Nor did I have any real clue as to how one was supposed to be fitted to a VW.

A simple matter, really, included here more as a point of reference than as any great achievement. The speaker was secured in place with tyraps as the screw holes did not match up exactly with the car screw threads, and was earthed to the chassis. The stereo was secured in place between the air intake and the dash board (where else?) where it was supposed to be (and fitted like a glove I might add), the positive wire went to the spare fuse spade connector, and the earth went to the chassis (is there a theme here?). The aerial plugged straight into the stereo, the stereo turns on, it works, I'm all proud of a job well done! It's surprising how well you can hear the stereo above the sound of the car, I suppose it all sounds a lot louder (the engine, the rushing wind etc) when there is no other noise to compare it to.

Now I will be able to enjoy the sound of music while I drive through the hills and valleys of this land!

I like driving in my car

The experience of driving a Beetle is like nothing I've ever experienced. You can drive conservatively if you want to, because people expect you to. But in my 1.6 I can cruise on up to 70mph and overtake if I want to (at a price - high fuel consumption!), it also pulls rather well up hills. My top speed (or, the fastest I dared go!) is about 80mph, but the steering becomes very light as the front of the car begins to lift up! (not quite like a drag racer, but you can definitely feel it)

Air cooled is cool

By far the best thing is the air cooled factor of the engine - it is hardly affected by cold at all. There is no anti-freeze in my car, only some spare oil and windscreen wash fluid. If started up and used regularly, like at least once a week or so, the car starts first time every time.

There are only three drawbacks of driving in cold weather - one is that the demisting system relies on forward motion (air is forced through the vents by the airflow over the car) and is fairly poor on the rear window, another is that the heating system takes ages to have any effect as the heat is lost through the cold steel heating ducts until they warm up (plus they are currently partially blocked), and finally the engine tends to die after about two or three minutes if in traffic, after the automatic choke goes off, because of (as a book describes it) cold air forming ice as it cools the moisture around the air intake to the carburetor, thus starving the engine of sufficient air for tick over. This last problem only ever happens if I am in traffic though, or I have to stop at lights etc, as I have to keep the revs up which is very difficult when trying to apply the brakes and clutch to change gear; I have tried changing out of gear and left-foot braking while keeping the revs up with my right foot, it is tricky and not advisable in heavy traffic!

The way in which the Beetle cools the engine is with oil. Where there would be water in a water cooled car, there is oil. The oil passes through a radiator in the fan shroud which is where it is cooled. No need for a grill as the fan draws air from around the rear of the car (there are two mini air intakes - I call them miniairintakes - behind the rear side windows which I believe supply this air, but that's only a guess)

Driving in the snow

It was the night before New Years' Eve 2000, snow had been falling for a few hours and had gradually become heavier. I was staying with a group of friends at a log cabin in the North York Moors, having only the intention of staying one night.

We decided to go to the local pub in a near by village; all was cosey until I began to notice how much the snow was falling outside - I became concerned.

When we finally decided to leave there was a good blanket of snow over everything - including the cars. My Beetle was white over, I needed to wipe the snow from all the windows before I could even think of setting off. My friends' car was also covered, and as I drove past it in the pub car park one of my passengers said "Has he gone already? I thought he had a red car" to which I replied "That's his car there, under all the snow!"

Within minutes the windows were covered with snow again, so the only vision I had was out of the portholes created by the somewhat underpowered windscreen wipers. I tested the accelerator - slippy, I tested the brakes - even slippier! This was going to be a ride to remember!

The road to the log cabin was a long and twisty single track country road which went up and down with the gradient of the hills, with snow drifts developing at either side and no evidence of a gritter yet.

I didn't get above 20 mph, or out of second gear. I daren't, and a good job too! Suddenly, just as I was driving over the brow of a small but steep hill, a car appeared out of the blizzard coming the other way; having very little brake power and starting down hill I skidded a little, and only just managed to stop the car at the side of the road to allow the somewhat optimistic motorist to slide his way up the steep hill and past me.

Apart from negotiating a snow drift at a junction, the rest of the trip was quite uneventful; the fact that the heating is so poor and it was quite a cold evening probably put off my passengers from getting in a beetle during the winter months ever again, but I enjoyed it anyway! My friend didn't turn up for another fifteen minutes or more, which was a shame as he had the key to the cabin.

The Trip

I received an invite to a friends wedding - in South Wales. I thought 'I can make it', so I made preparations! The wedding was actually in a small village near Swansea, so directions were given from Swansea but I had to get my own directions to Swansea from Leeds. I went to the Michelan web site - very good for directions anywhere in Europe - and got two route plans, one using the 'shortest route' there and the other using motorways for the journey back. The shortest route didn't actually use any motorways except for the Manchester ring road - quite an exciting place to drive around if you like big lorries, too many lanes to know what to do with and loonies in fast cars!! I managed to get through it ok though.

Having had only a couple of stops I arrived in Swansea after about seven hours, then got completely lost! My friends' directions were somewhat lacking and the road signs in Wales rely on you a) being able to understand how the pronunciation is spelt, b) having clairvoyancy as some of the signs were missing, and c) having an extremely good memory for spelling as so many of the place names look very similar. I had no one to navigate either so if I found myself on the wrong road (which was often) I had to wait for a lay by or garage to stop and check. I got there eventually and all was well, no ill effects to the car or myself, which was quite a pleasant surprise, those seats are very comfy!

The wedding was a great success, the reception caused a few problems as it was about ten miles from the church and several people got lost! Easily done, but I only missed one turn off and followed my nose the rest of the way (I ticked off my friend for his bad route guide!). At about six o'clock it was time for me to leave, and I had agreed to take someone back to York so I didn't want to let them down. This time, on the motorways, I had a navigator so we didn't get lost at all, hurray!

The journey back was long and a little boring, the weather went from misty to rainy to cloudy, back to rainy and then to cold as night fell. We saw too many counties to remember and all those place names on signs you usually only see on a road atlas or TV. The hours passed, and the beetle kept going, and going and going. By about 12am I was beginning to get drowsy so we agreed it would be a good idea to sacrifice some warmth for my awakeness and opened the quaterlights a little. Entering North Yorkshire was quite an event after the seemingly endless motorways, and eventually when we pulled up to my passengers' house in York at 1.30am we gave a half hearted cheer, the journey was over and with no mishaps! Hurray!

We managed about 650 miles in approximately 14 hours, and I only had to put about 50 Pounds worth of fuel in it. When calculated, this comes to approximately 30 miles to the gallon, not bad for such an old car! I kept the speed down to 55 mph, I believe it gained me an extra 5 mpg. I have no doubt that I saved a lot of money on train fares for myself and my passenger, I'd dread to think how many transfers I might have had to make to get to Swansea and my final destination, if it was possible at all at that time of night. I certainly wouldn't have been able to get a bus in Leeds on the way back!

Alas there are no photos from this journey, it was a cold and miserable day there and the same on the way back, plus we had a lot of ground to cover so photos of the car were the last thing on my mind!

Hopefully I will have many more (happy) experiences of driving about in my beetle worthy of a mention here. When I do, I'll try to take photos and put them up on here.

All photos on this page were taken by Jonathan Mortimer and scanned using an Indy cam, connected to an SGI Indy, by holding the picture up in front of the lense (ok so I couldn't be bothered to use a flatbed scanner!) The pictures were then edited with the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). I would like to thank whoever contributed to the GIMP for making such a useful program.

This page was last updated 10th June 2001

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