Tuesday, November 28, 2006

VW - Stainless Steel Craftsman

Today I witnessed one of the most astounding feats of craftsmanship I've every seen. Roland Wilhelmy, owner of a '56 VW Sedan that is undergoing a hands-on body-off restoration, replaced the bug's original steel fuel pipe with one of stainless steel. The astounding part is that he didn't take the easy way out and run the new pipe along-side the tunnel, Roland installed the new pipe in the tunnel, and in the original brackets, to boot! And all without cutting or welding on the tunnel.

The early Volkswagen shop manual describes how to do this (Step 1. Remove the body...) but I have never heard of it being done. The labor and shop-space requirements are so high that everyone I know used the Alternative Procedure, running the new fuel pipe through the passenger compartment.

"I didn't like that idea," Roland said quietly.

So how did he do it? I'm not too sure; the shop manual sez you need a helper to guide the thing; Roland did it all by himself. (But I did notice a Pentacle on the floor of his shop :-)

My contribution to the job was to provide him with a piece of solid steel guy-wire exactly .156" in diameter. Working alone, he had already installed the new tubing almost the entire length of the tunnel, managing to thread it through the four intervening support brackets. He slid the heavy wire into the tranny horn where the original fuel pipe exited and somehow managed to insert it into the stainless steel tubing, out of sight inside the tunnel. Returning to the front of the vehicle, he commenced tapping on the end of the new tubing, projecting about four feet beyond the front axel. The stainless steel tubing inched its way around the bend where the tranny horns mate with the tunnel, following the line of the heavy wire, which now acted as a guide. In a few minutes the tip of the new tubing emerged from the tranny horn neat as can be.

Making the terminal bends in the new tubing and coaxing them into their respective positions took a bit more slight-of-hand but the job was finished in less than an hour.

I thought it was about the neatest thing since electric lights but Roland shrugged it off as no big deal. Perhaps not, considering what has gone before. He's already replaced all of the brake lines, done an IRS conversion to the rear suspension and there is a pair of disk brakes lurking up front, along with a steering damper, an important handling improvement lacking in early bugs. And the four-joint TransForm transmission has their special tag showing non-stock gear ratios. Roland is building a Porsche-eater, disguised as a Volkswagen. Yet the original 36hp engine and stock 1965 running gear was neatly stored on welded racks, preserving the option of returning the vehicle to all- original condition. Roland also drives a suspiciously quiet bus that has a few more carbs than most other '65 models.

As I was leaving, I noticed the body of the bug lurking back in a corner of shop, remarkably smooth under about a zillion coats of hand-sanded primer. Strictly stock. Perfectly straight. He's replaced a couple of body panels, including the forward engine compartment curtain, fitting one from a late model chassis, allowing him to use the larger engine's tin without modification. This is the kind of subtle attention to detail that you only see on race-winning road cars. The work was so neatly done I wanted to rub it against my belly. Asked how it was going, he gave another shrug. "Coming along." And grinned. That grin is going to make a lot of Porsche owners trade up to a Yugo.

-Bob Hoover
-Aug 1995

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