OK, enough of sentimentality, enough
of mush, enough of the pleasure of
restoring your old Vintage Volkswagen.
Let's get down to some SERIOUS fun
here: I'm talking GREASE. Yes, scraping
and hacking and rinsing and begging
and pleading with the stuff to PLEEEEEase
come loose, after 30 years. Doesn't
that sound like fun?? Now, grab your
rubber gloves, keep that spatula handy,
and come along for a ride, Under the
Belly of the Beast.
who has been following my articles
at AllAirCooled knows that I tend
to wax a bit nostalgic on my favorite
subject, Vernon. Well, no more! (at
least not for the next 10 minutes
or so). He has finally shown me his
down-and-dirty side - the undercarriage.
I think I forgot this part of my truck.
Well, it doesn't show immediately
upon inspection. I don't even remember
what it was that caused me to look
under there in the first place. But
there I was, on hands and knees, coming
face to face with the brutal reality:
Vern was a squeaky clean teenager
on the outside, and a dirty old man
underneath. YIKES! With time on my
hands and the VW season still a couple
of months away, I figured this would
be the perfect time to begin some
serious cleaning under there. Since
this entire project has somewhat stalled,
this also became a form of therapy
for me. For those uninitiated in the
exquisite pleasures of restoring old
wrecked trucks, let me explain that
doing something is always better than
ding nothing, even if one must do
this something herself. I wasn't scared
off by the cold concrete floor, or
the rain outside (yes, it does rain
in California), or even my neighbor's
wine of "You aren't REALLY going
to lay under that thing, are you?"
No way! Not me! I was going to WORK
under it! So, one Saturday I headed
out under the Beast armed only with
a sheet of cardboard to lay on, two
screwdrivers (one to chip with, one
to fight off attacking hoards of dust
bunnies), and a hammer for the really
big stuff. I was prepared, let me
tell you. I thought I would spend
a pleasant couple of hours, cleaning
away a layer or two of dirt. HAH!
old Type II's (as you probably know
and the only ones I know anything
at all about) have what they call
a splash pan bolted to the undercarriage
in front, to the right of the steering
box, and covering the tender innards
up there. Actually, I think the master
cylinder lives in here, although it
hasn't spoken to me in years. But
the rest of the stuff up there is
left to dangle in the breeze (and
all other related road gunk) behind
it. Connecting rods, king and link
pin assemblies, spindles, you name
it. There it is, world! Right out
there for all to see. All crazy enough
to climb under there and take a look,
that is. I gingerly slid under Vernon's
face on my cardboard and laid there
on my back, taking in the he sights.
Everything under there stared back.
All that STUFF couldn't have possibly
been more than three inches above
me. It quickly became apparent to
me that this whole process would be
a lot easier, looked at sideways.
So I rolled over to my left and gazed
at this mass (mess?) of engineering,
trying to look like I knew what it
all was. How did I pick merely on
place to begin?? It was all too horrid.
This must be how our favorite dental
hygienist feels when faced with a
patient who hasn't flossed in 30 years.
There were bars, and pins, and bolts
and nuts, and THINGS everywhere, but
the most intimidating part about it
all was that the entire setup was
covered with about a foot of grease
and dirt. Now, we all know that when
you mix dirt and grease you get cement,
right?? I mean, isn't this how they
make streets?? Well, OK, not a foot
of the stuff, but close. This was
solidified into something akin to
plaster, only brownish black. Yes,
brownish black plaster, that's it.
I began to wonder jut WHERE all that
gook went when they did a lube. Now
I knew. Obviously, none of it had
made it into Vern's inner workings,
as 110% of it was still on the OUTSIDE.
Oh well, cleaning Vernon was still
better than cleaning house, so I grabbed
my screwdriver and had at it.
managed to free one arm, and began
poking the screwdriver carefully into
this concoction. This pile was soft
enough that the screwdriver went right
in and stayed there. I let go, and
the screwdriver stayed put. For a
moment I had a vision of me driving
Vernon to all the car shows this summer,
with a screwdriver permanently imbedded
in his front end somewhere. That would
be more than a tad difficult to explain
to the judges, not that they ever
actually listen to this stuff. Anyway,
with a little force, I wrenched downward
and a great chunk of gunk came flying
off. Success! And underneath?? Underneath
was relatively clean, shiny, 30 year
old, black paint!! After I had chipped
away the entire length, I discovered........................an
axle! Or front beam! Or something!
WOW! Progress! So, heartened by my
discovery and spurred on by the thought
of things yet undiscovered under there,
I began scraping at everything in
the vicinity. it didn't occur to me
to be somewhat careful until I realized
I have been diligently hacking away
at a grease fitting. Luckily I was
having some difficulty and the little
sucker just wouldn't come off. OOOOPS.
It held fast till I realized my error
(silly me) and sent my ever- tolerant
hubby inside for the manual. I took
a few minutes off then to study Vern's
front end vitals, as I didn't figure
it would do either of us any good
to be chopping off some important
part of his anatomy.
worked for the better part of two
hours cleaning just the driver's side
suspension and wheel. It was at this
moment, I think, that I thought perhaps
a sheet of newspaper would have been
handy. All this gunk was falling in
big gooey chunks all over the floor.
But that was a small detail. Boy,
I felt great! My head hurt! My arms
ached! My fanny was numb from scooting
around on that cardboard, and I felt
wonderful. I couldn't wait to get
back out there and do it all again.
So, the following weekend, that is
exactly what I did.
time, my attention was focused on
something I believe is called a center
link. I don't personally KNOW this
to be the center link, because at
the time it looked more like the Missing
Link. I kid you not, this must have
been the very beginnings of automotive
evolution as we know it. I can never
again barrel down the freeway, (not
that I do much barreling anyway) blissfully
unaware of the delicate rigging that
holds my Type II steering together.
No, after seeing this setup with my
own eyes, I can now safely say that
this cannot possibly work. No. But,
it does, and rather well, too, I might
add. So, in the end it upholds my
theory of not messing about with things
if either Volkswagen of Mother Nature
made them that way. But getting back
to the subject, as I understand it
(which is only VERY rudimentary, incidentally)
, one tie rod comes from each wheel
and meets in the center with a sort
of knuckle-looking type arrangement,
with a grease fitting on the end.
In Vernon, this whole affair was,
of course, totally obscured by the
now-famous Dirt Ball. Yes, this brown,
plaster like mess the size of a tennis
ball covered the entire thing, making
it look 10 times its real size. With
my usual gusto and zeal, I went after
it with the smaller screwdriver. Perhaps
it was lack of oxygen.? Or maybe it
was the cramped quarters I was working
in. Either way, I found myself looking
at this whole thing as if I were the
very first to ever lay eyes upon such
was an archaeologist's dream! The
layers came off evenly and looked
for all the world like striated prehistoric
mud. First, the Pleistocene epoch
cracked away. Then, the Mesozoic epoch
cracked off, followed by........................WAIT.
Was that a Mastodon bone embedded
in there?? What WAS that thing?? Was
it jut another bit of Volkswagen engineering?
genius, or had I hit upon something
of Great Historical Significance??
Wait, the excitement here must have
been too much. I was imagining things.
Vernon is old, but he isn't THAT old.
Once back down to earth, the reality
hit: I had only finished one side,
and there was still the passenger
side sitting there, glaring at am.
It was daring me to being now, but
I hung my tools up and saved it for
the next free weekend.
this adventure, I've had several buddies
blithely suggest to me that I should
just "run Vern down to the car
wash and spray him off under there."
HAH. THEY didn't crawl under there
and actually see this stuff, did they?
How could they possible know that
mere water would not make even a dent
in this muck?? I forgave them their
folly and chalked it up to the years
spent raising a family instead of
playing with cars. As it was, I had
hacked off what I could, then coated
everything thickly with solvent, and
THEN taken him to the car wash and
rinsed off what I could. Believe it
or not, there is still stuff under
there. Maybe it's my imagination again,
but Vern feels lighter in the front
now, somehow. I'm not kidding! You
know, like a great load has been lifted.
Well, that can't be too far-fetched
- I must have scraped off at least
50 pounds of crud under there. But
he does look thinner. Gone are those
bulky joints straining to move under
that covering of goo. No more greasy
kid stuff for Vern! I haven't quite
gotten it clean enough to actually
paint it all, but it is MUCH better
than it was. And too, at least now
I don't leave a heap of debris behind
me when I cross railroad tracks. Another
bonus?? You won't see me shouting
hysterically anymore when someone
wants to peek under his side. No,
I save my theatrics for the engine
compartment, or as I like to call
it, The 36-Horse from Hell. This is
the stuff of which nightmares are
made. Not MINE, but body shop personnel.
I'm sure they go home at night and
spend precious sack time in fitful
dreams of my engine compartment. Poor
guys, I feel for them, I really do.
But this will be another story, one
which I will save for the day sometime
son, when this last problem is addressed
and becomes just another of the fond
memories in the Restoration of Vernon.
completing my self-inspired journey
under the belly of this beast, I noticed
something in my eye. I forget right
now which eye it was, but it was quite
annoying and became pretty painful.
I went to see a doctor, who, upon
finding out I wore contact lenses,
deduced I had a corneal abrasion and
sent me home with a patch and a tube
of goo. Me!! In an eye patch! It lent
this little job even more mysticism.
After several days with the eye patch,
things were getting worse so back
to the doctor I went, to discover
the actual problem was not an abrasion
at all. It was a piece of Vernon in
my eye! After removing the piece,
my eye healed on its own, vowing never
again to be part of any face that
ventures underneath a vintage VW.
engine has been detailed and the compartment
painted, so I no longer need to run
frantically to the rear of my vehicle
at shows when someone dares to peek
inside. I show him now with the engine
lid OPEN, and proudly. An earthquake
struck near me 4 months after this
story was written, necessitating body
work and paint (for the THIRD TIME)
on the brand new rear bumper I had
very cleverly stored underneath Vern's
at the time of the quake, was minus
all four of his wheels (they were
out being painted) and was standing
on jack stands. The force of the quake
tossed him off the jack stands, and,
uh, yes, right on top of the rear
bumper. Oh well. They say a thing
is never done until it's done RIGHT.
But to date, Vern's happy and WHOLE,
and I've not yet attempted more scraping,
or God forbid, painting.)