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UNDER THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
Story by Lois Grace



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.

Anyone 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!

The 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 of..........................something 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.

I 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.

I 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.

This 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 a thing...........................it 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.

Since 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.

After 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.

Vernon's 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. The Loma Prieta 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 rear end.............................Vernon, 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.)

VolksWoman

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