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THINGS THAT GO THUMP IN THE NIGHT (AND DAY)
Story by Lois Grace



I've had a few frustrating repair situations with my VWs, but recent one has annoyed me the most. My former daily driver, a 1969 Beetle, had an irritating thump in the rear end. The right rear, to be exact. No one could tell me what this was, and Bogart (the car) wasn't talking either. It started about 4 years ago, and began as a small 'thunk' when going over holes. I don't normally drive over gaping holes in the road. I'm talking about a manhole cover that isn't seated quite right, or maybe a small chunk of pavement that has migrated out of the roadbed. When that right rear tire would drop into something like that, I would hear the little 'thunk'. It didn't bother me too much in the beginning as it wasn't loud enough to worry me and it didn't happen all the time. Gradually, it changed my mind: the little 'thunk' turned into a bigger 'thud', and it was happening more and more often. Could it be my imagination or was that right rear tire looking a tad more worn than the other three?

Of course the first expedition to find the source of this noise looked at all the obvious stuff: shocks, shock mounts, exhaust system, fan shroud, decklid (although it would have to be one HECK of a heavy decklid to make the noise I heard), and the like. This search turned up nothing. The second outing to the repair shop again found nothing, but this time the owner took a ride with me. Then his mechanic took a ride with me. Then another mechanic took a ride with me. Each time, Bogie obligingly provided the notorious 'thud', or so I thought. As we drove, I'd say THERE. Did you hear that? And they would nod vaguely and say UH, yeah............ Once each guy got out of the car he looked at me with what has become a very familiar look: the try to look like you heard something so she doesn't think she's crazy look. I really think they all tried very hard to hear it but I am still not convinced they honestly did. And, when you get right down to it, the noise seemed less obvious with two people in the car. With weight on the passenger side, it was more muffled.

So that day at the shop I left the car there with Dave and Rolf and T.J. They all drove him, alone. When I went back to pick Bogie up I looked at each of them hopefully, absolutely certain that one of them would now have an answer for me. But alas, again I got The Look. And Bogie sat out there staring at us all, through the window. I paid the bill (not an ungodly sum) and left, very discouraged but still determined to find the source.

I knew there was something going on in there but I was not ready to admit what I thought might be the true culprit. It simply could not be Old Age. I was not ready for Bogie to become a vintage car (even though he technically has been a senior citizen for six years now). It boggles my mind. For VW owners on the East Coast, a '69 Bug would most certainly be vintage and not necessarily someone's daily driver, given its advanced age. But out here in the West, cars aren't truly worshipped until they are old enough to have to be trailered to an event, or the cost to insure the vehicle is higher per year than its total original purchase price. For that reason, and the fact that we enjoy a lovely temperate dry climate here, cars take forever to achieve true vintage status. Sure, its not fair but its the way it is. For true Old Age to have set in, I would have to think of Bogie as a vintage car and frankly, that just was NOT going to happen any time soon.

Bogie would be my next logical target for restoration, if I had the urge to do anther car any time soon. Let me re-phrase that: I have the urge, but for some reason cant get too interested in making my already-quite-nice-and-95%-original (including the paint) Beetle into another show piece. It was OK to do this with Oscar and Vernon because they were OLD. Bogie's not old! He's my former daily driver! He won't be old for YEARS yet. So, instead of restoring him, I just concentrate (or obsess, depending on how you look at it) on fixing the little things that need attention. Things like the Mystery Thump.

When I wrote this, we had just returned from a 600-mile trip with our VW club, to Solvang, CA. Solvang is a great little Danish-style community about an hour north of Santa Barbara. It is also one HECK of a great place for a vintage VW show. Our bi-annual Vintage VW show is a three-day affair that we turned into a 4-day trip by taking a leisurely drive home. Driving my Beetle long distance like this always reminds me of why I bought the car: simply put, its fun to drive. Bogie and I enjoy a close relationship, made stronger by the fact that we have been together so long. He is also the first car I ever bought, and the only one that did daily driver duty for me for nearly 25 years. He's the one older VW I have that I actually feel OK about driving such a distance. The other two are so precious to me that they aren't fun on the road. That doesn't mean I don't drive them.? I just won't expose them to the hazards of a long road trip. Driving this car on that long weekend just reinforced my feelings for it, feelings that had gotten somewhat buried by my now-daily driving of my Golf GTi. With Rob in the passenger seat and the rear seat full of luggage and other travel necessities, the thump was a bit less noticeable, although still there. I heard it but it didn't seem like a big deal anymore. The car ran great. I quit obsessing. Almost.

When we got home I again discussed this with my VW shop. On that very day, Dave had another ?69 Beetle in there for the exact same problem: a weird loud thump in the rear end. He said he'd call me when they found the problem on that car, and I could bring Bogie over for a look-see for the same thing. He called me back later that afternoon and asked if I could rush the patient by for 10 minutes or so. We raced over there and while I stood by watching, TJ came out with a huge socket wrench and proceeded to fiddle around inside Bogie's right rear wheel well. Within 2 minutes, the thump was GONE, proven by a test drive around the bumpy and pothole-infested back streets near the shop. Just like that! Gone! Four years of aggravation and wondering, wiped out in less than 2 minutes! And, what WAS Bogie's problem?? The body bolts were loose. The bolts that hold the body of the car fast to the frame were loose! Every time I'd bounce over something rough, the body and frame would thump against each other. Just for good measure, TJ tightened the other sides bolts as well and they proved to be just as loose. The annoying noise is now gone.

I guess the moral of this story would be that nothing stays the same, even (or maybe especially) bolts tightened by the VW factory 32 years ago. With over 200,000 miles on the clock, Bogie has more than earned the right to a few loose bolts. I'm used to adjusting things like valves and clutch cables, but never thought to check the bolts and nuts that hold my car together. It always amazes me that my cars come up with new things for me to learn about them and just when I think I know it all too.

VolksWoman

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