VW’s horizontally opposed 4 cylinder engine.

Running VW Motor

Rear view of an air cooled VW engine.

Internal combustion motors are truly an amazing piece of machinery. The ingenuity that went into creating gas powered engines is impressive. However, one of the side effects of a running engine is HEAT. In order for the engine to keep running, you must find a way to displace the heat. In most modern day vehicles, this heat displacement is done with water. Appropriately, this type of engine is a water-cooled engine. Engines in today’s generation of VW’s are water-cooled. However, water was not always the coolant of choice for VW’s

When the first VW prototype came out in 1938, it featured an air-cooled engine. This basic air cooled engine remained mainly unchanged throughout the production run of the original Beetle, Bus, Karmann Ghia and Type III / IV.

One of the benefits of the air cooled engine, and the reason that it was chosen, is that unlike a water cooled engine, there is no threat of the coolant freezing in extremely cold weather. On the other hand, air is not nearly as efficient at displacing heat as water is. To illustrate this, if you had a hot pan fresh from off of the stove, which would cool the pan faster, putting it in front of a fan to cool it down, or dunking it in a sink of water?

However, in spite of this inefficiency, the air cooled engine was and is still to this day, a marvelous piece of engineering and an extremely simple engine to work on.

Running VW Motor Top View

Top view of an air cooled VW engine.

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Slug Bug

Slug Bug...Slug Bug...Slug Bug...Slug Bug

Slug Bug is another name for an Air cooled VW. At least, according to me. Slug Bug is also the name of a travel game typically played in your car while driving. I learned this game as a child from my friend Bret and his family who, unknown to me at the time, had a history of air-cooled VW’s dating back to the time when his father had been stationed in Germany.

The rules of the game are simple. While travelling, whoever spots an air-cooled VW, gets a point. Whoever has the most points when you are done travelling, or when you get tired of playing the game, is the winner. Air cooled VW’s are defined as the following: Beetle, Karmann Ghia, Type III, VW Bus, Thing and Type IV. If you are unfamiliar with what some of those are, I will elaborate on that topic in a separate blog in the future. What were not considered Slug Bug’s were any water-cooled VW’s such as Dasher, Rabbit, etc. This was always a fun game and helped to pass the time on a long trip. And since there were so many air-cooled VW’s, the game always kept us busy.

Later, I taught this game to my kids. However, at some point, we had a dilemma. VW had come out with the New Beetle, which was a water-cooled VW and this did not fit into the criteria of a Slug Bug. What to do about it? Well, like most games that people play, there are House Rules that have been adopted by the family that are in addition to or in contradiction to the Official Rules. Well, I had never read any Official Rules for Slug Bug, so far as I knew, there was only “House Rules” for everybody. So, we chose to alter our House Rules to include the New Beetle. So, to be clear, a Slug Bug, at least in my family, is any air-cooled VW or a New Beetle. No Jetta’s, no Cabriolet’s, no water-cooled outside of the New Beetle. These are the rules, and until I change them, they will not be changed.

However, I have been in situations while travelling with others and have found that they played a similar game with slightly different rules. This other game that I found out about is called Punch Buggy. The main difference with this game is that instead of calling out Slug Bug and getting a point, you call out Punch Buggy and then you punch the person sitting next to you in the arm. Well, I am not a fan of this game for a few reasons. First, I don’t like getting punched in the arm. Second, you don’t get any points, and if you don’t get points, how does anybody win the game. And last of all, it just feels like a cheap rip off from Slug Bug, which is a much better game.

In my family, I am the KING of Slug Bug. Not because I see better than everybody else, but because I just see Slug Bugs better than everybody else. I can spot them at night when it is dark, just by they way their headlights look. I can see them hidden under a tarp in somebodies driveway. I can see them stashed in somebodies backyard when all you get to see is the smallest corner. Because of this, I always win. And I am OK with that.

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My 69 Fasty

Over the years I have owned several VW type 3’s. A couple of fastbacks and a few squarebacks as well. My favorite of them all was the 69 fastback that I purchased in 2004. It was a project, but in extremely solid condition when I purchased it.

Red Squareback

As with many projects, once I got it home, it went into the garage where it sat for several years before I got around to focusing on it. This was going to be the first project that I took from the beginning to finishing stages by myself. It was  to be my introduction to bodywork and painting. I had the fenders, doors, food and rear hatch all sandblasted, while I sanded the body itself down to bare metal. I wanted to remove the metal trim, so I filled the trim holes.

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After completing all of the body work, applying primer and reassembling the body panels, it was time to get the stance just right. I lowered the front a couple of splines and I was real happy with the look.

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One thing I really liked, and the look that I was going for, was an earlier look than 69. To accomplish this, I replaced the front passenger fender with an early fender with no gas door. An early gas tank with the filler under the front hood completed this look. Another change I made was to modify the front seats and make them into low back seats. Once I found a good match to the original interior color, it was time to paint

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I was also able to find some mix and match interior seats, carpets and panels on clearance from an online VW store that when brought together, you would not know that they were not purchased as a set. This gave the car a real clean look. To finish of the interior, I added a nice wood steering wheel.

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Finally, to finish it off, I added a few personal touches that I liked, a roof rack and a front visor to give the car a vintage look. With a rebuilt automatic transmission, this car not only looked nice, but it was a very nice driver. In the end, I was very pleased with my first restoration project.

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What an Idiot (book)!

A couple of months after purchasing my first VW in 1986, I was introduced to Alan, a family friend of my girlfriend. He was a longtime VW guy, both air and water cooled.He gave me a precious gift, my very first copy of what is known in VW circles as the “Idiot Book”. The actual name is “How to keep your Volkswagen alive, a manual of step by step procedures for the complete idiot, by John Muir.”

Idiot Book cover

This book has great content in mechanical knowledge, funny artwork and humorous stories and sayings. My own personal copy has seen many years of use, and it certainly bears the scars.

Back in around 1992, I was rebuilding my first VW engine. I purchased the parts I needed, and studied for weeks as I prepared for this challenging adventure. I spent so much time getting ready that I even dreamed at night about rebuilding my motor. There is a picture in the book that perfectly captures my state of mind at the time.

art

In the end, I was able to successfully rebuild the engine by myself. It was quite an accomplishment for a relatively inexperienced mechanic and helped build my confidence in my own abilities and further solidify me as a Volkswagen nut. To this day, my Idiot Book still has the grease marks from my dirty hands while rebuilding that Type III motor.

oil

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That VW smell

If you have driven or gone for a ride in an old classic VW, then you have experienced the smell.  My wife thinks they stink. For me, it brings a flood of fond memories. A musty smell of old carpet, throw in some dampness and a bit of hot exhaust and you might start getting an idea. With the exception of a couple of restoration projects that included complete paint jobs and all new interior, every one of my VW’s have shared that distinct aroma.

The original designers of the VW engine decided to heat the car by pulling in “fresh” hot air from the oily engine compartment and then warm it even more by running it through heat exchangers wrapped around the cars exhaust system.  Interestingly, this heat design actually worked pretty well, especially for anybody sitting in the back seat. (Unless you are driving on old VW bus, which is a different story altogether.)

I currently am experiencing one of those rare moments over the last 30 years where I actually do not own any Volkswagen’s. Just like those previous few times, I know it is just a matter of time until the right opportunity presents itself and I once again find myself enjoying that all too familiar smell.

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How I got bit by the VW bug.

In the early summer of 1986, I was looking to buy my first car. I didn’t have much to spend, having only scraped together $600. I had been looking in the newspaper, the little nickel want ads and had kind of settled on a VW bug. Back then, there were a lot of bugs available, but I had no experience and didn’t know anything about VW’s or cars in general. I was driving past my old workplace one day and there it was. A 1966 Sea Blue VW bug with a for sale sign on it for $800. It was exactly what I was looking for. But, I was short $200. Today, I would offer $500 and try and settle for $600, but I had no experience buying a car and had no idea I could offer less than what was being asked. So, I borrowed $200 from my best friends mom and I was the proud owner of my first VW. In hindsight, I cannot believe how fortunate I was. I didn’t know the difference between pre or post 67 VW’s, and I just lucked into what today is probably one of my favorite cars I have ever owned. Shown below is one of the few photos that I still have of this car.

Our first car - 66 VW Bug#VWlife @My_VW_Life

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I fell in love with air-cooled Volkswagens over 30 years ago. I want to keep the love and passion for vintage VW's alive and share my stories with others.