ADVW: 5000 miles from Texas to California and back in a formerly derelict '66 Beetle

Discussion in 'Shiny Things' started by slowlane, Jul 23, 2013.

  1. slowlane

    slowlane Adventurer

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2012
    Oddometer:
    82
    Location:
    Highland Village, TX
    Although my plans for a motorcycle trip this summer were shelved, some sort of cross-country road trip had to be taken, so I settled on the next best thing. I decided to drive my old 1966 Volkswagen Beetle from Dallas, TX to the bay area in northern California. I wanted to go visit a good friend from college who I had not seen in 4 years. I have long dreamed of taking a road trip using as little Interstate as possible, and since my VW’s pokey 40hp 1200cc engine is ill-suited for high speed travel anyway, this was the perfect time.

    First I should probably give a little background on my ’66 VW. I bought it for $700 in June 2010. It had been driven into the ground and then left out to rot in 1990. Time had not been kind to the little car. It had been wrecked at least twice, leaving it with a mismatched right front fender and door, as well as beaten and bruised to the point that there is not a dent-free panel on the car. The body had several stress cracks including one between the left rear wheel tub and quarter panel that was about 6” long, probably due to the broken rear body mount on that side. I could stand with both feet on the ground through the rust hole in the rear floor area. Mice had chewed the wiring and upholstery as well as nested in many areas of the interior, leaving poop covering the floor and old nests hiding in seemingly every crevice. Many generations of mouse urine, as well as crumbling window seals, had rusted away several areas of the inner structure of the body. The only functioning things on the car were the steering and the parking brake on one wheel. The engine had a chunk missing from one of the exhaust valves which I would imagine was why it was parked so long ago. Speaking of the engine, it is a ’65 40hp 1200 instead of the 1300 that originally came in the car. It was a totally botched build with one early and one late cylinder head. The problem here was that the early head has a smaller intake port and they had just jammed the intake down and cranked the crap out of the fastening nuts, ruining the head and intake. The rest of the mechanical components on the car were in a similar state of disrepair or had been poorly cobbled back together. It had basically suffered the same fate bestowed upon so many other VW Beetles that have long been used up and left for dead.

    After about a year and a half of cutting, welding, painting, parts replacing, rebuilding, and reupholstering, the VW was back into a functional state again. I performed all of the work myself except for the transaxle rebuild. It is not perfect looking by any means but it is mechanically solid and the thorough rebuild resulted in a satisfyingly low occurrence of breakdowns since I resurrected it. I remember when I cranked the engine over for the first time; it started right up like it had just run yesterday, instead of the coughing and sputtering before eventually smoothing out that has graced other engines I have rebuilt. I spent the next year and a half rotating between riding my Honda C70 and CB125S, and driving the VW. An incident free 700 mile trip from Dallas to Fredericksburg Texas gave me the idea of a cross country trip in the VW, and the stage was set.

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mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;} </style> <![endif]-->Here are a few before and after pictures of the VW's slow return to life.

    June 2010: You can see the sun shining through the rusted floor in the shadow under the car.
    [​IMG]

    April 2012: Yes I did repaint all of the beige and still leave the mismatched door and fender. I am not right in the head and actually like it that way.
    [​IMG]

    June 2010
    [​IMG]

    April 2012
    [​IMG]

    June 2010: Dead 1965 40hp 1200 engine complete with about 5 pounds of wasp nests lurking everywhere.
    [​IMG]

    April 2012: All better, though if I remember correctly, the only original pieces left are the engine case itself, the distributor, cooling tin, and various hardware.
    [​IMG]
    #1
  2. a1fa

    a1fa Throttle Jockey™

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2006
    Oddometer:
    13,924
    Location:
    Arkansas
    :lurk
    #2
  3. eatpasta

    eatpasta Lawnmower Target

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2006
    Oddometer:
    10,996
    Location:
    Santa Barbara, Ca
    ADVW

    :photog



    :lurk
    #3
  4. WVhillbilly

    WVhillbilly Long timer

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2010
    Oddometer:
    12,086
    :lurk
    #4
  5. HillbillyNinja

    HillbillyNinja Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,831
    Location:
    Ozarkistan
    :happay
    #5
  6. Bender

    Bender I can pass this guy..

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2005
    Oddometer:
    38,646
    Location:
    Cypress, Texas.
    Now that's the way to do it!
    #6
  7. Hayduke

    Hayduke ///SAFETY THIRD/// Super Moderator

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Oddometer:
    44,309
    Location:
    Salida, coloRADo
    :lurk
    #7
  8. Hardware02

    Hardware02 Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2011
    Oddometer:
    3,412
    Location:
    The Rock
    :rofl:lol3:rofl:lol3:rofl

    Epic.

    Subscribed!
    #8
  9. kawalaser

    kawalaser Hip to be square

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2007
    Oddometer:
    8,520
    Location:
    Germany
    [​IMG]

    this thread seems


    relevant


    to my interests
    #9
  10. bobfab

    bobfab Long timer

    Joined:
    May 11, 2009
    Oddometer:
    1,536
    Location:
    Westminster CO
    :lurk
    #10
  11. zuk16l

    zuk16l Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2006
    Oddometer:
    95
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    Love it! Seems like just the kind of car I would bring home and the wife would ask how much they paid me to take it away, only to find I paid them for the privilege. Can't wait for the rest of the story. Nice job btw.
    #11
  12. slowlane

    slowlane Adventurer

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2012
    Oddometer:
    82
    Location:
    Highland Village, TX
    Though I know plenty of more scenic and ADV friendly routes out of DFW, I was eager to get out of Texas so I headed north on I-35E to Sanger where I exited onto Farm Road 455 and said goodbye to the Interstate until we would meet again in Utah. Then Farm Road 677 led me and the VW into Oklahoma, the first time in over 20 years the car had left Texas. I turned onto west OK-32 and in short order felt something on my leg above my ankle. Without looking I brushed at it and a wasp flew up at me. The wind sucked it out the window and all seemed well until a buzzing sound from the rear window area got my attention. It was another wasp! I pulled onto a side road, stopped the car, and mushed the wasp dead on the window. At this rate I was sure I would be inundated with bugs constantly on this trip but the rest of the day was blissfully bug-free. The VW’s little 40hp engine droned on as I past fence after fence and cow after cow. Towns of varying degrees of smallness came and went, and by late in the afternoon, I crossed into southwestern Kansas. My day ended on US-160 just shy of the Mountain Time Zone in Ulysses, Kansas. After a shower and a couple of bottles of Bud Light at the hotel bar, I went to bed.

    When I woke up, I got dressed and went out to the VW to perform the daily maintenance checks. The air-cooled VW requires much more attention than any modern car or motorcycle, and as such, there are several items that I was diligent to keep a close eye on in an effort avoid a trip-ending failure. Being mechanically minded, I really do enjoy the minor tinkering to keep the car in good tune. I checked the valve clearances, the ignition timing, oil level, and generator belt tension every morning of driving on the trip. The only valve that required any adjusting on the trip was the number 3 exhaust valve. The design of the earlier air-cooled VW engine puts the oil cooler in the air flow to the number 3 cylinder and as such, the air is already heated before passing over the cylinder, resulting in slightly hotter operating temperatures on number 3. With this in mind, the number 3 exhaust valve would generally be the first to burn so exact clearance for it is a necessity, unless you want to be stranded in the middle of the Nevada desert with a dropped valve.

    After eating a bowl of cereal, I fired up the little VW and set off into the cool morning air. Outside of Ulysses, I turned north on KS-27 to Syracuse, Kansas where I turned onto US-50 which would become my primary route for much of the trip.

    Somewhere early into eastern Colorado, I downshifted into third and the generator light started to glow. Suspecting I had just thrown the generator belt, I quickly shutoff the engine, and coasted onto the shoulder. The generator belt on the VW is crucial as the cooling fan is connected the back of the generator, so if the generator isn’t turning, then no fan. At 60 mph, the engine wouldn’t last very long at all with no cooling before seizing into a worthless lump of uselessness. I popped the deck lid, but nothing seemed wrong. The belt was tight. I turned the car back on but the light is still lit. Further diagnosis is needed so I pulled onto a side road and got out my tools. Naturally when trouble arises the first tool to come out is the hammer, and I used it to tap on the generator and voltage regulator to no avail. I decided to repolarize the generator. This involves removing the belt and jumping it straight to the battery which turns the generator into an electric motor. It resets the magnetic field in the generator and if its good, it will start to spin clockwise. My generator started spinning easily. Maybe that’s it so I reinstalled the belt and started it up. The light went out! I don’t know how downshifting would cause a generator to loose polarity but it was working now and did so the rest of the trip. By lunch time I had buzzed into Pueblo, Colorado with the mountains in view to the west. Let the fun begin!
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    Not the best picture but it's the first one of the trip. Finally getting away from the DFW sprawl on Farm Road 455.
    [​IMG]

    This abandoned school? in southwestern Oklahoma was strewn with broken cars, appliances and other junk. The "Victory" name on the building was comically ironic given the state of things.
    [​IMG]

    I apologize for this second through-the-bug-splattered-windshield shot. It should be the last. Leaving Pueblo, CO on US-50 toward the mountains.
    [​IMG]
    #12
  13. Dave.0

    Dave.0 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 17, 2011
    Oddometer:
    837
    Location:
    north texas for now, sedona when I can get away
    #13
  14. a1fa

    a1fa Throttle Jockey™

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2006
    Oddometer:
    13,924
    Location:
    Arkansas
    More! More! More... Oh the ol' Type1
    #14
  15. a1fa

    a1fa Throttle Jockey™

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2006
    Oddometer:
    13,924
    Location:
    Arkansas
    What kind of car is that?
    #15
  16. slowlane

    slowlane Adventurer

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2012
    Oddometer:
    82
    Location:
    Highland Village, TX
    That looks like fun. I know someone here who has one of those. I believe his is a Birkin 7, but I think quite a few companies have made them. His is bare aluminum and has a Datsun A-series engine. They are pretty sweet rides.
    #16
  17. Off the grid

    Off the grid Seeker of the Unf

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2008
    Oddometer:
    11,716
    Location:
    That buzzing in your earhole, NorCal.
    Awe-some! :deal
    #17
  18. slowlane

    slowlane Adventurer

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2012
    Oddometer:
    82
    Location:
    Highland Village, TX
    The desert of Pueblo started to give way as the ever present sage brush started to become interspersed with small juniper-like trees. With each increase in elevation, I could feel the car starting to lose power as more throttle was required to maintain speed. US-50 was beautiful here as it wound around the hills as it followed along the Arkansas River. This was the first of many instances on this trip where I wished I was on a motorcycle rather than in the Bug. But the leisurely pace of the VW allowed for plenty of opportunity to look around and enjoy the view. I know that on a motorcycle, I surely would have been fully concentrating on the curves and road surface, trying to wind as fast as possible along the route and would have likely missed a lot of the sights. I stopped at a turn-out and took in the view. On the other side of the river I was surprised to see about eight or ten bighorn sheep. They were mainly lying down but two of them were wandering around and would occasionally butt horns with a loud clacking noise. The road continued along the river for a while longer and then headed into Salida, Colorado where I stopped and got gas.

    I left Salida with mountains all around me, unaware what US-50 was about to lead me over. After some straight roads dotted with motels, camp stores, and rafting tour businesses, the road began to climb. The VW began to lose speed on the grade and I gradually pressed down on the pedal more and more. Eventually I ran out of pedal as it was pinned against the floor, wide open but still slowing down. I shifted down into third gear as the seemingly ended climb continued. By this time I was barely holding 35mph in third full throttle as the road wound up the mountain. Luckily US-50 has a passing lane on this climb because nearly everyone was passing me. Several groups, and pairs, and solo motorcycles whizzed by me at a higher rate of speed thought from the sound of their exhaust, their engines were feeling the strain of the altitude as well. However the scenery was incredible and I stopped at several pull-offs to enjoy the view and that mountain air while giving the little 1200 a break. Starting off from these stops even at full throttle, the car struggled to get going again.

    Finally, at full throttle and about 30mph, the little Volkswagen crested the top of Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet above sea level, and I turned into the parking lot of the store at the top to give the VW a much needed break. Considering my VW&#8217;s engine develops only 40hp at sea level, it felt like it must have been down to like 20hp at this altitude. The engine definitely worked hard getting up here and it was probably a little on the hot side as the oil light would just flicker at idle by the top of the pass, so I shut it off, opened the deck lid to let it cool, and went into the store to use the bathroom and gander at the little trinkets and souvenirs for sale within.
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    Finally getting into the mountains after leaving Pueblo, CO
    [​IMG]

    Driving along the flat section in between the mountains. Little did I know that I would be going up and over those mountains shortly. By the way, you could turn left here for County Road 210. Ugh, moving shot out the passenger window. I definitely stopped taking moving shots on the return trip because random signs and other crap like to poke their distracting heads into them.
    [​IMG]

    The view from a turn-out on Monarch Pass
    [​IMG]

    The proof that yes the VW was really here!...and left a territorial claim in the parking lot with a few drips of hot oil from the engine.
    [​IMG]
    #18
  19. WVhillbilly

    WVhillbilly Long timer

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2010
    Oddometer:
    12,086
    Awesome trip.
    A buddy of mine drove around the country in his Samurai, not much faster than your bug.

    I don't know that I would ever have the patience.
    #19
  20. slowlane

    slowlane Adventurer

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2012
    Oddometer:
    82
    Location:
    Highland Village, TX
    I'm glad you're enjoying it. I had a blast. Yes the old Beetle is pretty slow. I usually hung between 55-60 mph for the whole trip and only occasionally drove more than 400 miles in a day. It will go faster, but I didn't want to stress the little car too much because it had a long way to go. For me it was refreshing traveling at a more relaxed pace because I got to enjoy all the sights that I used to miss while traveling 75-80 down the interstate.
    #20