Tips Posts

Undercoating Vintage Volkswagens

Undercoating Vintage Volkswagens

Foreword: Rather than to address “undercoating” as a general topic of discussion, I’ve tried to keep the focus upon undercoating as it related to Volkswagens through 1979 and as it relates, now, to the vintage Volkswagen hobby.

Undercoating has around for years and years in the world of vintage Volkswagens.

The theory behind undercoatings is that a barrier could be created to prevent the infiltration of moisture. Undercoatings themselves had no rust-inhibitive qualities. They simply have been intended as a barrier.

VW dealerships sold the service to new car buyers as a preventative measure to guard against rust. It was a money-making operation and dealers loved it. Especially was it offered in the colder climate States and especially where salt was used on icy roadways.

Recently, I spoke with a former VW trained specialist. He described the undercoating procedure as he observed it. He said that the dealership where he worked had one bay with a lift, “in a dark corner”, where the “nasty” undercoating took place. He told me that it was part of a money-making effort by dealerships in the make-ready department. Undercoating was applied using a hose and gun working from a 30 gallon barrel of material.

I have had my doubts over the years about its effectiveness in sealing the undersides of a vehicle as a moisture barrier. Here’s why. I was in the painting industry for almost 30 years. If there is a coating, I likely have seen it or read about it. In my experience, despite all claims to the contrary, coatings will fail. There is no “eternal” coating. I’ve heard claims that “you’ll never have to paint again”. Why can’t this be true?

Undercoating Vintage Volkswagens

It can’t be true because of expansion-and-contraction problems. When the base material—wood, metal, plastic—expands or contracts, the coating is going to suffer, eventually. Some coatings are better suited than others. But the fact of the matter is that coatings fail.

Metals, especially, are given to fluctuations from heat and cold. They will expand and contract more, and more quickly, reacting to weather and usage conditions.

What’s another problem? It’s the fact that the underside of a vehicle is not a continuous sheet of metal. Not at all. The undersides of vehicles are composed of pieces that have been fitted to form a unit. This could be through a continuous weld or spot-welding or with nuts and bolts and washers. There are joints. Every place where there is a weld or a nuts-and-bolts joint, expansion rates will differ.

As well, the application of undercoatings must completely encase all of this in order to form a viable covering—it must be seamless. This doesn’t happen.

The next issue is that undercoatings historically were shot onto factory painted surfaces. In order for a coating to adhere, there must be the possibility of adhesion. Slick surfaces will not offer such adhesion possibilities. As a result, I have been able to remove portions of undercoatings on Volkswagens simply by using compressed air. Sometimes, I have been able to remove it in sheets, simply because of the lack of adhesion. I can imagine that vibration over the years helps to loosen poorly adhered coatings.

Are My Front Fenders German?

Are My Fenders German?
Not a week goes by here at without someone sending photos of their vintage pride and joy, fresh from bodywork and paint. More times than not, their car has an aftermarket front fender. If you didn’t know, the ’67 Beetle front fenders (German) are another one of those fantastic one year only items. If you look at the vintage market, you’ll see plenty of folks claiming, “high end restoration.” However, (sadly) people often use cheap parts for max profit. The power is being able to tell the difference. I’d like to explain how can you tell if you’re dealing with genuine German VW metal. Let’s discuss below, with photos to help illustrate how simple the difference really is. I’d love to know how many readers actually go outside and look at their cars after reading this.

Turn signal holes
This is by far one of the easiest ways to distinguish the real deal from aftermarket. On the right we have a genuine German VW fender. If you remove your top turn signal assembly, the hole punched should be round. On the top of the hole, if you looked close enough you’d also see that the fender is stamped with a VW logo mark. Over time, these are often worn away. However, they are there from the factory. Also, the metal of German fenders is much thicker. On the left, we have an aftermarket fender with a goofy oblong hole. Why the folks making these did not use proper tooling to produce something that matches an OE fender is beyond me.

Are My Fenders German?

Preparing For a Vintage Volkswagen Cruise

Preparing For a Vintage Volkswagen Cruise

(Photo and video by our good friend Chris Vallone of Classic VW Bugs)

When my friends and I decide to take a caravan cruise in our vintage Volkswagens, each person receives a memo outlining the cruise and the obligations of each participant. Preparations begin well in advance of the cruise date so that there will be no need for last minute attempts to ready the cars.

Choice of a destination is an important factor, of course and will make or break a cruise. It may take some research to find a suitable destination. Make the destination something which will peak interest. Sometimes it can involve a learning experience. Other destinations will be purely for the please of the outing and company of other like-minded Volkswagen enthusiasts.

Don’t wait until the last minute to begin researching a destination. Once one has been chosen, it’s time to make contact (in most cases) with the responsible party at the destination. This could be a restaurant, a shop, a visitors’ site or other location. Usually, those in charge at the destination need advance notification as to time and numbers. Be sure to stay in touch so that reservations, for instance, aren’t cancelled for lack of communication.

We’ve found that from 12 to 15 cars makes a nice, manageable caravan. Fewer cars, and the cruise begins to lose its appeal. The more cars in the caravan, the more cumbersome it becomes. And, unless the cruise is entirely on country roads, having too many cars can become dangerous!

Many of us do not drive our cars consistently enough to remember when or what we last noticed about our car’s performance while driving. So, it’s a good time to do an intimate interview with your VW Baby! Collect supplies as directed in the instructions and think of any other personal supplies which you might need. Then pack them into the vehicle so that you will know exactly where they are when the time comes to use them.

Once your car is ready and necessary supplies are in hand, take time to study the route. Don’t plan to just follow the car ahead…you may become separated from the caravan by traffic or by a traffic signal light. Know the route.

We place someone at the head of the caravan and someone at the tail of the caravan who is knowledgeable and experienced. Everyone should have an identical, alphabetized cell phone list of the caravan participants. A simple call to the leader can be made, if need be, and the caravan can pull over in order for cars to catch up or in order to assist a stranded participant.

We choose routes which will avoid major roadways where traffic might be congested. Congested traffic quickly can ruin a cruise by splitting everyone up, or worse—by causing an accident.

Automotive Shops & Our Vintage Cars

Over time, I have had a great many people to talk to me about services rendered at various mechanic shops. I think that we can all agree that none of us has been 100% satisfied 100% of the time at any shop. Mechanicing is an inexact “science”. This accounts for a lot of the problems—whether real or perceived. Also, parts’ quality varies constantly. That’s one thing that we CAN guarantee.

Mechanics make a profit by being able to diagnose a problem and solve it under time constraints. An experienced mechanic usually can tell how long a common job will take. If not, he may have a “book” that can tell him, at a glance, how much time a specific job will take. If he can do the job more quickly, he makes more money. If the job takes longer, he loses money (time is money). He has a set amount which he charges for each hour’s labor.

Mechanics also usually obtain parts at a discount from the warehouses and parts houses—especially from those with whom they do a lot of business. They do not pass this discount to the customer—they make a little on the deal.

Raising the Rear

’67 Volkswagen Beetle — Raising The Rear

This article was submitted by reader and ’67 enthusiast Ron Waller. Thank you very much for your contributions to

I looked all over, and found many articles about where to place jack stands after you’ve lifted the car. But I could not find anything about raising the rear of the car with a floor jack.

I wanted to adjust the clutch and drain the transmission oil while I was under there. Following this article are couple of thoughts that definitely will help with those tasks too.