It was 1977 and I was driving a 1967 Black SunRoof Beetle with that awesome brick red interior. Oh, the car wasn’t in tip-top condition, but, it was all stock. I drove the car every day to and from work and elsewhere, while my wife ferried herself and the children in a second ’67 Ruby Red Beetle.
At the end of one long work day, I left the job and got into my Beetle. Funny thing. When I put in the clutch and attempted to start the car and shift into first, I could not get a gear—just a lot of grinding. Oh-oh! I thought. The clutch cable is gone. My brain went into over-load and information began to sift. Today, I’d say that my cerebral computer began a data search—but, in them days personal computers were uncommon to the masses.
I recalled about speed-shifting (at least that’s what I called it). This involves using the accelerator to generate movement, releasing the foot from the accelerator and quickly pulling or pushing the stick to get the next gear—all without the clutch pedal coming into play.
Only one problem: When the key is turned with the car in first gear, the car lurches forward.
I checked for traffic, pushed the lever into first, then turned the key—away we went!
Let off the gas and pull quickly into second. Hey—this was working fine. Now, I hoped for clear streets and few stop signs and stop lights. I was in Dallas afternoon rush traffic and had 15 miles to travel to get home. I plotted my trip as I drove, taking alternate streets where I knew there was less traffic and few stop lights, especially.
I sweated it to the outskirts of Dallas and pulled into Big Billy Barrett’s—the largest Volkswagen dealership in the area. When I obtained our VWs, it hadn’t taken long to become acquainted with the parts division at this dealership. I purchased a clutch cable, got into my trusty steed and made the remainder of the trip without incident.
I had a method for changing the clutch cable. I raised the driver’s rear, placed a jack stand beneath the car, removed that wheel and had instant access to the far end of the clutch cable. Vise grips were clipped onto the cable just before the clutch arm to keep the cable from twisting as the wing nut was unscrewed and then reinstalled when adjusting.
Next, the pedal cluster was removed. But, what to my wondering eye should appear but a crack at the base of the clutch pedal where it is pinned to the pedal cluster shaft. Besides a frayed clutch cable, the crack was opening when the pedal was depressed, allowing travel, but not effective travel. The pedal would bottom at the stop but wasn’t pulling the cable sufficiently to move the clutch! My problem immediately was compounded.
Fortunately, I had a spare pedal cluster. I was able to knock the pins out of both pedals and to reinstall a good pedal onto the original shaft.
Now, it was time to pull the old cable from the tunnel and to install the new cable. I must note that when doing this, the removal is made much less nasty by using plenty of rags to wipe the old cable as it comes out of the tunnel. Otherwise, that black grease tends to get onto everything in sight! I coated the new cable with a liberal coating of grease as I installed it. This really helps to preserve the cable and to give smoother operation. I threaded the cable through the clutch tube in the tunnel until I had just enough left showing so that I could fit the cable eye over the cluster shaft hook.
Over time, I also developed a method for holding the cable over the hook of the cluster shaft. I used hair-fine copper wire to tie the cable eye to the hook. In this manner, I could do everything by myself. If you’ve done this job, you know the frustration when you almost have the cluster back into place and the clutch pedal flops and disengages the hook from the cable eye! I’m sure that everyone has his own method for doing this exercise—this was the easiest way for me, at the time.
I installed the cluster and tightened the two bolts securely. Now, it was time to install the wing nut and begin the adjusting process.
I used a stout rubber band to attach a short piece of lath to the brake pedal pad. The lath was long enough to overlap the clutch pedal. That would give me the measure of how much play I needed in the clutch pedal. I needed about 1/2-3/4ths of an inch play before the pedal “took hold” (there was resistance). This is one of those adjust, check the play, adjust and check the play—until it was right.
Well, this operation cost me 3 or 4 hours due to the pedal fracture, but the success was exhilarating. The next day, the car was good as ever and took me many miles afterwards, as well.
As I recall, the next time I had a clutch pedal crack-failure, I just changed the entire cluster and was done with it. A lesson was learned—have spares of those failure-prone parts. These days, I maintain a spares inventory, so noted on my computer.
If you’ve had an interesting experience with YOUR ’67 Beetle, why not submit it to 1967beetle.com? There’s something for all of us to learn about these cars we love so much.