Dave Fennell’s — L639 Zenith Blue ’67 Beetle

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Such a great story. Slowly, we are connecting ’67 Beetle owners all over the world. A big thanks to Jay Salser for his edits and being such a huge part of what makes 1967beetle.com a fun place to come to work everyday. -ES

My first exposure to Beetles was when my uncle returned from a military assignment in Germany in the early ‘60s. He brought a Beetle back with him, probably around a ’62 Model and in red. I saw it when he drove it from Northern Alberta, Canada, to Southern Ontario, with kids, dog and camping trailer in tow. It was a real revelation to me, as my family were always owners of North American cars. Here was a simple, well engineered, air-cooled, economical and durable vehicle. I think that it was then that I decided that I would own one.
I owned a couple of motorcycles as a teenager, which certainly were fun, but somewhat limiting. I convinced my mother that we should share a Beetle, so we bought a well-used ‘65 model from the local Cadillac dealership. That’s when I found out about link pins and the maintenance they entailed. I had done most of my own servicing on the motorcycles, so learning VW maintenance and repair was a logical progression.

Shortly after that, I went off to University out of town, finding that motorcycles and Canada don’t work well in our winters. So…after my first summer of working, I was on the hunt for my own car, and, of course, a Beetle was the logical choice. It had to be a used one–I couldn’t afford a new one.

I found one at a local Volvo dealership. It appeared to be in nice shape, one fender had been repaired, but overall, it was sound. I called the dealer first thing Monday to ask about it. They had planned not to sell it, but rather to wholesale it since it wasn’t a product they felt like selling retail. However, the salesman said that he would talk to the Manager and get back to me. I got a call later saying that for $1300 it would be mine! It was, of course, a ’67, a Savannah Beige, Deluxe Model, with about 20,000 miles on it, a gas heater and a beautiful Blaupunkt AM/FM/Shortwave radio in it….a real upgrade from the standard unit.

I drove it about 100,000 miles over several years, and I only had a couple of minor issues on the road with it. Once when returning from school to home, the engine started cutting out. I pulled into a service station, let it cool a bit then removed a big chunk of dirt from the main jet. The other time was a failed voltage regulator. The original regulators were mechanical, so I took it apart, cleaned the fused points and returned it to service where it stayed until I traded it in.

It took me on several trips, including an epic journey from Southern Ontario to Vancouver Island–my first trip west of Ontario, with only one oil change required. It also took four guys from University to Boston for a whirlwind two-day trip….cozy, but it worked. My brother and I also took it to the Maritimes. En route, we had a flat tire. We pulled over, both of us jumped out, hood up, wheel swapped, hubcap popped on and back into the car in record time. We started to drive off and it felt
funny, so I turned to my brother, and asked if he had tightened the wheel bolts, and he said he thought I had done it! I quickly pulled over, just as the wheel parted company from the brake drum. Fortunately all of the wheel bolts were found inside the hubcap! One of my epic maintenance fails.

This first encounter with Beetles converted my family to the point that my sister and brother also owned Beetles, and my mom replaced the white ‘65 with a SunBug Beetle, a gold-painted version from the early ‘70s with a sunroof.

As time passed, I got married, took on a busy job, and had a family. So the Beetle faded into memory, replaced by Audis, Hondas, and Mercedes.

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However, a few years back, I retired. As a retiree does, I reflected on things I had done, and of course the Beetle came to mind. I took the first step and bought the reprint of the Official Bentley Service Manual, an exact duplicate of the one I had with my Beige ’67. Then I started my search for a Beetle on the Internet. It had to be a ’67. Canada is not kind to old cars, so most of my searching was done in the United States, mainly California and Arizona. Ideally it would be another Savannah Beige. I was not looking for a show car. It had to be a practical driver, and the body had to be in good shape, since I am not a bodyman, but I was prepared for the mechanical aspects. And, it had to be as close to stock as I could find. In my mind, the best Beetles are the original ones.

I finally settled on one in Southern California, a numbers-matching, mainly original Zenith Blue that had just had an external repaint and a totally restored interior. It had spent it’s entire life in Arizona and California. We have been spending the winters in Palm Desert, so I made arrangements to see the car in Pasadena, and, needless to say, after some negotiation, discussion and test drive and about 10 times the purchase price of my original Beetle, it became mine.

The main challenge was to get it back to Canada. I was fortunate to find a shipper out of Edmonton who hauls classic cars in an enclosed trailer. As luck would have it, he was in the Palm Springs area in March picking up some vehicles from the classic car auction there, and could drop off my new Beetle in Calgary. He arrived a few days before we were to leave for home, and we had it loaded and on its way

Back home in Calgary, the first challenge was to get it through our fairly rigorous out- of-Province inspection before it could be licensed. With a new ball joint to replace a leaking one, and new front brake drums and bearings, we got her through the process and I once again had a ’67 to drive!

The challenge with old cars, of course, is that you never know what is original and what has been modified and the condition of the various parts or when things were last serviced. I quickly learned never to assume that what was on the car was correct or installed correctly. Most of it was good, but there were many minor things that needed a bit of tweaking or adjustment. For example, the choke element was non-functioning, and the thermostat and cooling flaps were missing. Now this might not be noticeable in the Southwestern USA, but here in Canada, it was obvious. I was fortunate enough to locate exact ’67 replacements. When I had the rear wheels off to help in flushing the brake fluid, I found that the two steel brake lines mounted on the axle shafts had been totally crunched to the point that I wondered how brake fluid
ever got through them. I expect it was done by a tow truck operator at some point in time who thought that tying down the car around the axles was a good idea!

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During that first year, I rewired the entire car, since some of the wiring had been modified and all of it had aged. I replaced the steering box–the old one was no longer adjustable. After one day of driving, I lifted the engine cover to the sight of fuel dripping from my carb onto a hot engine…..looking suspiciously like a worn throttle shaft. So I ordered and installed a rebuilt one. I also had a rebuilt transmission installed. The old one was leaking and the synchromesh in 2nd gear
was not working.

Fortunately, parts are generally available for these vehicles, although you have to check quality. I am fortunate to have a place here in town that sells parts and which services air-cooled VWs. Anything which they don’t have is readily available through online suppliers.

The one thing I did want to do was to rebuild the engine. I read-up on what was required, and consulted my brother-in- law, who is licensed mechanic. While a do-it-yourself job sounds feasible, I quickly realized that it would be time consuming, and required tools, experience and skills which I didn’t have. I did want a rebuild, if possible, to keep the numbers-matching scheme going. After inquiring, I discovered that it was going to be a difficult and expensive job here in Calgary. However,
in surfing one day, I came up with an advertisement for VW engine rebuilds and customization in a shop in Southeastern British Columbia.

After meeting the mechanic, reviewing his experience and seeing his shop, I entrusted the job to him. When I went to pick it up, it ran so beautifully I almost cried. Here I did drift a bit from pure stock by installing a degree timing crank pulley and bolt-on valve covers, but the original parts are safely stored. We transported it home and a couple of weekends later we reinstalled the new engine into the car, along with a new master cylinder, since the old one was leaking. As part of its break-in, my wife and I drove to our local mountain town of Canmore for lunch, and it ran beautifully.

My next little project is to install three-point seat belts. It has the original clam shell belts in it, but I feel that this is an area where safety needs to trump original equipment….but I will stash away the original belts!

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It’s taken a couple of years to get here, but I feel that I now have a very nice example of a stock ’67 that I have confidence in taking almost anywhere. I get lots of thumbs-up while driving it, and lots of admiring comments when parked. While lots of fun to drive, one has to understand that this is an almost 50 year old vehicle, and it is going to require attention and care. It’s not a vehicle which you can just drive and ignore. But I am up for the challenge! As a nostalgic twist, I kept my original
Formula VW walnut shift knob, with the shift pattern embossed on top, that I bought for my first ’67. It now graces the shift lever on my new Zenith Blue baby.

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The Finishing Touches for Your Vintage Volkswagen™
The Finishing Touches for Your Vintage Volkswagen™

Jay Salser

My wife, Neva, and I have been driving and working on VWs for over 41 years. In fact, we raised our family in these cars. Now, we are retired and enjoy VWs as a hobby. The ’67 Beetle always has been our favorite year. We own a ’67 Beetle and a ’68 Karmann Ghia.

12 Comments

Eric Shoemaker

about 2 years ago

Really great article, Jay! Zenith blue is my fav color '67.

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jay salser

about 2 years ago

Dave did a great job on his write-up! Many folks tell me that they don't feel qualified to do their write-up and consequently the 1967 Beetle Community doesn't get to read their stories. For everyone who feels that way, let me remind you of the Great Coaching Staff at 1967beetle.com! They make it easy! So, do like Dave did....get with Eric and let all of us Readers enjoy Your Story and Your Beetle! jay

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timm

about 2 years ago

Beautiful!

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Stephen M. Jaeger

about 2 years ago

I can't even imagine how one gets a 200 lb engine into the back of a station wagon. I have a hard enough time just getting a bicycle into mine!

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Eric Shoemaker

about 2 years ago

Insert funny joke here.... :)

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Dave Fennell

about 2 years ago

Actually wasn't all that hard. We put a piece of plywood in the car, then lifted the engine on a jack to bumper height, then slid it across another piece of plywood with a corrugated plastic board (it slid right in!). On the way out, we just lifted the plywood it was sitting on, so we could slide it out again. Needs two people obviously, but it worked well.

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Michael

about 2 years ago

Just like mine except I kept the all chrome wheels, that the previous owner had put on it. I get lots of smiles at shows, that's all I want.

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Jay Salser

about 2 years ago

They DO get the smiles, Michael. AND...all of the stories which begin with: "my father had one like that..." And so forth and so on. Don't you just love the stories that come when people see your Beetle! jay

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John M. Poirier

about 2 years ago

Quite an excellent narrative and an outstanding job bringing this beauty back to life!

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gavin

about 2 years ago

Fantastic story Dave & Jay....indeed the smiles and comments abound especially at shows. I appreciate your keep a close eye on "stock" equipment. I was at a recent VW show where Best Stock Award went to a vehicle with custom paint?!? Its getting harder and harder to find true stock and people who understand the difference. Bravo to your efforts.....

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williams michelangeli

about 2 years ago

hi, jay. i am from venezuela. i bougth one 67 vw beetle one year ago. i am restoring it. here is very difficult to find the original pieces required to do it. but, i do not loose the possibility to do it. i love my bug. my family love it too. it is red, like a bug. i call it my little tomatoe, in allusion to the color. i want to ask you if exist a web page where i would find pictures about the exact details of the 67 germany beetle. for example, i would like to see how was the seats; where was the musical horns; how was the seats and the interior of the car. a pleasure to meet you, sir. and excuse my bad english. good evening.

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Neva Salser

about 2 years ago

Since I drove a zenith blue 67 named 'Friendly' for years, my heart swells with nostalgia as I read your story and view your awesome photos. Your beautiful baby is lucky to have found such a wise and capable caretaker. Long may she purr and strut her stuff!!!!

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