Where do you go in your ’67 beetle? Cruise down to the mall… Maybe hit the beach? or maybe rally around the world….when you retire..! Meet Ed and Janet Howle who could give us all a run for our money and then do it all over again!!
We bought our VW Blue Type 1, 1967 Beetle, Stewball, with the hope that we could win The Great Race, an around-the-world antique car rally which was to start in NYC on February 12, 2008, and go west across the U.S. The cars would be shipped from San Francisco to China, and then cross China, Kazakhstan, Russia and, Europe. We would drive 14,000 miles before we ended in Paris. Great Race Inc. was offering a $1,000,000 purse. We were highly motivated. Why did this event start on February 12? Because this was 100 years to the day of the famous 1908 race which is still the only true car race from New York to Paris.
Why did we pick the 1967 VW Beetle? All rallies have somewhat different rules, but to enter this one, the car had to be at least 40 years old. Since the start was in February, the car would have to negotiate winter snow and ice both crossing the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and similar conditions in Siberia. The Beetle with its rear engine and rear-wheel drive seemed like a good choice. In addition, the ‘67 has a 12 volt electrical system and a 1500 cc engine. I had owned three Type 1 VWs and two Karmann Ghias. During the competition, I would have to do most repairs and service myself. A fast car was not the goal, a reliable one was, this was a rally, an endurance time and distance precision event, with hidden check points, not a race.
From previous rallies I knew that preparation was the key to endurance driving. I had every system gone over by my VW guru, Bob Hicks of Hick’s VW Service in Durham, North Carolina who only services and repairs air-cooled VWs. I made several modifications which were allowed by Great Race. I replaced the engine with a 2005 new 1600 cc South American engine and added the required fire extinguisher. I took out the back seat, made boards to cover the floor and batteries and with Bob’s input assembled the spare parts I thought I might need. In the U.S. these parts are available new and I felt this was good money spent. My list included; carburetor, fuel pump, distributor, generator, plugs, fan belt, control cables, jacks, and tires. Each car had to carry a driver and navigator and everything we needed for the trip. Janet began to worry there would be no room for clothes and the other essentials to keep us groomed, civilized, and healthy. Jan also insisted on adding a porcelain flower vase to the dashboard in which she put a fresh flower every morning of the rally.
I made three other modifications. Great Race Inc. required a super accurate (expensive) rally speedometer. Fortunately it fit exactly in the space where my standard VW speedometer fit.
The preferred place for the magnetic pick-up is on the drive shaft but since the Beetle doesn’t have a drive shaft, I cemented it on one of the rear wheel rims. I mounted a second pick-up on one of the spare rims so that if I had to change this tire, I would still have working speedometer. We were required to carry two spare tires and I mounted one on a rim. (Worth noting: I never changed a tire. All the other cars on the World Race ruined tires but Stewball drove all the way around the world on the same set of tires and then completed the Trans-American Challenge in 2012 on the same set.) For rallies we have since run with Endurorally out of England, I had to add a rally computer to the already full dashboard, a four-point harness system, and mud flaps.
The next modification was for fuel. Because of the remoteness of the route in western China, Kazakhstan and Siberia, I needed to pay attention to the possibility of water and other contaminants in the fuel. (On one stop, in far west China, the attendant had to start up his generator to pump fuel. I visualized the sludge stirring up from the bottom.) I purchased a funnel that separates gas from water and particles, and being a blue-water sailor, I added an internal marine filter in the fuel line that did the same thing. We were required to carry a spare gas can, but fuel was available at 250 mile intervals and I never used it. Often we were not sure what octane we were getting but our car was very forgiving. We were told that road conditions would be equal to secondary roads in the U.S. so I did not add a skid pan or raise the car for additional road clearance. I regretted this only once when we encountered the worst road conditions imaginable in China. Along with the other cars, I negotiated this 140 miles slowly and with a great deal of anxiety.
The final major modification was to upgrade the cooling system. I installed a Doghouse type oil cooler that did not blow on #3 cylinder and a larger cooling fan. We would be driving across both the Mojave and the Gobi deserts and during our shake down test on the 2007 Great Race to California temperatures in the Mojave reached 112 degrees. After reaching California on that 2007 rally, we turned around and drove back to North Carolina on our own. We thought we were ready.
No matter how well we prepared problems would occur for which I did not have repair or replacement parts. The first problem was with the windshield wipers. I had to tighten the screws several times, usually during a downpour, on the World Rally but finally on the Trans-American Challenge, the wiper shaft with the crank on the driver’s side broke. With some inventive help from our support crew we designed a temporary repair by hooking the two wipers blades together so that the wiper on the passenger side could drive the driver’s side.
I had parts shipped to our hotel in Memphis and spent the greater part of our day off replacing this.
The second problem was a broken headlight. This happened in Russia. By law every car must have two working headlights which you are required to burn day and night. With help from our Russian translator, we found a restoration shop outside of Kazan, and our gracious hosts took a headlight off another vehicle and replaced our broken one with one labeled “Made in the USSR”. Like all car buffs around the world, they would take no money for their effort.
But back to the rally, as well prepared as we were, things immediately began to work against us. The starting date for the Great Race was shifted to May and that destroyed our natural snow and ice advantage. Then six weeks before the start of the race, China withdrew all our travel permits “for our safety and protection” because of Tibetan uprisings in the western part of the country. The race was cancelled; Great Race, Inc. declared bankruptcy and many people lost a great deal of money. Any possibility of a million dollars went up in the smoke along with the rally.
A few die-hards, including us, who were determined to honor the centennial of the 1908 race, ran the U.S. portion of the original route as a tour organized by Luke Rizzoto. We drove back-roads and stopped at all the way-points recorded by the U.S. entry (and winner) in the 1908 race. I made only one repair. At one point the engine seemed to be running rough as though it was not getting enough fuel. I discovered the carburetor was leaking gas. I pulled off the road and was able to fix it by simply tightening some screws. No harm done other than raising my blood pressure and heart rate temporarily.
The cancellation of The World Race also ruined our chances of writing the adventure travel memoir we had planned. However, now unconstrained by reality we fictionalized an around-the-world rally, adding spies, sex, and secret technology from WWII. The Long Road to Paris is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com. As far as we know, it is the only novel in which a 1967 VW Beetle has the starring role. A great (birthday or Christmas) gift for 1967 VW aficionados.
Finally in 2011, another world rally was reorganized by Jerry Price. Our trip was back on. The first leg across the U.S. was a bit underwhelming having done it now three times in Stewball. Once arriving in San Francisco, I took the car to an air-cooled VW shop that was recommended to me to go over the car before shipping to China. This seemed like a good idea since I had no idea if I would find anyone in China who knew anything about air-cooled engines. The shop replaced front wheel-bearings and the distributor, something they deemed necessary. Soon after we arrived in China the cap on the new distributor went bad and I discovered that my spare distributor cap wouldn’t fit the distributor that was changed in San Francisco. Fortunately, I had a spare distributor and changed the entire thing in China. I learned a valuable lesson here, no one knows you car better than you do.
As you can imagine that this trip was filled with many first-time adventures which you can read about on our blog: www.thelongroadtoparis.wordpress.com. Click the archives beginning March, 2011. When it was all over, we drove from our home in North Carolina, around the world, and back to our house with only the distributor replacement, front wheel bearings, and the usual oil changes and valve adjustments (which, by the way is, much more difficult with mud-flaps in place).
All of my other spare parts were never used.
Since that rally, we have driven Stewball on a 12, 000 mile Trans-America Rally 2012, covering many of the lower 48 states, British Colombia, Canada, The Yukon Territory, and Alaska. As if that wasn’t enough, on our day off in Fairbanks, on our own, we drove the mostly dirt and gravel Dalton highway up to the Arctic Circle. We are now signed on for the Africa Safari Challenge, 2014 through South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia starting in May. We will also blog each day of Stewball’s adventure there.
P.S. The first person (living in the contiguous 48 states) who correctly identifies the source of Stewball’s name and can answer the question why this is an appropriate name for a ’67 VW Beetle, wins an autographed copy of The Long Road to Paris. Contact us at thelongroadtoparis.com with your answer and contact information.
Ed and Janet Howle
Thanks, Ed and Janet, for sharing your ’67 with 1967beetle.com.