Vintage VW Running Board Restoration

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Editor’s Note: A huge thanks to Joy Rabins for her contributions to 1967beetle.com. This is one of the most complete articles we’ve ever featured. Our timing lights are pointed in your direction, Joy!

The running board project had been on my list of things to do since I purchased my bug the year before. The surface of the boards looked ugly. There were lumps and bumps of rust under the rubber mats which made it look like it had the worst complexion ever. After doing some research on the web, mostly through YouTube, I thought it was time to tackle the job. Somehow the YouTube videos always make a project look a lot
easier than it turns out to be. Many tend to skip over problems areas as I found out when I did my project.

My cars running boards are original and I wanted to keep them as original as possible. The only parts that I would eventually purchase and replace were the rubber mats, the rubber washers between the running board and fenders, and the clips that hold the molding to the running board. I was able to clean all the original metal washers, bolts and nuts and reuse them.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after I had started the project that Jay Salser suggested I write an article on my experience resurfacing my running boards. Therefore, I don’t have a photo of my old running boards attached to the car. I did take a photo of the rubber mat after it was removed from the board. The first photo, “top side of mat”, shows all the bumps where the rust raised the area of the rubber mat. The “Underside of mat” photo shows the rust attached to the underside of the rubber mat.

Parts of the running board
Made of rubber and sits on top of the metal running board.

Running board
The running board is made of metal, painted black, and has an undercoating. The original German boards can be much thicker than some of the running boards sold today. Some VW mechanics say the new boards do not fit as well as original German running boards.

Molding trim runs along the outside edge of the running board. There is a difference in the width of the molding depending on the year the car was manufactured. 33 mm for years 52-64, 18mm for years 65-72 and 10mm for years 73-79. The molding that can purchased today comes in aluminum, chrome or stainless steel depending on where is purchased. Wolfsburg West carries aluminum and stainless steel. West
Coast Metrics carries chrome.

Molding Clips
The trim molding is attached to the board with five clips that attach to the back of the molding strip. See photo “clips”. There are different clips for the different width molding so check you are ordering the correct clips.

clips

Hardware

Bolts, metal washers, rubber washers and nuts that attach the running board to the

Decision Time
You will have to make a decision if you want to keep your original running boards and restore them or if you want to purchase a new complete running board.

Purchase new boards
Most the major companies, Wolfsburg West, West Coast Metric, J Bug, etc. sell complete sets of running boards. They may come fully assembled and complete with all the hardware needed to attach them to your car. Although you can purchase just one running board, if you need one, more than likely you will need both. Make certain you check with the company regarding the width of the trim molding you require. The big pro for purchasing new running boards is saving time. The boards come pre-assembled all the hardware is new and should fit without issue. The big con for purchasing new running boards is they may not be of equal quality as the original German boards and they may not fit as well. They will also be more expensive in the end.

Restore original boards
The big pro for restoring your original boards is, you keep you car original. More than likely, your original boards will have thicker metal and will fit your car better than new running boards. It will probably cost less money than purchasing new boards. The big con for restoring your original boards is the amount of time to clean the hardware, grind rust from the boards, prep them for an anti rust treatment, applying the anti-rust treatment, installation of the mat and molding and then reinstalling them. Although none of these steps is hard, if you add them all together it takes a lot of time.

tab through board

Purchased items
If you decide to restore your boards you will be making some purchases. I first had to determine what I was going to use on the boards that would prevent rust in the future. I had read about the POR15 products and watched more YouTube videos of it being applied. I also looked at Rustoleum products.. One of the problems I had when choosing products from either of these manufacturers is they have so many different products that sound similar it’s hard to make a decision which is best. In the end I decided to use POR15. Below is a list of products I used.

POR-15 Rust Preventive Coating
POR-15 Cleaner Degreaser
POR-15 Metal Prep
Rubber mat
Rubber washers from board to fender
Molding clips
Hardware for running board

Removal and disassembly of the running board

There are four bolts/washers that attach the board to the rocker panel of the car. There are two additional bolts/metal and rubber washers and a nut that attach the board to the front and rear fender. See “Attachment points” photo With decades of dirt, grim, and possibly rust, it can be a chore to remove the bolts that hold the running board to the car. Several sprays of PB blaster and lots of patience released the bolts. Be very careful and try not to damage any bolts. If the bolts are too hard to remove, tighten them a little and spray them again with PB blaster. Eventually
they should be removable. Take your time here. The running board attachment point to the rocker panel is apparently a prime area for rust. In one of Chris Villone’s videos (www.classicvwbugs.com), he recommends when purchasing a bug to give the running boards a tug to see if you hear any cracking or if they move which may indicate rust. After cleaning the 48 years of dirt and grime from my rocker panels, my rocker panels looked new, no rust.

Disassembly
The molding is attached to the board with five clips that run freely on the inside of the molding strip. See “molding tabs” photo. When the clips are in the molding track they fit through a rectangular space in the board exiting the underside of the board. To secure the molding to the board, the tabs are pulled with pliers through the opening. Hold the tab tightly against the board and then twist the tab 90 degrees to hold it and the molding tight against the board. To remove the molding you reverse this process. With pliers, take the tab on the underside of the board and twist 90 degrees back so the tab will fit through the opening in the board. Do the same procedure with all five tabs until the molding is released from the board. You can either purchase new molding clips or, if the old ones are not in bad shape you could try and re-use them. If you decide to re-use them be sure to re-twist them in the original direction. The rubber mats are attached to the running board along one side with a rubber bead that fits into a channel along the entire length on the molding side of the board, see running board channel photo. To remove the old mat, see “mat removal” photo, you have to carefully pry the channel open in order to release the old beading from the board. It was difficult to pry it, so I used an old, dull, 1” chisel and pounded it in to wedge open the channel. Make sure the channels opened enough for the bead of the new mat before starting any painting. The other long side of the mat is attached to the board by pulling the edge of the mat over the lip of the backside of the board. See “board lip” photo. Since you are not going to use this mat again you can either pull it off over the lip or cut it off.

mat removal

Running Board Prep
If you have decided to restore your boards you will be using grinding power tools and chemicals. Make certain you read all the warnings and follow the directions for safe use. In addition to the directions I read,If you wear a long sleeve shirt to avoid the sparks when grinding, make sure the sleeves absolutely can not get caught by the grinding wheel.. Make sure you keep long hair and any dangling objects like power cords away from any moving parts. After the removal of the rubber mat, it is time to see just how bad the rust is. In my case, see “Rust revealed” photo, it was mostly surface rust, but I did have two small holes that I had repaired by welding them. I used a grinder to grind off the remainder of the surface rust.
I had decided to use POR15 on the boards. (www.POR15.com) It stops rust permanently and seemed ideal for this application. However before using it you must use POR15 Cleaner Degreaser and then POR15 Metal Prep. The Metal Prep gives a bronze like tone to the boards. The Eastwood website has a starter kit with everything you need to get started. http://www.eastwood.com/por-15-super-starter-kit.html. I didn’t
find out about the starter kit until my boards were finished.

POR-15 Cleaner Degreaser
This product is diluted with hot water. You can use it diluted 3,4,5 and even 10 times it’s volume with hot water. Rinse with water and let dry before the next step. Read the directions.

POR-15 Metal Prep
This product provides the best adhesion for POR-15 on any metal surface. It etches metal, creating an ideal anchor pattern for the POR-15 coating. It also leaves a zinc phosphate coating to insure chemical bonding of the paint and makes the boards have a bronze like color. You must keep the area wet with Metal Prep for 20-30 minutes, so get a chair, your favorite beverage and a timer.

painting pad

POR-15
It’s important to note that you must gently stir POR15 and NOT shake it or stir it too fast. Shaking produces bubbles which will make the painted surface look like sand paper instead of smooth. It must be stirred for at last 5 minutes before use so get your My husband made the mistake of shaking the can. Yes, he didn’t read the directions first! I made a call to the company for advice. They said to let the can sit for 24 hours and that all the air bubbles would be released and I would have a smooth finished surface when I used the product. I let the can sit for more than 48 hours and
after the POR-15 was dry, I could still see what looked like little bits of sand in the finish. Since it was so minimal and was going to be covered by the rubber mat I left it. In the future I would only use it on areas that are not visible. I painted the POR15 on the boards outdoors to reduce any problems with fumes. I tested a few applicators to see what worked best; a brush, a foam pad and a paint pad. The paint pad, see “painting pad” photo, seemed to work the best. POR15 takes 4-6 hours to dry. It actually dries faster in higher humidity.

Running board reassembly and Installation

Rubber Mat
The rubber mats are attached to the running board along one side with a rubber bead that fits into a channel along the entire length on the molding side of the board, see running board channel photo. You first insert the bead deep into this channel and gently clamp the channel closed holding the rubber bead in place which secures the mat to this side of the board. To push the bead in place I used a nylon trim tool. See “nylon trim tool” photo. Some videos suggest using a metal scraper. I decided against this method because I thought it was too easy to slip and slice the rubber mat.
The other long side of the mat is attached to the board by pulling the edge of the mat over the lip of the backside of the board. See “board lip” photo. With a new mat, it takes a lot of pulling to get it over the lip. I left the rubber in the sun to soften it in order to make it easier to pull over the lip. Even then, it’s hard. Once the mat is installed you can cut the mat where the 5 rectangular holes are for the molding clips. I used a utility The molding is attached to the board with five clips that run freely on the inside of the molding strip. See “molding tabs” photo. When the clips are in the molding track they fit through a rectangular space in the board exiting the underside of the board. See “tab through board” photo. To secure the molding to the board, the tabs are aligned with the openings. Pull the tab to keep the molding against the board and simultaneously twist the tab 90 degrees to secure.

Attaching to the car
There are four bolts/ metal washers that attach the board to the rocker panel of the car. There are two additional bolts/metal and rubber washers and a nut that attach the board to the front and rear fenders. See “Attachment points” photo. Attach the running board to the rocker panel but do not tighten the bolts. I used a small box to support the running board while attaching the bolts. Then the rubber washers are squeezed into position between the running board and fender, and the board and washers were jiggled around until the holes aligned and the bolt could be pushed through. After everything fit properly, I tightened the bolts and nuts. The board is attached to the fender in the following order from the inside of the wheel well; bolt, metal washer, fender, metal washer, rubber washer, running board and Complications: Bumps on the mats- now you see them, now you don’t, now you do.

attachment points

After I thought I had finished with the preparation of the board, I attached the rubber mat to the boards. I left the boards in the sun for a few hours and noticed that I could see what looked like new bumps or divots under the rubber mat. These bumps/ divots were not the sand size bumps left by the POR-15 but larger divots left by rust. I removed the lip side of the mat to take a better look under the mat and could see areas of imperfections on the top of the board that had initially been invisible under the mat.These were divots and bumps left by the previous rust. So where did they come from? Don’t exactly know. Next time I would check for smoothness after grinding, after degreasing/metal prep, and after painting. I smoothed down the newly discovered imperfections with the grinder, prepped the area and reapplied POR15. I reattached the rubber mat the next day and inspected them. They looked fine. I put them in the sun again for a few hours and once again I saw new imperfections on the top of the rubber mat that were not evident before. I again, ground down the imperfections on the board under the mat, prepped the area and reapplied POR15. I reinstalled the rubber mat, left it in the sun and this time everything looked smooth, “Finished Product” photo. My theory is when the rubber is cool it is not as pliable as rubber that is warm. The warm rubber is more pliable and will better conform to whatever it covers including
imperfections. The cool rubber is less pliable and therefore doesn’t hide the imperfections.

Lessons learned from this project

POR-15 vs Rustoleum
Read all the directions before you start. With other anti-rust preparations on the market (like Rustoleum), I would have to think twice about using POR-15 again. It was more prep work and the finished product was not smooth. If the area would be one that is visible and not that likely to rust I
would use something easier to apply like spray Rustoleum. If it was going to be used for an area that would not be visible and would have a high likelihood of rust ,like a pan or undercarriage of a car, I would probably use POR-15.

end view of board finished product

Divots on the board
There were many depressions in the running boards from rust. A local body shop that did the welding repair, recommended using 3M 08115 Panel
Bonding Adhesive to fill the depressions, sand it and then use POR15. If I wanted to make the repair, they were going to charge $50 for the material and I would have to spend an additional $60 for the special applicator to apply it. Otherwise, they would charge an additional $200 to apply the material and get it ready for POR-15. I opted skip this step. Since then, I have found you can purchase 3M 08115 Panel Bonding
Adhesive which comes in the appropriate bottle for application on Amazon for about $42.00 and it had 90% 5 star reviews. Knowing this now, I would have used the product to really smooth out the board. Finished at last! That’s it. Sounds simple because it is. It’s just very time-consuming. If I had a bug and I didn’t care if it was original, I would definitely purchase a complete new running board set with molding and just attach it to the car. According to my VW mechanic, who has been in business for 40 years, the new running boards just don’t fit like the original ones. So if you have original boards and can take the time to restore them, I think that is the way to go.

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 going on 40 years. In fact, we raised our family in these cars. Now, we are 76 years old 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.

7 Comments

Eric Shoemaker

about 1 year ago

Good work, Joy and Jay!!

Reply

jay salser

about 1 year ago

Joy and Gary did a great job with this project. This is a task which I never have done. I listened a lot to Joy. I made a few comments. Most of all, through the process, I was being amazed that the old running boards could be returned to their grandeur! Once again--the Readers of 1967beetle.com show what we ourselves can do when we put our minds (and sweat and sometimes even blood) to the task at hand. Congratulations Joy and Gary, on a great restoration project! jay

Reply

Richard A. (Dick) Diaz

about 1 year ago

First off, I am impressed with anyone that is willing to tackle a job, themselves, involving our loved VW's! I am even more impressed that Joy tackled this one since working on cars has traditionally has been "a man's" job! Not anymore! Great job in researching the products Joy! I need to work on mine also so the steps and thought processes will be helpful before I even get started!

Reply

Todd

about 1 year ago

Great article!

Reply

John M. Poirier

about 1 year ago

A very useful article that was well written, thorough, and used fine illustrations! I will use it as a reference when I restore my original boards. Joy should consider putting a video together for YouTube.

Reply

J

about 1 year ago

Well done Joy!

Reply

Quinn

about 1 year ago

The change that initialed the reduction in the width of the running board molding/trim occurred with Chassis Number 117 000 001 (August 1966) for model year 1967 with Part Number 113 853 555 C (up through 1966 was/is 113 853 555 B). Retaining clips also changed from 113 853 559 to 113 853 559 A at same time. Not 1965/1966!

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