An older article we wanted to put in the spotlight again, as we’ve been receiving a lot of emails on this topic.
Before I knew “Jonesie” (not his real name), he had purchased a Beetle which, by all logic, should have gone to the crusher. Never had he revived a car, much less a Bug. But, he had disassembled the car, removed the body from the chassis and proceeded to cut and weld and renew the car.
By the time we had met and become better acquainted, he was driving the vehicle but experiencing some major difficulties due to poor advice which he had received and some poor workmanship from a shop which rebuilt his engine and did some front end work.
I took Jonesie under consideration and introduced him to a bonafide VW mechanic and engine builder. Almost immediately the mechanic identified some of the problems. Together, we began solving and drawing the car out of its slump. It was gratifying to see Jonesie driving and enjoying his car. He talked about it, joined a local club, went on cruises and even was joined by his wife in his forays onto the highways.
I wasn’t surprised when he asked for help to build an authentic engine for his year of Beetle. After considerable expense, he soon was cruising with an engine to-kill-for—a real German engine from ring gear to crank pulley.
When he talked to me some months later and announced that he was selling his Beetle and all of his VW things, I was shocked. He told me that he had experienced a problem with his speedometer. Then, there was some other minor problem. These distractions bothered him and resulted in his disenchantment with a vintage vehicle. He plainly told me that he had not expected these things to happen. Clearly he was under the impression that once “restored”, the car was going to run without a hitch.
His has not been the first case I have observed! A person spends thousands of dollars and countless hours laboring to “get it right” only to have little stuff happen—usually when it is least expected and least appreciated—in terms of money, time and inconvenience!
I am a diehard VW fan who doesn’t like break-downs and other mechanical distractions, but I am in there for the long haul! I never have been under any delusion that a restored vintage car is going to be like a brand new car off the assembly line. Nothing is going to work exactly as it did in those days long past. Never!
In an article in the September-October, 2014 Saturday Evening Post, Jeanne Wolf interviewed Jay Leno—known the World ‘round for his vintage car collection and now-famous garage (pp.38-41 and 82). When but a boy, Jay was given a ’34 Ford Pickup to work on. His dad told him that if he could fix it, he could have it. Jay met the challenge and eventually had the truck running. He said about that first challenge: “You sort of learned to respect the machine and how to make it work. That’s probably what really got me into cars. And that’s what has kept me involved in creating my own collection and building the garage.”
“When you buy an old car and fix it up and you drive it, there’s a bit more pride because you know what it took to get it running. That’s part of the romance. Modern cars are harder to bond with because they don’t break down.”
When asked if it was a good day when he was working in the garage, tinkering with a car, trying to get it to run better, Mr. Leno replied, “I love the challenge!”
“It’s generally whatever I’ve been working on that day. You say, ‘Oh, that one’s fixed?’ Then you test it, and hope it will hold up. When you deal with cars—and many of these cars are well over 100 years old—something is always breaking. To me, how I get there is always way more important than where I’m going.”
What Mr. Leno says rings of so much truth about vintage cars. They are a challenge, any way you cut it. Restoring and maintaining a vintage automobile is never like working at the Chevy dealership and day after day repairing the same ole thing. There is no “assembly line maintenance” with vintage cars! Each one asks of its owner to become intimately acquainted with every part of its operation. And, about the time that an owner believes that he has mastered the entire vehicle, something different breaks or the car “fails to proceed”.
If we find ourselves at a loss, after investigating and pondering the matter, we begin to consult The Vintage Car Community. Ah…yet another facet to owning a vintage vehicle! It’s the combined fellowship and knowledge of this Community that draws and tightens the bonds to strengthen ownership of an old car. Alone…a person becomes discouraged. With The Community, he thrives.
Alone…a vintage vehicle owner begins to feel as though no one is experiencing his problems. My experience with many Volkswagen owners shows that owners may even become afraid to use their vehicles for fear that something bad is going to happen. So…they don’t drive them. Eventually, the car falls into disrepair merely from sitting idle.
How can we help potential VW owners to avoid such a situation? By letting them see our cars and by relating the joys AND the sorrows of owning an old vehicle. By introducing them to the greater Vintage Vehicle Community so that they know, from the outset, that a person doesn’t need to “face the World alone”.
When new customers come to me for parts, I make it a point to inquire about their VWs. Then, I ask if they have heard about sources for parts, services and information. When they reply that they have not, I say to them: “Let’s put you on the map!” Then, I give each person a short list consisting of 2 or more Internet parts sources, a local maintenance service and any other pertinent information which I can think of. I like to see people leave me, armed with the information that will get them going in the right direction and going on that road NOT ALONE!
If a person comes to me inquiring about purchasing a VW for restoration or for just driving, we have a “sit-down” to discuss what that person envisions. If he has a romanticized idea about the prospect of owning an antique vehicle, I quickly disabuse him of that idea. I introduce people to the reality of old car ownership—the work, the costs and the constant maintenance required. I’d much rather see a person NOT get into owning a vintage car than to see him buy one, then become disillusioned and sour.
With all of that said…let’s continue to support one another in our hobby. We have the opportunity of not only conserving a part of World Automotive History but of having an enjoyable time doing it.
My Friends—I raise my VW key to you! Happy Motoring!