Ed Fall of Vintage Werks was originally featured well over a year ago when 1967beetle.com was in it’s early infant stages of growth. I wanted to take a moment to bring forward again this great article. If you have a vintage VW, you need to know about Ed’s fantastic work.
Ed, tell me a little about yourself, your background and how Vintage Werks began?
I’m originally from southern California. I grew up there at a time when Volkswagens were plentiful—about one in every five cars on the freeways. I learned to drive my dad’s ’65 beetle in the late sixties and well remember its build quality contrasted with that of other cars of the era: its rugged metal construction, simplicity, reliability and design elegance, and how well it withstood daily wear unlike the ’68 Impala wagon my dad purchased a few years later. My joy of the beetle goes back to that time, and though it lay dormant for several decades, remained with me.
By the late ‘90’s, now living in Utah with two daughters at or nearing driving age, two aging family cars, and little disposable income to put toward a new car, I was searching for a cheap transportation alternative that I could learn to service myself. A close friend in similar predicament one day dropped round with a ’79 Karman beetle he’d purchased for his son and had me drive it around the block. The experience was transcendental: within a week I’d purchased my first VW—this was in November 1998, just over 12 years ago now. By year’s end I had two VWs, one undergoing complete restoration at a local shop, I’d joined the local VW club and was reading everything I could about the VW beetle, the history of its development, specifications, anything. Within 2 years I’d mastered rebuilding the mechanical and electrical components of these cars largely through self-education in restoring several cars. At the same time, I started to write about my rebuilding experiences with the cars I had. Our local VW club newsletter provided the forum for this. Over a roughly 6 year period, I regularly wrote articles to help fill the newsletter pages inadvertently giving other club members a glimpse of the skills I was learning. Equally important, they saw the results manifested in the cars I brought to the meetings. Indirectly, this was the start of Vintage Werks because in about 2000, on the basis of his observations of my work, one of the club members approached me about rebuilding a set of Porsche 356 A brakes for a ’59 Ghia ‘vert he was restoring. Without going into all the details, over the next two years I sporadically rebuilt most of the pan for that car and ultimately re-wired it. Later it was featured in Hot VWs.
During the same period, I began restoring various engine and other mechanical pieces I had amassed for the cars I had. Skills I had developed while building scale model trains in my youth helped in this regard and provided many of the tools I needed. When fellow club member Art Thraen (Air Cooled Engineering—renowned for Weber IDA carburetor rebuilding) saw the results of my work he suggested offering the stuff up on the internet for sale, to in effect start a business. He even had me rebuild a couple 010 distributors for his own use. With this and the work on the Ghia, Vintage Werks was born. I can’t put a date to it but it was sometime in 2000 or 2001.
Why vintage Volkswagens, VS doing restoration work on any other early American car?
Nothing about my business was by design; it was purely accidental and really grew from my fascination with the beetle, which in turn had arisen from my transportation needs before that. If asked in early 1998 what I would be doing in 10 years, I wouldn’t have said restoring VW beetles (or any other car for that matter) or running a parts restoration business for vintage VW and Porsche automobiles. Any limiting the business is not by intent. In fact, even at its inception, I was offering pieces for Porsche as well as VW models given the crossover of many of their parts, particularly on earlier models. My website which my wife and younger daughter designed helped get my work some exposure. This has led some to approach me with requests for work on pieces for other makes, mostly European. For example, I’ve worked on Lucas distributors for English makes, as well as Bosch distributors for Volvo, Alpha-romeo and Mercedes. I’ve even had customers contact me about doing fuel pumps for marine engines, tractors and other applications. I’m not averse to working on pieces for other cars such as early American automobiles; I just haven’t had time or need to expand it beyond VW and Porsche. At present, I have all I can handle.
Talk to me a little about your process. Where do things begin once you receive a carb, distributor or fuel pump that needs restoring?
When a part arrives from a customer, provided there aren’t too many others in progress, I will unpack and inspect to see if there are any obvious issues that might make restoration impractical. I will then disassemble it completely, setting the hardware aside for plating. Bodies then go through a several step cleaning process: carburetor and fuel pump bodies go into a cleaning solution then through a hot water rinse after which all mating surfaces are re-faced; distributor bodies are solvent washed/rinsed and dried. Body pieces are then bead blasted: carburetor and fuel pump bodies to remove remaining worn-in dirt and oil to restore the original casting finish; distributor bodies to remove paint and rust in preparation for repainting. Hardware is prepared and plated in batches for economy sake. For this reason, I have to stage my work with forethought. Because it can sometimes take several weeks before I have enough hardware to justify plating, I don’t necessarily complete restoration services for customers in the order received. Distributors are usually the easiest to turn around because they have little in the way of unique hardware pieces unlike carburetors which have a lot. Often, I will do several distributors while waiting for plating to return when I can begin reassembly of carburetors or pumps. It gets a bit tricky sometimes to keep things moving efficiently.
What do you enjoy most about the restoration process?
Two things really make this worth doing: first is the reassembly when everything starts to come back together. Disassembly and cleaning are dirty work, can be tedious and are generally not that fun. Disassembly can be particularly challenging given the rusted, frozen and deteriorated state of many pieces when received. But once everything is cleaned, renewed and ready to start putting together again, that’s when it becomes enjoyable. As I watch parts take shape in my hands and then hold the finished piece—there’s a certain satisfaction in that—it’s hard to explain.
Second is when I develop a new technique for addressing a wear problem. Sometimes this can be relatively simple: other times not so and may take considerable thought before I arrive at an acceptable approach. Examples are the diaphragms I rebuild for the fuel pumps. Rebuilding the diaphragms for the 36hp pumps was fairly easy to figure out because there is a lot of material to work with in terms of the metal shank. Diaphragms for the 40hp pumps, which are also used on the 1300/1500 pumps and early Porsche 911 proved more difficult given the much smaller diameter of the shank. Upper diaphragms on the dual diaphragm pumps were yet more problematic. Another example is the over-size throttle shafts I’ve had made for 28 PCI, 28 PICT/PICT-1 and 30 PICT-1 carburetors. I’ve been very please with the results. The repair tightens up the throttle linkage quite nicely. I put a 28 PCI with such a repair in my ’54 beetle and have to say I was amazed: no more dying of the engine when coming to a stop. Also the choke could be pushed in after a very short warm up even here in frosty Salt Lake City in winter time.
I’m currently working on some other ideas: I’ve got a prototype spray well for the 28 PCI carburetors I’m in the process of testing. If successful, I’ll soon be able to replace this piece which is notorious for breaking (it holds the air correction jet in the middle of the carburetor throat). I’m also working on a way to open up vacuum advancers used on distributors with a vacuum circuit in order to repair the diaphragm much the way I now remanufacture pump diaphragms—this is a longer range project but ultimately necessary as replacement vacuum cans are no longer available.
What are some of the challenges you often face with restoring parts as old as these?
Several factors combine to complicate the process. As hinted in the phrasing of your question, there’s the age of the pieces themselves—50 years of so on average—and the abuse or neglect they’ve seen during their life. This alone renders some beyond practical limits of restoration. Finding re-buildable core pieces is becoming more difficult and more expensive. An increasing percentage of the pieces being offered for sale anymore are only good for parts; people tend to keep the good and dump the bad. The internet, while a boon for a business such as mine also has its down side; everyone sees prices going up so they in turn ratchet them up further. Condition and completeness of the core pieces can likewise be troublesome. If parts are missing, locating replacements can be a problem. Many parts for the carburetors, fuel pumps and distributors are unavailable or are of inferior quality. Commonly available kits for rebuilding fuel pumps are an example of the latter. Most are of Brazilian manufacture and do not hold up. It’s one reason I started remanufacturing the original German diaphragms. Linkage pieces on the carburetors and the spray well in the carburetor throat if broken or missing can render a carburetor useless. Often I have to use two carburetors to build one or three to build two—likewise on fuel pumps. This also adds to the cost.
What’s the average number of units you may be restoring at any given time?
That fluctuates quite a bit. About the most I’ll have at any one time is maybe 12 to 15 pieces in various stages of restoration. Much more than that becomes difficult to manage and I risk mixing jobs up. More typically, I’ll have three or four in the works. Of course there are times when I’m caught up. It is then I usually turn to my own projects; working on my ’54 beetle, my ’67 Honda CB 160 bike or assembling pieces for inventory. I will also use downtime to develop and refine new methods. The slow period is usually about November through February. Show season, March through July, extending sometimes into October is quite hectic.
Do you keep a stock of restored inventory for sale?
Yes. In the formative years of the business, my vision was to have in stock virtually any carburetor, fuel pump or Bosch distributor that had been used on early VW or Porsche models. For VW this meant pieces for 25hp and 36hp engines. Later I added the same for ‘60’s model VWs, chiefly beetle and bus of pre-emission control era (’67 and earlier). On the Porsche side it initially included distributors and fuel pumps for 356 and 912 models. Later I began doing rebuilding work on 911 pumps and distributors as well but have made no effort to carry any of these pieces in inventory. My initial vision, noble though it may have been, ultimately proved untenable because some pieces are in great demand while others are not, so from a business perspective, many pieces are not worth keeping on hand in inventory. Within the past year I made the decision to liquidate much of my obsolete inventory and limit it here forward to certain pieces for which there is continual demand. Some of the pieces I will continue to provide include 010 and 019 distributors, 36hp carburetors and fuel pumps, 40hp and later fuel pumps. I have quit trying to locate and carry late-model VW distributors or any 25hp engine components—there’s just no demand. I continue to restore pieces for people on request if they provide a core.
What are some of the more commonly asked questions you receive about your services?
That’s difficult to say beyond the obvious questions about price and turn-around time which nearly everyone wants to know. Some are interested in learning about certain aspects of carburetors, fuel pumps or distributors, i.e. how they work and interact with one another or what the source of some performance issue they’re experiencing may be. I get a few of the inexperienced who will need me to walk them through installation and the intricacies of tuning. Some want to know details about how I do the rebuilding work—I assume they are looking for some assurance about the thoroughness of my methods. Others want to know if I offer any kind of guarantee—this is a bit of a difficult issue as these parts are on average 50 years old so offering a guarantee is a bit of a stretch wouldn’t you say? I do offer a 90 unconditional warranty on my workmanship and will refund purchase price save shipping costs during that period. I will also work with people beyond that period to find equitable solutions to both parties when problems arise.
Give me your opinion on aftermarket replacement carbs, distributors and fuel pumps, VS restoring the proper German-made units.
Going back to those times some years ago now when I have personally used aftermarket engine parts of virtually any kind, no matter of whose manufacture, I’ve generally been displeased. Parts from Brazil and China I find particularly disappointing in terms of build quality, performance and reliability. This isn’t to say that you don’t see pieces that work as they should—you do, but you also find many that are junk right out of the box. Undoubtedly, this is another reason that Vintage Werks came about. My disenchantment with aftermarket pieces prompted my rebuilding of original German parts, and by doing enough of them for myself, I perfected my methods for the benefit of others. I will say this with certainty: you will not get an engine, particularly one rebuilt to correct specifications, to run any better than with properly reconditioned, rebuilt, restored—whatever term you choose—original German parts. I have had customers marvel at how well their engines run once they get control of fuel supply and ignition by going back to original restored components. You need to remember that with regular maintenance, these cars were every bit as reliable and long-lived as any modern car. Indeed, VW of old set the standard for build quality, reliability and value in automobile manufacture that ultimately led the auto industry as a whole to improve their own products to the point that cars now routinely deliver 100K miles or more without maintenance of any kind. That’s quite a legacy.
What are your futures plans for Vintage Werks?
This has been a subject for considerable contemplation over the past couple years. With the success Vintage Werks has enjoyed, it has become increasingly difficult to balance its management and growth with my full-time career and still leave time for other pursuits I enjoy such as cycling, music, working on my own projects, or most importantly for family.
I have begun and will continue to be more selective about the work I choose to do. I recently had a shop approach me about doing a batch of distributors for late-model Porsche 911, 914, Audi and Volvo. This was proving a source of stress when I already had too much backlog so I turned it down. It’s not that I can’t rebuild these pieces, I just didn’t want to. My focus has been on early cars and I want it to remain there.
I plan to continue to improve my methods and add to the arsenal of fixes I’ve already developed in order to further efforts to fully restore pieces to original condition. I have mentioned a couple of specific ideas I’m working on and will no doubt conceive others in future. It is my ultimate plan to keep the business active through and beyond retirement age. It will give me something to do and provide a source of enjoyment at that point in life not to mention the added income it generates.
How can people find you if they’d like to inquire about your restoration services?
Probably the easiest way is via my website at Vintagewerks.com. There you will find contact information including email, telephone and address. The site also provides some technical information about various carburetors, fuel pumps and distributors, provides descriptions of my services and shows examples of pieces that I rebuild and carry in inventory. I also have standing ads on thesamba.com as well as ads in some of the Porsche magazines. You may also see me at some of the vintage oriented shows from time to time on the west coast.
Anything else you would like to add?
When Socrates advised that one should ‘Know thyself’, I doubt he could foresee its application to owing and enjoying a vintage car, but it remains good advice nonetheless. Each person’s journey with these cars is unique and their own: the key is identifying that aspect that draws your interest more than any other, and not loosing focus on that. For my own, I identify with Volkwagen’s slogan—‘Driver’s wanted!’