It was 1977 and I was driving a 1967 Black SunRoof Beetle with that awesome brick red interior. Oh, the car wasn’t in tip-top condition, but, it was all stock. I drove the car every day to and from work and elsewhere, while my wife ferried herself and the children in a second ’67 Ruby Red Beetle.
At the end of one long work day, I left the job and got into my Beetle. Funny thing. When I put in the clutch and attempted to start the car and shift into first, I could not get a gear—just a lot of grinding. Oh-oh! I thought. The clutch cable is gone. My brain went into over-load and information began to sift. Today, I’d say that my cerebral computer began a data search—but, in them days personal computers were uncommon to the masses.
I recalled about speed-shifting (at least that’s what I called it). This involves using the accelerator to generate movement, releasing the foot from the accelerator and quickly pulling or pushing the stick to get the next gear—all without the clutch pedal coming into play.
Only one problem: When the key is turned with the car in first gear, the car lurches forward.
I checked for traffic, pushed the lever into first, then turned the key—away we went!
Let off the gas and pull quickly into second. Hey—this was working fine. Now, I hoped for clear streets and few stop signs and stop lights. I was in Dallas afternoon rush traffic and had 15 miles to travel to get home. I plotted my trip as I drove, taking alternate streets where I knew there was less traffic and few stop lights, especially.
I sweated it to the outskirts of Dallas and pulled into Big Billy Barrett’s—the largest Volkswagen dealership in the area. When I obtained our VWs, it hadn’t taken long to become acquainted with the parts division at this dealership. I purchased a clutch cable, got into my trusty steed and made the remainder of the trip without incident.
I had a method for changing the clutch cable. I raised the driver’s rear, placed a jack stand beneath the car, removed that wheel and had instant access to the far end of the clutch cable. Vise grips were clipped onto the cable just before the clutch arm to keep the cable from twisting as the wing nut was unscrewed and then reinstalled when adjusting.
Next, the pedal cluster was removed. But, what to my wondering eye should appear but a crack at the base of the clutch pedal where it is pinned to the pedal cluster shaft. Besides a frayed clutch cable, the crack was opening when the pedal was depressed, allowing travel, but not effective travel. The pedal would bottom at the stop but wasn’t pulling the cable sufficiently to move the clutch! My problem immediately was compounded.
Fortunately, I had a spare pedal cluster. I was able to knock the pins out of both pedals and to reinstall a good pedal onto the original shaft.
Now, it was time to pull the old cable from the tunnel and to install the new cable. I must note that when doing this, the removal is made much less nasty by using plenty of rags to wipe the old cable as it comes out of the tunnel. Otherwise, that black grease tends to get onto everything in sight! I coated the new cable with a liberal coating of grease as I installed it. This really helps to preserve the cable and to give smoother operation. I threaded the cable through the clutch tube in the tunnel until I had just enough left showing so that I could fit the cable eye over the cluster shaft hook.
Over time, I also developed a method for holding the cable over the hook of the cluster shaft. I used hair-fine copper wire to tie the cable eye to the hook. In this manner, I could do everything by myself. If you’ve done this job, you know the frustration when you almost have the cluster back into place and the clutch pedal flops and disengages the hook from the cable eye! I’m sure that everyone has his own method for doing this exercise—this was the easiest way for me, at the time.
I installed the cluster and tightened the two bolts securely. Now, it was time to install the wing nut and begin the adjusting process.
I used a stout rubber band to attach a short piece of lath to the brake pedal pad. The lath was long enough to overlap the clutch pedal. That would give me the measure of how much play I needed in the clutch pedal. I needed about 1/2-3/4ths of an inch play before the pedal “took hold” (there was resistance). This is one of those adjust, check the play, adjust and check the play—until it was right.
Well, this operation cost me 3 or 4 hours due to the pedal fracture, but the success was exhilarating. The next day, the car was good as ever and took me many miles afterwards, as well.
As I recall, the next time I had a clutch pedal crack-failure, I just changed the entire cluster and was done with it. A lesson was learned—have spares of those failure-prone parts. These days, I maintain a spares inventory, so noted on my computer.
If you’ve had an interesting experience with YOUR ’67 Beetle, why not submit it to 1967beetle.com? There’s something for all of us to learn about these cars we love so much.
Wow! Can I have that for Christmas? Please, please!
Hello, Frank…I wish I still had that SunRoof Beetle. It was a great little car and nice to crank the roof back and enjoy the feeling! jay
Now this is some great information iv never given much thought too at all.
Iv had an experience with a busted clutch fork on a domestic car 100 miles from home, while traveling through a city. 1st gear, and crank the key when the light turns green… Lol
Iv never given thought to the beetle assembly cracking, or cable breakage ?
Great info, and pictures to prepare for future failure , or preventative checks.
Richard…Had I the tools and a spare clutch cable, I could have done the job at the side of the road. But the pedal–that’s another story–best taken care of at home. Hey watch out for the snow up there! jay
I’m sure everyone here has a similar story. I once drove from Huntington Beach to Montclair with what I thought was a broken clutch cable (ended up being a broken hook at the pedal). That was my first experience of “Doing what you have to do in order to get home”. I was 16, driving my moms 67 to the movies with a few friends in 1982. Leaving the parking lot to head home, the throttle cable broke. Called my mom and she said get my car home! Ended up having one of my friends squating on the rear bumper manually working the carburetor while keeping the deck lid open with his head. The looks on peoples faces as we passed cars on the expressway! We drove this way for 2-3 miles. Stupid thing to do but we were 16 with no fear and wanted the use of the car again the following weekend. Today, I’m working on building a 67 for my own kids.
Hi, Steve…I agree–a person does what he has to do. I’ve heard of working the carburetor using string passed from the rear to the cabin–a little difficult but surely possible. Too bad that we can’t go back in time to capture some photos of all of our daring stunts. I’m eager to hear about and to see your ’67. Keep up the good work. jay
Thanks Jay. I’m not sure how to post pics on here but I would love to share my VW interest some time.
You can email us. email@example.com. Jay and I manage the articles.
Steve…Yes…you can send material to either Eric or to me. Otherwise, you can also post on the Forum (https://1967beetle.com/forum/) On the Forum, you can copy-then-paste photos of your car when discussing a particular matter or part, etc. and have others to interact with you. Check it out! jay
Steve … your story made me smile. This is a case of “do as I say, not as I do” with your kids; we’d be horrified if our kids did half the stuff we did! Happy Holidays!
Hi Jay and Eric! In 1966 I was a young Marine traveling from California to Charlston, South Carolina with my then wife and infant daughter in our fairly new 1965 Bug! With the exception of a failed ignition switch around Birmingham, Alabama the trip East was great! But, on our return, someplace in Eastern Texas, my gas pedal went slack to the floor! Using some twine attached to the carburetor and a hairbrush to tie at my end of the twine I fashioned a method to work the throttle manually! I kept my arm outside of the driver’s window working the throttle across Texas, in July, to El Paso and a VW dealership for repair! The service manager was taken aback by what he saw as I entered the service line, but he replaced the small clip that holds the pedal onto the cluster and I was back in business! I don’t know why, but he chose not to charge me and wished me well the remainder of my trip! Probably my blistered left arm caused him to take pity on this young Marine!
Hello, Dick…This is a great story! I think that the VW dealership didn’t charge you because it was VWoA policy to strengthen its image by providing extraordinary service. VW sometimes went to great lengths to service customers’ cars. What a shame that VWoA doesn’t take the same interest (in general) today in its vintage customers. Only one thing I would change in your story, Dick–next time… wear a long-sleeved shirt! LOL jay
I’m glad to read that people are enjoying this article. Kudos for another job well done.
Dick … another great story about VW Owner ingenuity! BTW: Thank you for your service!
Thank you Donna!
One dark night, no moonlight, some 75 miles from home base heading East past DeFuniak Springs in North West Florida-and-following a complete stop at an intersection! As I revved up and moved out, upon clutching for Second Gear, the RPM wailed and the clutch pedal limply hit the firewall. Having previous experience with this malady, I reversed direction and for most part cruised the miles off heading back to base-a bit dicey in a small town, had to time the red lights or avoid. After two stops and the requisite “Starter” starts I was on my way again. I have experienced this experience at least 3 times. I also have traveled through the clutch pedal cracking caper several times.
Hello, Quinn…If a person drives a VW long enough, it is bound to happen. It is wise to think upon what to do when it does. All is not lost–it’s just a detour from the normal gentle driving experience. When it happens, my best advice is to sit for a moment, gather ones wits, plan a safe route to a shop or to home or to a safe parking area. Then strategize. Do nothing out of haste. All will be made right eventually. Thanks for relating your experience, Quinn! jay
And, the best of the Beetle. 4 wrenches, a vise grip, and an assortment of bulbs, fuzes, some wire, and tape in a smale box is almost all you need to repair, or at least patch a beetle to keep it heading down the road. Add some oil, and a multi tool and you have a Mobil shop… Lol. Simple little cars that give, and give while asking very little in return. Like the lady that started her beetle by lifting one rear wheel with the jack, while in gear, turning that wheel to start the engine ! How many cars are that simple ?
Just my two cents worth of useless info…. Lol
How right you are, Richard! Now…I’m not kidding when I tell you that my wife and daughter always carried a metal fingernail file with them to be used as a tool–like tightening the accelerator cable screw, wiring cover nut removal tool and etc. (use your imagination!). The tool kit grows as one has more experiences in his Beetle. jay
This sounds very familiar. On the way to pick up my lady from a overseas trip the clutch pedal went to the floor. Her Honda day car was at the repair shop all finished, Do i limp the 67 beetle to the repair shop and exchange cars and be late for the flight arrival or limp the clutchless beetle to the air port to make the return home hug. Her love for the beetle and old car understanding prevailed as we waited at the airport for the Honda to be flatbedded and exchanged for the Bug off to the repair shop. Turns out one of the throw our bearing fork arms had fractured off.
Jeff,, 67 Lotus white/red Sunroof daily driver, Tucson
Aha, Jeff…Another quandry. Sounds like you sat to think a moment and then made the right choice. It seems as though clutch problems top the list of things-that-can-go-wrong. Although flat tires is pretty far up on that same list. Thanks for this exciting story. Happy Motoring. jay
My first car was a 1962 bug buying it from my sister when I was 15 1/2 ($500.00) I too being an adventures teen would drive it about when no one was home. Finally my 16th birthday and of course I had to take my drivers test in that bug it was sujested drive an automatic car but the bug was mine and nothing else would do, after the instructor verbally abusing me for multable starts from second gear from red lights let’s face it I was shaking like a leaf, for some reason he passed me. But not before telling my mom not to let me drive far from home and get lots of practice! But my friends and I had planed a trip to Tahoe a two hour drive so four 15 and 16 year kids were on a sneaky adventure in the middle of the night when I was supost to be in bed and never drive but around the block haha. Well a push of the bug down the street so mom and dad don’t hear it starts and we are off.boys being boys we tried to get in some clubs but we looked 13 so that didn’t fly so all we could do was cruse but that was enough midnight came time to go home we get to top of the pass on highway 50 headlights go out I gotta get home or there will be a funeral in town at my house if you know what I mean so a stop at a inn wake up caretaker beg for a flashlight to tape to drivers front finder he laughed at us of course! he says what ya driving? I say an old bug why? He says let me get my slippers n robe on I’ll fix you right up he was standing in the doorway in white boxers I’ll never for get that old guy so with the flashlight that we were taping to the finder he pulls the wires off the headlight switch which was almost melted from heat a twist and we had lites hot wired lights but lights! We get home 3am shut car off push it home disconnect wires sneak in bed and a new switch the next day good to go, I totally love these cars throttle cables break cluch cables break even had a rear wheel came off almost passed me up on the freeway but the little cars seem to always get me home I’ve had so many of these wonderful cars it’s no wonder Disney made a movie about one who was almost alive, I know at times I find myself talking to mine and he or she always gets me home. Thanks for ya alls stories my second bug was a 67 my favorite year and I currently have three one with only 44,000 miles my wife took it from me started to mane her my girl Friday but the name lady bug has stuck go figure these little cars deserve a name after all they do for us. CRAIG
Craig…My wife and I are standing here laughing about your Bug Adventures! You got started early in life with VWs–good thing. Now, it isn’t a big deal to you when something goes haywire. Thank you for taking time to let us enjoy your memories. We hope to hear about your ’67 Beetles! Hint, hint! jay
This too happened to my own ’67 Beetle, about 12 years ago.. Jay, kudos for such a great article.
I agree with you, Craig!!! The first question most people ask is: What color is it? But what I need to know first of all is: What’s its name? as I stroke the roof gently. ~~Neva
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