A customer recently contacted 1967beetle.com. Eric asked that I field the inquiry; it was in Spanish!
Yes, I still can make some head-way in Spanish. And, it just so happened that this customer lives in Colombia, South America—a place where Neva and I lived for 14 years! Like “going home”.
I breathed deeply, then lit into a reply to Padre Santiago, the proud owner of a 1967 Beetle; yes, these trusty little cars are to be found the world over!
The trouble stemmed from a faulty driver’s door locking mechanism. Padre Santiago had purchased a reproduction ’68-and-later door mechanism that is supposed to work for the ’67 door too, “after a slight alteration”. After attempts failed to produce a reliable mechanism, the Padre turned to 1967beetle.com.
I replied, saying that I would do my best to locate a working mechanism and thanked the Padre for his patience in advance. Thus began a journey that would take me in a completely unexpected direction. Join me, if you will.
My first attempt to find the mechanism was to a local shop, known for carrying many door parts. This yielded not a thing. Next, I called my good friends, Dustin and Cassie Carter at Don’s Bug Barn in Athens, Texas.
“Yes,” Dustin told me, “I most certainly can supply the necessary piece!” Great—a hurdle jumped.
When the piece arrived, Dustin already had done a lot of cleaning. I let the piece sit in a bucket of old-school carb cleaner for a couple of hours, retrieved it, washed the piece and dried it thoroughly. Sparkling!
I sat at my work bench operating the mechanism to observe the function. After some lubrication, I had all parts loosened and moving. However, the “claw” which grasps the post on the B pillar would not release.
I spent a couple of 30 minute sessions just operating the mechanism to learn how it works.
VW engineers were tasked with building an almost entirely new mechanism for ’67 Beetles. Whereas for previous years doors had been locked using the inside door handle (pushed forward into the locked position), the new mechanism must have a locking knob (button) at the window sill. To lock the door, a person must push the lock knob down and, while holding the door handle button in, close the door. The door was locked.
But, should the lock knob be depressed and the door shut by itself, the knob would spring up automatically. This was a safety measure designed to keep a person from accidentally locking himself out of the car, perhaps locking the keys inside.
The door handle itself was redesigned and became a one-year-only part.
I found 4 types of springs in the mechanism—each with a separate purpose.
The problem, I determined, was that the handle activated lever on the mechanism could not travel far enough to actuate the pawl release. What to do? I contemplated using a file to remove a tiny bit of the lever stop so that the lever could travel farther. No—this could thwart the door handle making it have to move farther than it was designed to do.
More study revealed a wear mark. Now, I was arriving at the key to the problem. The wear was the result of the release lever’s being brought to bear upon the pawl release—which was under great pressure by one of the springs. I could see that there was about the same amount of wear on the release as there was area needed to clear on the ratchet. Every time the door was closed over the years, that spring caused the pawl lever to snap against the release lever, resulting in an ever-increasing wear spot.
The next time I had opportunity, I sat again to study the mechanism. I discovered a second high-wear area.
Now, I contemplated how to replace the worn metal. The mechanism is firmly factory bradded together—to disassembly would be time-consuming and disastrous. There had to be another way.
I headed to my trusted VW mechanic’s shop to pick his brain. I found him to be completely immersed in engine building. Not to bother an engine builder in such a situation.
I had planned to go to the automotive collision shop next door anyway, so I went there now and found both of my good friends available to examine the mechanism. To speed things along, I explained the situation, pointing to each function—then to the worn points. Mike took the mechanism and began examining it intensely. Soon, he pointed to a third wear area.
The cumulative wear resulted in exactly the amount of distance which the pawl could not travel. Now, we had but to determine a method for restoring that lost metal. And, these two experts agreed that to disassemble the mechanism would not be profitable.
We agreed that there was one key area, which, if it could be altered, showed the most promise. Mike had a suggestion. He and Geoff discussed the possibilities and agreed that it was likely the only recourse. Since the piece could never function as it was, I agreed as well. I have watched these two ply their trade for many years—they know metal and how to work it. I turned the piece over to Mike while Geoff and I examined a 1941 Chevy Pick-up in the shop.
I hardly noticed Mike until he was turning off his torch and had picked up a pair of strong slip-joint pliers. Then, he went to the sink to cool the piece. Voila! The mechanism worked like a charm! I fairly danced a jig right there!
What Mike suggested was that he heat the “claw” of the pawl until he could squeeze it a tad to make up for the loss of metal wear. A cheaper and more efficient method could not be imagined. I was thrilled. Now, I had my working mechanism, which should operate for another-how-many-years! These men know how to use a torch to achieve optimum heating, yet not enough to damage the mechanism.
One caution: remove the pawl-ratchet spring prior to heating. The torch heat is enough to damage the spring tension.
The Padre will have an original German mechanism for his prized ’67 Beetle.
In order to understand how the door latching mechanism operates, follow the sequence of photos below, noting the captions. This will guide the reader to the concluding photo where the pawl is heated, then squeezed to remove the “play” created by wear.
Dustin and Cassie Carter of Don’s Bug Barn (a Volkswagen salvage yard) in Athens, TX, gave special attention to the removal, cleaning and shipping of the correct ’67 door mechanism for this project.
Geoffrey Lohmann, owner of Christian Brothers Quality Collision Repair of Garland, TX, and his long-time co-worker, Michael Minchew, took time from their busy schedule to diagnose and remedy the non-functioning mechanism.
Driver’s Door Locking Mechanism VW Part#: 111-837-015D Manufactured by Bomoro
Additional stamping inside the mechanism: 247U (unknown significance)
Photography: Neva (Granny) Salser.