The Maiden Voyage
The mechanical work was done, the motor was running great, and it was ready to finally drive home. Before leaving Kenny’s shop, I decided to cover the car with gray primer – I knew I’d be sanding it off anyway, but I figured it would at least look slightly less ridiculous as an even color until I had the time to dive into the body.
I started it up and drove it home, but by the time I made it I wished I hadn’t bought it. Sluggish, rough riding, unresponsive handling. I questioned the sanity of my friends who were VW enthusiasts – if this was considered “optimal” in the air cooled VW world, what the heck did a BAD one feel like? Oh, and the garage smelled like fuel if I filled the tank more than half way. I would literally have to crack the garage door and use a fan to push air outward overnight if I filled it too high. I drove it a couple times, but for the most part it sat in my garage for another year. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do. I had an image in my head of how cool this car could be, but I realized that no matter how great it looked visually, no matter how flawless the paint or how perfect the body gaps were, it’s still going to be slow, unresponsive, and less fun to drive than I expected.
To make matters worse, the few times I did actually drive it were problematic. Something went wrong every time I took it out of the garage. Every. Single. Time.
The first time, I ran out of gas at a busy intersection even though the needle said the tank was half full. I had to hop out in the middle of an intersection, push it off the road, walk to the gas station and buy a gas can, then walk back to the vehicle and fill it up.
The second time, I pulled into a parking space at Starbucks and suddenly my steering wheel was spinning freely. The steering coupler had completely come apart, but since I couldn’t turn the wheels, when the tow truck arrived I had to physically grab the sides of the tire and pull them in the direction I wanted, then push the car to line it up. Except it wasn’t over then either… two separate tow trucks weren’t able to load it because of how low it was. I ended up pushing it about a quarter mile to a tire repair shop (having to stop and manually adjust the wheels every time I needed to turn or keep it straight) so they could get it up on the lift, there was no way to do the repair on the ground. What should have been a 5 minute trip to Starbucks on a Saturday morning ended up being an all day event.
The third time, as I was going over some railroad tracks the distributor popped out, spun around, pulled all of the wires connected to it, and blew the points. I was very lucky here, because I had enough momentum to keep rolling and make the turn at the next street before it finally came to a stop – conveniently in front of a European auto repair shop, who got me back up and running in an hour.
I was over it.
If I was going to keep this car, I needed to redo everything not just fix what was there. I looked at Porsche and Subaru motors, but the more I dove in the more expensive the conversion became. Being a rear engine, air-cooled motor, making room for a radiator was never a consideration. I’d have easily spent another $20K to modernize the drivetrain. My wife was nagging me to get rid of it, and I was getting sick of looking at it.
It sat in the garage for another 8 months.