Addicted to rust

Dear VW-friends,

you are into vintage busses, aren´t you? So what about a little challenge, a test to check your knowledge about Barndoors? Here we go. Have a look at the following picture and just guess what part of the Samba is this?

You don´t have a clue? Let´s flip it upside down and check the other side:

That´s an easy ticket to the psychiatric hospital: explain your therapist you want to repair this panel to install it in a car again….

We see some sealing wax red color, so it can´t be part of something above the belt line. But neither is it a part of the floor due to its rib structure. Still a miracle? No wonder, there is not that much left over of this panel. In fact Mark, called it the worst panel of the entire bus and even I couldn´t identify it without the surrounding sections. To give you an idea what panel this post is all about, I will show you a picture of the Samba´s rear end during the recovery process in May 2017. Can you see it now? It´s the upper boot floor!

The reason why this panel is in such horrible condition is simple. The Samba´s rear window was the Samba´s only window which was broken, so it was exposed to the rain but couldn´t dry in the sun. Plus there was a moisty carpet covering the boot floor  -before it has rotted away. This sped up the rust to eat big bites of the metal so far, that even Mark always called the panel “beyond repairing”.

So you can imagine my delighted surprise when I received a mail from Mark telling me the following: “So if I’m absolutely honest, I had put this panel to one side both mentally
( should that be metally 🙂 ) and physically. It´s probably the worst panel on the whole van and I was seriously considering not fixing it. We had used one of our in house pressings to pull the van rear to shape so far but it would always have been nicer to have a bit of the original. I’m not sure to be honest that anyone of right mind would try and fix this, however we have come so far and stuck to the principles of the project so I dusted this crusty half missing part off and popped it on the bench to take a look at it. It’s very difficult to know where to start and what to do with something like this. Welding across ribs, aligning them up and straight, just getting the whole thing to shape was going to be a real test.

Anyway I occasionally like a good test, catch me on the right day, wind blowing in the right direction  🙂 .

I also decided that instead of using our reproduction parts I had a few rusty bits of original I knew were in the scrap bin outside, so I dug those bits out and armed with a few bits of original and the remains of yours started on the long road to repairing the shelf.”

It´s exactly this way of thinking and working which I love Mark for. The famous German news magazine SPIEGEL wrote: “The resurrection of this VW bus from fragments sets completely new standards for restoration art.” Correct, it´s nothing less than that. At some point during this reconstructing process we became hostages of these “new standards” we have set. Repairing this worst of all panels is so time, money and work consuming, it just is pure nonsense for any normal restorer, but saving every little piece of original metal is the main principle of this whole enterprise. We don´t want anybody ever saying “They build a new Samba around an old VIN”, we don´t even want anybody to just be thinking this way! So let´s see how artful Mark is wasting his time and my money by repairing a panel nobody else would even think about touching. The following pictures speak for themselves…..

This picture above really made my day! This is not just repairing a panel, it´s art! Did the automotive history ever see something even close to the same? I doubt it. Mark´s work is indeed setting new standards. I do believe that this process here will be quoted by other “impossible” projects that will be carried out by the following generations of restorers.

Now let´s see how this piece of the puzzle fits in the Samba´s rear end. Doesn´t this look great?

Just one guess: wouldn´t it be blasphemy to cover the world´s most repaired floor boot with a carpet at the end of the reconstruction? Doesn´t this question apply for the world´s most repaired roof as well? Yep, I won´t go for a headliner, neither for a carpet. A set of NOS chrome rails on top of the floor boot would be a cool look unless I don´t find the remains of the original rails in the Eifel mud when I go there for a third big “dig out” this summer…..

Now, compare this picture above to the picture in the beginning showing the Samba in his Eifel graveyard. Isn´t that simply amazing how much of the original metal Mark has saved? (I know there is much more to tell about the picture above than just the boot floor; the roof and the speaker pods for example, but these are worth an own post, be patient…) I know most of the people in the VW-world couldn´t imagine that this Samba is savable when we started in May 2017 and in fact you need to have a special kind of love affair with rusty cars to dedicate your time and your money in such a project. But most important of all is the absolute belief that any technical problem is solvable if you really want it. This belief (and the love affair with rusty cars) started in 1989 when I found a long time abandoned Oval in the lonely “Westerwald” a mountainous area south-east of Bonn. This Oval is kind of the spiritual father of the whole Samba project and that´s why I want to share this story with you. It all begun with a small ad in the local newspaper….

VW BEETLE, 1956, VERY BAD CONDITION, DM 150,–

Also in 1989 an Oval was a rare and quite expensive car. DM 150,– was a suspiciously low price, even if the condition was “very bad”. Maybe it was a typo? I called the number and a friendly old man confirmed the price and that the car was still available. You better believe I drove there instantly to make sure the Oval won´t go to somebody else. 

The friendly old man opened the door, but instead of going to the garage, he called me to follow him in his garden. There the Oval was! Overgrown by a huge blackberry bush and very rusty.  “How long is the beetle sitting there?” I asked. He replied: “Since 1971. It was my young wife´s car, but she died in 1971 and I couldn´t give the car to the junkjard emotionally.”

I checked the Beetle, it was very complete and a good deal for sure  -parts wise. Back in those days I stripped a Beetle each week for parts, it was easy money and fun. We begun to cut the blackberry bush and tried to open the door. This was, when the following picture was shot.

Inside I found some Cologne license plates and tons of nut shells. The Oval was the home for generations of mice! The complete interior was rotten and there was a disgusting smell inside. But also the keys still stuck in the ignition lock! Bingo…

Now it was time to push the car out of the garden, but NO WAY! The brake drums were stuck so badly, we couldn´t move the car a single millimeter.

We borrowed a tractor from the neighborhood, but the garden was so wet and muddy that even the tires of the tractor spun. So, what to do? The car was already my property, but I couldn´t move it away. These damned drums were stuck as they were welded to the brake shoes, no matter how hard I tried. I drove home frustrated and had some beers.

Like always in life, if something doesn´t work the ordinary way, it´s always good to “think out of the box”. I had an idea as crazy as a 19 year old could possibly be. What about when I try to start the engine and just accelerate really hard, would this be a way to make the drums turn? The next day, I returned to the Oval with a lot of tools, some fuel and the absolute will to make this old baby run for a last time before I’d strip it.

Well, as you can imagine, it wasn´t that easy to start a car which was abandoned in a garden for nearly 20 years. I pulled the battery out of my ´58 and installed it into the Oval. While I was disassembling the fuel line, the Oval´s old radio begun to play. It was kind of a magic moment, it seemed the car was speaking to me: “I am still alive!” In this moment I decided to not strip this beetle, no matter how rusty it was.

To make the long story short, my plan worked and some hours later we could convince one of drums to turn again. This was enough to tow the Oval out of the garden. Here you see the scenario. Check out the rear left drum is obviously still stuck. The towing car was the 1975 “Opel Rekord” of my girlfriends father. Back in those days, just an old car at the end of its life, but I still feel sorry for the Opel´s clutch which we gave a hard time that certain afternoon. I hope my girlfriend´s father does not read my blog….

“Another job well done”
The first day of the Oval´s second life was ending in a fantastic autumn sunset

Back home, I started my first “rusty resto”. I simply didn´t have the money to do a full restoration job and it would have been crazy, because all the body work, the interior and a proper paint job would have ended up at a sum that could buy you  nearly two restored Ovals back in 1989. But doing a brake job, installing a new exhaust and some acceptable tires was OK to my budget.

When the job was done, I borrowed a set of “red dealer license plates”, something I have to explain to all non-German readers. Sure, all cars in Germany have to pass the “technical control” (aka TÜV) and with a car as rusty as this Oval there was and there were no way to pass the TÜV and get legal license plates. But there is one way to drive cars without TÜV approval legally: the magic “red license plates”. These plates are for car dealers only to enable them test driving and driving home cars they just bought and similar scenarios. Sure, it is the absolute responsibility of the car dealer that any car driven with “red plates” is at least safe to drive regarding the brakes and the steering. But a rust hole doesn´t matter. Don´t get me wrong, “red plates” are not the license to perform some crazy teenage nonsense, joking around with the “red plates” makes you losing them to the police quickly! To put it in Mike Judge´s words: “Don´t try this at home!”

So the following picture shows 19-year old Florian with his new rusty love affair ready for a first ride. The destination was nothing less than the Nürburgring!

Ready for the first ride after 20 years! Check out the cool Hirschmann worth a fortune today and the spider web still on the front bumper. Do we see Europe´s first real ratlooker here? Can anybody beat the Oval by confirming to have driven a rat earlier than 1989?

There was a classic car meeting at the Ring and I wanted to participate with the Oval. Here is the proof:

Looking back on the late 80s today, who in this picture is truly “embarrassing?” Is it really the Oval or in fact the poor Karmann Ghias with missing chrome, raped with candyshop colors, wrong headlights, cheap indicators and even a folding roof or is it the guy on the right with his stylish aviator sunglasses and the porno mustache?

As you can see, people were not amused by my beautiful Oval! In fact, there were some guys that were truly mad at me: “Don´t embarrass our meeting with your junk car!” or “You shame every serious car restorer!” were just two common phrases I heard several times….

But, like every teenager, however, I loved to provoke (well, I still do…) and so I attended some more meetings with my lovely rusty Oval. Here you see me, proud as hell, because I just won the third place at a local classic car rally, the famous “Kleinwagentreffen in Brenig” near Cologne. This was a very funny Sunday!

As time goes by, a lot of other interesting cars crossed my way and, due to the lack of an own set of “red plates”, I stored the Oval away for 30 years. But there is (or at least there should be) a moment in a car collector´s life, when you have to do a bitter calculation. Looking at the estimated remaining time you approximately still can stay on earth and dividing this remaining time by the number of car projects you “still want to finish, ehhhh, ….some day….”. Let´s face it, for most of us this calculation ends up with a frustrating conclusion: we don´t have enough life time anymore for the amount of car projects still on the agenda, isn´t it this way?

For me, this point was reached when the Samba hit my life. This project, no wonder, is the project of my life. Maybe this one project only is still too big for my remaining life time? So what to do? I learned three important lessons:

1.       reduce the amount of projects by 50% (still to many cars for sure, but at least a step in the right direction)

2.       don´t buy any additional projects anymore, not a single one! No, even not a KdF for 500,– Euro. Hhhhmmm….or, well, maybe…

3.       get yourself a damned set of own “red plates” finally, stupid!

Thank god no KdF came my way so far and painfully I said “good by” to some projects, but the Oval stayed. By now I have my own set of “red plates”, so it was time to bring the Oval back to daylight, don´t you think so? I pulled him from a dark corner of my car hall and we spend some weeks working on the old boy. We fixed the huge hole in the floor pan where the battery leaked its acid in the 70s and 80s, we fixed some other rust damages too, but didn´t touch the rusty graveyard look. We installed a really proper brake system, some old 4,5 Porsche 356 Lemmerz wheels (rusty original ones of course!) with 165 tires and a self made front axle reinforcement (similar to the 181 system).

Can´t help, but this is the best looking dashboard VW ever designed, don´t you agree?

The 30 horse engine received a special tune up. Bernd Riechert´s cool successor Laszlo delivered an all vintage dual carb system and we removed 5mm out of both cylinder heads which resulted in a compression delivering a downright ruthless pubescent engine performance and we haven´t talked about the vulgar sound yet. All these (and some more) tuning modifications could have been performed also in 1956, there is no 12 Volt conversion or any other modern BS installed, just to let the purists know!

In fact, the Oval delivers a really safe and truly satisfying ride today. Beside some minor rust holes on the outer skin (which really don´t affect the safety of the car at all!) we could even pass the TÜV without any problem today. But the inspector has to accept the rotten interior and the “special” smell still inside.

The first test drive in the 21st century was to the local ice cream shop. The kids waiting in front of the ice cream shop thought the Oval must be kind of a kids toy parked there for them to be their personal playground cause “this old car doesn´t drive anymore anyway”.  Can´t be any more wrong, girls….

While driving the Oval the first time after all these years, it seemed to me that finding the Oval was the fate´s challenge, a test if I am the right man for the Samba project to come. There are just so many coincidences! According to my respective stages of life, each of both cars brought me to my respective limits technically, financially and mentally. Both cars provoked kind of a “shitstorm” by the audience when introducing them to the public. The Oval taught teenage Florian how to handle such a treatment in general and that no technical problem will ever stop me from doing it “my way”.

Both cars spent their first lives in Cologne, they most likely had seen each other sometimes somewhere at a Cologne traffic light in the late 50s! Both cars ended up as abandoned junk, left behind in the flora, the first in the “Westerwald”, the other in the “Eifel”, both German low mountain range areas just divided by the Rhine.

Join our party in Hessisch Oldendorf 2022, when the Samba and the Oval will be reunited after 65 years, riding the Autobahn from Bonn to HO side by side! Promised.

stay safe!

Florian

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3 thoughts on “Addicted to rust

  1. In England it would have been recognized as early as 1989 to visit a classic car event with such a vehicle.
    And even today, 90% of the “rats” in Germany do not drive out of conviction but because the trend is.
    But trend means short-lived, so it is in complete contrast.
    Very few people have conviction behind the wheel. Most German oldie lovers don’t understand such “extravagant shit” even today. I see it with my colleagues at the dealership when I show them the blog updates.
    Essence from this story.
    Two „Kölsche Orjenaale“ 🙂

  2. Hallo Florian.
    Klasse wie Mark das immer wieder hinbekommt.Ich bin schon sehr gespannt ob die zwei es wirklich nächstes Jahr nach HO gemeinsam schaffen ! Ich drück dir jedenfalls alle vorhandenen Daumen dass das wirklich was wird.
    Für so einen Ovali würde ich mich heute zerreissen.Die Story vom Ring ist auch klasse.Und das Bild neben dem gelben Karmann Ghia.Einer von euch zwei hat ein bisschen eng geparkt 🙂

    In diesem Sinne.Weiterhin viel Erfolg beim erhalten des Kulturguts !

    Beste Grüße Ben

  3. great story again florian. I have an oval to who is waiting for me sinsce ’92 your story reminds me of it .thanx of sharing all off this with us .

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