Roofs and roots Vol. III

Dear VW-friends,

today we have a look on the Samba´s roof again, especially on the mechanical parts, because -as loyal followers know- the outer skin of the roof, another masterpiece of Mark, is finished by now. You might be surprised to see how much of the mechanical parts did survive while relatively much of the roof´s sheet metal has rusted away. Have a look on what we found in the Eifel mud in May 2017:

I still remember clearly the moment in May 2017 while finding this piece in the Samba´s parts pile. If there was still a need to ensure my will to bring this baby back to life, this was it. Nothing beats a VW with a Golde sunroof.

We have seen Sambas coming with less roof parts, haven´t we?

Note the small right side roof rail! Weren´t we lucky to find it stuck in the mud? Especially knowing that the other three rails were still mounted on the roof´s body.

Let’s concentrate first on the front header bow, the most interesting part of the roof. Interesting in several aspects as it teaches us some lessons about the history of the factory´s process of building a Samba in 1951.

In the following picture you see two front header bows. The lower one is the original one of our 15448, the one above is the bow of the 1952 Samba 29559 (now owned by Florian George). See what difference one year makes?

But it’s not only the strange shape of the upper corners on my ´51 (while ´52 is just rectangular). There are two details that are even stranger!

Do you see these two welding seams on the ´51 Samba´s bow?

The reason for these two welding seams is simple to guess considering that the Samba production was some kind of “prototyping” in summer 1951. They just grabbed a Beetle´s front header bow, cut it into halves, extended it by adding in a middle piece and welded it together! In 1952 the production turned more professional, Golde obviously provided Bus-specific front header bows to the factory.

In the early days the production guys must have feared disarray in the assembly process and when looking at the following picture showing the Bus production in (most likely) 1953 you will agree that it looks kind of messy, doesn ‘t it?
picture stolen from

To reduce the risk of messing up precious Samba-specific parts they punched in either the last three digits of the VIN (as they did on the dashboard) or even the entire VIN as they did on the front header bow as you can see here:

At least in December 1951 they changed this system. There are still numbers on the dash and on the front header bow, but it’s not the VIN nor part of the VIN. See what number I did find on the bow of 29559:

You see this numbers do not match to 29559 at all. I don´t know what they relate to, maybe the body number.

Anyway, let’s return to the presence and here, see  the front bow after Mark welded on the broken off brackets for the closing mechanism.

Unfortunately the rear bow of our Samba was lost, so I just had to get the oldest rear bow possible for replacement. Luckily I bought a ´52 Samba parts pile coming from a swamp near Wolfsburg. It would have been so interesting to see if the rear bow had welding seams or even a VIN too, but on this ´52 rear bow there is neither a VIN, nor any other number, also no seams. So I don´t bother you too much with the rear bow, here are just a few pictures of the cleaning process.

I tried to save the fixing screws but they were fragile as glass and they nearly all broke away right after attaching the screw driver

Interestingly the fixing screws of this rear bow are identical to the fixing screws of the roof rails, same are the captive nuts. The parts catalog tells a different story, but maybe they just didn’t care in 1952.

the sky lights of the ´52 swamp Samba
the screw on the left came from the rear ´52 bow, the screw on the right came from the roof rails, they are absolutely identical

Now, once all the main mechanical parts of the roof were at hand, it was time to do a little fitting test. Have a look:

Doesn’t look too bad, does it? Sure, there is still a lot of work to do, but remembering the starting point, you will agree that at least the roof sees the light at the end of the tunnel now.

And another section is close to the finish line, it´s the engine compartment. I was very delighted when Mark send me the following picture, because the very rear lower end of the Samba was a very poor section and Mark wouldn’t be Mark if he wouldn’t try to save even the slightest piece of original substance. See here what he wrote:

Working on some final parts in this too, still have the white paint to strip on the rear corners as I think they have original paint under them. It’s a bit patchy colour wise around this rear end but we will tidy all that up towards the end.

Yeeeesss, bringing out more of the original color will make my day!

And there is another feature regarding the engine compartment which is a very representative sign of progress. Did you notice the ID-plate riveted in its place?

The original ID-plate was in place when the Samba was found, but man, it was so rusted, you could hardly identify the decisive digits!

Thank god the VIN was in place (nevertheless it was very rusty too) to compare the numbers and to ensure that we are really talking about chassis number 15448! But at least when Mark found the digits “448” under the dash and when I found the full VIN on the front header bow the case was very clear.

Anyway this original VIN-plate we couldn´t use on the Samba for two reasons. Number one, the numbers are so hard to identify the MOT would give us a hard time and number two, the VIN-tag is so fragile I just fear it would break and get lost by the vibrations in the engine compartment. So it was clear, we have to use a new ID-plate and keep the original stored away safely.

But getting the blank VIN-tag was more than difficult! Sure, there are reproductions on the market, but these are clearly identifiable as repros, because of the wrong styling of the letters. After a long search I was happy to get this one here, which is just perfect in every aspect:

Sure I wanted every single stamped in digit to be exact in the correct style and the correct position. While getting the right stamping tools was difficult enough (it took me months searching on E-Bay and I had to buy four full sets before I had the correct digits and the correct “S”!), to identify the correct position was nothing but a very scientific matter! I passed this job to Anke who photographed the original plate from many different ankles, using different lights and different cameras. Here is the most interesting section of the original plate showing the type   “2-24S” (by the way this proves it´s a real “born” Samba, not a type 24 converted into a Samba later on, which was kind of common in 1952 and 1953).

Please note the weird details of the way the factory guys stamped in the numbers. Both dashes are crooked and so are the digits. The digits are different in height and the “S”, beside it is slightly too big to fit in the frame, it´s even upside down! This means they stamped in the numbers by hand for sure (and they didn’t care about the crooked look at all). In contrast, have a look at how straight this section looks on the VIN-plate of 16309, a type 24, just a few numbers after 15448. They obviously used a template to stamp in the digits:

This “straight” look does appear on all regular Busses made in summer 1951 known to me, but Samba was different, also the style of the digits for type and VIN used on Samba plates was different. What does it mean? Well, we know by now that the Sambas made in summer 1951 were made of regular raw type 24A bodies, stamped with VINs already, but without VIN-plates (which were riveted in after the paint job was done) and these bodies took a 20 day “detour” through a special section (most likely the prototype department, but this needs to be proven) where they installed the Samba details as forth side windows, wide dashboards, sky lights etc.

I couldn´t guess anything other than that they stamped the digits into the VIN-tag during the “detour” through the “special department”, where handmade was routine anyway. It must have been relatively far away from the regular assembly line where they used templates to stamp in the type and the VIN. This does make sense, because the VIN-tag was riveted into the body after the paint job, and the three tone color scheme was Samba-specific (and kind of weird too, but that’s a story for a different post) and so the paint job was done in the “special department” too.

All this “special department” story must have ended at least in January 1952 when the Samba was first time available for the common public and the factory had integrated the Samba production into their regular processes. Have a look at the a VIN-tag of a Samba made in January 1952:

Did you realize that the “Leergewicht” of type 24 is different than type 24S? Yep, the Samba got a Samba-specific weight! Another point to difference a type 24 converted later to 24S from a “natural born” type 24S!

Of course now I had to make sure that the digits on the new VIN-tag would be stamped in as crooked as it is on the original tag. To do this properly, we had to identify the position of every single digit very accurately, which was a hell of a job, but Anke made it, have a look:

Believe it or not, this crooked way the numbers are stamped into the original VIN-plate I was surprised myself when I saw !

Please disregard the style of the digits (this is just Microsoft), but be assured that this was the way the numbers were stamped in, except the last line, which was partially not existing anymore. Please see here Mark´s first try of stamping the letters in:

It looks pretty cool, especially the way he “aged” the VIN-plate, but as Mark didn’t have the final result of Anke´s research yet, he punched in the digits less crooked than they originally were. Luckily I do have a second blanc VIN-tag, so he can do it again perfectly.

Normally I wouldn´t present you a result which is not perfect enough for the project, but you have waited for this post a very long time and I really wanted to release the new post before the New Year. I am looking forward to seeing you all healthy and happy at Hessisch-Oldendorf in the summer of next year.

We will drive the Samba from Bonn to Hessisch Oldendorf on its own wheels, which will be a very adventurous road trip documented by a camera team. Whoever likes to join the party is welcome to do so.

In the meantime, enjoy this little video series which has just a little bit of Samba content, but I hope you like it anyway.

Happy New Year!


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3 thoughts on “Roofs and roots Vol. III

  1. A great new blog entry, thanks! But is it really necessary to redo the VIN plate because the digits are not crooked enough?? I think this is as close as it gets, with all the efforts spent it would be a shame to waste another plate… just my two cents. Cheers

    1. Hi Constantin,

      for any other project I would fully agree with you, but (just in my opinion) this Bus is regarding a VW-history´s chapter with still many questions unanswered. Especially this crookness is a witness of the Samba-production´s weird circumstances in the very first days. Celebrating the debut of the Samba “VW Nutzfahrzeuge” released a press information a few months ago giving the impression that the start of the production was like pushing a button, but this impression couldn´t be more wrong. It would be even wrong to call it “production”, it was handmade, it was kind of prototyping and the crooked VIN-tag confirms this in an impressive way. So it was no question for me letting the new VIN-tag telling exactly this strange story.
      Crazy, yes, I know, but isn´t the whole project crazy? 🙂

      best regards

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