Pre-ignition checks: What Do You Reckon 439

By: Glenn Torrens, Photography by: Volkswagen

Presented by

volkswagen volkswagen

To become wise first you must be stupid, as Glenn Torrens remembers

IT WAS ALMOST too good to be true: An obviously well-kept VW sitting on stands in the local you-do-it wrecking yard. I walked up to the car from behind; by the time I’d done a lap of it, I’d discovered why this 1970s Beetle would never see the road again: the punched-in nose. What a shame… the interior trim and most of the exterior looked a perfect match to the 48,000km showing on the odo. With the Bug being around 30 years old at the time, that was a remarkably low kay-count… which meant its gearbox was likely to be perfect.

The engine was already on the ground and missing some parts which, with the dak-dak’s rear-engine/transaxle layout, made removing the gearbox a 15-minute task. I happily paid the bucks, loaded the gearbox into the boot of my daily-driver and trotted home, ready to install the low-kay trans to my own Bug.

A few weeks later, I jacked my Bug (at the time, I had just one!) onto chassis stands and removed its engine and troubled gearbox to insta

About 3km from home a horrible howl from under the car cast a big black cloud over my day. With the clutch in, I coasted the car to the side of the road; my engine sounded fine with its familiar bark but the howl dissipated.

Hmmm… Oh shit! Gearbox oil!

With the car flat-towed home, I removed the gearbox’s drain plug to have just a few teaspoons of oil dribble out. My excitement and inexperience at the time meant I’d overlooked one crucial task: I hadn’t checked or replaced the oil in the gearbox.

Of course, to prevent any oil spilling onto the ground in the wrecking yard, the gearbox (and, no doubt, the engine) had been drained of its lube prior to the car being placed on stands for people like me to pick parts from.

Later, disassembly of the ‘box showed my test-drive had overheated one of the bearings and caused its plastic cage to melt, misaligning the gears and creating the awful howl. Thankfully, apart from that one collapsed bearing, the gearbox internals survived unscathed and after a few years it was rebuilt with a few tricks and tweaks for my Beetle race car.

It was an embarrassing, but simple, mistake… but we all learn from our mistakes and thankfully it was one that wasn’t too expensive! What a lesson! 

From Unique Cars #439, April 2020


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