The Folk's Wagon - Blackbourn 449

By: Rob Blackbourn

Presented by

vw beetle speedweek vw beetle speedweek

If you're fond of exhausts that go "Dak, Dak" rather than howling or growling, you're probably not alone

It’s fascinating that in a magazine showcasing the crème de la crème of automotive excellence – the exotic, the awesome, the mega-muscular, the unobtainium – the little German battler, the VW Beetle, often manages to wriggle its way into the front row and grab a share of the Unique Cars spotlight.

It’s clear that Morley emerged from Covid-lockdown wearing his Beetle-loving heart on his overalls sleeve. His first foray a couple of issues back covered his successful massaging of his lovely curved-screen Super Bug in preparation for club-plate rego. What a nice one it is too. I love that he has dialled out the usual high-nose stance of MacPherson-strut Vee Dubs.

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How nice is Morley’s Super Bug?

Then in the issue #448 Dave went the extra mile to explain that he is no Johnny-come-lately to VW Type-1 fandom. He reckons that his fondness for Dak Daks goes back to his little-tacker days.

| Morley's World: When Beetles were $50

And then, of course, there’s Glenn Torrens. While GT puts us off the scent a bit with the odd Commodore or Pajero yarn we know that it’s Beetle-juice that flows in his veins. A recent yarn covered the progress he’s made in building a replacement for the yellow VW race-car he sold a few years back – a now-regretted sale. The following month’s GT column revealed that the pain of losing his favourite pair of pliers was made worse because the pliers’ grips were the same yellow colour as his long-departed VW racer…

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My first Vee Dub experience was a drive from Adelaide to Melbourne decades ago in an early 1200 model. Its modest 36hp (27kW) max-power meant that pulling off an overtaking move on the two-lane highways of the day required a bit of planning to get you out and past the vehicle in front, and back in, before any oncoming vehicle appeared on the scene. Without enough grunt to accelerate quickly, those early VWs relied on momentum for a passing move. This meant dropping back some distance before you changed down to third and then flattened it. If you timed it well you would be changing up to top at about 95km/h as you caught up again with the guy in front, and then out you’d go. However the time taken to go through that rigmarole was often enough for an oncoming car to suddenly appear from around a bend or over a crest. If so, it was time to abort the pass, get on the brakes and tuck back in. Then you’d start the whole process again. You’d make it eventually, though…

By comparison the twin-port 1600s were quite good goers. I bought a nice one with a travel-weary engine a few weeks before Christmas one year, partly to have my first chance to get to know a VW boxer motor properly through stripping it down and reconditioning it. The plan was for a relaxed little project, maybe the following Easter. As it happened it suddenly became a tow-home job from the other side of town after dropping an exhaust valve in mid-December. Although I managed to do it, and I learned a lot, it was far from a relaxed process for me, and my family, and the people I was chasing for parts during the hectic lead-up to Christmas.

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One of the little surprises for me, soon after spending almost three years doing intensive R & D work focusing on the subtleties of head-gasket design, was the total lack of head gaskets on the VW engine. You simply spread lapping paste around the top spigot of each new cylinder-barrel, mated it up to the ‘gasket-face’ of its new head, and rotated it back and forth (as if lapping in a valve) to create an intimate, leak-free contact between the two metal components.

Some years down the track since having VW Beetles, I’m left with a fondness for their minimalism, simplicity and ruggedness and happy memories of some good times, as well as the odd memento – there’s a 36mm socket I bought to use on VW flywheels and rear axle nuts, and my copy of the useful and quirky manual How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive by John Muir. More important is my relief that I didn’t succumb to the temptation (it was pretty strong at times) to decapitate a Beetle with an angle-grinder and hacksaw to change it into a so-called convertible. That would have been vandalism…

 

From Unique Cars #449, February 2021

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