Check, check and check again - What Do You Reckon? 454

By: Glenn Torrens - Words & Photos

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volkswagen beetle volkswagen beetle

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 approached the car from behind; by the time I’d walked around it, I’d discovered why this 1970s Beetle would never be driven 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, even if the odo had been around the clock once, 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 install this beaut low-kay second-handy. With that done, I dropped my Bug back onto its wheels, packed away my tools and went for a test drive.

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!

No 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 second-hand 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, misaligning the gears and creating the awful howl. Thankfully, apart from that one collapsed bearing, the gearbox internals survived unscathed and years later 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!


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