What's In A Name?
I call my car Das Thinga'Ma'Bob. It is a somewhat cutesy combination of its name and mine. It was "born" in April 1974 (in my 30th year) and adopted by me in June of 1998. From what I was able to gather from the previous owner, I am about 4th or 5th in the "parental" line of the Thinga'Ma'Bob's family tree although it was passed around inside of one family for the previous 10 or 12 years. The odometer registered just over 57,000 miles on the day I got it, and at first I assumed at least one turnover of the dial. However, after spending almost 2000 hours pouring over every square inch of it, I have come to believe that those were the total original miles. You see, I thought when I bought it that it was in rough shape, but after seeing a few other Things, I learned what "rough shape" really was! Overall, the original condition of Thinga'Ma'Bob was actually pretty good.
But no matter, on a car like this, miles don't count nearly as much as the current condition. And as of this writing, the restoration (customization) project is well over 99% complete (we never reach 100% do we?). A year ago, when it was at the 90% point, it was completed enough so I could commission an artist's "cartoon" of the car (rendered on the Home page of this site). Photos are nice (and I have plenty of them) but the cartoon captures the character of the car in a special way.
How Did You Get Here From There?
Growing up in Florida (where in the 50's you could get your license at 14), motorcycles were my first love. I had about a half dozen in the 9 years I rode (including a classic, late 40's vintage Harley-Davidson police model) But, raising four kids on one salary dictated that any interest in automotive "hobbies" would only be at the voyeur level. However, as the Harley-Davidson Hogmeisters can relate to, for the 30+ years since I last sat on a bike, I still turn my head to look every time I hear a Harley go by.
In addition to motorcycles, I always liked old cars - the 20's and 30's cars with running boards in particular. In my senior year in high school, my very first car was a 1940 Chevy Deluxe 2 door sedan - with the requisite set of running boards! I paid $35 to the original owner and got the car with 99,992 miles on it. It was clean as a whistle - everything was there and worked! Since it was garaged year round, the paint was almost as good a new and there was nary a spot of rust anywhere on it. The car was 21 years old and I was just turning 18! My brother and I hopped into it and drove it back to Florida. I proceeded to drive it for a year and a half with nothing more than oil changes and tune ups for expenses. I knew when I had to sell it to go to college, that I would regret that action - and to this day, I have!
Let's zoom forward: through college, a stint in the Air Force, marriage, seven houses in five different states and three career changes. Once my kids were all but grown, it was that suppressed love of Harley's that got me into the VW Thing! Let me explain. My dear wife of 38 years, Karen asked me in 1996, "What is it you'd like to do for fun - that we could do together?"
I answered in a heart beat, "Get another Harley and go riding!"
To which she responded, "Okay, what else would you like to do!?!"
Well, for the next a year and a half, I tried to convince her that it would be perfectly alright and safe to ride a motorcycle (just for fun - out in the country, not for errands or a daily commute). I even tried to assure her that a Harley trike was actually a topless, "three legged" car - but no sale! I even briefly toyed with the idea of going for forgiveness, not permission. But then, I saw a trike with a Harley engine married to a VW transaxle arrangement! Then I started thinking in terms of a rail or dune buggy to which I could later attach my beloved Harley engine.
But then I went shopping for a "college car" for my youngest son. In the course of that exercise, I spotted a Thing for sale. It was the very first Thing I had ever seen up close. I thought to myself that it kind of looks like a 30's vintage vehicle already. I could add running boards, change the headlights and mount a touring trunk to make it look like a VW in "touring car drag!" And the doors come off and the windshield drops down. So it has lots of fresh air like a motorcycle. If I then had an unscheduled burst of prosperity (it could happen you know!) I could afford to have a big bore Harley Vee-twin installed to replace the VW four banger!!
Since this was not a motorcycle, I felt
it was okay to opt for "forgiveness" and bought it outright - announcing
that this 25 year old orange and rust colored bucket of bolts was to replace
my very nice Nissan sports car as my daily ride. It turned out to be just the
first $1800.00 I spent on Das Thinga'Ma'Bob. For some reason, I decided from
the beginning that I wanted to do it all myself even though I never even enjoyed
working on cars (and my wife is still mystified over that one). So in June 1998,
I embarked upon a restoration project that was to involve some 1800+ hours of
my labor and before it was all over, would require a lot more $100 bills than
I ever could have imagined!!
Pros & Cons Of A Daily Thing
The following question was posed on our internet user's group:
I'm interested in a Thing
but I want one as a everyday vehicle. I'll be
driving about 8 miles a day. Do you think it's a good idea or do you
owners feel it's too old a vehicle to put to this use and should only be
uses for shows and the like.
I have always like the
"Thing" any feedback would be greatly appreciate
especially the pro and cons of owning and using it everyday. Not a
vehicle buff here just like the Thing. So almost all maintenance would
have to be done by an outside mechanic so upkeep is a concern
I live in central Florida, an area where Things can thrive!! I bought my Thing in June of 1998 primarily as a surrogate for the Harley-Davidson I really wanted. I drive it every day, rain or shine. So far I have logged an average of 10,000 miles per year since the purchase with only a handful of mechanical problems.
Mechanically, the standard Type 181 is largely a VW Beetle in "battle drag." So, do what I did, find yourself one or more good VW air-cooled shops to keep it running! The Beetle-type parts are widely available, and God bless 'em, as long as Things Unlimited and the Thing Shop folks can turn enough profit to keep paying their rents, most of the critical, Thing-only parts are also available (albeit, not cheap - hey, you want cheap, drive a Yugo!!). Anyway....
Being something of an "old vehicle" myself (more than twice the age of my car), I am of the mind that if you don't use it - you lose it. As evidenced by some of the cars I have seen at KubleTreffen East, although they can be spectacular when customized, Things are fundamentally a utility vehicle designed to be used everyday. So, common sense demands that I use all of my things as much as I can - and I do (and so should you!)
Over all, I see some of the "cons" of using a Thing for your daily ride as:
You tend to get a little more damp
when it rains. For passengers, I carry several golfer style "rain suits"
for those occasional tropical downpours. As an old biker, I just don't get mad
at Mother Nature when she rains on my parade - I know I'll dry out!
You need to use a good squeegee
to keep the inside of your windshield clear. If moving air was a felony, on
its best day, the stock defroster in my 74 wouldn't even get arrested for jaywalking!
If you live up north and are a "wimp,"
you only drive it for 6 months of the year. (or if you live in Florida, and
are a wimp about the heat, you too only drive it 6 months a year!!). I on the
other hand, am wimp-free and drive all year.
You have to abandon any pretense
of wanting a quite ride - wind and road noise (not to mention the exhaust -
if not stock) approach ear splitting intensities.
On a related note, unless you have
a 2000 watt sound system with speakers the size of Rhode Island, it is hard
to hear the radio/tape player.
It apparently takes two people to
put the top down properly - so always travel with a "trainable" friend
or do like I do and have a hard top. (note, however that the hard top also takes
two robust people to remove, so what the heck!?!)
It is seriously aggravating to loose that $50 gas cap because of the ever increasing "senior moments" that beset me.
The "pros" are almost too numerous to list (in fact, that might make for an interesting article of its own - what do we like about driving our Things!), but here are several which come to mind:
You never have trouble spotting
your car in a mall parking lot (even at Christmas time!)
Strangers smile and wave at you
and give you the "thumbs up" sign just for being in such a unique
vehicle. (so refreshing, especially getting vertical thumbs instead of the much
more common vertical fingers!)
In all but the worst police states,
you don't have to diddle with emissions testing.
You don't have to spend a gazillion
bucks to have a car that is the envy of many who see it. (I really love it when
I see the longing looks of jealousy in the eyes of a guy sitting next to me
in his $60,000 BMW!!)
You can take off the top, the windows,
the doors and drop down the windshield, and with glass pack mufflers, it is
almost like being on a Harley (with training wheels perhaps). Well, it is as
close as I'll come to it anyway. Come to think of is, at this point my Thing
has ingrained itself to the point, I'd be a bit hard pressed if I had to choose
one over the other!!
One out of every 8 times at a gas
station, the person at the other pump will come over and want to tell you their
own "Thing story" (i.e., had one in high school, used to go hunting
in one with their cousin, reminds them of their childhood days in Cuba, etc.,
etc.) Sometimes I wish I were in sales. With all these "prospects"
coming up to me starting the conversation, I might be able to retire early with
the extra sales I would be making!
Although many of us Thingers tend to be just a little bit "odd," the general population of Thing owners are perhaps the most open, friendly and "regular" bunch of folks you can assemble on the internet or (much too infrequently) in person at the few Treffens we have!!
On A Related Note
I've watched with interest the comments about Clik & Clak's recent survey of 10 Worst Cars on National Public Radio. Pardon the pun, but I would have say that their inclusion of the VW Type 181 is a "good thing" especially for those of us who might be looking for a bargain. I'll clarify .
Let's say that your 181 is "mostly done" (that is the top of the scale for many of us anyway) and your teenager wants their first car. You both think it would be "too cool" to have the same vintage rig (this is of course if you are doing this before your teenager starts believing that you don't know sh*t from Shineola).
Anyway, what if you go hunting (apologies to PETA or should I say, PITA) and are fortunate enough to stumble across some non-VeeDubber who has "one in the barn." You will now (with a straight face and your ethics "intact") be able to say, "Hey isn't that one of those cars that was on Car Talk's 10 Worst Cars of the Century list??" Then you lift the battery and call their attention all the rust, point out that the glove compartment door is missing, and then you can do something with the asking price.....
With some practice or acting lessons, you might even be able to get that Thing for that darn near mythical $100.00!
On the other hand, we can revel in the every day occurrences (at least for me) of "thing envy" demonstrated by the less fortunate. For example, driving around in my Thing (which for the first three years was just your everyday, work-in-progress, primer gray/rust, with no doors nor windows), on a typical day I would get:
Honks and thumbs-up signs by the
Every second stop at a gas station
will generate a "don't see many of them anymore" or the classic testimonial
(I had one in years ago in HS, college, -- best car I ever owned...) dialogs
started by perfect strangers.
About once a month, I'd have people
rolling down their window to ask me if it is for sale. I to which I now reply,
"Yes" and when they ask for how much, I respond unflinchingly, "$71,610.00"
and follow up with a "Yes" when they ask me if I'm serious. They smile
and I when I wave and honk my ooogggaaahhh horn, they laugh out loud! Makes
their day - and mine.
However, the most satisfying "Thing moments" often await me at stoplights. They come when some 50-ish guy (I can say that without bigotry, since I'm AARP qualified myself) sits in his $82,132.44 overweight Lincoln Navigator staring with intense envy at my bought-it-for-$1800 (but put in a few thousand more!) customized latter-day Tin Lizzie. I look back, give him a "Mona Lisa" smile, rev up the engine so he can enjoy the symphony of sounds from my Harley-Davidson chrome glass packs and the visual pleasure of the corresponding light puff of smoke blowing his way.
Aaahhhh, a classic Thing moment he'll remember
for a long time, and especially now that the Thinga'Ma'Bob is "done"
it is one I'll get to do again later that same day, and again, and again and
oh yeah, again....
Ask any biker what is the most distinctive feature of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle is, and I venture a guess that they will respond with -- "The sound of the exhaust!" That's right, nothing sounds like a Harley (in fact, rumor has it that HD even tried -- unsucessfully --to patent that sound). Anyhow, I thought it would be cool to adapt Harley mufflers to Das Thinga'Ma'Bob, so here is what I did.
I got the cross over "Dyno-Tuned Dual-Header" extractors/mufflers from JC Whitney for about $100. Save yourself some money, and don't buy the all chrome model inasmuch as the chrome is not well done and gets the "blues" rather quickly. In fact, you can cut down on the "blueing" chrome problem by painting the inside of the pipe with some kind of high temperature paint (I used the spray paint intended for outdoor cookers). It won't prevent the "blues" altogether, but it will soften the effect of high temperatures on "cheap" chrome jobs.
I further adapted the mufflers by cutting off their glass pack mufflers themselves and attaching nicely chromed shotgun type Harley Davidson Sportster mufflers (about $10 each for "takeoffs") via careful shopping on EBay). The "shotgun" style seem to be the best for use on a VW. They are the right length and several have hangers in the right position for bracing. I did have to build a bracket coming off the rear bumper to brace them (very easy to do).
I went through several generations of sound
"tuning" before I settled on my current configurations. I tried full
baffles (almost sounded like a VW!) and full straight pipes (too loud and brash).
What worked for me was to drill two 3/8" holes in the center baffles. As
you can see from the pictures, they look good and I assure you, they sound good
(to me, anyway!)
I like to have my "traveling coffee" so accommodating cup holders was one of the very first things I did after getting the Thinga'Ma'Bob. I went through several iterations, but I finally found a great source for cup holders: your local marine supply house! In fact such places (or catalogs) are a great source for goodies for things for your Things. Log into <http://www.westmarine.com/> for an example.
The ones I got for about $6.00 are solid white plastic that flip up out of the way. The springs and screws are stainless steel so there's no rust to contend with (my kind of accessory!!) I mounted one on the side of the center console I built since the console only really handles one cup at a time. Works Great!
The "True Cost" Of Wooden
I write custom management software for a living, but I do woodworking and old car restoration for hobbies. At the level I pursue it, woodworking is not terribly expensive (after you accumulate the basic tools -- which I did a long time ago).
On the other hand, old car restoration is darn near as expensive as the well known "hole in the water that you pour money into - any kind of boat!!" I mean, I paid $850.00 for a dead, parts car just to get a few pieces I needed (plus a couple more I just wanted)! I am saving all the receipts on the Thinga'Ma'Bob but am afraid to even tally them up until the car is done (lest I find I must put myself in a car restoration "12 step" program).
I made my own visors for two reasons, first (and as you will see, the funniest) was that $55 to $90 each for a vinyl wrapped wire frame seems a bit high to me. Secondly, I thought it would be interesting (and it was) to engineer and build my own.
Anyway, first look at the expenses of the materials:
2 -- 6x24" red oak, $7.00
2 -- 5/16" steel rods, $3.00
2 -- Strips of white plastic for
the rods, $1.60
2 -- 11" Oak carvings, $10.00
4 -- 1/4" wire clamps, $3.60
4 -- Aluminum binding posts, $1.90
Value of the sandpaper and super hard finish materials used $10.00 (easily done @$50.00/quart).
Materials Total: $37.10 (holy moly, the first time I actually figured it out, it finally dawned on me, I must be nuts!!!)
Okay, as usual, the materials are the cheap part, what about labor? I won't even count the many hours I spent researching for materials and sources (and I would guess that to be 10-15 hours alone, but truly, the idea development and designing is a major part of the fun).
I'll just calculate the actual production hours:
Cutting, drilling and routing: 0.75
Gluing and final assembly: 0.50
Sanding and finish preparation:
Finish application: 0.75
Total Labor: 3.00 hours
If I were use the hourly rate I charge as a consultant for custom software development, we'd be looking at about $500.00 for just time and materials! If you are willing to pay $500 for a set of visors, I will stop what I am doing, tear mine off the windshield and immediately overnight them to you and I won't even add the freight charges!
Hummmmm, not willing to pay $250.00 each (not even for custom, one-of-a-kind?), well....
Okay, let's not even use the $40 hourly rate the local auto shop charges, after all, I would just want to make it worth my while (it is supposed to be fun, not a business, in fact, I don't want it to be a business, then I wouldn't have anything left, "for fun"!!!).
Let's see, there are 168 hours in a week, with a consistent 65 spent working (yeah, I must really be nuts), that leaves 103. Minus 49 hours of sleep, naps, we're down to 54 left, minus 7 hours for commuting ... that's 47 hours, minus 10 hours for eating meals. We are now at 37 hours, minus about 17 hours a week Thinging (including Digest, web surfing, etc.) From the remaining 25 hours we have to pull shopping, reading, chores, couch potato-ing, and other family recreation. Somewhere I have to find 3 hours for new visors!?!
The final chapter on these first visors
is that they are on someone else's car! They were oak and I later decided to
do the trim in teak wood. I wound up giving them to a young fellow I met up
at KubleTreffen East a couple of years ago. Another set will likely be made
when I finish up the teak trim installations (and who can tell when that will
Once early on in the restoration, I was cruising our local u-pull-it junkyard actually looking for tail lights but spotted a couple of rare "Deutcher" hulks (actually any German carcass amongst the thousands of US and Japanese auto corpses - is rare!). The first was a 1981 Rabbit and the second a treasure trove 1977 BMW 503 (see the "Seats" section below).
I replaced the original 16" steering wheel in my Thing with a fairly nice after market 14" about 6 months into the project. But I wasn't too happy with the look of it or the additional effort to turn the wheel at crawl speeds. As it turns out, the Rabbit's "sport" style 15" wheel is a perfect fit!! It dropped right on my spline (with the 24mm nut) and the horn hook up and turn signal "trigger" worked fine. A word of warning to others: the Rabbit wheel sits "up" about 1.5" closer to your body than stock. However, this is exactly what I wanted since I felt that the stock wheel was too close to my oversized thighs anyway and had manufactured a 1" spacer on the after market wheel to do just that! Cost: $4.99 and 10 minutes of cleaning with acetone and polish. It is gen-yooo-wine vee-dub-yaah and it looked great!
The next generation of steering wheel was all wood Grant sport model I got from Ebay for 10 cents on the dollar. I liked it for itself (especially the "feel" of the wood). But both the color (mahogany) and the style (modern) were totally out of place in the resto-custom Thinga'Ma'Bob. I even stripped it, bleached it and re-stained it something closer to teakwood - topping it with several coats of the best grade of marine varnish. Now it looks great and the color is complementary to the teak dash to be build later, but the style just won't fly. Therefore, that wheel has now been installed in my "spare" VW (a 1986 Cabriolet).
In process as of this writing is the adaptation of another Ebay treasure. It is a chromed three spoked flat sport wheel with a black walnut rim. The black walnut is a nice complement to the teakwood that is to come. The wheel is from a Chevy based 30's styled Jaguar replica and therefore needs to be adapted to the VW hub with a new horn button. This looks to be the final chapter in that department.
Brakes That "Shudder"
Over the course of the 1,000,000+ miles I estimate that I have driven, I have become convinced of one incontrovertible fact: starting out is optional, but stopping is required!! On thing for sure, even off the showroom floor, the 181 brakes left something to be desired! There is a somewhat common condition about the aging 181's - is that they often have a "pulsating" or "shudder" when applying the brakes. I too have had this condition, and here is how it was cured!
All I had to do was a few "underwear" jobs such as:
Turning all four drums
New adjuster star wheels all around
(half of them were not movable!)
All new brake cylinders
All new, "brass impregnated"
Upper/lower ball joints (German
versions @$110 per pound; plus installation)
Shocks all around
Front end alignment
New CV's on rebuild rear axles
Painting the entire undercarriage with gray POR-15 de-ruster.
With the certain exception of the last item, any or all of the others contributed to the elimination of the pulsing. My suspect is the greatest improvement was the combination of #1 and #2.
The car was just fine for several years, but not long ago, the drums finally wore down, so I replaced them with brand new German drums. That started another round of troubles. I went through not one but two turnings of the front drums to try to eliminate the pulsating that had returned! A puzzling symptom was that the pulsing was far more pronounced when the drums were "cold" than when they were warmed up! We changed out the front shoes, swapped the drums from side to side, checked the backing plates for warpage, changed out the springs, and even put on another set of wheels - all to no avail.
All my best sources of mechanical advice
are at a loss as to the ultimate cause of the problem. Since the new drums were
turned twice since mounted, I was left with only one or two conclusions - that
the drums themselves are slightly out of round on the outside of the drum and/or
the hole pattern was off by just a small amount. Again, since stopping is not
optional, I have purchased the disk brake conversion from Things Unlimited and
once we have engineered the adaptation of my 5 hole wheels to the new front
drums, I'll have the braking power that the Thinga'Ma'Bob needs.
The question was posed:
At the risk of asking the dumb question of the week, how does one install a shift rod bushing and what type - after market versus VW stock - is preferable? My shifter wanders going into 3rd.
I am presuming you are talking about both the front and rear bushings for I see little value to only replacing just one end. I don't think that the actual "type" used makes that much difference (I installed the after market kind). It is more important that these pieces (after 25+ years of service) are replaced at all!
Remove the gearshift assembly from the top of the tunnel (noting the orientation of the base plate, for if you put it back backwards, you "lose" reverse altogether).
Now go to the middle of the rear seat area (after removing the cushion and several of the springs that are in the way) and take off the oval inspection plate found there. This will reveal the shaft-to-transmission coupler assembly. As you face the rear, you will note a bolt on the top (which attaches the whole thing to the transmission shift rod itself) and to your right is another bolt which runs through the "universal joint" like coupler assembly. Remove the upper bolt first, then twist the assembly around to better remove the coupler bolt. You will want to user pliers to steady the opposite end of the coupler bolt as you remove it.
Note: New copies of the rectangular plastic things (well now, isn't that a good example of my technical jargon!), and the two part "shaft" that holds them on should be included in the replacement parts you bought.
Now move to the front of the car. Under the middle of the front axle beam assembly you will see an oval inspection plate about 3"x5" in size. Remove that plate to allow you to slide the shifter shaft completely out of the car. Working alone, I found that ordinary pliers will fit into the top tunnel opening allowing easier movement of the shaft forward. Then as I got it closer to the front, a coat hanger helped get the front of the shaft "unstuck" from any obstructions.
Once out, I removed the "remains" of the old shift rod bushing (saving the snap ring for re-installation) and cleaned the minor rust off the shaft. I greased the whole rod with my favorite white lithium grease goo.
Here is where my advise departs from the real expert's instructions: They said to put the bushing on the rod (sliding it along as you re-insert the rod), and then install the snap ring. They are far better than I (or have a wall full of special tools). There was no way I could make that work!
Here is what did work for me. First I put on the snap ring right behind the flange (which in my case, faces the front). Then I installed the bushing in the holder (which hangs down from the top of the tunnel, about 2 inches behind the rear of the opening) making sure it was properly seated in its center slot. Finally, I turned the bushing so that the slit (from front to rear) was facing upwards. Squirt it with some more light grease!
Now for the tricky part (for someone working alone anyway): From the front, I carefully eased in the shaft back in until the rear end of it was just sitting against the plastic bushing. Be gentle here lest you pop your bushing loose. Then making sure it was "straight on" I pressed it into the plastic bushing with a steady and even pressure. I am sure that God saw that after several hours of this stuff, I had suffered enough, because it slid right in on the first try (which in 95 degree 95% humidity is much more than "just" a blessing!) With two people it would go in with greater certainty.
The worst is over! Move the shaft back into place by pushing from the front (using extension boards, etc.) and/or by pulling it in using the pliers trick. I kept it well lubricated as the shaft passed through the bushing.
Reassemble the rear coupler using the new components.
Re-install the gearshift lever and cover plates (hand tight at this point)
Using the gearshift lever to maneuver, line up the coupler to the transmission shaft and re-install the top bolt. Carefully tighten it down noting the "notch" it is to slide into.
Check the shift pattern, stick locations and observe for any binding. If all is well, tighten it down and test drive. Again, watching for binding. With success assured, bring her home, put the cover plates back on, return the seat cushion and any springs to rightful places.
Now head out for a nice long drive choosing
a route where you have to do a lot of shifting.
Tail Light Tales
I "shot myself in the foot" with a tail light grounding problem (actually a lack of grounding). It seems, I'm too clever for my own good. I replaced the "elephant foot" style tail lights with a "Jeep" style purchased at a FLAPS (Friendly Local Auto Parts Store - hey, it was 18 months before I found out what FLAPS meant). I wanted to mount them down on the lower vertical part of the rear deck. I liked the location (like the European 181's) but not the look of the lights themselves. I thought of using the early bus type (like the European's), but they were too damned expensive for even less visibility. And since the five accidents I've had in my 45 years of driving were all rear enders when I was standing still, I wanted more light, not less. The Jeep style provided me with that.
But like I said, they were a bit ugly, and I spent hours wandering u-pull-it junk yards to find an adaptable source -- to no avail. Then in a classic car magazine I spotted a great potential donor -- the 1964 Mustang. They were just a bit wide to put in "normally" but fit perfectly in the allotted space once I turned them 90 degrees! Now the only thing more rare in junk yards than a Type 181 is the 1964 Mustang. However, the J.C. Wait-a-while catalog came through and for once, I wasn't backordered for 2 years!! They sell the outer assembly which only needed 0.25" ground off of one side in order to fit well. It was those that I was adapting and ran into trouble.
As alluded to above, it was my own fault.
The original setup was a grounding strap screwed to the metal back plate through
to the exterior body sheet metal. When I moved the light box inside the engine
compartment and attached through the four corners, I was attaching to plastic.
Realizing this, I moved the brown ground wire and attached it directly to the
body - an apparently logical thing to do. However, the backing plate (to which
the light sockets were previously grounded to) was now electrically isolated.
This is what caused all the weird symptoms. Re-attaching the brown ground to
the backing plate made all the problems go away. Great visibility and cool looking
Another of those key characteristics of
the "resto" look I was after was the installation of external headlights
on top of the fenders ala the mountings common on the touring cars of the 20's
and 30's. The procedure was easy enough. I just cut out the stock headlight
buckets in the fenders and filled in the resulting holes with matching sheet
metal and fiberglass. With the leading edge of the fenders being flat, it wasn't
hard to effect a perfect repair. Next I removed the stock turn signals (which
were later replaced with 18 wheeler truck chrome running lights on the bumper
installed as blinkers). After filling in the holes, I installed the new headlights
in the same location. My first attempt was to install a set of chrome sand rail
bucket lights. Apart from being a bit small (touring car headlights were an
inch or two larger than the modern 7" round lights), the buckets were poorly
chromed and rusted almost immediately. Therefore, when I painted the car, I
had them textured and painted the dark brown. In November 2001, I went to the
big hot rod show here in Tampa (would you believe almost 1500 cars!?) and came
across an overpriced, but properly sized set of chromed bucket head lights.
The extra diameter was in the housing so they still used the 7" lights
(H4 Halogens to boot), but give the appearance of the classic headlights. Of
course, I popped for a set!
Cheap Rusty Chrome Fix
The chrome head and tail lights go nicely with the few other chrome touches I've added. For example, I traded the extra rims from my parts car for a set of 15" five spoke chrome wheels. There was a fair amount of surface rust, most of which scrubbed right off using the classic Brillo pad and elbow grease methodology. However several unsightly strips of rust revealed missing chrome plating. I searched for several months on how to fix that (short of wildly expensive re-chroming). I stumbled upon a great, inexpensive idea using a past hobby. I spotted a tube of "Rub-N-Buff" paint in silver and bought it for this purpose. I used it and it worked beyond my wildest dreams.
For those not familiar, Rub-N-Buff is a paint paste in a small tube used in plaster crafts (and the like) to wipe on highlights on some other base coat. It comes in a variety of colors. You want the silver (not pewter). You simply rub it on with a soft cloth and buff it down with another. It blended in with the chrome so well that you have to kneel down close to note the difference and even then it still looks like chrome, just a bit duller! The secret here is to remove all the rust that is possible and make sure that the surface is as smooth as possible.
It only lasts for a month or two, but my
$3 a tube was more than enough to keep those wheels looking like new for as
long as I had them on the car! They have since been replaced with 14" wheels
textured to match the final paint job.
Restoration Body Work
I've learned a lot more about paint and primers than I ever intended to on my project car. Eastwood and POR-15 are a rusty Thing's best friends as far as primer paints go. Each company has informative catalogs. I have personally used products from both companies and have been very happy with the results.
I used hundreds of dollars worth of primers on the Thinga'Ma'Bob in the 3 year long restoration (at $30+ a quart, that is an easy goal to reach!). I did the entire car in the gray primer, covered it with their blue Tie Coat, treated the gas tank (incidentally, the POR-15 tank kit will easily do two tanks, so plan on sharing with a friend).
I particularly liked the workability of the POR-15 body epoxy body filler and used it extensively instead of bondo style fillers (which I'd never use it -- too weak, a hair dryer and wire brush takes it right off!). In fact, I used five pounds of the POR-15 epoxy stuff! I not only filled holes and repaired rust damage, I "sealed" darn near every seam on the car, inside and out. I almost feel bad about using the textured finish, because you cannot appreciate what a good job the POR-15 epoxy did in filling in the seams. I also have used the "metal-ized" body filler from Eastwood to finish off the epoxy repairs. It is a catalytic body filler that works like bondo, but is much harder and stronger because of the metal particles imbedded in it.
I also used Eastwood's primers as well, in my experience, the POR-15 primer system is superior. In saying that however, I don't want you to abandon Eastwood products. I have continued to use many of Eastwood's products, I just didn't use their primers.
However, I had failures with the POR-15
as well (poor adhesion) due to PP (PoorPrep) and working on days that were too
"wet" for the paint. You see, the POR-15 is a moisture cured polyurethane.
If a drop of sweat gets in the can - kiss it good bye (or use at least it all
that day!!) Read and follow all their instructions - or spend more time and
money on it than you need to.
POR-15 Storage & Spraying
Yes, it is thick in the can, but it can be sprayed with amateur equipment. Most of my use was via a cheapee Home Depot spray gun. However, although it appears to be xylene based, just in case, I heeded their warnings to not use anything but their solvent to thin it (and don't thin it too much). It flows out to a great finish regardless of applicator. If you are brushing it use the "two brush" method. Apply it with one (bristle or foam), but smooth it out with a "dry" foam brush. With only a slight amount of careful attention, it will look like it was sprayed.
Rather than paying POR-15 "gold spot
market" prices for their convenient 6 pack, I have a better idea I came
up with. I use the Ball "jelly jars" readily available at your supermarket
to make my own small storage containers. I used the smaller 8oz size. On a nice
dry day, crack the quart and fill up the little jars almost to the top. Place
a layer of plastic across the mouth and put on the top. Cut up zip lock bags
are best, but absence that cling wrap or even the plastic bags from stores will
do. That plastic layer keeps the paint from "gluing" the lid on when
paint gets on the top threads. You can use the same technique for traditional
quart or gallon can as well. The other trick I used is to store the paint upside
down. This all but eliminates the skinning over problems. I've had my last jar
of POR-15 out in the garage since last summer. I just went out to check my jars.
They are just as good as the day I opened the can!
Paint Or Not To Paint
I spent the better part of two and a half years preparing the Thinga'Ma'Bob for its final "coat of many colors." Although for the longest time, I myself was going to do it, in the end I decided to not try to paint it myself. After hundreds and hundreds of hours de-rusting, repairing, priming and sanding, I decided to rather not risk a bad "final shoot."
I finally opted to have the whole car done (wheel wells to top, inside and out) by one of those professional "truck bed liner" processes. I picked a local company, Harrington Coatings, because they use a hot pressure spray system with a UV clear coat. I believe that Rhinoliner and LineX use a similar technique. I chose them because they can custom mix darn near any color you want. I also like the "no maintenance" aspect (i.e. washing the car will consist of leaving it out in the rain!!) I don't want to be buffing and polishing when I can be out driving around! Less worry about nicks and dings with a hot bonded, minimum 1/8" thick textured coat of epoxied topped, hard rubberized truck liner!! (Whew... that's a mouthful)
I was quoted a price of $5.00 a square
foot (color is usually $6.00, but the owner was interested in the project --
in seven years, they have never done a whole car). I did a fairly specific measurement
and came up with just over 300 square feet of painting surfaces. That included
hard top, engine compartment and front trunk. Here is the detailed brake down of the paintable areas:
Preparation & Paint
We are lucky that the 181 is easily taken apart! I prepared and primed it in pieces (working the front trunk lid first) while I did the de-rusting and body work. If you plan to keep your car any length of time, make sure you properly prep and de-rust! I used only genuine (2 part) epoxy fillers (no bondo) and POR-15 (or Carolless from Eastwood is just as good). Be careful with the POR-15 though, it is a "moisture cured" urethane and I found out the hard way that it is real susceptible to water. They told me even one drop of sweat in a quart will ruin the whole can. Therefore, make sure that you have a water filter on the compressor (about $25) and use the plastic disposable filters that attach right to the gun as well.
By the way, you don't have to spray the all the primer if you brush it on in thin coats. I brushed on about 30% of my POR-15 (especially in hard to reach or enclosed areas). I used two foam brushes, the good ones with the dense foam and wooden handles. I put on the paint with one, and immediately "dry brushed" with the other. Once you get the knack, it works great. Use their blue Tie-Coat primer over the basic POR-15 for better adhesion and sandability. Then use 400 grit (to start) wet sand paper and work you way up to 1000 or better for the final sanding.
Do a little (nay, do a lot of) research on techniques. In addition to lots of browsing on the internet, I perused more than a few books in the auto section of Barnes & Noble for general ideas. Find a local auto paint store (the kind the pros buy their paint at) and get your supplies there. While there, you can do as I did - pick their brains for suggestions and ideas on doing it right. As you may well know, just showing up in your Thing will start conversations - take advantage of that to gain the knowledge you need. Then before you lay any spray down on your Thing, you should practice on some stuff that you don't care about a whole lot (maybe, if he has a sense of humor, your neighbor's car for example!)
For a novice, I'd paint the trunk and underside of the lid first, then the interior (where mistakes are less likely to be blaring), then the doors, then the rest of the car. If you don't have access to a paint booth, I'd paint early in the morning (after the dew falls of course) or later in the day when the wind dies down.
The most significant part of the cost of
any ordinary paint job would be the prep labor. Therefore, even with me doing
all the prep, the very best quote I got from a "real body shop" was
$800 just for the spray job/materials. I had several in the $1000-1500 range.
However, I know someone who spent upwards of $5000 for what was billed as a
top quality paint job and even so, it came with some splats and runs in it!
That is why I opted for a professionally applied hot process industrial coating
rather than paint.
Finished Paint Touch Up and Body Repairs
Like most of the liner sprays, the Thinga'Ma'Bob's coating has a distinctive texture to it. The material did not come with a "touch up" supply since it actually does not have any significant shelf life once mixed and requires a room full of special equipment to apply. I had planned to get around that by picking standard colors so I can use them for touch up. But the nature of the coating material only allows "eyeball precision" hand mixing (i.e., no industry standard formulas for an exact match!). Therefore, although they got fairly close to the target colors, those colors varied enough so as to render my touch up paint idea useless.
More importantly, the UV clear coat put on the original colored coating failed (product mixing defect coupled with damp weather!). True to their word and warrantee, Harrington's made it right nonetheless. They didn't hesitate to say they would re-paint the entire car at no additional charge! We had to clean it all off, and then the shop repainted the entire car (another two to four coats!) with standard automotive single stage urethanes.
Actually, I think that I got the best of both worlds -- the 270 pound bedliner coating, topped with great looking super tough automotive paints. Using standard color paint has given me the advantage of getting touch up paints mixed to a perfect match (something I wouldn't have had with the hand mixed custom color of the spray on urethane coating). Bigger repairs would require I go back to them - but I would have to do that with normal paint as well.
Though not extremely hard, I think that the resiliency, thickness and flexibility of the spray liner will lend itself to preventing many of the surface damages sustained in a Thing's life. This would be especially true for my Thinga'Ma'Bob since "off roading" in my case is going up a friend's dirt driveway. After all, this bedliner stuff is designed to be in the back of a working truck and I've had testimonials on just how tough this kind of material is. That is why I settled on this rather than a traditional paint job. I expect to be able to tool down the road behind a rumbling gravel truck spewing forth hunks of it's load without fretting too much about my coat of many colors! In fact, as of this writing, the coating is one year old and I don't have a single ding or chip on it yet (knock on wood!!).
I wound up putting on hundreds of dollars
worth of materials for preparation and spent just under $2000 to have Das Thinga'Ma'Bob
coated with the hot process urethane industrial truck bedliner material. I got
toughness and durability as well as good looks! Between the two sessions at
the paint shop, the vendor had something on the order of 50 staff hours of labor
in this project, 30+ gallons of bedliner coatings, and a minimum of two up to
four coats of single stage urethane paint on top of it all!! For their part,
I don't think the bedliner shop is all that eager to take on another Thing project
to be done in the future (and I can't blame them one bit!) But it is a job that
they can be justifiably proud of - and they have pictures of it in their lobby
to prove it.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Coating Sources
If my experience or the cost has scared you off of having it done professionally (and it shouldn't!) let me share with you the benefit of my research on bedliner paint sources. I have listed below a couple of links about these materials. The first one listed is for Durabak and is the one I would have used if I were to do the job myself (and if I ever do another, I would use this). I got several quart of this and did the engine compartment, tow bar and a couple of extra body parts. With the top coat urethane paints, you can't tell the difference between parts done by the $2000 professional job, or the $30/quart done in my back yard!
In the two critical areas, durability and adhesion - both characteristics of Durabak were excellent. It applies with a roller or an undercoating type spray gun (a.k.a., a "shutz" gun). As I said before, I was planning on a do-it-yourself coating, but my wife's thoughts of my setting up in her driveway squirting rubberized goo all over was just too much for her. She even postponed getting new bathroom floors in favor of having the pro's do it, so what could I say??? Let's start with the easiest choice for DIY with colors:
Another apparently good DIY source: http://www.southernpolyurethanes.com/
Here are all the others I checked out:
Remember, internet URL addresses tend to
come and go, so if you draw a blank, use your favorite web search engine to
track them down.
Machine Gun Schutz
I got a couple of emails from readers of the Thing Digest about the "schutz gun" I often referred to. It is quite simply the generic name for an undercoating gun. They are cheap (usually under $30 at pro paint shops) and can handle the coarse materials used in these bedliners. The difficulty I ran into is not getting a gun, but getting a clean paint pot to attach to it. You see, the "body schutz" gun is sold without a canister since it is intended to screw into the jug of undercoating you normally buy separately. However, after use, I cannot imagine how many gallons of several different solvents it would take to clean all of the black gunk out to the point that I could re-use it for a light colored liner paint!
But there is a way......
If you jump here, then do a search on "undercoat" you can see where I bought my three copies of the gun:
So for the $30 the shops ask for around here, I got several of them. I did this because the are themselves, hard to clean, and not very high quality so I got one for each color (cream, tan and black) plus one for re-shooting the actual undercoating on the chassis.
Here is how I solved the paint pot problem: I used the top of a PVC glue can together with a one quart glass "mason jar" (yes, the kind used for fruit canning!) Looks a bit funny, but works real well and I spent $1.45 for the glue can at Home Depot, and $7.00 for a dozen jars at the supermarket. Cheap enough!
To assemble, dump the glue, use a can opener
to remove the lid (being careful of the sharp edge!). Then take the center piece
of the mason jar and drill a hole in the center large enough for the siphon
rod to pass through. Shorten the siphon rod (via hacksaw or pipe cutter) so
it rests just above the bottom of the jar. Then just screw them together. If
that is not clear enough for someone who actually wants to do it, check the
Two Reasons Why I Did It
Not long ago, I had some dialog with another Thingmeister on my radical paint job ideas that I thought you might enjoy. He said....
You're kidding right?? You're not actually going to use this truck bedliner on the outside of your car are you?
All kidding aside, have you really checked this out as an exterior body coating? Its one thing to use it as bedliner or underneath on the chassis, but quite different on the exterior. We've used it on a Double Cab bed, but never on the exterior. I wonder how long it will stay on the outside in this heat and sunlight?
Sounds like its going to have a very negative effect on the resale value.
To which I reply.....Nope dead serious, and why not? Truck beds are outside and used with no ill effect. I've never been interested in an OEM "restoration," my Thing has been custom from the get-go!! I researched the idea for over a year. Again, how is the car body any different from the truck bed as far as exposure to the weather? Also, all of the similar truck bedliners I have seen are holding up extremely well. Think about it. This material is built to withstand daily abuse of spilled chemicals, 55 gallon drums, tools, gravel, dirt, etc., etc., etc. I've read accounts on the Jeep and other SUV internet lists where folks have done both inside and outside coatings on those vehicles and are universally happy with it.
And on the final comment - brace yourselves!! I couldn't care less about resale value. Hey gang, for me this is a hobby, not an investment. And I'll now reveal my secret long term intentions: like the Pharos did with their prized possessions, I'm planning on taking the Das Thinga'Ma'Bob with me when I die!
Think about it! Don't you agree that it would be a rather cool "eternal resting place"? It works for everyone involved. That plan eliminates any problems "for the next owner" who might prefer being stock rather than custom. The Thing is paid for, and dropping it and me into a hole in the ground has got to be cheaper than most coffins run these days!! Aaaaahhhhhhhhhhh.... Nothing is so comforting as owning a classic chrome trimmed casket with a removable hard top!! Do like me, enjoy your Thing now, then take it with you!!!
As I think of it, some dirt digging archeologist
a thousand years from now might really get a kick out of it!! Who knows, I might
wind up in some museum, siting behind my wheel (attached to my teakwood dash),
strapped into my rotted out leather seats with a toothless smile on my face
- knowing that my single stage coated, hot process urethane textured coatings
look as good as new!!
Floor Pan Repairs With POR-15
Very early in the restoration game, I gasped at the estimated $1000 to "properly" replace two pieces of stamped steel for me to sit on and place my feet (i.e. the floor pans). This was particularly gauling when all I had was a handful of spots rusted through in the back. All this hassle because VW didn't want to pop for a plastic tray to catch battery acid! The rest of the pan areas were quite solid, so I opted for repair rather than replacement.
One quart of POR-15 primer would easily do the top and bottom of both pans in the two coat minimum they recommend. Since the POR-15 has an amazing amount of adhesion and hardness, you might also consider doing a "poor man's fiberglas" in the traditional rusted out areas while you are at it. It was the "base coat" to my own floor repairs. Lay down a full layer of primer and let it dry. On the second layer, lay down pieces of fiberglas cloth (it comes in several weights, so pick your poison depending upon how weak the area is). Then wet the cloth with the POR-15 from the top side. A "dabbing" action works better than strokes. When it dries, this bonds the glass cloth to the paint coating. You can do as many layers of this as you need to until the repair meets your satisfaction. It is so easy to do and is extremely strong. In addition to the battery area of the rear floor, I did this paint/fiberglass repair all over the Thinga'Ma'Bob filling in a variety of weak spots, holes and other "zits."
Later on I decided to finish up the repair
with a more traditional fiberglass approach. I epoxied and bolted in several
strips of 1/8"x1" aluminum bars to beef up the strength (but assure
that I wouldn't have any more rust to concern myself with). That also "leveled
out" the area somewhat. Then I laid down 6 or 8 layers of fiberglas mat
and cloth for additional reinforcement. This also tended to "level out"
the back end even more for better drainage.
While on the subject of drainage - since I live in Florida, I usually run with no windows. One of my major presumptions in restoring Thinga'Ma'Bob was that it would be getting wet inside from the many Florida showers that roll through here and about. In addition to toughness, that was also one of the main reasons I opted for the bedliner coating inside and out.
Therefore on the center of each side of
the floors in the back (and about even with the leading edge of the bottom seat
cross brace) I cut 1.5" drain holes. As mentioned above, I fiberglassed
the area in such a way as to encourage the water towards the holes. I tried
several different "drain plugs" and settled for never-will-rust plastic
drains I made myself. I cut off the tops of 1 gallon Gatorade bottles and JB
Welded them in place (from the underneath side). This might not work for you
"off roader" types, but as I have said so many times before, "off
roading" for me is a visit to a friend with a dirt driveway, it was perfect
for me. I also put one of my drains inside the lower section of the front trunk
as well. Now when it is time for a cleaning, pop my drain covers off, whip out
my pressure washer, and after 5 gallons of water is squirted all over (and drained
away!), Das Thinga'Ma'Bob is ready for the next car show!
One of the several key characteristics of the "resto" look I was going for was running boards. My first thought was to make them from the teak wood to be used to trim out the inside (and I may yet to that in the future). But manufacturing them as I intended was no mean task, so as the months dragged on I became impatient and went looking for stock set from an Acapulco. I found a set in California that were in great shape. I pulled off the rubber mats, stripped them down and did my POR-15 magic. But now I was faced with attaching running boards to a non- Acapulco. Drilling the holes for the fender well attachment was easy, it was figuring a way to bolt them on along the underside of the rocker panels that tricky. This was a daunting task as it turns out, especially with my "do it yourself" rule coupled with no welding equipment or skills.
There are four bolt holes to attach each
board and on the Acapulco, VW welded in threaded receptacles to receive the
bolts. I tried several different approaches that failed. What did work was to
cut 1"x3" holes so I could slip in a piece of aluminum (remember the
no rust policy) that had a stainless steel blind tee nut attached.
Front Bumper Spare Tire Mount
Despite the availability of cell phones and AAA Plus to come to our aid, it is not a bad idea to have a good spare tire with you at all times. However, the prime space it takes up in the trunk (especially for 73's) is daunting. For a few bucks and less than a hour, you can recover that trunk space inexpensively.
I built a spare tire mount attached to the center of the front bumper. Like most of us who use our Things as daily drivers, I really wanted the space in the trunk for my junk. It is a "home brew" design using off the shelf components consisting of about $25 worth of aluminum angle stock and assorted stainless steel bolts, nuts and washers. It is amazingly simple, no welding, just a half dozen cuts with a hacksaw and a few holes to drill and bolt the sucker together! The front mounted tire looks great (I think anyway). I made two different tire covers with hand laid fiberglass and painted on the dark brown and the other the cream color. They are textured to match the rest of the car and the cream colored one has a "happy face" placed on it. I haven't decided about the decoration on the brown one yet, but I'll think of something, you can bet on it!
As an added benefit, if yours is like so many others, it hides most of the front apron sheet metal which is so often dinged and bumpy. As opposed to a trunk lid mounted tire, (ala the original Kubelwagen) you don't have to have a fork lift to open the trunk and there is no danger of trunk lid warping nor aggravating pucka-pucka-pucka sounds as you bounce down the dirt roads! I have a rare 5 hole 13" rim as my spare, so the spare tire has both good ground clearance, and does not obstruct my view when driving.
1"x1"x6" angle aluminum
(for no rust!!) for the side pieces
1"x1"x15" angle aluminum
for the bottom piece
1"x1"x9" angle aluminum
for the top piece
1" stainless steel bolts for
the four corners of the above
1" stainless bolts to attach
to the bumper
10" lengths of 1/2" threaded
stainless steel rods
Sets of 1/2" stainless steel nuts and washers for (six for each rod)
Bolt the four angle pieces into
a rectangle with the upper portions of the "box" centered on the 15"
Center, drill and loosely attach
the assembled rectangle to your bumper
Line up and measure for two of the
holes in your rim. I used the pair that were 7" apart rather than the 4.5"
for better stability since I was only using a two point rack vs. the more traditional
3 point setup.
After lining everything up, remove
and drill two 1/2" holes on the front faces of the top bar. Attach the
rods for additional fitting.
Set it back on the bumper and line
up the rods carefully to assure the entire assembly is level. Mark the positions
and drill two 1/2" holes through the front apron of the body.
Insert the 10" threaded rods
the apron and anchor that through the body of the car with nuts/washers on both
sides of the apron and again on both sides of the rack assembly. Use lock washers
on all of these.
Now bolt your assembly to the bumper
Now adjust the assembly for the
vertical plane and tighten nuts/washers on the upper part of the assembly.
Use the last paired sets of nuts with large fender washers on either side of the wheel holes to mount the tire.
You are done! As I mentioned above, I topped
mine off with a fiberglass covers (painted to match) with a chrome rim. But
on my first prototype version (done in the second year of the restoration),
I found a "moon" style hubcap and painted the name of the car on it.
That looked nice and was cheap. However, in the normal Thing utility vehicle
mode, the tire looks equally at home with nothing covering the center at all.
Speaking Of Wheels
My first wheels were an odd combination of 13" and 14" wide rims on the rear. They were overly rusted wheels that made the car sit funny. I kept the 13" for the spare mentioned above and traded off the rears to a local Herbie beetle. I then moved to a set of 15" chromed "star" wheels that I traded parts for. But 15" wheels made the steering harder and with the running boards, made it more difficult than necessary to get in and out of for my diminutive wife. So I opted to return to the 14" stock wheel size.
I came across a set of the "accessory" Thing wheels that you see in most of the accompanying photos. They are often seen as chromed, but mine were painted. I stripped them down to bear metal and had them textured coated when I had the car done last year. They were the dark brown color and I later hand painted the centers to match the cream color which turned out fine. But I needed to come up with center caps. However, these wheels are Thing specific and so rare that there were none to be found. I tried several variations of the Empi type caps, but they were all either too large or too small.
This search went on for months. I toured
the internet and several wheel shops in the area to no avail. I was shopping
one day at the mall at one of those kitchen specialty stores when I came upon
the solution! I spotted a tray of 6 cups used to cook popovers. They looked
to be a good fit so I "popped" for one and lo and behold, they would
cover the center hole perfectly. I chose to mount them on the outside with two
stainless steel (of course) mounting screws. I textured them up myself and painted
them the dark brown. As with the other pieces I did later, you can't tell that
they were done differently from the rest of the car.
After it was all painted, I replaced the windshield glass in the Thinga'Ma'Bob myself. If you are careful, (and remember to "dry fit" it first!) it is easily a do-it-yourself project. The reason is it a DIY project is that the frame is in two parts. The windshield is held together by two 8mm x 1.25mm bolts on the bottom end of either side.
I got a new gasket from Vince @Things Unlimited and I agree with the advice: don't mess around, get yourself a new OEM gasket. Clean and de-rust the inside as best you can and use the "never hardens" butyl based caulking (about $10 a tube) which you might have to get at the auto glass shop.
I got the laminated safety glass with the reflective light green tinting and it was less than $70. I had them use the old cracked (but intact) glass as a pattern, and note that the corner edges are slightly rounded (about a 1/4" radius). Put a bead of the butyl inside the gasket and on both sides (front an rear) of inside of the top and bottom frame pieces. Install the glass in the one piece gasket and turning the upper frame upside down, mount the windshield in the upper frame first. When in position (don't force it too hard or whack it with something that will break that expensive piece of glass!), then install the bottom piece. Install the four bolts, clean the excess butyl and you are done!
However, while on the subject of glass
replacement, for those of you with a hard top, I would recommend highly that
the side and/or rear window replacement be left to the auto glass pros. Even
with all the tools and a high level of skill, it took the professional two hours
to re-install just my rear window! Also, the gasket that holds in the rear window
is not readily available locally. I got mine from JC Whitney (actually they
were the only source I could find!)
Hard Top Restoration
The current hard top is my second top restoration and again one of the main reasons I bought my "parts" car in the first year of the restoration project. It was an original VW style, so there are steel reinforcement frames imbedded in the several "ribs" on the top and along the lower back inside lip. Since they were quite clearly rusted out, my first restoration phase was to remove most of them for replacement. I used a die cutter to split open the fiberglass covering which worked well. I decided to replace them with oak wood (or you could use aluminum - hard to find in the right size - which is why I used oak). I used marine grade urethane construction glue to re-install the oak slats into the reinforcement frames.
Next I removed the side windows altogether and fiberglassed over their openings. My first intention was to leave them like that (to give the hard top more of a rag top look), but then I hit upon an interesting idea. I located two new chrome VW emblems from the 60's vintage VW Bus. It is the one that is about 12" in diameter that usually installs on the very front of the bus. I centered and cut a set of corresponding "port holes" where the side windows used to be. I glued in some 1/4" tinted Plexiglas that I cut to fit for the new windows. Then after bending them flat, I used the chrome emblems as my new "window frames." As you can see from the photos, the finished product is an interesting look!
I used a set of chromed West Marine "T-Bar Hatch Fasteners" (model 342974). I used four across the front to assure a good seal in the middle. As of this writing, they are $12.99 each. That still makes a set of four cost one third of what a set of two of the stock latches will set you back and they will never "pop out" (which is so common with the stock latches). They have been in there now for several years and work great.
Here is the URL for that item:
Just search on the model number or name to pull up the description.
If the gutters are "dead" or MIA, you can get a set from The Thing Shop (for about $150 plus shipping), or as I did, fabricate your own as follows: have a metal shop bend a pair of 65" long pieces. The shape is as follows:
Where the outer lip is 1/2" the horizontal
plane is 7/8" and the inside window lip is 3/4". The shop I went to
didn't have the ability to do compound bends to make the gutters follow the
contour of the side curtain openings (on the back end of the top). So after
much thought, I tried it myself and the following procedure worked quite well.
Use a vice, or as I did, set up one of those workbenches with the "built
in" vice to hold the piece steady. Then take a propane torch and heat up
the place where the bend needs to be. Working slowly and carefully, tap with
a hammer the 3/4" window lip side while you pull the back end towards you.
You will get "crimps" on the 3/4" lip, but the 1/2" outer
lip should pull around nicely and with no breaks. I had 3 pieces cut in case
I screwed up, but was successful on the first two tries. Total investment, $27
(and I have a "spare" left over!).
Inexpensive & Easy Side Curtains
In regards to "sources" for Thing side curtains, there is a non-commercial source to consider - the classic, do-it-yourself!
When I got my Thinga'Ma'Bob in June 1998, all of the side curtains were missing the original vinyl. The previous owner screwed some 1/4" Plexiglas to the frames just to keep out most of the rain. Since I'm a tough old former biker, a little rain now and then never bothered me, so I ran most of the three year restoration period without side curtains of any kind.
I never really liked the looks of the OEM side curtains so I decided to make my own (despite my wife's nagging me to just buy a set. Sure is great to have a wife who tells you to spend another $1000 on your car, huh?) But as the restoration project wound down, I finally got around to making my side curtains. They are tinted, "frameless", cost just $10 each and take about a half hour each to cut and assemble! And even my wife had to admit that they really look great! They have been on there for months now, and are holding up quite well.
Here is what it takes:
Sabre saw with suitable blades
Ice cubes (yeah, you'll see!)
Drill with 1/8" bit
Sander or sandpaper wheel attachment for the drill
All you need to salvage from your old windows are the front and rear "feet" that drop into the slots on the door. I did a drill/tap of 8x32 for machine screws where the rivets were installed originally in order to attach the plastic to the feet.
Rather than the overpriced plastic
from your local lumber yard, I used commercial sign material. It was Cyro Industries,
Acrylite FF, bronze tint. I got it from a sign materials supplier who recommended
it as the best stuff for what I was doing. So far, I'm quite please with it.
It cuts clean and does appear to be quite scratch resistant. A 4x8 sheet will
yield 8 windows and cost me $80 (I had 2 12" round porthole windows and
a couple of "wind wings" to do as well as the side curtains, thus
I popped for a full sheet. For ease of handling, I had them cut it into 4 2x4's.
The nice thing about the commercial material is that it is paper coated on both
sides to protect it during the cutting process. Leave it in place as long as
I used a table saw and a sabre
saw for cutting the edges and angles, but you can get away with just the sabre
saw. I have the factory hardtop, so my nominal measurements were 17" high,
21" on the top length and just under 30" for the bottom length. Measure
your 181 for a best set of exact dimensions. Just cut the plastic to the rough
dimensions with the sabre saw and use the ice cubes to cool down the blade periodically.
You'll know when to do that by the excess goo that will ooze up during the cutting
process (as the blade starts to melt the plastic rather than cut it).
After my nominal cuts were made, I "scribed" each window to fit exactly (interchangeability was unimportant to me). I got my angles by carefully putting the side curtain in position and marking top and bottom and then doing a free hand cut off with the saber saw.
The last step is to attach the
plastic to the metal feet. I set the feet into the proper position using cotton
to wedge as needed. I then removed just enough of the paper so I could see the
predrilled holes, lined up my 1/8" drill and cut each of the matching holes
through the plastic. When done, I used washers made of neoprene bonded to stainless
steel (from http:\\www.mcmaster.com ) - one on each side of the plastic and
hung the feet on the plastic using 1" long 8x32 stainless bolts. Using
the inside neoprene/stainless washers gave me enough offset to clear the welded
seam on the top of the door and gave a better grip on the plastic.
I then did final fittings of each window using my die grinder with 80 grit sanding disks. I used the green 3M finishing pads to smooth the edges.
Since making my side curtains, I normally run only with the rear windows in, and I'm quite pleased that they are very steady with little or no "flapping" even at interstate speeds. I was going to use a thin plastic "astragal strip" between the two doors. However, hand fitting each door has resulted in a seam tight enough that I don't believe it will be needed.
It is an easy enough project to do (actually
one of the easiest of all mine!) rendering excellent results.
Aluminum Roll Bars
I had a 4 point (typical design) roll bar for awhile but didn't like how it sat in the car, nor the look of it. So it has moved over to a less-picky friend who is quite happy with it as is.
After extensive shopping and viewing pictures of other Things, I opted to build one of my own design. I was more interested in using the roll bar as a "fair weather top frame" rather than a roll over safety item. This is because I have since decided to never roll over my car. Therefore, I determined to have it made out of 1 3/8" aluminum instead of steel for looks (I'll polish the frame later so it looks like chrome) and weight considerations (like me, my car is overweight as it is!).
Most cages have the loop bends perpendicular to the long side of the car, I wanted the loop bends to run lengthwise (i.e. front to back, not side to side). This was done in my custom version and it vastly improves the look as far as I'm concerned. I also had some 1/4" by 1" flat stock welded in as cross bracing to attach the future top material to (I'm leaning towards 1/4" smoked Plexiglas as my top material). I also had the bar built to run tight against the lines of the hard top I have. I angled back the upper portion of the leading bar to match the angle of the windshield (ala the Thing Shop design - but with a bit more angle).
The bar was fabricated "on the car"
and fits like a glove. Looks good too! It took just under 6 hours of shop time
(welding aluminum takes forever!!) and cost me $300.00 (but included some welding
on my "new" Audi 5000 seats as well).
To Vent, Or NOT To Vent - That Is The
First of all, I am of the school that says that the stock "air muffs" are somewhat ugly and clearly were an add on resulting from a overlong committee meeting. Don't forget that the 181 was around for the better part of four years before the muffs were added (and the European versions never did have them). I don't know how many times I stared at those top grills and pondered about why they didn't scoop from the front. So in the final quarter of the restoration game, I settled the issue for myself by filling in the tops altogether and just going with the front scoop intake (described below) that I had cut in some months ago.
I put on a VDO cylinder head temperature sensor on cylinder 3 in the first year and had a normal temp of just under 300 degrees around town (most of my driving is in town). Since I also cut 84 square inches of venting in the engine lid the main consequence (and the one I was looking for) was an immediate and permanent reduction in the overall engine temperature. I gained a minimum of a 25 degree drop when I cut open that 7"x16" hole in the rear deck lid and installed an regular, garden variety, household air conditioning vent (yeah, that's right!) to cover the resulting hole.
In the heat of our 8 month long summer, I reduced that temp by an minimum of 25 degrees (hiway) up to an average of 50 degrees (around town). Since the car lives in central Florida, this is a good thing! In our "winter" the engine cool down remains in proportional effect. However, I still get enough heat of course to use the hot air heating system (since it runs off the exhaust -- hack, hack, cough, cough....). If it ever gets "really cold" down here, I just have to lift up the trunk lid and close off the movable vent louvers to keep the extra heat in the engine compartment to help the heater stay useable!
For the more abstract of you, picture in your minds replacing the license plate area with a rectangular opening covered by a room air conditioning vent (the kind with both vertical and horizontal baffles) and you will not need a picture. For the rest of you, check out the photographs!
The plate was relocated to the center of the 10"x24" external "trunk" mounted right in the center of the engine compartment lid (ala the 1920's touring cars that had real trunks mounted on the back of the vehicle). I made the opening fit the vent (approximately 6"x14" with a 1" lip extending all around) rather than cutting first and fitting later. The metal vent was intended to be temporary since I was planning to replace it with one made out of teak wood when I later trim out the Thing with teak. However, since the external trunk hides it anyway, and I have the option to close it off in the colder weather (it runs "too cool" when it dips down too far!) I have decided to leave it as is. Were I to live in a much colder climate, I would cut down the air flow somewhat by blocking off the engine lid opening.
In the process of restoring my Thinga'Ma'Bob, I removed the air scoops, and noticed no appreciable difference in temps upon doing so. Anyway, since I had the positive effect when I vented the trunk lid, I even explored putting 73 side louvers on my 74, but there is serious cutting and welding involved. You'd have to get a set from a donor car and cut them into the 74. I search for a long while to find an off-the-shelf substitute and settled on making my own out of louvers stamped in sheet metal cut to fit the "indentation" that is there.
However, I finally decided to stay with the muffs, with one additional adaptation: I cut a 2.5" wide opening down the front of each muff to increase the airflow. I also reinstalled the muffs with a decorative chrome trim around the lip (actually the metalized plastic door edge trim). I cut a 1" strip on the lowest point of the inside to allow any water that gets in to drain immediately - rather than depending upon that all-but-useless drain hole the VW committee put there!
I actually have two sets of muffs, one is painted cream and the other brown. Since I re-installed the muffs using 10x32 stainless steel bolts (using rivnut inserts), I can change the "complexion" of the car in minutes as the mood suits me!
All of the above can be summarized to say,
"I made the muffs into real scoops, and vented the engine trunk lid to
give the scooped air someplace to blow out of." The combination of which
resulted in a measured 50 degree drop in ambient temperatures during the heat
of the Florida summers.
One For The Engine, Two For The Passengers
I certainly wanted the engine to be cool as possible, but with an un-airconditioned car in Florida, the occupants are in need of cooling sometimes as well! I had planned from the beginning to get a "real air conditioner" installed at some point. Not for me mind you, since I seldom if ever use the A/C in cars that have them no matter what the temperature. I much prefer the fresh air than "conditioned" air, but such is not the case for my wife. Therefore, I tracked down a rebuildable Thing A/C unit at Vince's Things Unlimited. But when I told my wife what I was doing, she said to not bother just for her. She wouldn't believe that an A/C in a steel box that had as many drafts as the Thing could be of any serious value. She said that during the heat of the Florida Summers she would prefer we tow the Thing and ride in her very air conditioned RAV4 when traveling with Das Thinga'Ma'Bob!! What a woman!
So I came up with another "fresh air" idea to make me a bit more comfortable when I'm tooling around alone in July. I'd install some kind of vent in the "leg area" of the front part of the cockpit. I had first thought of the area just forward of the leading edge of the front doors (where people normally put add on speakers), but I couldn't come up with an adequate vent mechanism that would fit there. I finally settled on an "eyeball" style vent like you see on the common airliner. But that was too small, even if I could find one. But after much searching, what I did find was aircraft related. I got a 2" eyeball from Aircraft Spruce in Georgia. They are likely one of the largest suppliers to the small aircraft industry. Their URL is:
The mechanism's were about $15.00 a pop
and installed with a simple hole saw through the wheel well. The allow a very
good (and adjustable) air stream to help keep you refreshed. As an added bonus,
their almond colored plastic was close enough to my interior color that I didn't
even have to paint them!
Three Things My Mechanic Just Loves
In the course of all this venting, one of the three things my mechanic just loves about working on Das Thinga'Ma'Bob came about. In making the air muffs removable and cutting a larger hole on the sides of the car, he benefits by now having convenient and free access to the normally inaccessible front cylinders. He just pops off the covers and has at it when working on the engine. Another thing is the easily removable engine lid. Just take out the four 8mm bolts holding on the lid and it (and the trunk) are out of the way. But of the three, his favorite is the access he now has via a 16"x24" compartment lid I installed behind the rear seat. It is just over the transmission, clutch and starter providing easy access to these otherwise hard to get to components.
Torn Belt Loops
There have been any number of occasions
where I have my rear pocket or my pant belt loop get caught on the door latch
post (mounted on the center column). My solution to that was to make a clear
plastic "guard" out of heavy gauge Mylar. I actually used a piece
of plastic I cut out of a floppy disk holder for a hanging file. Just find something
rigid enough to deflect your butt coverings, but flexible enough to not snag
anything itself. I cut a couple of 8mm holes so that the plastic is held in
place by the two post mounting screws. So far, so good - no hang ups!
White Dash Gauges
Since the Thinga'Ma'Bob is dressed up like a 1920's touring car, I really want "old style" off-white faced gauges. Being a I-want-to-do-it-myself kind of guy, I don't want to drop $500 to do so - and the cylinder head temperature gauge doesn't even come in those styles.
What I've decided to try is to paint them all to match. Having spent a couple of years in the label printing business, it should be really quite simple:
Shoot 35mm photos of the existing
gauge faces with a close up lens.
Digitize the best shots and pull
them into a photo editor.
Reverse out/fix up/size the images
so that I have the marks and numbers the way I want them.
Reprint them on self adhesive "decal"
stock available for color printers.
Paint the faces and needles the
new background colors
Position the plastic overlay on
Reassemble the gauges
Now you can step back and say to yourself,
"Wow, this only took me 62 hours and 14 minutes to accomplish!" All
you have left to do is go and explain to you wife the logic of spending $4000
dollars worth of what might otherwise have been billable time to save the $500!
Customize Coffee Cups
Right after I "finished" the Thinga'Ma'Bob got a neat thing (pun intended!) in the mail. It is a custom coffee mug with a picture of my Thing on one side and the car's name on the other. You send in a photo or JPG of your true love (by the way, you could also do your spouse if you have to!). Tell 'em what you want on the other side, and you get back a great custom mug! All this for about $15!
It looks hand painted, but it is done using some kind of sublimation ink transfer and applied using a heat transfer mug machine. Of course the image is scanned or downloaded and printed using special ink on special paper, then heat applied. But again, it looks hand painted!
I'm thinking about getting a "set" done after my car is fully assembled with different views on different mugs. Great for your Thing birthday parties (what??? You don't celebrate your Thing's birthday!!??!!)
They are available from a fellow Thing lover, David Osborne. When last seen, you could reach Dave at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I get no commissions, discounts or even
free samples, but highly recommended nonetheless!
It Is Electrifying
As mentioned above, the Thing electrical system is very sensitive to bad grounds and as you'll see, bad contacts as well. A source of minor electrical problems which are all too common comes from dirty contacts at the fuse block level. However a simple clean up will work wonders. I've had to do it at least twice in the last four years!
Here are a couple of things to consider for the clean up:
First: degrease the contacts with
an electrical solvent
You can use an electric drill
with a Dremel wire brush attachment to further clean "rough up" the
surfaces. The low speed of the drill means a good cleaning without grinding
them down too much.
Use that "electric grease"
goo to enhance the electrical flow and help prevent corrosion from reducing
connectivity. The stuff I have is "Dielectric Connector Protector"
from AGC Co, Muskegon, MI and I haven't a clue where I bought it other than
I'm sure it was somebody's auto parts place. Mine came in a little blue packet
you tear off the corner of.
If you are nervous about riding around in a tin can with low back seats, and you want to stay "all VW" you can slide the 71/72 vintage Bug high backs right on your existing stock rails. During the course of a really hot week in central Florida that first summer I had the car, I toured several area junk yards looking for them myself (yeah right!! In all my hours in rust land, I saw one lone VW, a late 70's bus - and I'll come back to that).
In sizing up the lower section of the Thinga'Ma'Bob's seat frames, I noted that the upper portion could be cut away to create a base to which "ordinary" seats could be bolted. This was the solution sought after! The trick is to take off the original seat tracks (i.e., avoid those seats where the tracks may be welded!) The best matches for me turned out to be the Ford Escorts (most models) and if available at a reasonable cost, the Voyager mini-vans. There were a number of others which looked to be "bolt-able" but I just didn't like them that much.
If you have one of those "you-pull-it" lots like we have around here, you will easily find the "perfect" pair. Because of the aforementioned summer heat (and thanks to the angels assigned to watch over nit-wit, ignorant VW hobbyist's such as myself) I settled for a tan cloth colored set of late 80's vintage escort seats even though I really wanted black leather. I settled because I had never been to a "you-pull-it" lot and didn't come with tools (other than pliers). I also settled, because those angels sent me over to check out the VW bus even though I knew that the bus wouldn't have anything useful for me in this quest. Ha!! Think again!
In the back of this no-way-could-anyone-ever-restore-it VW bus was this already pulled set of tan Escort seats!! Again because of the heat, I decided instantly that I much preferred tan cloth over the black leather seats I just located in another Escort. I popped the two seats in the yard supplied wheelbarrow, paid the gatekeeper the 10 bucks each (plus the usual tax, tag and title fees) and set out for home.
Skipping the couple of hours of first mistakes made, here is what works
Pop off the backs of your seats.
Hacksaw off the seat back adjuster
knobs flush with the sides of the frame.
There was an almost perfect match on the width of my frame and the four factory mounted bolt holes. I did my best to drill mating holes and was able to use two on one seat but only one on the other. (It seems that slight variations make a big difference as to which way you will be facing!!) Therefore, I bought new 2" mounting bolts (and nuts) and proceeded to drill additional mounts by coming in at a slight angle while the frame was attached via one of the "first hole" bolts. I used the 1.5" flat steel washers mated with lock washers to accommodate the unevenness encountered in the underside of the eat and to assure of a good anchor.
I kept those seats for a month or so until I could get back to the junk yard. An lo, and behold, those back leather Escort seats were still there! So I popped for them and installed them instead of the tan cloth seats.
Some 9 months later in yet another "junkyard cruise" I came across a set of real leather seats from a 77 BMW 4 door sedan. It was a bit more of a "squeeze" to fit them in a Thing, but the above procedure worked for them as well. These were my "second generation" seats. Though I wasn't "in the market" for new seats, these BMW seats were just too good to pass up. They also bolted on the stock tracks directly, but included a drop down armrest between the seats, and were three times more comfortable than the Escort seats. The passenger side had a couple of small cuts on the lower front and both sides needed new "tuschee" padding. So off to an upholstery shop they went to be fixed up. Cost: $20 for the junkyard - $150 for the first class rebuild. As a side benefit, they had a very "stock" look since the headrest was attached rather than built in like the Escort seats - not to mention the first class leather as opposed to the split hide used on the others.
As my wife so aptly noticed at the time, I was on my third steering wheel and third set of seats in a year. I remind her that the Thing still costs me less than the $330/mo her new car costs -- and has a fun factor that her "jelly bean" car will never provide!
Yet there was to be another chapter to the seating saga. About a year ago in another foray into junkyard heaven, I came across an Audi 5000 that donated the "final" set of front seats, a front tray (installed just under the glove compartment) and enough leather to have the rear seats covered to match!
In all of the above cases, the cost was
minimal, the comfort greater and the seats recline nicely so I can take a nap
when waiting for the Frau to come out from shopping!!
In April 2001, as I lay semi-naked on a slab, some strange Doctor was sticking a stainless steel wrapped balloon into my heart to repair a 99% blockage that should have killed me already. Today, I'm heading out in my Thing into chamber of commerce perfect weather to run errands!
There's no denying the amount of work I have put into it. Even the most anal of the gotta-restore-to-pure-stock folks who certainly might hate the extensive customization I have done to it, can appreciate immediately the amount of effort that went into doing it!
I do love it. I love the way it looks, especially now that it is finally done! I love how the textured paint glistens in the sun (almost like the darn thing was covered in glitter!) I love that the textured finish wears like iron with nary a ding nor chip to be found. I love that I can just hose it off, inside and out, and it is showroom quality and pristine without even having to wipe it down.
I enjoy the fact that I did all of the design changes and actual restoration myself (minus that actual spraying of the car and standard mechanical work). As long time readers of the hundreds of internet posts I made about the project can attest, a lot of "engineering" went into this car. For example, I love the comfortable driving with my Audi 5000 seats wrapped around me like a butt-glove!! I love when I'm at the gas station and "civilians" start conversations about the car and/or just remark on how nice it is. I love going to places where car buffs gather and answering questions about how I did this or that on the car.
I especially love cranking up the Thinga'Ma'Bob on the first turn over (thanks to the hard start relay that Dennis Farr put it for me!). I enjoy sitting there letting it warm up listening to my dual Harley Davidson mufflers purr out their music!!
However, (pardon the pun) it is after all, just a "thing" -- it doesn't own me (despite all the time/money investment appearances to the contrary). Far more than the sense of accomplishment coming from doing the design and restoration work myself, I enjoy tooling around in a fun car! It is after all, why I did it. The Thinga'Ma'Bob was built to go to the hardware store for sandpaper, Outback for dinner and CompUSA for software!! When I head out the door to run one of those errands, more often than not, my dear wife will volunteer her car to me, to which I remind her that I prefer my car.
It is my thing to do what I want to my Thing, let it be your thing also. This is a primary mode of transportation and a hobby. In the latter case, it is therefore supposed to be fun -- and for me it is just that, now more than ever! Staying stock is a choice and customization is a choice - and they are both good choices inasmuch as the result is another rare 181 is brought back from the brink!!
To contact me by E-Mail: BobWitte@Hotmail.com