Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Little Red Car is Alive!!

It Lives

In our last episode, which took place eleven months ago, the Little Red Car’s engine had finally given up and I had ordered a rebuilt 1600cc, dual port to replace it. It took about six weeks to get the rebuilt motor. My friends at Bob Costa Enterprises supplied the core for the rebuild since I didn’t want to use the one I had. The engine block that came with the car when I bought it must have been from a late model fuel injected car since it had no provision for a mechanical fuel pump to be mounted in the block. That was just another one of those little things about this car that has had me shaking my head continually since I bought it. Wherever the engine originally came from, I didn’t want to base a rebuilt engine on that block, so instead we used an earlier block.

In 1965, this car had been equipped with a 1200cc engine, single port intake and a small single barrel carburetor. The electrical system was probably 6 volt; it was powered by a generator. The 1.2 liter engine produced 40 horsepower.

When I got the car, it had a late model engine of unknown size, probably 1600cc. The single barrel carburetor is from the early 70’s. The electrical system was 12 volt and powered by an alternator. The alternator first appeared on Beetles in about 1974. I don’t know what transaxle I got, except that it was worn out and had to be replaced.

The newly rebuilt engine sat in my basement for some weeks until I was ready to remove the seized engine and replace it. It’s a moderately large undertaking to swap out an engine. It’s not all that difficult, but there are many things that have to be done to make it happen. First you’ve got to remove the old engine from the car. That involves disconnecting the accelerator cable, the heater box cables, the fuel line and the four electrical connections (ignition coil, battery, generator idiot light, oil pressure idiot light). I chose to remove most of the stuff attached to the top of the engine as well, which includes the alternator, the alternator tower, the fan shroud, the carburetor and manifold, and the distributor. You don’t have to remove all that stuff, but it’s easier the get the engine out from under the car if you do. Oh, yeah, to get the fan shroud off, you have to remove the engine compartment cover. On most cars you’d all that part the trunk lid, but since the VW engine is in the back of the car, it’s not really a trunk.

Once you’ve got all the stuff removed from the engine it’s relatively easy to remove it. There are four bolts at the front of the engine, two on top and two on the bottom. You loosen up the nuts on those and then thing almost comes out on its own. Actually, to get the engine out you have to raise the rear of the car and support it on jack-stands. Then you put a floor jack under the engine, raise the saddle up under it, pull the engine backwards off of the attaching bolts and the transaxle spline and then gently lower it to the floor. Once you have the engine out, you can remove all the rest of the parts that you will be transferring to the new engine.

The part of this whole process that I enjoy the most is assembling the new engine. What I got back from the rebuilder was the engine block with the cylinders and cylinder heads attached, plus all the important stuff inside like pistons, piston rods, crankshaft, bearings, camshaft, valve lifters, valves and springs – all the stuff that bangs around inside the engine as a result of the burning fuel. To that you have to add the stuff that feeds, ignites, electrifies, and cools. There’s a fan and some sheet metal that directs the cooling air to where it needs to go. There’s the distributor and the ignition wires and the coil that sets the fuel on fire at the proper time. There’s the carburetor and manifold that takes the liquid fuel, mixes it with the proper amount of air and feeds that mixture into the engine. And there’s the alternator that makes electricity to charge the battery, run the radio and produce the spark that burns the fuel that makes the stuff inside bang around which, ideally, provides power to move the car forward.

Putting the thing back together and getting the engine back into the car is fairly straightforward. The hard part is lining up the engine with the transaxle and getting the engine to slide into place. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it isn’t. This time is wasn’t, but after much grunting, swearing, resting, giving up, taking a break, trying again, swearing, resting, trying, etc., I finally got the thing put back together. At that point I’d had enough. I left the car where it was, there in the carport, and ignored it for about eight months.

About a month ago, I had some friends help me push it up the driveway to a spot near the back door where I could work on it without driving my neighbor crazy. I set the ignition timing, charged the battery, added some oil and started it up. With a few little tweaks, it ran just fine. It still does.

Since then, I’ve fixed the shifter, adjusted the clutch and drived it around town some. It works just fine. With the Little Red Car back up and running, my only problem is deciding which of my three VWs I want to drive. I’m keeping Carol in the Mitsubishi since it has heat, a/c, automatic transmission and a great stereo. I think she’s had enough adventures in my old VWs to last her a lifetime. I like driving the old VWs, but I think it’s probably an acquired taste. Most people like a few more amenities and a lot more comfort.