mother-in-law, Bernice Owens always drove little VW Beetles; and she
used them like trucks in the everyday business of running her
farm. I've seen her drive a little Beetle out in the middle of a
field, pick up a newborn calf, put it in the front seat and lead the
mother back to the barn.
You know, I was blessed with something most guys only wish for - a great
mother-in-law. She accepted every one of her children's spouses as
though we were her own children. She had a son and 3 daughters and
she raised them alone after her husband died, all the while running her
farm business; and everyone of her children graduated from
college. And she was involved with her grandchildren throughout
their lives - even to the point that the grandchildren would plan
weekends with grandma, one for the girls, another for the boys. I
could talk forever about the great times we shared and about the type
person she was; but that's another story for another time.
When she died, Jerri, my wife, inherited her mother's last VW, a 1973
standard Beetle, When I met Jerri in 1969 she was driving a little
1967 VW Beetle. We kept it a few years and it went its merry way
as we moved up to larger cars that better suited our family and
lifestyle. But Mrs. Owens knew Jerri and I would take care of her
little car. And, as I go through the restoration process, its done
with her in mind. The little car will always be in our family so
I'm not concerned with costs. I want it to be just like it was on
the day Mrs. Owens picked it up from the dealer.
As long as Mrs. Owens owned this little car, she was angry with the
dealer. She had bought several little Beetles from him, and they
were all tan. But, he didn't have a tan one when she went to buy a
new car; and, as he was slowly going out of the VW business, he wasn't
interested in finding her a tan car. He had the little blue car on
the lot, and he wanted to sell it. But, I don't think she ever
forgave him for that. When we started the restoration process,
Jerri thought about changing the color to tan, but we talked her out of
|In 1992, Mrs. Owens
basically stopped driving her car, and it sat under this carport
until about a year after her death when the estate was
settled. When Jerri and I went to get it and bring it
home, the odometer showed 57,000 and a few miles. The car
was always serviced by the local VW dealer or by me when I was
home on vacation from one of our many Army postings.
But those years of just sitting had begun to take its toll. The
tires were dry rotted, the chrome on the front bumper was beginning to
peel, and there were specks of surface rust along the bottom edges of
the doors and other places on the body. And when I went to move
it, the brakes were frozen. But, we got it on my trailer and
headed to Huntsville with it, the farthest it had ever been from Mrs.
Owens' farm in its entire life!
A few months and $1500 later, the little car was mechanically
perfect. We pulled the motor to replace the clutch and the engine
to body seal, replaced all the brake pieces and parts, installed a new
fuel pump, muffler, alternator and starter and completed a major tune up
to include rebuilding the carburetor.
mechanical restoration, we also completely redid the
suspension. And while the car was on stands for the brake
and suspension work, I had the wheels sandblasted and
painted. We also contacted Coker Tires in Chattanooga and
had them make 5 original thin whitewall Goodyear tires ($610) like were
on it when Mrs. Owens picked it up from the dealer; and we put
new hubcaps on it.
This little car was a
"radio delete" car, and had on options whatever.
The bumpers didn't even have the rubber strips on them and the
windows came without chrome (i.e., the Cal look). Mrs.
Owens didn't believe in spending any money on things that
weren't necessary and this little stripped Beetle typified her
After the mechanicals were finished, we tackled the body. The
weather stripping had gotten old and was cracked so it all came out
. Actually, everything came off the body for paint. Here's
what she looked like when she rolled into the body shop:
|And at that point
we found the only major rust in the body: the bottom of the
spare tire well. So, we removed each spot weld, installed a new
panel just like it was done at the factory, even smearing the
seam sealer the same way as on the other panels, and we'll
repaint the entire trunk area.
we got deeper into the body restoration, we pulled the running
boards and fender welting. They'll be replaced with NOS
PHOTO PHOTO PHOTO
Finally, she was in primer. All the body seams were resealed, the
doors removed and everything taped off so the jambs and undersides of
trunk and hood lids could also be repainted. While they're block
sanding the little car, they're identifying and correcting every little
parking lot ding or dent that becomes apparent.
Mrs. Owens was involved in one minor accident with the little car.
I remember she called me while the car was in the body shop complaining
that they were installing a used fender. She wanted a new
one. I explained to her that a good used, original fender was
probably better than an aftermarket one. And at the same time, I
called the body shop and made a deal with them to repaint the entire car
- only that they should tell Mrs. Owens that the complete paint job was
because she wasn't satisfied with the used fender.
Probably the best thing that happened to the little car was that extra
paint, even though we're having to replace things such as the antenna
blanking plug because they painted right over it and it should be
black. But, the extra paint protected the little car from all
those country gravel roads and excursions out across her fields.
Here's what the little car looked like when they were bock sanding her:
The main thing several of Mrs. Owens' grandchildren have lamented to me
during the restoration process is that they hope the little car retains
"grandma's smell"! Well, luckily, the only thing in the
interior that we'll have to replace is the headliner which is stained
from water seepage around the bad weather stripping and the back seat
bottom which has a small tear (probably from a bale of hay, farm
implement, sack of feed, or who knows what while Mrs. Owens used the
little car for what she bought it).
And then it was blue:
Now the assembly process begins. We've also sandblasted the bumper
brackets and painted them with glossy black paint. Plus, the gas tank is
back from the shop where it was boiled out, cleaned, and lined.
It's also painted black.
After seeing the new headlight trim rings, running boards and bumpers on
the car, I went to our local VW place and purchased new taillights and
front turn signal/park lights. The OE taillights were sun cracked
all across the tops of the lens and the chrome top of the OE front turn
signal/park lights just didn't want to clean up bright enough.
That meant I also had to replace all 7 pieces of OE stainless trim down
both sides of the car and the center of the trunk. All the old
parts will go in boxes to be kept with the car.
Tomorrow, we'll install all the new weather stripping, the black stripe
in the center of both bumpers and finish the assembly process minus the
windshield, rear window, and side quarter windows. Those go in
after the new headliner is installed. And I also purchased a new
gas tank/dash wiring cover for the trunk
She's almost finished! Only a few items to install, pour some gas
in the redone tank and take her to the upholstery shop.
$2387 later we rolled her out into the sun. Absolutely
beautiful. She looks just like a new car.
Now its to the upholstery shop for our friend Norm
Kimmerzell to work his magic. He'll start by replacing the
headliner and installing the windshield, rear window and side quarter
windows along with new weather stripping.