I intended to write about each step of reassembling my automobile: sealing up the patch panel, gluing the pan-to-body seal, lifting the body and making guides from old pan bolts, adjusting the torsion bar suspension of the front wheels. Of course, the rush of putting the body back on gave me enough momentum that stopping to write would have been inconceivable. I did take a few photos, though.
With the aforementioned tasks completed, I once again possessed an operational automobile. Turning the key started the engine. The clutch pedal moved the clutch plate properly. The accelerator controlled the flow of gas and air into the carburetor. That was all though. In the months of downtime while my car sat disassembled, I promised myself to completely repair all the things I’d taken apart – horn, door panels, light relays and whatever else needed fixing. After a 17 hour day in the garage, I took a dirty envelope and started scribbling a list on the back. When I had no more space to write, it dawned on me that I still had a long way to go. Some items on my list just needed a little effort. Installing carpet or door panels simply takes some time. But when I looked into troubleshooting the lighting relays, I nearly cried. I always assumed that car lights worked like house lights – flip a switch to open or close a circuit and turn the bulbs on or off. Instead, I discovered that lights require a combination of switches and relays. Further complicating the problem, switches and relays in wiring diagrams are little circles or squares with names like F1 or J6. Of course, actual components are identified solely by cryptic names like “Dot 552” or “211953235A.” Originally, 1966 Volkswagens had 6 volt electrical systems, but a previous owner converted my car to 12 volts. The voltage increase didn’t affect switches, but would have blown out any 6 Volt relays or bulbs. In the conversion, certain components were exchanged or omitted altogether. I had no idea what belonged under my dash and what didn’t. The last dimension of the electrical puzzle was naming convention. What I called a “headlight switch, ” my wiring diagram referred to as the “lighting switch” while other documents made reference to “flasher switch.” Oddly enough, flashers (turn signals) are run by the “headlamp flasher button” while a “flasher switch” operates headlights. What ever happened to naming components according to their functions?
Quite by accident, I stumbled upon a brilliant solution. Acquire another fastback.
Now modesty requires that I give credit for the solution to my younger brother, Dane. Dane had been out of town for ten days. Within thirty minutes of returning, he’d found a 1967 fastback for sale twenty-five miles away. After buying fastback parts from all over the west coast, I was flabbergasted to learn about a parts car just down the road. A ’67 was perfect, since that was the first year of 12 volt VWs – ensuring that all the relays would work in my car. We jumped in the car and a few wrong turns later, he and I exited my barely working red fastback to examine a yellow one. We found a saggy car with bad rust, big dents and a torn up interior. It had been sitting in a field for nearly a decade, I learned. It looked like it. No matter – the price was right and all electrical components were factory original and unmolested. There were other parts I needed, too, but I had no idea what they were.
A friend kindly trailered it home for me. Every car project is an adventure, and it didn’t take long for Dane and I to really start having fun. Being totally crazy, I put air in the tires while he splashed a few gallons of gas in the tank. By the time we reached the rear of the car – planning to dribble a little gas in the carburetors to help things along – we hear a splattering noise and the air smelled strongly of gasoline. The fuel line had broken in half just before reaching the engine. I dived under and snapped a pair of vise-grips on the line before the break. The trip to NAPA and back didn’t take long, and we replaced the fuel line. I poured gas in the carbs. Dane tried to start the car. After a few cranks, the engine would fire and promptly die. Eventually, my cup of gas was empty. What now? Try taking the vise grips off the fuel line… that might help. We had a good laugh and tried the engine once more. For all the years sitting in a field, the engine ran fine. Like a top, you might say. We took a joy ride.
Later, I made my own wiring diagram, detailing where each wire connected to the fusebox, headlight switch, wiper switch, steering column and all those pesky relays. Then I ripped out all electrical components and transplanted the treasure trove of electrical gear into my red car. This turned out to be a trial and error process – despite my meticulously-made diagrams. First I by-passed the key so that the electrical system fired up as soon as the battery was connected. Then the wiper switch died on me and I busted the spare switch from the yellow car. Headlights were a saga of their own. Originally, only my low beams worked. Some monkeying around enabled the high-beams, but the the low beams refused to come on. When I finally connected a little pinkish-tan wire to ground, the high/low beam switch worked. Then the lights died altogether. Enter Dane (Again!). While I dejectedly washed the grime from my hands, he went out and fiddled about. Then everything worked fine. He said he didn’t have to switch any wires or really do anything. Whatever he didn’t do, though, worked a miracle so far as I was concerned. Headlights, turn signals, wipers, brake lights, and reverse lights now work flawlessly. All the fixing broke one component, though. The engine no longer starts. I wonder, will fixing the engine disable something else? I’m beginning to think so.