I have neglected most of our personal project cars due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of sufficient funds. As most of you, our dear readers, can recall, I got this 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle 1303 S from the late Ildefonso “Fons” Caluag in June 2019 as a gift or token of appreciation for helping restore his beloved cream 1973 VW Beetle 1300 S. After taking this green VW home and parking it inside the garage at our ancestral home in Sampaloc, Manila, I worked on it as our time and meager budget would allow. I had the electrical system checked in January 2020 and on my drive home from the auto electrical shop, I found that this Super Beetle stalls after a few kilometers. I guessed that the stalling was caused either by fuel vapor lock or a faulty ignition system because it fires up again after it cools down.
During the Enhance Community Quarantine (ECQ) and Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) months, I seldom get to visit the Super Beetle and our other “mothballed” project car, the 1986 Mercedes-Benz 500SE, to avoid catching or spreading the dreaded coronavirus, especially since my 80-year-old mother lives in our ancestral home. I wouldn’t want her to get sick just because I was an unwitting asymptomatic carrier. I just reasoned that work on the Bug can wait. While in quarantine, I was able to order a brand-new complete EMPI distributor, a fuel filter, and a pair of black window cranks thru an online seller and found a Beetle book from store that specializes in a used books. I was also given a brand-new INCOE 2SMF maintenance-free car battery, courtesy of Brian Kaw, who markets the INCOE and Amaron automotive batteries. Thank God for generous sponsors to get our project Super Beetle started, pun intended.
Starting All Over Again
Finally, in the middle of November, I finally got the resolve to get the project going. To make sure that Super Beetle will start, I removed the Control Plus car battery that I “borrowed” from our Mercedes-Benz project car and installed the brand-new INCOE maintenance-free battery. I made sure that the battery terminals were clean and securely tightened to ensure the continuous flow of electricity. I also made sure that the battery terminals do not come in contact with the steel springs of the rear seat by placing a rubber cover over the new battery. One of our car-savvy friends, Norbie Sison, asked why I didn’t order a car battery with side terminals, which could have been safer and more practical for the Beetle. I just said that I forgot about batteries with side posts at the time. Whew…
After making sure that the battery is fitted properly, I went to the back of the car to work on the engine. I was surprised to find a lot of dust and spider webs in and around the engine bay. I saw first hand what happens to a car that has been neglected for several months, which in our case was around 10 months. I shudder to think what I will find when I work on our other project cars. Because I only brought tools and not the stuff to clean the car, I just dusted the engine bay a bit, removed the webs, and skipped the thorough cleaning of the engine to focus on making it start and run first.
It’s Alive! (Again)
I cranked up the engine with the old distributor and coil unplugged just to get the oil circulating around the engine before I fire it up. After a few energetic whirls with the starter courtesy of the new INCOE car battery, I buckled down to work. I loosened the 10mm bolt that secures the distributor and then reached behind to remove the 13mm bolt that holds the distributor hold-down bracket. I pulled out the old distributor, which I found to have a lot of “play” in its rotation probably because of its age. Compared to the new distributor, the old one feels loose and wobbly when I turned it by hand.
With the old distributor out, I took a 21mm wrench and turned the engine by rotating the alternator pulley slowly. When the indentations on the crank pulley line up with the markers on the alternator stand of the engine block, it means that the piston in cylinder number 1 is at top dead center (TDC). I installed the new EMPI distributor while ensuring that its O-ring oil seal sits flush with the cavity and that the ignition rotor is pointing to the point on the distributor cap that leads to cylinder number 1. Just to make sure, I traced the spark plug wires from the distributor to each cylinder and made sure that the wires correspond to the firing order, which is 1-4-3-2. After the wires are reattached, I fitted a test light to the coil and the distributor to perform a static timing test. With the cylinder number 1 at TDC, I rotated the distributor slowly until the test light glows to indicate that the timing is spot on. After everything is buttoned up, the engine fired up on the first try, but it won’t idle.
Moving To Our Home Garage
Since it was getting late, I decided to stop working with the satisfaction that the green Bug now starts. I speculated that the engine won’t idle probably because I just need to adjust the idling screw in the carburetor or the idling circuit might be blocked because of the gunk that accumulated in the carb when the car was left idle for some time during quarantine. Whatever it was, I was sure that I can fix it once we get the car to our home garage in Project 8, Quezon City. Besides, driving between Sampaloc and Project 8 became a nightmare when the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) closed some U-turns along EDSA to make those bus lanes in the middle of the highway. So, one late Sunday evening in late November, when the traffic was very light, I decided to drive the Super Beetle home.
I was surprised that it started immediately and idled smoothly as if it wanted to go home with me. With my son Chevy in the passenger seat, I drove home ahead of my wife Shawie and daughter Vette, who were in our Suzuki Ciaz family car. The green Bug was running smooth even after we crossed EDSA but on a dark road a couple of kilometers from home, it sputtered to a stop. I opened the engine lid and looked around for a loose wire while Chevy lit the engine bay using the flashlight from his his mobile phone. The ignition coil felt hot so I guessed that it was the cause of the problem and tried to cool it down by wrapping it with a wet rag. After a while, I tried to start the car but I guess I had flooded the engine so I asked Chevy to start the car while I choked the carburetor with my right hand. Since there was no one else to hold the flashlight and I needed two hands to get the car started, I was working in the dark. When the engine was beginning to start, I accidentally got the middle finger of my right caught by fan belt. Ouch!
Waiting To Heal
Despite my injury, I managed to get the green Bug started. Like a true Boy Scout, my son Chevy had the presence of mind to apply some disinfectant alcohol to clean my wound before we drove off. After I drove the car into our garage, my wife, who was a registered nurse, cleaned the wound, took some photos of my finger and sent it our family doctor, Dr. Wilson Cua, who prescribed an anti-tetanus shot and a week-long dose of antibiotics. The morning after, I went out to look at the Beetle and found that the fan belt has sheared off, which may have been the cause of my injury. I also found some shreds of the fan belt on the engine tin. I’m just glad and thankful that it wasn’t my finger that got shredded.
Dr. Cua advised me to rest and not work on anything that might aggravate the wound on my swollen middle finger. I decided to take his advise and just take photos around the Beetle to plan the next phases of repairs that I have to undertake. Of course, my first priority is to replace the fan belt so the alternator and the cooling fan will be operational. Next, I would need to replace the ignition coil with a new one and check the fuel lines to fix the stalling when the engine gets warm. Then, I have to check the instrument panel because apparently, nothing works, not even the warning lights. I also found a few other problems that I’ll enumerate here in future reports. But for now, I’m just glad that this green Super Beetle 1303 S is home where I can work on it more easily. Thank God for small favors!