View original topic: 1966 Off-Road Beetle Build
MontanaFritz66 Sat Oct 03, 2020 6:53 pm

First, a little backstory. I have a habit I picked up from my dad of occasionally perusing the internet, mainly craigslist, looking for cheap vehicles and interesting projects. I never pulled the trigger before but in May I found a 1966 VW beetle for $600 just an hour away from me (Emigrant MT), I offered him $450 and he accepted. I live in Montana and sometimes deals like this are few and far between. I have little experience working on cars and definitely no experience with beetles. I knew roughly what sort of things I was looking for in the beetle but I definitely missed a bunch too. If anyone sees this and by chance knows more about this particular beetle I’d love to know the history.

As you can see in the pictures the body is pretty beat. I knew right away that I wouldn’t be trying to rebuild a stock beetle but would instead be going towards the baja/off-road side of things. Odometer says 35,XXX miles so I imagine maybe 135k, 235k or more. Previous owner says he bought it from someone’s estate after they passed away, sometime around January/February 2020. Immediate things I was told or noticed;
• Driver side rear wheel has a leaking axle seal
• Passenger side rear has a different drum than the others (probably earlier model or van?)
• Has been converted to 12v but not sure to what extent
• Headlights work, no high beams, no brakes, no brake lights, no blinkers
• Previous owner had the tires and put them on but they aren’t ideal
• Previous owner drained the oil and gas and replaced them and the engine was running
• Drove it before purchasing, can shift through all gears
• Horn doesn’t work
• Wipers don’t work
• Flashers don’t work
• Has a radio, not original, not connected
• Heater channels are not connected
• Engine tin is not all in place
• Previous owner says one cylinder has bad pressure, not sure how bad (maybe zero?)
• Has truck bumper and has been used for towing
• Previous owner cut off 16’ ladder rack
• Beetle has many coats of paint, probably owned by a painter, originally sea blue
• Has gas-a-just rear suspension and welded angle iron “sway bars”
• Giant rear fender flares, possibly larger rear wheels once?
• Rust around battery tray
• Driver side tie-rod or bushing may need to be replaced
• Little rust inside, most of the body and pans intact
• Small cracks around the outside of the body and small hole in the roof
• There have been large holes cut into and welded up on the center channel
• Has all windows, passenger window doesn’t go up and down on it’s own
• Has a driver’s seat, not VW. No seat belts.
• No parking brake.

Upon further inspection I realized the cracks around the body are greater than originally thought. Driver side has cracks on the inside as well as in the rear wheel well which will need to be repaired. Also, there looks to be a crack from the driver side top door hinge to the hood. I don't have pictures but I may take some later.

Heater channels are not rusty beyond surface rust but the driver side is misshapen. After cleaning up the floor pans a bit more, I noticed both sides were bowed and bent in different ways. Most likely the beetle has been in at least one accident involving the driver side.

My first goal was to make the bug road worthy. To me this meant I would have to rebuild the brakes, install a parking brake, install seats and seat belts, replace lights, fix blinkers. After a little more research I went all in and got a front disc brake kit, new lines and new master cylinder, new shoes and cylinders for the rear, parking brake, LED head lights and tail lights. I also committed fully to the 12v system and replaced any old parts, like the blinker relay, with new 12v parts. I decided it would be easiest to redo the wiring entirely because there were a number of wires melted and no longer connected to anything.

I had stumbled across some pictures of the El Burro build and, after visiting the local salvage yard, decided I would adopt some Honda civic seats as well. I borrowed a welder and welded up some bars for the pans that I could bolt the seats to. I welded these bars to the pan because I want to be able to take it all apart some day down the road and really clean it up. I would do it now but I don’t have the space to disassemble, clean it up, and paint it.
With most of my parts in hand I took a week of vacation and really got into it. First I fabricated the stands for the seats and welded them to the pans. They aren’t perfect but they’re in and they’re comfortable and they still slide.
After the seats were installed, I moved on to the brakes. I replaced the front drums with discs and swapped the master cylinders. After the fronts were reassembled, I moved on to the back drum. The parking brake levers in the drums had been removed but they were in the parts box. One of the spacer plates between the shoes had been welded to work without the parking brake so I had to do some cutting. Once all the old parts were out my plan was to redo the seal kit on the driver side but I noticed the axle cover was worn and had been filled in with silicon caulking so I would need new parts and will return to this later. On the passenger side the drum is flat faced and the bolts are M14 while the rest are M12, I’ll be replacing that so they all match. I also noticed the passenger side axle splines were a little chewed up so I plan to replace that rear axle down the road. New cylinders, brake lines, shoes and parking brakes were installed and everything was reassembled.

This is the rear passenger side drum that's a different size than all the rest.

Front Discs

Rewiring the car was definitely a bigger project than I anticipated. I screwed up a few things here and there but eventually got everything working. I was pleasantly surprised when the horn worked, for a little while. I learned that there have to be load resistors across the circuit for the LED blinkers because LED’s on their own don’t create enough of a current draw. Before these were installed the blinkers turned on but would not flash. I’m still waiting on an emergency flasher switch and I haven’t re-installed the wiper motor or wipers yet.

This is the current state, evenly trimmed fenders with edge trim and no front bumper.

Theoretically the beetle is now road worthy. I have seats and belts and working brakes and lights and I have driven it around town once.
Next on my list was to test cylinder pressure and see if the number I had been given were correct. The previous owner told me that 3 of the cylinders had tested between 115 and 130psi and the other cylinder was 0. From reading “How to Keep Your VW Alive” I was under the impression that my cylinder pressure would only be over 100psi if the engine was new or in excellent condition or possibly rebuilt so I was hesitant of the information. However, I found that cylinders 1,2 and 4 all registered 105psi and cylinder 3 registered 5psi. I haven’t put oil in the cylinder to figure out if it’s leaking valves or bad rings but because the pressure is so low I figure I’ll have to rebuild the engine either way and that’s my new winter project!

As much as I’d love to modify the engine and increase the size and power, I am currently planning to leave it the way it is, as a 1300 engine.

Before I pull the engine I'm going to remove the front axle, clean it up, paint the axle, and the trailing arms, grease it all down and install new tie rods, all new seals and ball joints and new shock absorbers. Hope to be done with that by this time next week.

joemama Sat Oct 03, 2020 8:26 pm

Glad to see another bug saved. The holes cut in the center tunnel, where probably to repair a loose clutch tube. Its pretty common. Your 1300 motor will accept 1600 pistons and cylinders, and you will probably be hard pressed to find replacement 1300 ones. Cylinder 3 is known to run hotter than the others, because the oil cooler blocks some of the air going to it, typically resulting in a burnt exhaust valve. On a bug, the body is a structural part of the car, working in conjunction with the pan. Some of the cracks in the body are probably a result of having to handle heavier loads than normal.
Have fun with your project!

plotch Mon Oct 05, 2020 4:17 pm

Welcome to the mud hole. It's cleaning up nice. Good luck.

MontanaFritz66 Mon Dec 07, 2020 8:58 pm

Sorry, I knew I wasn’t going to be good at keeping up with this when I started. Back in October I pulled the front axle assembly, cleaned everything up, re-greased the torsion leaves, pressed in new ball joints, replaced the tie rods, and the axle grease seals and installed coil over front shock absorbers. You will see in the pictures that it looks like some work has been done on the front axle beam already. I did a little more welding in hopes of mitigating the cracks that were forming. None of the cracks pointed to a critical failure in my opinion. I think, despite my poor welding, I did well enough to make it last a bit longer.







After reading a few more SAMBA posts I would bet that my coil-over shock absorbers will hit my trailing arms but they are real damn close to not hitting so I think I’m going to let it ride. I had some extra paint so I hit the rims with a wire brush and then the under coat as well.

A local garage pressed in new ball joints and I installed new tie rods. My next project is rebuilding the engine and once I finish the engine I plan to have the wheels, hopefully new ones, aligned and balanced. The very last touch was a new ¾” front sway bar and the front end was complete.

thesatelliteguy Mon Dec 07, 2020 10:33 pm

Wow you hit the ground running! Keep it up.

plotch Tue Dec 08, 2020 6:00 pm

Hope you saved the sway bar so that you can put it in the long tie rod.

Schrauber jan Tue Dec 08, 2020 8:04 pm

Do the Coil overs raise the front a little?
and how far do they raise it?

MontanaFritz66 Tue Dec 08, 2020 10:18 pm

First off, I want to say thank you for the helpful comments and encouragement thus far. I feel that I’m embarking on one of the more challenging parts of the journey now(the engine) and I would appreciate any feedback.

Empty Engine Bay

At the end of October I removed the engine and moved the car to storage for the winter. I didn't want to get in trouble for keeping a dead vehicle parked on the road for 6 months. I eventually drained all of the oil and started removing all the extraneous parts, like heater boxes and fan shroud etc.

Found out I have a 12v 130 tooth flywheel

Top of the long block

No Cylinders or Heads

All the cylinders and heads, pushrods etc.

Left Heads

Right Heads

Left Pistons

Right Pistons

Left side of the case

Split case with crank and cam

One half cleaned case (Right)

As you can tell from the pictures there was a lot of dirt and oil build up around parts of the cylinders. A number of the cooling fins on the cylinders and heads are bent or broken. As I said before cylinder 3 had 5 psi. After removing the heads there seems to be a lot of leaking on the left side, cylinders 3 and 4. It also looks like a valve in cylinder 3 and a valve in cylinder 1 may be bad, based on the discoloration.

Upon further inspection I found that my Pistons and cylinders are larger than the stock 1300 I thought I may have had. Realizing that things have been rebuilt leads me to question exactly what parts are stock and what else may have been changed. I'd like to assume that the crank and cam are stock. I believe I've still got a 69mm stroke. I am curious if anyone has a good way to figure out if my parts are stock or exactly what they are.

I tried to circle all the cracks in the head

I tried to lighten the picture to make it easier to see but if you look closely you can see cracks between the exhaust and intake on the head for cylinders 3 and 4 and you can see the massive crack in the fin at the top of the head. Between the damage to the cylinders, although only external, and the damage to the left head, I'm planning to replace all the cylinders and both heads. The reason I want to replace the heads is because I want to be certain that both of my heads match, and given the opportunity I'd rather get dual ports and 40/35.5's.

As I've been cleaning up engine parts I've found that the majority of parts are in good shape. If they fit with my master plan I'd love to reuse them. I’m mostly thinking that I shouldn’t have to change my crank shaft or my piston rods. If I can use the same cam, rockers and rocker arms, and push rods I’d love to do that too.

My plan is to purchase dual port 40/35.5 heads for 90.5/92 (56cc) and get “machine-in” 88mm cylinders and pistons. As I understand these will fit the case and should also fit a head 90.5/92mm. I'd be looking at .05" deck height. Puts me roughly around 7.5 compression ratio on the 1679cc engine. I’d like to put on 34ICT Dual Webers I figured I’d take the opportunity to change the fan shroud to a doghouse model so I can also replace the oil cooler with the larger more efficient one that isn’t blocking the 3rd cylinder. I would also like to install a full flow oil filter and I was leaning towards the simple over the pump. I plan to install thermocouples by the spark plugs for each cylinder to monitor head temps. I’d also like to do an oil temp and a tachometer. I'm looking at a engle W110 cam designed for 1.1 or 1.25 rockers (it's specs are .392" Cam Lift, .430" Valve Lift (1.1 Rockers), 284 degrees of advertised duration, and 247 degrees of duration at .050", on a 108 Lobe Center). I would replace the existing rockers with 1.1's. I intend to fully install all of the engine tin, because it wasn’t installed when I bought the car, and I’d like to re-connect the heater boxes so I can kinda have heat in the winter. I may wait to do the heater boxes until next fall, after I recoup some of this money. I'm open to suggestions. I want to do this right. I'm not made of money but I'm willing to put it in the right places.

Am I on the right track? Do I have to replace my lifters and should I do hydraulic lifters? Do I need to resize my push-rods, maybe new ones?

I appreciate your time and assistance.

MontanaFritz66 Tue Dec 08, 2020 10:21 pm

plotch wrote: Hope you saved the sway bar so that you can put it in the long tie rod.

Is that a thing? I did not as I was unaware, I also doubt it would have fit nicely because it was pretty bent, although that doesn't really show in the pictures.

MontanaFritz66 Tue Dec 08, 2020 10:26 pm

Schrauber jan wrote: Do the Coil overs raise the front a little?
and how far do they raise it?

I don't think the coil overs raise anything, although there is an adjustment on them, so possibly? I don't have an adjustable axle assembly so anything would be very small. If it looks raised at all it's probably because my tires aren't meant for these rims, my fenders have been trimmed, or the car may have still been on stands...

DHale_510 Wed Dec 09, 2020 2:08 pm

The large front sway bar is likely a poor add. Most find the lighter Baja front end to require no front bar at all, especially off road. It will not steer with one wheel in the air all the time.
The stock sway bar is just the right diameter to reinforce the tie rods and is a common use to it. It must be cut to the right length then inserted into the tie rod.
The head cracks are extreme and show some serious overheating. Single ports are pretty much obsolete anyway. This may be where your compression was going. The pistons may still be good. Clean them up and see how they fit in the barrels. They ought to have their diameters stamped into the tops under all that carbon. Honed barrels and new rings may be all you need, but look for distortion in those barrels since the heads were so overheated...
Be sure those little deflectors under the barrels are in there. Maybe it was overheated running without a fan belt, but maybe the shrouding or even ignition was the culprit.
Replace the oil cooler and make sure the shrouding is in place and tight. If you still have the little flaps and thermostat these will greatly help the heaters, so clean and use them. They are not in your pictures. They fit in those little oval holes on the back of the shroud and do not restrict the air flow when they are open. They may even help direct the flow to the good. Look for them on your new doghouse shroud.
The heater type exhaust system is different than a no heater one. Buy once and buy right. You want a good skid plate under the heater boxes, one that does NOT rest on any engine parts but mounts to the bumper.
The over the pump filter is very vulnerable off road and is not used much in this application. The "full flow" system that plugs the pump outlet then returns the oil into the tapped galley just above the pump really is cheap and easy now that you are all torn down, then you can mount a filter out of harm's way. The common Ford style filter is easy to find, the little one is less so.
The W110 cam remains a favorite. Hydraulic lifters don't fit and generally are troublesome, especially where dirt and dust are an issue. Hilift rockers may not be a good value here, but solid shafts definitely are a good idea. Those old wave washers really were trouble 50 years ago and have not aged well. You may shim the rocker mounts instead of shortening push rods in this type build.

joemama Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:49 pm

You mention that you would like to get 1.1:1 rockers, the stock rockers are 1.1:1, so solid shafts is all youll need. The filter/pump might be vulnerable off road, but not if you add a skid plate. I have had one in my fiberglass buggy for over 15 years, and I would have used one on my class 11 style bug, except it wouldnt fit with the stock muffler I used. Unless you mount your remote filter inside the engine compartment, I dont see how it would be less vulnerable than a filter pump, and you have hoses to contend with. On my 11 bug, I built a shield to protect the filter. Just like the sway bar is a poor choice (sway bars try to transfer movement from one wheel to the other, and offroad, you want the wheels to move independently), Im afraid the coil over shocks are also a poor choice. All they are going to do is give you a rough ride, and keep your suspension from cycling. The front end of a bug is so light, that the stock air recommendation for front tires is 18 lbs, so you dont need what are basically overload springs. I dont know if you might be able to exchange, or sell those parts for something you need. Sorry to be a downer.

Matthew Sun Jan 03, 2021 11:58 am

Re: your engine. I recommend thoroughly cleaning and inspecting the crank case crankshaft and heads before you purchase anything. Have a reputable shop inspect the crankshaft and case before you move forward. Chances are that the case needs to be align bored and if it has already been done once or twice in the past, it may be too far gone to use again. Same with the crankshaft - has it been reground before? Is it out of spec?

I wouldn’t write off the heads just yet. Small cracks between the seats aren’t a big deal and generally don’t hurt anything. Clean them up really well first and see if they are candidates to be rebuilt.

The engine combo that you have mentioned is a mis-match and you won’t be happy with it especially for off road use. The 40 x 35.5 heads are too large for a mild 1679 and will result in poor low rpm performance and the 34 ict carburetors will limit top end power. You will end up with an engine that only pulls well from about 2500 or 3000 rpm up to about 5000 rpm.

If the single port heads are rebuildable you could still go 1679 and do a very mild port cleanup and a good 3 angle valve job and run a cam like the CB 2280 or Engle W90 if you get the compression set around 8.2 - 8.4:1. This little stump puller would run well with stock carb or the 34 Icts.

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