You have to chase the rust out of any project car when you have it completely taken apart. This Beetle is no exception.
When we first fixed up this Bug in 1996 we knew it already had some rough patches that were repaired at some point in the late 80's. Our initial intention with the car was to just fix it up and get it on the road. So because of that, and my lack of skills at the time, all I could do was cover up any really bad spots with some galvanized sheet metal, pop rivets, expansion foam, undercoating, and some amazing body filler work. I have to admin that I was impressed by the end result at the time but there was no way to was going to last forever. Fast forward 20+ years and here we are... finally fixing all those problem areas the way it should have been done the first time.
This time around I had no choice but to remove the rotten heater channels and all the rusty metal that they were connected to. Most of the heater channels on this Beetle were easily removed by hand. Anything that was still stuck to the body was quickly cut off using the air chisel. What a great tool. I would highly recommend one to anyone that is restoring a VW and needs to hack off a lot of rusty metal. It makes quick work of sheet metal and it handy for breaking apart spot welds.
My big plan was to do a much welding to my heater channels and cross member components as I could before installing them on the body. Since I was a little rusty, I decided to do a little practice welding on the rear cross members first. I am not running heat in this car so I wanted to fill in the holes where the heater boxes would enter the cabin under the rear seat. No worries... just trace out some ovals, cut to the exact size and weld into place. My welding wasn't perfect so I had to grind them flat. Thankfully this area of the car is very rarely seen.
Unlike my previous restoration (1973 Super Beetle) I decided to use the factory pan as a large jig. I bolted all the new metal to it before welding to test the fit. I figured this would ensure that all the pieces would be in the right position and once I was happy I could easily weld everything together. During the process I had to make a few alterations to the replacement components but everything fit pretty well. I cleaned up the metal in all the weld areas and got to work.
The front firewall gave me the most grief. The replacement panel isn't a 100% match for the original, and it requires you to reuse the original front body mount, and the sheetmetal on the front side of the firewall that curves down under the spare tire well. In addition, you need to make or purchase the reinforcement brackets. I picked up my pair of brackets from superbeetlsolutions.com and they were perfect! These brackets slide into each side of the firewall and are welded into place before it is welded to the body.
Once the firewall was completed and ready to go I welded it to the rest of my heater channels that were still attached in place to the pan. I made sure everything was snug and that I could pass the bolts through the Napolian hat and into the brackets on the firewall. Once welded to the heater channels I now had one large pre-fabricated assembly that could be moved into place. I just had one more thing to make care of. I flipped the entire heater channel assembly over so I could do all the welds on the bottom while standing right side up. Welding upside down is a real pain, this made things way easier and helped produce a much cleaner weld.
So with all that work done, I now have a pre-fabricated heater channel / cross member assembly that fits the original pan perfectly. The next step will be to prepare the rest of the body so I can move it into place and test the fit.
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