I Finally Have Access To a Shop! What Should I Fix On My Terrible Volkswagen?

All Photos Credit: Raphael Orlove

My knuckles are cut up. My back is sore. My fingernails are scrubbed. It’s been a while since I’ve wrenched on my car, and now I don’t want to stop.

The garage where I parked my 1974 Volkswagen Beetle closed at the end of July, leaving me scrambling to find a spot for it that wasn’t on the street. VWs are so, so, so easy to hotwire and I was really looking for anywhere.


What I ended up with was a total blessing. My buddy Bill Petrow rented me out a space in his shop Broken Motorsports across the Hudson in Union City, New Jersey.

(If you’ve followed my various automotive adventures over the years, I met Bill when I first started going to see the tarmac Empire State Performance rally, then when I started going seeing drifting at Club Loose, then we started doing rallies together all the way up until we made it up the Mount Washington Hill Climb even after flipping off the mountain.)


It’s a joy having a place to put my car at all, but the nice thing about being at Broken is that I have a place where I can actually wrench on my car.


The first thing I tackled was the terrible misfire, in which it was running on one cylinder at idle, maybe two or three under load. It took a while to figure out, but my distributor appears to be clocked to some degree. Cylinder one is where two should be, and everything is rotated around. Once I reset everything to how it is on my car, and not how it should be according to my book diagrams, the car ran right.


While I had the time, I re-mounted my rear suspension so it fits properly now, and I re-adjusted my handbrake, which had popped out of place.


Between being able to easily park the car, take bumps without worrying about blowing out my Bilsteins, and running on all four, it feels like a totally different car than I’d gotten used to. It’s hard for me to believe this is the car that seized up before leaving my home town all the way back in Davis, California. It’s hard to believe that this is the car that crossed the country, eventually, even after dropping a valve in Arkansas.


What I have left to do is replace the adjustment stars on my rear drums, replace the rear shoes in my drums while I’m there, and my handbrake cables altogether because they’re more than a little stretched out.

But. What else should I do?


Having access to a shop is an absolute gift, particularly for somebody who has never had it. My old Baja Bug either got little wrenching jobs done in its open-air parking space or at the rallycrosses or track days in which it broke down. My current Bug has mostly been fixed on the side of the road. This is my first time in a while to really get into things.

What do you think I should futz with?

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About the author

Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.