In the beginning… (Fall 2018)

I’ve been fixing things since I was 7 years old, starting with the family lawnmower. It wasn’t really broken, but I was curious as to what was inside. Dad had a few tools laying around, so I proceeded to remove a few bolts and nuts. After the top cover came off, there was another world of marvelous parts to explore. Have you ever gone to an open house, you know a house for sale where you can walk in and look around? Were you satisfied just to look at it from the curb, or maybe just step in the foyer and say “That’s the house for me!” I don’t think so. Human nature being what it is, we are all curious to some degree on differing subjects. You would probably want to search out every room, discover every closet, hallway, staircase and even peer into the kitchen cupboards. Only after you get serious about ownership would you perhaps inspect the plumbing like flushing the toilet, running the sinks, and flicking on all the lights. But this open house is just to get acquainted, to get a feel for the house. Well removing that top cover was like standing in the foyer of a great big house. There was so much to explore, so many passages and hallways. I just had to keep going. After a couple of hours, spent mostly searching for more tools, I had a great pile of parts not so neatly laid out all over the back-porch step and lawn. I was just fascinated as I spun the flywheel and watched the piston move smoothly up and down in the cylinder bore. I’ve never seen a piston before, but I figured that this just had to be it! As the mesmerizing spell of the moving internal parts began to wane, I noticed what I thought must be the valves moving in concert with the piston, each opening and closing just before the other began its ballet step, in three part harmony. My, this was fascinating! Piston down- valve open, piston up- valve closes. I’m not too sure just how long I sat pondering this great marvel of the modern world, but my blissful trance was broken with my mother’s shriek “Tommy Piippo, I don’t know what you’ve done, but you had better put that thing back together before your father gets home”. In 1964 America, the threat of father finding out you did something bad had all the weight of a nuclear explosion along with the extended fallout. If I didn’t get this right, there was going to be heavy consequences. I was sure that I would be expected to fund a new Montgomery Ward’s lawnmower. I started driving when I was 14 years old. Bob Hogle sold me a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle for $50.00. This car had a bad engine, so the thought was that I could work on this car for a year or two, and it would be ready by the time I got my license. Funny, the car was only 5 years old at the time, but we had all considered it an old car. Maybe it was because the Beetle did not change its appearance very dramatically year to year, maybe because the door sills were already rusted off, or most probably because it needed engine work. Anyway, gathering father’s lawnmower tools I set to the task of discovering the internal workings of a four-cylinder engine. Father’s tools were laid out according to size so that they would be easier to identify when I needed one. 3/8”, 7/16”, ½”, 9/16”, etc. Hmmm, the wrenches were not quite fitting. Some were too loose, others too tight, they would almost fit, but not quite. It was at this time that I made my first real tool purchase. I had been watching the Co-op store, and they finally got some metric sockets, so I purchased their finest 3/8 drive, 6 point, shallow, chrome S&K lifetime warranty sockets. The choice was easy, this was the only metric socket set they had. I had the pleasant opportunity to work on this project in Uncle George’s garage. Yes, no more back yard repairs for me, now I have a real garage with a cement floor, a roof, workbenches and lights! I felt like this was the big leagues. I think I still have the booklet that I used for a reference, for this engine repair job. It gave some generalities about Volkswagen engines, but certainly NOT a service manual to be used for engine overhaul. You don’t know what you don’t know, so I plowed ahead. With pamphlet in hand and a J.C. Whitney auto parts mail order catalog I proceeded to remove the engine and scatter all those marvelous internal pieces all over the garage. After scrutinizing and cataloging all the engine parts, I made a list of the needed items to resurrect the old 1200cc VW engine. These parts included a 1500cc “Big Bore” kit for MORE POWER! I gave mom the cash needed, and she wrote a check for the mail order parts. (This was WAY before Amazon!) I put a stamp on the envelope and put it in the mailbox and raised the little red metal flag on the side. I forget if it was Donner Dowd Sr., or Harold Fuerstnau that I watched take the mail that day, but the anticipation was so thick that I swear you could see it in the air. Two weeks later the parts arrived. As expected, the reassembly was much more critical than taking the darn greasy thing apart. First there was all the cleaning of the reused parts. Then there was the fitting of the new parts. Why, oh why did I get 6 oil pump gaskets, all different thicknesses? Well, just to be safe, lets use them all! With All the parts assembled in the engine block, with liberal amounts of Permatex Gasket sealer (I didn’t want any leaks) we carefully reinstalled the freshly rebuilt (by a 14 year old mechanic) engine and tried to fired it up. It didn’t bark to life right away, there was much fiddling and adjusting for a day or two. Then there was some disassembling and reassembling of some parts. Then there was some “towing it down the road and popping the clutch” but that didn’t produce any noise and smoke from the engine either. When we finally realized that the distributor can be installed two different ways, and maybe, just maybe we had installed it incorrectly. We installed it the other way just to rule out the possibility that we were wrong. I am using the pronoun “we” because I did not embark on this endeavor alone. I had enlisted the help of others. I knew that I lacked the instinctive male knowledge of the intimate workings of this 1965 VW engine. I knew that I needed help, so I confided in my 12 year old cousins, Porky and Mike John. They, along with the knowledge siphoned from their fathers, Uncle Mike and Uncle George, could supplement the needed knowledge to bring this project to fruition. My own father did not help because he had faith in me. Not that he thought that I could complete this project successfully on the first attempt, but because he knew that I had SISU; the drive to see success in whatever I did. And success I achieved! The engine fired to life with the distributor adjusted to the “wrong” position. With a slight timing adjustment and a few turns of the screw on the carburetor, we were soon motoring this 1965 VW Beetle down the backroads of Rudyard! The only parts lacking were a license plate and a driver’s license. Those minor details didn’t bother me, I was driving MY car! There is nothing like the rush of driving your own car when you are 14 years old in Rudyard. YEE-HAW! My enthusiasm was short lived, however. Among those 6 oil pump gaskets, there was only one that belonged in my engine. Years later I found out that those are selective fit gaskets. You must take a measurement and then select the proper sized gasket to make it all work. If you use one too thick (or all of them at once) and you get NO oil pressure. No oil pressure means NO lubrication for the internal engine parts. No lubrication puts me back to square one with a $50.00 Volkswagen with a bad engine… And to think that 7 years prior, father had NO clue (Or had mother told him?) that I had taken apart his lawnmower and reassembled it with very few ‘leftover’ parts. It must not have needed them anyway. PS: I borrowed and used that lawnmower after I got married!

Written by tompiippo

Why Choose Tri-County Motors?

  • 3 Time Winner of the ASE Technician of the Year
  • 24 months/24,000 Mile Warranty on Repairs!
  • Diesel Pick Up Specialists
  • Your Dealership Alternative
  • And so much more!
  • Factory Trained Technicians