I bought this car when I was young and stupid. Growing up, my parents had Beetles so I always wanted one of my own.
Unfortunately, living in a salt belt, good Beetles were hard to come by. This one was already 16 years old when I bought it. Perhaps that's nothing for a California Beetle, but anyone living in a salt belt knows what I'm talking about.
This car had a pretty paint job when I bought it. Having virtually no car knowledge, a cursory walk around, look underneath and a timid spin in a parking lot (it wasn't even licensed at the time) was enough for me to fork over a seemingly inexpensive $900.
Shortly after getting the car, I joined a VW club and was quickly introduced to "How to Turn a Wrench 101". A club is a great way to learn, especially for a newbie. I definitely recommend it.
When the engine started giving up the ghost, I went pretty heavy on upgrades. I had the engine rebuilt (by someone I'd met in the club). I got a few chrome goodies like engine tin, rear firewall, a degree crankshaft pulley and a generator pulley. I kept the stock 1600cc displacement, but upgraded to an Engle cam, 041 heads, 009 distributor, Dual Baby Dell (34 mm) carbs, a new oil pump with screw on oil filter, a deep sump, a heavy duty clutch/pressure plate and a Single Quiet Pack muffler. Volkswageners out there will be familiar with these after market items. I spent about $3000 on the engine - a lot for a young university student!
In hindsight, there are a few recommendations I have for anyone thinking of souping up their air-cooled VW. First of all, skip the chrome tin. It dissipates heat less - something incredibly important, especially on those hot summer days. Keep the stock black. Also, forget about the chrome generator (alternator) pulley. Mine got chewed up at highway speed and I had to pull over. No extra one = a tow. Thank god for CAA/AAA. Keep your stock German one. Chrome it if you want it looking pretty.
The Baby Dell carbs were nice. Synching them every now and again was necessary, but I found power was increased at least 10-15%, not to mention fuel economy also increased by about 10%. You actually tromp less on the gas pedal than stock, so fuel economy improves. The only main beef I had with these carbs was that because they sat so low, and over the cylinder heads, they made changing spark plugs #1 and #3 gosh, darned hard! You pretty much had to remove the carbs to change those plugs - what a pain! If you're looking at dual carbs, I've heard good things about dual Kadrons, though I've had no personal experience with them.
The 009 distributor is a popular upgrade when getting new carbs. There is no vacuum advance for most aftermarket carbs, so a mechanical advance distributor is a common solution. And because there's more power in aftermarket carbs, you shouldn't have a "flat spot" problem as you would have when running a 009/stock carb combo. A degree pulley is also a good idea with aftermarket carbs, as you can check total advance, something you don't usually worry about when running bone stock.
My new oil pump was pretty crappy. It dripped oil pretty much from day one. The stock one is fine, just be diligent with oil changes. Don't forget to clean the screen! If you upgrade to (or have a Bus/Beetle with) hydraulic lifters, then go for an oil pump with screw-on filter. That's what the last of the Mexican Beetles came with.
Forget the deep sump. Mine was cheap and also leaked shortly after getting it. It just added an extra 1 to 1.5 litres of oil to the sump. Unless you're doing heavy cornering, your Beetle shouldn't run out of oil if you check the dipstick often. Check it often is right; it's only a mere 2.5 L (half as much as many cars). A healthy Beetle engine burns almost no oil between oil changes (and hopefully doesn't leak any either, LOL!). Most people think a deep sump improves oil cooling, but I've read that it doesn't change it one way or the other. Air and air only cools a Beetle engine. And as long as all the cooling systems components are intact, your Beetle will run and cool fine.
Also, forget the heavy duty clutch. Just makes for a hard clutch pedal to push in. Lowers you car's drivability, so unless you plan on doing heavy duty racing, I'd say skip it. A good German Sachs clutch kit is fine.
If you want the most el cheapo way to get more power bang for your buck on your Beetle engine, then get yourself an aftermarket header exhaust. It is much more free flowing than stock. You'll be looking at about 10-15% power increase with that change alone!! There are a number of muffler setups with headers. The Quiet Pack, I kind of like, since it's not overly loud, but gives a cool sounding rumbling purr.
The engine had copious amounts of power when it was freshly rebuilt (probably damn near double stock output), but that quickly died down. I think the engine was probably built with too high a compression ratio. It ran significantly hotter than a stock engine. And in as little as 15 000 km after rebuild (that's right, not very much), the cylinder compressions were about 120, 120, 80 and 120 psi. Yup, real low in cylinder #3. All you Volksies out there know that the cylinder #3 runs a little hotter. Still, a VW engine is rated at about 150 000 km, maybe more, if looked after. I was diligent about oil changes, so I held up my side of the bargain. Needless to say, I had a beef with the guy who rebuilt my engine, but as they say, no guarantee on performance parts!
I did a few cosmetic upgrades. I got chrome running boards. I also sanded and painted the stock rims black. Then I bought some inexpensive chrome rings and centre caps to complement the black. I replaced the torn front seats with 2 Ford seats from a junk yard. Just used the original VW runners so they could run in the seat track. I also got an AM/FM cassette player (no mp3 in early 90s!) and installed 2 speakers behind the back seat area as well as 2 door speakers. A nice, rich sound! I bought some inexpensive black carpet material and recarpeted the inside door and inside rear quarter panels. By this time, I admit the car looked pretty sharp. (Just wasn't so sharp internally, LOL!)
Now for the body. Where to start? As I said in the intro, this car was a bondo-mobile. I remember the time I pushed the clutch in only to have the driver's seat move back on me-- yes, break off the floor and move back. I could see the ground below, through the big hole in the floor!! I learned how to use a grinder, and cut out the old floors. A buddy from the VW club also cut out the heater channels and welded in new heater channels and welded (and bolted) in new floor panels. This same friend also joked how there were "cars in the junk yard in better shape than my car". Not a very flattering opinion, considering this guy did VW restos for a living.
By this time, I was getting pretty tired of constantly fighting rust problems. Even the front and rear bumper areas were not good, so before getting too carried away, I decided to sell the car. I drove it for 3 summers (no winters!) and wound up selling it for about a third to a half of what I put into it. Not counting my blood, sweat and tears!
I don't want to sound too negative, because this car sure was a learning experience. I made a lot of friends, some I whom I still keep in contact with today. Also, still wanting a Beetle, by this time I knew EXACTLY what to look for when buying/taking care of another one!