The BugShop: Project '57, pg 19

This page last modified- 11/3/01

A couple years ago, I bought a rusty '54 Beetle, that had been sitting in a field for 10 years, for almost nothing. It was rotted badly, but had some very cool parts on it. Among which were a massive 6 volt gas heater, working semaphores, the correct tiny taillights, decent batwing steering wheel and horn button, very shiny exterior door handles and something I had never seen before: an 80mph speedometer with a resettable trip odometer.

I dragged this car home, pretty certain I was going to part it out. After relaying the initial diagnosis of this car on my web page, one enthusiast begged me not to part it out and rather to sell it to him whole. He made me an offer I couldn't refuse, but before we closed the deal, I told him that I wanted to keep the speedometer and door handles and that I would give him the ones from my '57 (at that time I thought the shiny handles would fit my '57, I later found out that they would not). Several states away, he rented a trailer, drove up and picked up the car.

As I reached the conclusion of my '57 restoration, I turned my attention to this speedometer and thought I would spend some time cleaning it up. Something was loose inside and rattling around. I managed to slip the retaining ring off the front by carefully prying it with small screwdrivers. Once inside I found the rattle to be a bulb that had come loose from the socket (common) and unfortunately that the gear that drives both odometers off the main pinion was badly stripped.

I set about collecting some "for parts" speedometers and at the same time called a couple speedometer restoration businesses that were recommended to me and had experience with early VW speedometers. One wanted $160 to restore my speedo and told my that the law prohibited them from selling me any parts. Eventually, I persevered on my own, and got this thing working. This page covers some of the details of these efforts.

All Beetle Speedometers are date stamped on the back, with the month and year of manufacture. Interestingly, every speedometer I have ever seen has this date stamped by a metal punch in the back of the housing. But this resettable trip odometer one has the date inked on the back housing.

The housings are shown here after the mechs have been removed. A 1954 manufacture speedo housing is on the left, the resettable trip odometer one is on the right. The housings are upside down here, but notice the difference in the location of the high beam indicator light (6 o'clock position in this picture). On the "regular" speedo on the left, the light is near the center, on the face it is just above the needle pivot. 

Because the resettable speedo has the main odometer just above the needle pivot, the high beam light is placed at the very top of the numbered face. The date stamp on the speedos is always about at the 3 o'clock position if you are looking at the back of the unit with it upright. It is on the extruded, rear most part. You can see the inked stamp faintly on the resettable speedo here, it is just below the large oval hole. It is in a similar location on the other speedo, but you can't see it here. Often you will need to rub the area with a cloth or brush to see the hard stamped dates. The speedo on the left is 2/54 and the resettable one is marked 8/59.

Here you can see the faces, the pinion housings and the main housings of the speedos. You can see the high beam indicator on the one on the left, but the indicator on the face on the right can't be seen in this pic. It is just above the "40" numbers and is considerably smaller than the one on the unit on the left.

The red arrow points to one of the major differences in the pinion housing of the resettable unit. The odometer drive shaft comes out of the housing at a different location (higher up, as it drives the main odometer above the needle, not below). The arrow points to a tab that supports the end of the transfer shaft that connects the odometer drive shaft to the odometer mech. The trip odometer is actually driven by a direct link to the main odometer behind the face.

Also notice the highbeam light guides. In the housing on the left, it is that metal tube sticking up. But on the resettable unit, it is the beige rubber boot that you can see just above the pinion mech on that side laying on the bench.

Excuse my weak arrows (Microsoft "Paint" 4.0, no time for anything more elaborate)

At a the top right you can see the the light rubber boot used on the resettable speedo. Below that you see the main pinion housings and the pinion shafts w/magnets. The set on the left is from the normal '54 speedo. The arrow points to something interesting, a boss that is designed into the casting for the "upper" odometer drive shaft, even though it is not drilled out and used here. Was the trip ododmeter available in '54? Or was the upper drive used for other things as well? Notice the location of the "worm" drive on the pinion shaft below.

On the resettable unit, the upper arrow points to the exit location of the odometer drive shaft, the lower arrow points to the location of the "normal" drive shaft. In this housing the lower location is drilled completely, but is not used. Notice the "upper" drive shaft bore meshes above the pinion shaft as it it shown here, the lower shaft bore allows for the drive shaft to mesh below the pinion shaft.

Notice that the worm gear on the pinion shaft on the resettable unit is immediately behind the magnet. 

In this photo, you can see the other side of the pinion housings, as well as the odometer drive shafts themselves. Notice they are different lengths. The brass gears that you can (barely) see on their respective ends is the gear that stripped out. I was able to press a good gear off the short shaft from the "donor" speedo and press it back on the longer resettable speedo shaft. You can also see the two bores that are drilled into this side of the housings (even though only one is used on each). The shafts are inserted from this end (after the pinion shaft is in place) and the ends are plugged. In the normal speedo, the plug is a brass cylinder, knurled on the end that is inserted. On the resettable unit, the plug is steel ball that is tapped into the bore. 


Here is the completed speedo. You can see the odometer re-set knob and drilled glass. you turn it to "roll back" the numbers to zero. 

There is a funny story about the hubcap clips. I actually bought a set of them twice. Why? Because the restoration was taking so long, that I actually bought them once, then years later, bought them again forgetting that I already had them. In the end though, that may not have been a bad thing (read on). Good thing it wasn't something expensive like an engine that I bought twice...

The pics below show another "problem" that somehow I eased out of elegantly (luckily). I bought the rivet clips having no idea how they got pressed in (but I was sure I could do whatever it took). Then some years later, I read an article in Hot VWs about early rim resto, and saw this little tool that holds the rivet against the face so you can pound the backside flat. Of course when I went looking for the article recently to see if I could make the tool, it was the only issue out of about 12 years worth that I was missing (a kind participant at the aircooled newsgroup scanned it for me an sent it via e-mail). I made up the tool out of a cut off end of a watercooled VW CV axle and a piece of spring plate. Cutting the axle metal took a long time.

I tried out the tool a few days before I had to get the rims to the body shop for paint. My first attempt was successful, but the next 4 weren't. I just couldn't get the clip snug. So I apprehensively dropped the rims off at the body shop, knowing that it would have been best to install the clips first. And I had a bad feeling about pounding the rims with a hammer after they were painted.

Then I had this idea. Years ago, I bought an old antique arbor press at a yard sale for $15. It had been sitting under the workbench for a couple years, gathering dust, waiting for the perfect opportunity to serve its special purpose....

First of all, about removing the old clips (or the broken off bases of them). Drill them out from the back (you could drill from the front, just more likely you'll mar up the face of the rim). Just drill down about the thickness of the rim metal and use a punch to hammer them out.

Important: Don't use too big of a drill bit! Only the size of the rivet shank (about 3/16"), or even slightly smaller. Why? If you enlarge the hole in the rim at all, the rivet will not be able to "squash" out far enough to get a good grip. You do not want to remove any metal from the rim. I did this (at least I think I did, maybe someone else did before I got the rim) on one of my rims and the rivet will not hold the clip. 

These are the new hubcap clips and rivets. I know one set I bought I got at BFY many years ago, another set might have come from Wolfsburg West. The problem was that the clips needed to be bent a bit before they could be installed. They have to sit perfectly flat on the top of the tool and match the shape of the post or the clip won't be snug. One set I had, although it was thicker steel than the the other, was bendable with pliers. The other set was very brittle, any attempt at bending it and it would just snap right in two. I would strongly suggest you avoid these, ask when ordering. If they are that brittle, I'm sure a couple hubcap removal/installs and they would just crack right off.

I did end up having to use 5 of the brittle ones for one wheel (will be my spare), I was able to bend them by heating them with the torch first. 

This shows how the clip was bent to fit the post I made. I would guess that even if you had the "factory" tool, the clips would need to be bent a little. The clip on the left is the one I bent, the one on the right is original. I had to open up the bend near the hole a bit, and then squash the clip "V" a bit or else it would scrape on the rim face and scratch paint. One they are riveted on, you can bend them back if needed. 

Here is the arbor press (this thing weighs about 65 lbs!). You can see one of the carriage bolts that I had to use to bolt the back end down to the workbench. The 2 pieces of 2x4 screwed to the front of the bench support the other side of the rim.

This is how I modified the clip "tool". I had to cut it down considerably. The dish depth on the face is only about 1" (thanks Speedy Jim for the measurement). I had to cut the shaft off the old tool, and re-weld it to another piece of metal. It is held to the press table here by a couple tabs bolted to the press via threaded bores in the table.

I poked a hole in a piece of packing foam and placed it over the post to protect the newly painted rims. 

Here is a rim in the press. The 2x4s on the front are measured to insure the rim is level, you don't want to bend the face of the rim with the press. 

I still can't believe this picture came out; I literally shoved the camera under the rim while it was in the press and pushed the button.

The clip must seat perfectly on the top of the post or it won't be snug. You can see here the reason for the back-cut "notch" on the tool, and also why the new clips must be bent back a bit. The head of the rivet must sit perfectly flush with the clip and the clip flush on the rim face before pressing. 

How about valve stem installation? Think those guys at the tire shop have some kind of special, big dollar tool to install these? They do have a special tool, but it is very simple. Buy you can do it with a few simple things too.

You can buy new valve stems at your local auto parts store. You have to get the right rim hole size. These rims were all .625" holes, I bought 1.25" long stems. $1.69 for two (yeah, they get you for $3-$4 each at the tire shop). That "T" shaped tool is a simple valve stem removal tool you can get at the autoparts store too. This one has stem re-threaders on the sides. The fork is a ball joint removal fork attachment for my air impact hammer. A regular "pickle" fork would work or even a large crescent wrench I would imagine. And lastly that is piece if fuel line, slit lengthwise on one side. 

So here is how it is done.

Drop your new valve stems (caps on tightly) in a bucket of hot water a few minutes prior to doing this. The fuel hose protects the rim edge. Not seen here, but I put a piece of heavy tape along the white rim surface adjacent the valve stem to protect the new paint in case anything "slipped" while I was doing this. Pry the tool up, and "pop" the stem snaps into place. 

Here is a finished rim. New paint, new clips, new stem, ready for rubber. The outside edge is the body color of my car (L412, Diamond Green Metallic) the inside is L87 Pearl White. The paint is Spies-Hecker 2 stage urethane. I have made up 10 of these rims, 5 for "show" with Firestone 5.60x15 wide whitewalls, 4 for "everyday" use with a good blackwall radial 165R15 and one rim for a "spare". 

After I posted about this page addition on the aircooled newsgroup, somebody replied "Why don't you just weld the clips on?" Very good idea, but of course I am way to anal on this car to something that incorrect. But it gave me an idea about what to do with the one rim that had enlarged holes......

I could just MIG up the holes and re-drill them. But weld on newly painted rims? At first I thought I could just place wet rags between the welded part and the part of the rim that is visible when the hubcap is on. But once I turned the rim over, I saw a neat solution. Fill the inside of the rim with water. It created a "moat" to keep the heat isolated to the inner part of the rim.

Next problem was how to fill the hole from the top, but keep molten metal from dropping through and burning/sparking/bouncing up on the painted surface on the other side. I made a little "|_|" shaped copper piece by flattening some 1/2" copper pipe and bending it. Turn it upside down and it is a little "table" to set the hole over. MIG steel won't stick to copper. 

In the picture above, you can see the enlarged holes (as I said above, when you drill the old rivets out, don't use a bit any larger than the rivet, preferably a bit smaller). If you have a rim like this, you can fix up the holes. On the extreme left, you can see one nasty, odd shaped, large hole. The vice grips are clamped on a ground down rivet hole on the right to provide a ground for the MIG. I wasn't about to grind any fresh paint off for that. Near the top, you can see the little copper jig under a freshly welded hole. And you can see the water too. I got pretty damn warm by the time I was done. 
Here you can see the face of the rim after welding. The rim metal is thick, I had the welder set on it's highest setting. But you can see the heat didn't burn paint into the "visible" (after the hubcap is on) area. The black on the upper left weld is mostly soot. I just wiped off.