The BugShop: Project '57, pg 20

This page last modified- 11/3/01

Persistence triumphs.

This page may be the only page in this series with more text than pictures, but it covers some important tasks in finally getting this car on the road. Namely the daunting task of getting the front and rear windows.

Important Note:

Indeed, persistence does triumph {sorry for the red text, but it is needed to insure you don't skip over this part}.

All of the text below details the pain of having made a mistake at the start and never discovering it. I decided to leave it there to show you just how costly a bad decision can be. I contemplated taking it out and only covering the "right" way here, but I decided not to.

As described below, the rear window didn't quite go in well, and there were many problems with the front keeping the seal on the glass edge. Well there is a reason for that, and my intention with this page it to insure that no one who reads this page makes the same mistake that I did.

It all started at Norwalk CT show on June 4th, when I was talking to Erik Smestead who owns a show winning, magazine featured Coral Red '57, He asked me why my rear seal looked funny. I said they are supposed to be like that (no "lip" that rolls off of the seal edge on the outside and over the contour of the body, there is a crevice there). He said that was wrong, and that I should have gotten my seals from Wolfsburg West. I said I did, he and that HIS seals were wrong. He said, "oh yeah, go look at the other 6 ovals here..."

There was no denying it, something was wrong with the way my seals were installed.

The next day, I called Wolfsburg West, pretty certain that the outside "lip" was missing from my seals somehow. They asked me to send them some pics via e-mail and immediately sent me a new pair of seals and moldings.

Last week, I was looking closely at the new seals after I got them. How could I have "missed" even seeing the outside lip? But then I noticed that the inside lip (the one that gets pulled over the body flange from inside the car) was easy to miss and it tucked itself tight up against the seal. Then I wondered if I had installed the seal flipped over, glass in the molding channel (a rounded back channel, would explain why the seal kept "walking off" the glass edge) and molding in the glass channel.

So one Thursday night in July (2000), my friend Bill came over and we went about removing the seals and re-installing the windows. My biggest concern was getting the back window out. We had pounded it in with mallet!!!. Well it wasn't that bad, I sliced the lip off the inside with a fresh razor blade, pulled the molding out of the seal, and sliced the "face" off the seal from the outside. We pried the window right out. And it took us about 45 minutes to put it back in with the new seal, the right way. It slipped right in, fits flush, the molding looks beautiful.

We examined the old seal real closely to see if we could determine if it had been defective from the start. But it was difficult as we had to slice it up pretty bad to get it and the glass out. When we put this seal in, I had, in desperation, resorted to slicing thin strips of rubber off the outside edge of the seal to make it thinner and try to get it to sit down in the opening. Looking at the sliced up seal and comparing it to the new one the mistake was obvious. I had installed the seal upside down, with the glass in the molding channel and molding in the glass channel!!! And I may have sliced the whole inner lip off the thing trying to thin it down.

Then we went to the front to do the windshield.

Getting it out wasn't too hard. I cut the inner lip off, removed the molding and pushed gently. We put the new seal around, installed the molding after tweaking it a bit to match the window profile, put the twine in the lip, and K-Y Jellied the seal edge. Our first attempt failed quickly when the twine broke. So we went to a stronger, crushable "sailors" poly cord. We started across the bottom, around the corners at the bottom, up the sides, and across the top. This is where things got tough. The cord was REAL hard to pull. We sprayed some water from a spray bottle and got it pretty close. Only about 3" of seal was left to go between the ends of the cord just above the steering wheel. Bill sprayed some more water and pulled hard, wiggling the cord. I whacked my fist on the glass right above next to the part where the cord was left...

 ...and the windshield cracked.

Now the concern was getting the windshield out without tearing up the seal. We already had a bedspread across the hood. We taped a big towel over the front of the glass, used a glass cutter to etch vertical lines in the laminate. Then we virtually covered the inside of the glass with duct tape. I put on eye protectors, heavy, padded leather work gloves, and took out my frustration on the glass from the inside. Kind of therapeutic actually. We got the glass out, it stayed intact with the tape (would be my only template) and took the new seal and molding off.

The next morning before going to work, I took the taped remains of the windshield to the shop where I had it cut last fall. The guy recognized me and said "What the hell did you do, I thought you had it in the car!!!'" (remember he had fumbled with getting it in the car for a few days before giving up, with the seal on wrong). I explained and prepared to have to grovel and even offer him more money for a quick turnaround (he is notoriously busy and slow). I told him I had a show to go to on the 23rd, he said "how about early next week?". I said that would be great. He said he might even have it done TODAY.....

Barely 6 hours later he called me at work to tell me I could pick up my new windshield.

Bill came over at 8AM the next morning, and in about an hour and 10 minutes, we had the glass in. Some tense moments when we had all but about 8" of the seal lipped and the cord pulling got real tight (again, except this time no pounding with the fist). I placed an aluminum yard stick across the glass at that point and the glass was BOWED enough to raise one end of the yardstick over 1/8" off the glass. Yikes!!! but it popped in no problem, and looks nice.

So that is how windows are supposed to go in. Here is a summary of what I learned:

  • First of all, make sure that the seal is on RIGHT!!! The glass groove is deep, has a square bottom, but looks pinched up tight on a new seal loose, not on the glass.

  • The molding groove is little more open on a loose seal and may be easily mistaken for the glass groove!!!

  • Put the rubber on the glass, then the molding in the rubber, including clips to join the ends. Bend the molding very carefully, smooth, gentle bends.

  • Use K-Y Jelly, smear some on the outside of the seal and the the window opening prior to installing

  • Keep a spray bottle with clean water nearby, do not use soaps or silcone/oil sprays

  • Do not get K-Y or water on a felt headliner

  • Use a very strong cord that is smaller than 1/16" diameter. Twine breaks. Some folks have suggested string trimmer line, wire, or a very heavy fishing line. My glass guy uses poly cord like I did

  • The glass edge, especially where you "close the gap" on the seal lip pulling is under lots of stress, do not whack it with anything!!!

  • We started with the cord at the top, and finished a the bottom. 
  • Do not apply any pressure at the lower corners, the glass breaks very easily there. 

Now go on and read below how NOT to do it!!!! 

Before I got into this, I knew how windows were put into cars. In fact, I helped my brother years ago put a windshield in the í68 that I eventually bought from him. But once I got to the point where I was ready to put the two fixed windows in the '57; the rear window and the windshield, things got real tough. The text below highlights the efforts and what eventually got the job done, At the end are the lessons learned.

But first, about the early Beetle window rubber. There was molding that goes around the front and rear windows in most all Beetle, and the rear quarter windows too if they are the non-pop out kind. In the early Beetles, this molding (often incorrectly referred to a s "Chrome" molding) is made of polished aluminum. I got mine from Wolfsburg West, and it was very nice. The back piece is one piece, the front molding is two pieces. Where the ends of the moldings meet, there is a little overlapping section, or clip, that dresses up the joint.

The molding is inserted into a groove into the outside face of the seal before the seal is installed in the car (details below), and the front left and a right pieces are different. The molding is actually held in place by the pressure in the rubber seal once it is installed. The very early rubber seals don't have a lip on the outside/exterior edge, like the later seals. This gives the seal almost a peculiar look, as it does not blend in with the body lines well.

Many people buy "Cal Look" rubber to avoid having to deal with the molding. These rubber seals do not have the groove and do not employ the molding. Easier yes, but not an option in a correct restoration. The later moldings were made of a flexible plastic, with a shiny, chrome like coating embedded in them. They are much easier to install.
Below are the details of what ended up being six attempts to install the windows before I was successful. There is much to learn here for someone undertaking this task. 

The First Attempt

Easy right? Just get my new seals out, and get my good help-me-with-anything-thinks-VWS-are-neat friend Bill over and get the job done. First we spent about 30 minutes just getting the seal on the back window, then we spent about an hour and half trying to get the window in the car. First dry, then with judicious use of K-Y Jelly, being careful not to get the felt headliner wet. We never even got it close. If we got the bottom roped in, the top would be way out. If we got the left side in, the right would be out. After almost 2 hours, we gave up, and went on to a bigger window up front.

We spent a good 45 minutes just getting the seal around that window (needed about 4 pairs of hands). The glass was a new piece that I had bought many years ago form a guy selling a whole lot of Oval parts. It had a Brazilian stamp ("bug") in the corner and as we were using mineral spirits to clean the shipping tape adhesive from the edges I noticed fluid "creeping" into the window between the laminate. This windshield was made from 2 pieces of glass with a laminate between them. I thought it might just go away and we proceeded. After only about 15 minutes of pushing, I pressed on the lower corner of the glass and it cracked.

We hadn't put the molding in the seals, I thought it could go in after the window was in the car. And I never would have been happy with that crappy laminated glass in front, so I think these failures were divine intervention.

The Second Attempt

This plan was to get a new windshield, put the seal and the molding on it, and get my friend Tom to help. Tom had put a new windshield in my Cabriolet and while he did farm out a lot of glass work at his shop, he was more skilled at it than either Bill or I. I called the VW vendors on the west coast, and the story was all the same. New windshield is $50, crating is another $25 and shipping another $25; consider having a local glass shop cut you a new one.

I called a local glass shop, dropped off the cracked window to be used a template, and in week or so, I had a new windshield for $78. It was cut from 6mm flat stock, 1mm thicker than the stock glass. But neither the guy who cut it nor the folks at Wolfsburg West thought it should be any problem.

I got Tom to come over one night, and we spent no less than an hour and a half getting the seal and the molding in the glass. It was real easy to get the molding in the seal when it was off the glass, but real difficult to get the seal with the molding installed on the glass. Conversely, once the seal was on the glass, it was pretty difficult to get the molding in it. The biggest problem was that the seal would keep "creeping" back off the glass edge, especially along the bottom where the curve was upward toward the center of the glass.

Eventually, we got the seal and molding more or less on the glass. We tried to fit it up in the opening and after just 15 minutes, the whole seal practically fell off the window. We were going out to a local pub fir some dinner afterward, we were both hungry, so we gave up. We never touched the back window. Tom told me to "get a glass guy" and get the job done.

Third Attempt

I called the glass guy, Alan of "Alan's Glass" in Marlboro where I live. He told me how he had been in the business for 30 years doing residential and auto glass, and how he had done his share of Beetles. I told him about how hard the seal and the molding was, and he said (again), "I've done this for 30 years, I'm sure this is no problem."

He quoted me $75 for a "house call" to put both the front and rear glass in.

He came over about a week later, and we started to try to get the seal and molding on the windshield. We never even attempted to put it in the car. After about an hour of fooling with it Alan said that unless we got the seal to stay on the window, we would never have a chance of getting it in the car. I had tried spotting a little bit of the 3M "Super 90" adhesive in a few places, but it didn't seem to help much. Alan thought that he had some tape at his shop that he could use to tape the seal to the glass edge, front and back along the perimeter and it might hold the seal on. Then the window could be installed and the tape removed afterward. He took the glass, seals and moldings for the front and rear windows with him.

Fourth attempt

Almost 2 weeks later, Alan expressed frustration on the phone about not being able to get the seal on. He said he had spent 2 hours on it, and got nowhere. He said if I wanted him to continue trying, I would have to pay him for his time, regardless if he was successful or not. He made some subtle accusations about the rubber seal being "not original" and it "rolling over" unlike anything he had ever seen.

I had my wife stop buy and pick up everything, and I paid Alan nothing for the attempts.

Fifth Attempt

The interesting thing about all these trials and the time dragging on, is that it gives you time to analyze things to the nth degree. I had begun having concerns about the extra millimeter of thickness of the glass, and felt that it easily explained why the seal wouldn't stay on the glass edge. Try to shove a 6 mm wide squared edge to the back of a 5 mm wide, squared groove in a rubber seal, and things just aren't going to stay put when you let go. And unless the seal was very tightly stuck to that window edge, and approximating the exact dimensions of the opening in the body, it was not going in. Didn't make sense for the back window though, the glass was "stock".

I had come to the conclusion that the seal must be firmly glued to the glass, all the way around, if this even had a chance at working. I went to the auto parts store where I had found the 3M Super 90 spray adhesive and bought a tube of 3M Weather-strip adhesive; another wonder product that I had heard about. I devised a plan to spend an entire weekend if needed, to just glue the seals to the windows and get the moldings in. I would not even attempt to put them in the car unless the seals and moldings were perfect.

I measured the vertical opening in the body for the windshield, a shade over 13 inches. I measured the dimension of the glass at the same location, a shade over 12.25 inches. I measured the circumferential thickness of the seal, about .75 inches. Then I measure the depth of the glass groove, .3125 (5/16") inches. I did the math and came to the conclusion that the numbers worked out. The seal needed only about an eight (.125) of an inch of compression to fit, it sounded very reasonable.

I zip tied a metal punch to a "Sharpie" permanent marker, with the end of the punch extending well below the marker tip. Sliding the side of the punch along the window edge with the marker tip on the glass, I made a line all the way around the edge, about 7/16" in from the edge. This was to be a guideline to confirm for me that the seal was seated fully and uniformly all the way around. I wanted the line to be a bit farther from the edge of the glass than the groove in the seal was deep to insure I could clean the line off the window easily when I was done.

I "tested" the 3M weather-strip adhesive stuff first, by spreading some on the side of a glass jar and on some scrap rubber window seal. One piece I joined immediately, the next I waited maybe 2 minutes, the last I waited 10 minutes or more. The glue definitely "tacks up" nicely, but after 30 minutes, all 3 were very secure on the glass. The weather strip adhesive tube had a long and narrow snout, it was perfect for applying the cement to the back of the glass groove in the seal. Getting the cement uniformly along the edge of the glass was a little bit tricky, but a steady hand got it done. I knew I had to keep the glue just on the back of seal groove and the glass edge (not get any on the glass faces or the groove side), else the glue would "grab" when I tired to fit the seal and it would never properly seat. I let it tack up for a few minutes and placed the seal on the window, the seal adhered very well to the curves. I could see by the placement of the seal edge to the line I scribed with the marker that the seal was well seated all the way around. I did this with the back window and its seal too.

At this point I was curious as to how much this changed things and I fitted up the windows to the body with no moldings or cord. I was absolutely amazed. I felt like I could almost just push the windshield in place. The back window was almost the same. The fit seemed almost perfect, I was encouraged.

I wanted to leave the glass wedged into the body openings as I though it would help keep the seal in place while the glue set up fully. So went about putting the back window molding in the seal while it was in/on the car. It actually wasn't that hard. Alan from the glass shop had given me a couple "sticks" that he uses to fit glass. Plastic sticks with tapered ends, pointed just a bit. Nice because they won't mar paint of trim. I used them to peel the groove apart while I slipped the molding in.

I removed the windshield from the car to put the molding in its seal. The trickiest part is the hard corners at the bottom. I started fitting the molding in there, then worked out toward the ends, this seemed to work well. I did not put the joining clips in at this point.

In a rare instance, my wife came out in the garage and offered help (rare of her to offer to help with any "car" stuff, unprovoked) and I couldn't resist trying to get at least one window in. We made about 4 attempts at the back window, using talcum powder to make things slip a bit (easily cleaned off the headliner and makes the car smell "fresh" for a few days anyway). We got real close on the last one. I had pulled the cord out all the way around and the inner lip was over the flange all the way around, but the window just wouldn't "sit" in the opening. A lot of the seal was still outside. My encouraging feeling waned, and I started having doubts about the glass again.

The Sixth and Final Attempt

I had rallied my friend Bill again and got him to agree to come over again. I told him I had a new plan. A little past an hour after he said he was going to be there (this was the day I had spent 5+ hours at the DMV trying to register the car and got nowhere) and I was having doubts about him even showing up, he drove up. A cousin of his he hadn't seen for years unexpectedly passed through town and unannounced, gave him a call and asked him to go out for a quick dinner. "I don't remember the last time I had 3 beers in a row" he told me after he had been in the garage for a while. Not sure what the net effect, if any, this had on our efforts.

I had schemed some more interesting ideas to secure success by now. One was to heat the whole glass/seal/molding assembly in hot water prior to installation, to soften the rubber. I had a big plastic trash can I could fill with hot water. It would hold the back window, but it would only contain about half the windshield. So I made a 2 x 4 foot frame out of 2 by 6s, upright, lined the "bed" with 4 mil plastic sheeting, stapled the plastic across the top of the of the frame. I hadn't filled it with water yet when Bill arrived. I asked Bill what he thought. "What, you raising night crawlers?" We filled it with hot water (it didn't leak) and soaked the rear window, but in the end, I don't think it really did anything. We never put the windshield in it.

My other crazy idea was to cut a big piece of heavy plywood, just smaller that the exposed glass area of the windshield. Then screw a hinge on it and attach an 8 foot 2x4. Put the face of the plywood on the windshield, prop the other end of the 2 x 4 on the back of the garage {wall} and slowly drive the car forward. This method was never actually tested, it still remains just a theory. It was explored, in my mind, as a solution for the back window as well.

Our first few attempts at the back window were just like the last: if one side seats, the other doesn't. We were standing on the rear bumper bars (thank God I had an original bumper for the back) and pressing down on the window with all or weight. We smeared K-Y Jelly, but the thing just wouldn't set down in the opening. Finally I said, "that's it, the seal is too big, I'm shaving it down." I got fresh razor blade and Bill held the window upright on the table. I sliced thin strips off the edge all the way around, trying to keep the cutting uniform.

After a couple more attempts, we basically got the back window in. I think the only real trick was persistence, and maybe some grunting and swearing. Bill was inside pulling the cord, he got all but 4" or so of the cord pulled, and the lip was staying in place. We had overlapped the cord at one end (side) of the window and worked from there, a little on the bottom, a little on the top, until we were at the other end. Of course at the other end the whole deal was still popped out quite a bit. About 3/4" of seal was above the body line. We whacked and pounded with bare fists, but it didn't seem to do anything. That was when I partially employed my "8 foot 2 by 4" idea. I wedged one end of the 2 x 4 up under the compressor shelf in the garage that is high on the wall, and off center of the car. I got a block of 2 x 4 and put some thin foam padding on it and placed it on the end of the window that was still out too far. I dropped the end of the 2 x 4 on it and by pulling down hard on the 2 x 4 , forced it to act as a wedge and put immense pressure on the window (hope that makes sense, I didn't take any pics, I don't think I could even draw a simple diagram of that setup). I 'm still not sure what effect it had, other than to maybe keep the window end from popping out. Bill yanked out the rest of the cord, we pounded and pulled, then slowly released pressure on the window.

It stayed in place, and the lip inside looked perfect. But outside the car the seal stuck up about 1/2" above the body line, mostly on the ends. We pounded the window from the inside and outside hoping to "settle" it a little better, but it didn't seem to have any effect. I even whacked it with a mallet and block of wood (w/foam under it). What did settle the seal a bit was using a 2 x 8 inch piece of 1/4" plywood, on end. I placed the end on the outer part of the seal, outside of the aluminum molding and whacked it with a mallet at the other end. We sprayed soapy water around the seal first. This at least got this end of the seal to settle down in the body the same as the other side, but they still stuck up close to 1/2". I'll live with it for now.
It was about 10:30 and in my mind I questioned if we should even attempt the windshield. But Bill said nothing, so we pulled the wedged windshield out, pulled some carpet tape off the corners I had applied while the glue dried. I wiped down the outer edge of the seal with mineral spirits to remove the residual tape adhesive. We wrapped the cord around it, over lapping at the top center. I sprayed some soapy water around the seal, then around the body opening. We fit the window up, and Bill started pressing from the outside. It was impossible for him to press in the center evenly as access was only from one side or the other. But sitting inside, I was able with my left hand to hold the left end of the window in the opening while he worked from the right outside the car. With a squeak (window) and a grunt (Bill) the window seemed to pop completely into the opening. I could see that the inner lip was flush against the body flange all the way around. I started pulling the cord, a little left, a little right. I worked it across the top, then down the sides. I got to the lower corners and the bottom edge was still flush. I couldn't believe it was going that well! I rounded each of the two bottom corners and started the cords in toward each other at the center. It got real hard to pull the cord out across the bottom. I sprayed a bit more soapy water on the inside flange that was still exposed, and finished pulling the cord out. DONE! First try!

I couldn't believe it. It looked perfect. We attached the windshield wipers, adjusted them to the proper resting position. Then we fired up the engine and went for ride down the street. I hadn't tested out my modified headlights at night yet.

One shone nicely down on the road. The other way up in the trees.

What I learned

You need a good worktable. The trick is to make a table with a raised platform in the center. Something to set the glass on that keeps the edges up off the surface. I used a rolling computer table that adjusted to a nice standing work height. I laid a 2 foot section of 2 x 6 on it (flat) and then laid an old (but clean) bedspread over it. This allowed me to set the windshield on the covered 2 x 6, leaving the edges of the glass up off the table surface. If you don't do this, getting the seal on will be very difficult as moving the window at all while it is resting on the seal will dislodge the seal.

Putting the seal and molding on the glass is 80% of the battle (at least). It takes time and lots of patience. You must not rush this part. In my case, I think the glue was mandatory, especially along the lower edge of the windshield. Putting the molding in correctly and without bending it all up takes patience too. Take your time, plan a whole day if need be! And glue the seal to the glass. Even if your seal lays nice against the glass with no glue, it will really help you when it comes time to put the molding in. It is real easy to distort a perfectly seated seal trying to put the molding in it. The glue helps hold it all snug.

Pre-bend the molding. The moldings from Wolfsburg West came pre-bent to shape, but it was an "approximate" bend. You quickly realize that unless the molding fits the curve in the seal perfectly, you are just making more headaches for yourself. Take as much time as needed to shape the molding before you try to put it in the seal. I found that the raw glass edge is almost a perfect guide for the shape of the molding groove when the seal is on the window. So lay just the glass alone, flat on your work surface then lay one of the molding pieces on the glass. There is a left and right piece. Look a the end one of the pieces and think about how it lays in the groove. It is almost impossible to get them wrong, you will not be able to get the molding in if you have them mixed up. When it is in right, about 1/3 of the 3/4 of a circle that makes up the cross section of the molding will be in the groove and about 2/3 will be outside laying on the seal's exterior. Look at it, common sense will tell you which is right and which is left. So delicately bend the pieces so you can lay them on the glass and they perfectly follow the glass edge line and lay perfectly flat. The aluminum bends very easily and I found it needed the most tweaking at the sharp (lower) corners. Time spent here will greatly pay off when you attempt to put the moldings in the seal.

 Do the same for the back molding. It needs to follow the curve of the back window and the "bend" in the glass plane as well. Same thing, lay the bare glass flat, tweak the aluminum.

Center the clips. This step is kind of related to pre-bending the molding. Remember that you must put the molding in the seal after it has been glued to the glass. The ends of the moldings often do not meet. My fronts had a 3/4 inch gap in both places. But to make your molding look nice, you want the clips centered on the window. It is relatively easy, if you set up the (pre) bends wrong, to have your gaps/clips off the center line of the car. If you are like me, you could never live with that. Take you time with the bending, make sure everything lines up nice.

Donít get the (felt) headliner wet. If you have an early Beetle with a felt headliner forget the soapy water spray. The felt headliners will water stain very easily. You can use moderately applied K-Y Jelly or Talcum powder back there.

The realization I had, is that there is no substitute for persistence and VW knowledge. I was hoping that Alan the glass guy would be my savior, I was willing to throw in the towel and just pay him. Yes, he had far more experience with general glass installation than me, but I actually had a few days head start on him when it came to that aluminum molding. Same with Tom. Theses guys had put glass in lots of cars, but not a Beetle like mine. All I needed to to do was to study and analyze the situation first (for like, 5 weeks), than with ample patience, tackle the job with the help of a friend (like someone I don't have to pay).

Sometimes you can just give up and pay someone to do the job for you, but as is very often the case with old Beetles, you probably know more about the situation/problem at hand than anybody you could ever find to hire. Beetles are fading away, and so is the available pool of expertise. We are the only ones who can gather up that expertise and keep these cars going, no one else, no matter what you pay them, cares to. Acquiring this expertise comes at cost many times, broken parts, missing skin, new swear words you hear you kids repeating, but once you have it, you own it.

And your Beetle is happy because of that.....

Ok, here a couple pictures of my car, the day I officially called it "done" (9/7/99). I will have a photo album up here soon, but since this page was about the (more or less) final problem to solve, I thought I would add a pic or two.