The BugShop: Project '57, pg 21

This page last modified- 11/3/01



 I am not an automobile manufacturer, I do not work for the department of transportation. The modification described below carries NO warranty of effectiveness or safety.

I did this modification to my car because it had NOTHING in the way of passive restraints. These mods might not even work at all in the event of an accident. If you do something similar, don't even think about suing me if you get hurt in an accident. You do what what you want, I'll do what I want. We are both responsible for our own actions. I assume NO responsibiltiy for the safety or effectiveness of this modification.

This page deatils the installation of the front seat belts, which were actually installed after I had put about 50 miles on the car. The rear seat belts were a breeze, and so my kids could ride back there, but I was apprehensive about riding on the highway without the front seat belts. A "Fall Cruise" event was coming up, and I wanted to drive the car to work (32 mi each way on the interstate) before winter so I could show all my co-workers what I had been talking about for 8 years......

This picture basically shows where I left off with the seatbelt install about 6 months ago (see Page 10 for the details of how the moutns were put in place). You can see the two threaded bores that were welded into the lower flange of the rear quarter. I only had a loose idea that I might make up a strong steel bracket that bolted there, went along under the front support rail for the back seat, and offer am ounting point for the front belt retractor. It was a loose idea, now I had to figure out a way to implement it.

You can see the small support for the rear seat rail (removed for this pic) to the right of the threaded bores. The back seat has been flipped up and is seen at the left. 

Here is the passenger side retractor from the set of belts I bought. I got the whole set of belts at the swaps at one of the summer shows this past year for $20. Some cautions about using used belts: As accident manufacturers will tell you, it is relatively easy for belts to show if they have been used in an accident, they are actually designed for this. You look at the horizontal bar just above the reel and examine it for distortion. You also look at the length of the belt for nylon "burning" such as would happen if the belt were stressed hard against an anchor point. This belts showed no evidence of such wear.

You also need to insure the retractor and lock mechnism are working properly. If you are relaly interested, take apart a retractor and you will see how it works. It contains a small accelerometer that will not allow the belt to pay out unless the spool is perfectly upright and no forces are acting on the device. But be warned, the clock spring is wound tight and may unspring forcefully when you take it apart. I know of a trick to take it apart without unspringing the clock spring, but I won't go into it here.

On the left you can see the 3 inch piece of angle iron that I cut to make the bracket. 

I stopped off at the metal fabrication shop that I had used a few times in the past one day after work and picked up some strips of 7 gauge steel. I though I could make the brackets out of them. I bent and placed and fit various pieces for almost an hour and nothing looked like it was going to work. Then I unbolted the backet off the retractor....

As you can see here, it was exactly what was needed. Yes, it will only use one of the bores that I welded in, and if you look close, you can see how I had to slice the support rail bracket with the Dremel and bent it back flat against the body. The bracket had a small pointed "spike" on the backside to align it in the later model beetles, I cut it off with the grinder. You can see the "dimple" for its back side to the right of the bolt head.

And now you see what the piece of angle iron is for. It is clamped here with vice grips to the outer end of the flange. With the seat support rail in place, it will provide for a vertical mounting point for the retractor.

Here is the finshed bracket. You can see the front face was drilled and two 7mm nuts were tacked in place, a 7/16-20 nut was welded to the bottom face after it was drilled with a 7/16" hole.

All of the hardware that I used is grade 8.8 or better. The retractor was originally held to the bracket with 8mm bolts, the 7mm ones I used came from a ball joint instalaltion kit and are grade 10.9. Note that when the bottom bolt is in place, it will help secure the angle iron to the bracket, an addition to the welds. My MIG skills have come a long way since I started this car, and I am confident that the welds are very secure (but the bolt is added insurance).

I know this picture stinks, but is shows how the bracket (now painted black) goes under the seat support rail and presents a face for the retractor to bolt to. You can see the angle iron face to the lower left of the rail end, and just the back side of the bracket to the right. 

Here is the retractor bolted to the bracket (it is actually easier to bolt the retractor to the bracket first, then bolt the bracket into the car). Now you can see what the big 7/16" nut was used for. The other end of the belt bolts here too. 

Here is the finshed job. Yes, I have had some doubts about how strong this will be, but I really feel that with the materials I used it is as strong as what was used in the later model Beetles. Yes, if I have an accident and give the belts a real good yank, I the bracket will probably swivel upward some and trash the seat rail. And if it is a bad accident, my upper B-pillar mounts will probably distort the door opening, but you only have to think about it for a bit to realize that if I hit something that hard, I probably have bigger problems.

Here you can see the front center mounts. These are the "buckles on an aircraft cable" kind of mounts. They had the seat belt detection switches in them, but I took them out. I covered the cable with heat shrink tubing and painted the ends where they bolt to the tunnel. You have to kind of shove them out of the way when you put the seats back from the forward position, but they work out pretty nicely.

This is the whole B-pillar on the passenger side (I know, the belts need to be cleaned up a bit). They bolted into the upper B-pillar mounts I welded in very nicely. I used all stock bolts. They fit nice in the car, seem to be at the same height as any car that I have driven and are unobtrusive.

Lets hope I never need to really test them...

Gas Tank Hell

Now about that gas tank. The gas tank in the '57 was the last real pain in the butt when it came to finishing this car. It all started when I tried to seal it. At that point it had been completely sandblasted and was undercoated underneath and sprayed (incorrectly) with the body color on top by my friend Tom. As I was sloshing the sealer around in it with the cap on, I started seeing some drips on the table. Further investigation revealed a tiny hole or two just below the flange on the filler neck end. I stripped off the undercoateing and proceeded to close up the hole.

Welding on gas tanks is very risky business. I assume no responsibility for any damage or injury resulting from your efforts to weld a tank up. From my "Fuel Path" article:

    Did I mention that gas is highly flammable? Actually, gas by itself, is not. The FUMES that gas forms when it evaporates are highly flammable. Just draining your tank good is not nearly enough to approach it with a torch without a death wish. Drain the tank, remove it from the car, open the filler neck and fill the tank completely to the top with water. Then drain it, remove the fitting at the bottom and use compressed air or a COLD hair dryer to blow out the tank. You should not even be able to smell gas before it is safe to torch. Let it air dry for a day if possible. 
I welded up the visible holes, re-sealed the area and thought that was that. Later, I painted the upper half of the tank with black urethane base. I was pretty happy with the way it came out. I installaed the NOS gas tank petcock I scored at the swap meet and eventually put the tank in the car, with some difficulty getting the little reserve lever in place and hooked up. You have to install the tank, then push the lever in from the cabin (through a fresh rubber gormmet), hit the petcock ball perfectly, then work from underneath the get the holes lined up and a cotter pin in place. Anyone who has done this knows what a pain it is.

Then I was done right? No, problem #2. A 35 year old NOS part is a great find, but you shouldn't expect that 35 year old NOS rubber seal to be any good. It was hard as steel and the thing leaked when I put a little gas in it. Luckily I had bought a "rebuild" kit from Wolfsburg West that had a new seal in it. It is a little disk of about 1/8" thick rubber with 4 holes in it. Ok, drain the tank, disconnect the lever and take the damn thing out again.....

I took the petcock apart, and removed the old seal. Reassembling it, I realized the the rotating cast part could go in one of two ways, 180 degrees apart. "Shoot, I didn't look when I took it apart. I think it went this way. Hey, I have a 50% chance of getting it right, right?". I put it all back together, back in the car. I gingerly put some gas in and check for leaks. None. I added more gas, the tank about 1/2 full, still no leaks. Great! Then I tried to start the engine. RRrr--RR--RR_r_-RRRR-RRRrrrr..., nothing. I sprayed starter fluid in the carb, it coughed a bit, but never got running. I checked to make sure the petcock was open, it was. I disconnected the line down back, a couple drips, then nothing.

There is no such thing as a 50-50 chance.

I drained the tank again, disconnected the reserve levver, pulled the tank out. I took the petcock apart, reversed the rotating thingy, blew through it a few times (why I didn't think to do that the first time, I don't know..). I put it back on the tank, and filled the tank with water, checked for leaks at the petcock, open and closed it, verified that the thing passed fluid. It did. Now, finally done right? No such luck.

I put the tank back in, cussed at the reservelever/cotter pin job again, and put some gas in it. The car ran, I drove it a bit, I kept re-checking for leaks but there were none. Some time passed, I got a few other things finished up and (finally) the registration all done. 

The day I got it registered, I came home, put the new sticker on the plate, and decided to take it for its maiden (legal) voyage. I went to McDonalds across town, and on the way stop at the gas staion to fill the tank. Actually, I put only about 7 gallons in it (for no particular reason). I drove to McDonalds and parked way down on the end of the row. On the way there, I caught a whiff of gas smell, but thought maybe I just spilled a bit around the filler neck at the station. I got my lunch and sat near a window where I could "watch" the car. Man, was it nice to see then shiney car finally out in public. I saw a puddle under the front end, and in a fleeting moment, swore I saw a drip splash in it. Nawww. I finished my lunch and walked back tothe car. Aproaching it, I saw a big puddle, some pretty regular drips into it, and then a strong gas smell. DAMN!

I looked under, but there was nothing I could do there about it, so I drove it carefully home and immediately siphoned off the tank. I went through the routine that I was really getting used to of disconnecting the reserve lever and pulling tank. I was really bummed out to see that the paint in the bulkhead and tunnel was wet and bubbling, as was some of the undercoating under the tank. I couldn't believe this! I was leaving for a two week business trip in Europe then next evening and really wanted to drive this car, with my family, to an ice creame stand the next town over. So I vowed to stay up that night (after going out to dinner with my in laws) and get it fixed once and for all!

I determined the leak awas coming from the same rust pitted area on the right side as the first hole I found. I ground off all of the undercoating, and looked for holes. I saw a couple microscopic holes. So I filled the tank with water, then drained and blew it out with compressed air. I placed a wet towel on the top half where it was painted to keep the paint from burning and brazed up the holes. 

When I was done, I decided that I had to make absolutely sure sure this thing had no more leaks and went about trying to find a way to pressurize it. I fitted a compressor blow gun on a piece of fuel line and clamped it to the petcock outlet. I put a couple layers of plastic wrap under the cap and screwed it down tight.

In the pic to the right, you can see the fuel line and blow gun. The tank was on a rolling work table and here I had rolled it over to the sink and was filling it with water to test for leaks. I did try to pressurize it when it was full of water, but this didn't work out very well. 

Here is a close up of the end of the tank where the leaks were. This end, for some reason, suffered from severe rust pitting. I welded, wiped, pressurized and found more microscopic holes about 4 times. You can see the set towel on the top side, the pitted bare metal to the left, and the bubbles. I pressurized the tank to around 10-15psi and sprayed some light soapy water in this area. These holes would never have been detected by the eye. Yes, I'm sure I could have re-sealed the inside, but I didn't want to trust that having gone through the effort of installing and removing this tank so many times already.


When I was done, I ground down the brass welds to remove the flux, and re-sprayed the bottom with undercoating. I used a rubberized undercoating from Eastwood. It is OK, but nowhere near as hard and tough as the Spies-Hecker "Stone Gaurd" (which I didn't have at this time). Then I completely filled the tank with water and pressurized it to 10 psi. Then I left it overnight. 

This time there were no leaks and there haven't been any since.