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VW Camper Van Restoration 'Project Paws' Part Two

Text and photos by Adrian Chandler - edited and presented by Aidan O'Rourke

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Removal of the front panel

I ordered a complete front panel including the windscreen frame from Just Kampers, as the sides were rotten too. The windscreen was removed and stored safe - it had not been held in at the bottom edge due to missing metal! I realised that I could avoid replacing the top edge of the windscreen, as it was not rusty and would have been a lot more work due to the roof lining etc having to be removed.

Although it is obviously a fiddly job making sure the windscreen will fit when adding a new panel, I thought it best to leave as much of the original bodywork as possible for strength and position guides.

The old panel was cut off in manageable small bits using a thin disc and angle grinder, having first disconnected the electrics and fusebox, and all other front bolts and mountings (handbrake mounts and heater/air connections). Care must be taken to not cut through the flange edges where the front panel butts up to the door pillars and behind the front bumper. I cut just inside these edges and then pulled/bent off the old spot welded remains slowly.

Inside the front panel

Once the front was all off I realised that the inner bumper panel was almost non-existent, so ordered an new one. The door pillars were mostly strong, except for small easily weldable areas at the bottom. The curved dash panel, between the windscreen and the dashboard, was rusty along the window edge and had to be plated along the front edge. The good thing about complete removal of the front end is the new-found 100% accessibility of all electrics and connections, allowing comfortable restoration of all these areas, as the dashboard stays in place.

Both wiper spindles had solidly seized up in their pivots, but those motors are tough and it worked again perfectly once freed off and greased.

Chassis and floor sections

With the front panel and front doors off I could more easily cut out and replace the 2 outer Y shaped front chassis members through the gaping holes in the floor. All parts were cut back to sound metal and replaced carefully with the same gauge of metal, mig welded and waxoiled.

I had asked a local metalworking shop to construct these 2 replacement chassis sections, which was not expensive, as they are straight box sections that join behind the previously mentioned inner front bumper panel.

Finally the missing floor sections were put in, seam welded and thoroughly undersealed to ensure no leaks.

So don’t be afraid of removing the entire front panel - it is quite straightforward, just time consuming. Nothing needs to be supported as long as the vehicle is on a dead flat surface to avoid cab distortion, and the dashboard can stay in place. It also allows a complete removal of all rust on inner and outer panels, and a complete repaint with Hammerite.

Putting the front panel back on

Once everything is restored in its place and you are confident all the electrics work and the mating surfaces are painted and ready, adding the new front panel is a case of hanging it up roughly in the right place on an adjustable pulley and ‘jiggling’ it into place, tack-welding it first to size it up for the exact windscreen fitting, then seam welding all edges/mounting areas.

Then I cut out the rusty old front wheel arches and tack welded in complete new ones. It is important at this stage to constantly fit and refit the doors to ensure you have the correct clearances - very time consuming, as the doors are heavy for one person to undo.

Once in place, all joins were seam welded in. It is important to have the van sitting level on a flat surface whilst all this is going on, or small cab distortions may occur. It is also important to fit one panel at a time, for the same reason.

Replacing other corroded sections

Replacement of all other rusty panels on the van was quicker and simpler compared to the front panel, although in some areas new metal had to be welded in before replacement panels would link up. Most were simply a case of cutting back to sound metal and welding on new panels, and a lot can be replaced using sheet steel.

The worst areas for rust were the back bottom faces of the front wheel arches. These were non-existent through water spray corrosion, and needed re-fabricating to link up with the front outriggers.

Another usual area of corrosion is the front middle U section frame that links the 2 front outriggers. It rusts through to the front section of the floor at the step-down point from the walk-through cab floor. All that area needed to be cut out and replaced, which was quite easy once the front axle had been removed - it would be difficult to weld it with the axle in place.

Replacing wheel arches

Inner and outer rear wheel arches were replaced. Again complete new panels are available making it easy to mark up and cut out the old rusty areas. The rear corners were likewise cut out and replaced, with new battery tray. The rear valence under the engine lid was cut out and rebuilt as a bolt-on panel similar to the older models - this allows far easier engine removal without having to jack up the van.

Rusty areas of the inner and outer rear wheel arch panels were cut out and new panels fitted, as for the inner and outer sills and outriggers. The rear chassis seems to rust on the top sections inside the engine bay due to moisture trap between 2 layers of metal. These are only properly replaced once the engine is out and you can get inside the engine bay.

It is worth cleaning out the insides of all chassis box sections at the rear once you can see into them. There is often a lot of loose rusty junk inside that doesn’t help. Vacuum it all out and pour in a hot waxoil/engine oil mixture (after all welding has been done).

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1968 VW Beetle renovated by Adrian ChandlerAdrian Chandler offers detailed air-cooled vehicle inspections at £85 plus travelling expenses of 60p per mile (one way) from Ringwood (Hampshire, southern England/UK). He can also undertake travelling mechanical restoration services on air-cooled VWs, priced at £40 per hour. Adrian restored this 1968 1500 Beetle, and has over 27 years experience with air-cooled VWs. To contact Adrian, e-mail adrian@cwad.fsnet.co.uk or phone 07785 941676.

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